Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat Inc. believes that its new partnership with Japanese computer manufacturer Fujitsu Ld. could accelerate migration from Unix to Linux for mission-critical applications in Japan and ultimately in the U.S. But industry analysts said this is nothing new for the industry and expressed doubt that the move will have a global impact.
Red Hat and Fujitsu have extended Long Term Support from seven to 10 years and committed to faster support response times. Under this program, the two vendors will extend the bug fix support periods for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3 and offer emergency assistance within 24 hours, Tier 1 aid within a half-hour and Tier 4 help for less severe problems within four hours. The program specifically applies to environments running RHEL on Fujitsu Primequest and Primergy servers.
Collectively, these two moves are designed to provide greater platform stability and, in turn, encourage Japanese banks to move mission-critical operations from Unix to Linux systems running x86 and Itanium processors, according to Scott Crenshaw, vice president of Red Hat's Platform Business unit. With a longer support cycle, data centers will stay on the same OS longer, which will save time and money because data centers won't have to test, evaluate and recertify their applications as frequently, he said. And the tightly coupled, fast support from Red Hat and Fujitsu will overcome a key Linux challenge to date: uncoordinated response from hardware vendors and software vendors, he said. "We are aggressively attacking the last Unix holdout," Crenshaw said. "This is the nail in the Unix coffin."
Predicting that U.S. and European markets ultimately will follow Japan's lead, Crenshaw said Red Hat's mission-critical support program will prevent IT shops from having to perform as many OS upgrades, avoiding time-consuming application recertifications. Meanwhile, converting from costly RISC-based Unix systems to Linux-based systems on x86 or Intel's Itanium chips can save a company some $500,000 to $1 million per server, he said.
Red Hat is currently in negotiation with U.S. hardware manufacturers to create similar partnerships to extend long-term support periods and shorten wait times for support to as little as 15 minutes, he said. In the Fujitsu agreement, the cost for advanced support is bundled with each hardware contract and is negotiated separately for each customer, he added.A mass Unix-to-Linux exodus?
"This [move to x86] is a very clear trend, and it's very unusual starting in the hardest market," Crenshaw said, referring to Japan's pool of conservative bankers who promoted the idea. "But it's a bellwether for other markets … and will put those still advocating Unix in a much more difficult political situation."
But industry analysts remain unconvinced.
Charles King, a principal analyst at Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Inc., said that long-term support and faster response times address key mission-critical needs for reliability and longevity. But Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM Corp. already have similar programs in place to "poach" one another's customers and move them from Unix to Linux so this is nothing new, he said.
"Basically, Red Hat is just joining the club," King said.
Still, the Red Hat/Fujitsu partnership has higher chances of success in Japan, where Fujitsu has a much larger share of the server market than in the U.S., he said. To pursue the U.S. market, Hewlett-Packard would be Red Hat's partner of choice, but a Red Hat partnership with HP could undermine Red Hat's strong affiliation with IBM, he said.
Crenshaw also said that the Fujitsu/Red Hat partnership would help lure customers from mainframes to x86 servers but King noted that mainframes and Unix-run servers that cater to distinctly different customer groups. Without success, HP has tried to move companies from mainframes to its Itanium-based servers for years, King added.
Gordon Haff, a principal IT adviser at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc., said Linux is already used extensively in the U.S. for mission-critical operations and he didn't foresee that the new union between Red Hat and Fujitsu would have a significant impact on the U.S. Unix market.
Joe Clabby, the president of Falmouth, Maine-based Clabby Analytics, was also unphased by the Red Hat/Fujitsu pact.
Japanese banks will probably benefit from the Red Hat/Fujitsu enhanced support offering, but ultimately, they would be better off running mission-critical systems on mainframes or servers with more robust chips (like Power, Sparc and Itanium processors) rather than x86, Clabby said.