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Defense Department signs Red Hat deal

Agency agrees to use Red Hat security software, CNET News.com has learned, furthering company's push to win government accounts.

The Defense Department has renewed a major contract to use security software now sold by Red Hat, CNET News.com has learned.

The department's Defense Information Systems Agency agreed Monday to purchase subscriptions for Red Hat Certificate System software, Red Hat spokeswoman Leigh Day confirmed Friday. The deal renews support for software that was sold by America Online's Netscape Communications group until Red Hat acquired it in December.

August Schell, a computing services company in Rockville, Md., made the sale to the Defense Department. It's the only company authorized to resell the software to the federal government. The company's chief executive, Bill Schell, said he employs some of the original Netscape programmers who began working on the Defense Department project when it was a pilot, in 1998.

The software is used to issue digital credentials, called certificates, that help identify people and computing equipment such as workstations and network routers, Schell said. The certificates are included in each Defense Department employee's digital ID card, used to gain access to buildings or computers, he said.

The deal furthers two Red Hat initiatives: replacing Sun Microsystems technology and penetrating government accounts.

The department's security software today runs on Sun's Solaris operating system, but a move to the Red Hat Enterprise Linux foundation is a strong possibility in the future, Schell said.

The contract is a two-year deal with possible extensions, Schell said. It permits the department to keep track of as many as 12 million certificates, and an optional extension could boost that to 38 million.

He and Day declined to disclose financial terms of the deal. Those terms are significant, though, because of a detail in Red Hat's Netscape server software acquisition. Under that deal, if Red Hat signs a deal with the Defense Department worth more than $3 million, the company must pay AOL an additional $2.5 million over the $20.5 million it initially paid for the group.

August Schell is tightly connected with Red Hat's Netscape unit and will allow the group access to its lab, where it tests new software releases and performs engineering work, Schell said.