Linux bandwagon gains Compaq

Linux should gain ground next month when Compaq starts pre-loading it on servers.

Jumping fully onto the open source bandwagon, Compaq Computer Corp. is about to ship and offer support for Linux servers.

Next month, Compaq and Red Hat Software Inc. plan to announce a deal to deliver Red Hat Linux Version 5.2 preloaded on Compaq servers, according to sources close to the companies. Compaq will also offer 24-by-7 service and support for the Linux-based servers, the sources said.

Compaq now offers Linux on its servers only upon request, so a formal bundling strategy from the world's largest PC server vendor is a big step up for the open-source Unix operating system. While many IT managers have been adopting and supporting Linux on their own, backing from hardware vendors has been limited. But that's changing, with Compaq on board and IBM and Dell Computer Corp. also offering custom Linux systems.

A Linux server that comes with service and support may further sway cautious corporate customers. "[Preloading Linux on servers] will save us time. Normally, we'd buy blank servers and have to do the installation ourselves," said a network administrator at a major aerospace firm. "The service and support angle, for my management, will make a lot of difference. That could be the difference between them buying into Linux or not."

Gateway Inc. has signed a similar deal with Red Hat to ship Linux preinstalled on servers. Officials of the San Diego company said users could expect to see such servers by year's end. Red Hat is trying to ink a similar service and support deal with IBM. Compaq officials would not comment on which servers will ship with Linux, but the Houston company offers its custom Linux installations on ProLiant servers for use as Apache Web servers and for customers that prefer Linux over Windows NT.

With its Linux support, Compaq will be able to offer a range of Unix products. On the high end it offers Digital Unix on Alpha servers, and for the midrange and low end it ships ProLiant X86 servers with SCO's UnixWare. It is Compaq's relationship with SCO that could be the most affected by the Linux plans. "This [decision to preinstall Linux] is a statement that SCO is down in the dumper with Compaq -- that they're walking away from SCO," said Kim Brown, an analyst at Dataquest Inc., in California. "Linux is starting to be acknowledged as the low-end Unix alternative."

Compaq is expected to make more Unix news next month when it renames Digital Unix to Tru64Unix, according to sources. Later in the year, Compaq will unveil clustering software for Tru64Unix that has features similar to those in the company's midrange operating system, OpenVMS, including advanced load-balancing and file-sharing capabilities, sources said.

Those enhancements are good news for users who want more than just failover protection. "We're looking to leverage the same kind of clustering technology on our Unix environment as we have on our VMS system," said Joe Pollizzi, deputy division head at the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore. While happy with the prospect of new software, Pollizzi said he'd like to see more innovations for Alpha hardware. "Compaq has done a good job in saying they'll continue to support the product that we know and love," he said. "I haven't seen any announcements that focus on Alpha lately. I'd like to see something that really shows off the Alpha technology itself."

To meet such demand, Compaq later this month will announce AlphaServer DS20, an entry-level server that runs one or two EV6 processors, sources said. Initial Standard Performance and Evaluation Corp. benchmark tests indicate that the DS20 is as fast as the GS140, its bigger, more expensive counterpart, according to Terry Shannon, a consultant in the US.

Officials at Compaq and at Red Hat, of Research Triangle Park, N.C., declined to comment on unannounced products or partnerships.

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