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Linuxcare follows Red Hat with online support service

The Linux company releases its long-awaited computer administration service, an effort that gives some competition to a similar offering from Red Hat.

Linuxcare has released its long-awaited computer administration service, an effort that gives some competition to a similar offering from Red Hat.

Linuxcare's managed services, unveiled Thursday, provide a range of options to customers who would prefer to hire somebody else to handle tasks such as software updates for Linux servers, Chief Technology Officer Dave Sifry said.

Linuxcare itself won't sell the services to prospective customers but instead will rely on the sales forces of business partners Digital Island, Consonus and others to come, Sifry said. The suggested retail price is $1,000 per server per month, he said, though business partners may set their own prices and offer free trial periods.

The services are intended to patch known security problems, monitor systems for events such as hacker attacks, modify systems settings such as user accounts, and set up computers with optimized software, Sifry said. In addition, the Linuxcare offering automatically monitors changes to system configuration files, allowing a server to be quickly set up to replace a faulty one.

The new service is important for Linuxcare, a struggling Linux company that filed for an IPO but postponed it amid layoffs, the departure of Chief Executive Fernand Sarrat and other problems. Linuxcare now is in the midst of discussions to be acquired by Turbolinux.

Sifry is ambitious about the project, which has just made it out of beta testing. Though currently fewer than 100 servers are being managed, he expects tens of thousands to be handled by the end of the year.

That would mean major revenue for Linuxcare, a company that currently is eating through its venture capital funding as it operates at a loss.

Red Hat offers its own subscription service for managing Linux computers, the Red Hat Network. Red Hat launched its service in September, and the company is promoting it heavily and making it free though the end of January.

Currently, Red Hat has 50,000 computers registered with complete profiles on the Red Hat Network, said Billy Marshall, manager of the Red Hat Network. A further 80,000 people have signed on anonymously for software updates. So far, the company has delivered about 1.5 million software updates through the network.

About half of the Red Hat Network customers are corporate; the other half are personal systems, Marshall said.

Linuxcare, by contrast, plans its service chiefly for corporate customers, Sifry said.

The Linuxcare system monitors not only the operating systems, but also higher-level software such as the Apache Web server, the Sendmail e-mail software, or the MySQL or PostgreSQL database packages.