Red Hat boosts service subscription plan

The Linux seller is bolstering its Red Hat Network service with technology the company gained in its acquisition of NOCpulse in 2002.

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NEW YORK--Red Hat is bolstering its service subscription plan with technology the Linux seller gained in its acquisition of NOCpulse in 2002.

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The Red Hat Network is a subscription plan offered by the Raleigh, N.C.-based company to ease customers' server-administration chores. The plan, which costs $120 a year per server, now includes NOCpulse's technology for monitoring response times of server software such as databases, Web servers and Java programs running on application servers.

As expected, Red Hat announced the integration of the NOCpulse software into the Red Hat Network service at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here this week.

The software is a key part of Red Hat's future. The company can use the Red Hat Network not only to increase recurring revenue but also to extract money from customers using an operating system that can be obtained for free and to keep customers from wandering away from the Red Hat fold.

The Red Hat Network fits hand-in-glove with the company's high-end Advanced Server version of Linux, which costs about $2,500 per year and isn't available as a free packaged download, the way Red Hat's basic product is. Advanced Server comes with a subscription that includes the earlier Red Hat Network service, which keeps track of what software is installed on a server and sends out required updates. But the new system monitoring component costs extra, said Paul Santinelli, director of marketing for the NOCpulse products.

Red Hat also plans to add other features to Red Hat Network.

One customer for the new service is Scott Clark, information technology director at Sitel, a company that employs phone operators to answer calls for customers such as American Express. The company had tried to install system-monitoring software from IBM's Tivoli group to monitor 15 IBM Unix servers, but the project turned into a $500,000 flop, Clark said.

"We basically abandoned it," he said. "It's almost a joke, what they wanted us to pay."

Clark has 47 servers on the Red Hat Network with plans to expand to 70 soon. He'll begin implementing the systems management component in the second quarter.

Clark is eagerly awaiting the ability to manage software licenses--an upcoming component of the Red Hat Network--which will let him know which packages are in compliance with legal limits.

Unlike performance monitoring tools from most management software companies, NOCpulse is "agentless"--meaning that it doesn't require a specific software package to run on the server being monitored. Instead, a computer running the NOCpulse software periodically checks the server response--for example, by running a specific type of database query, then processing the result.

That architecture means the monitoring service can be used not just with Red Hat Linux systems, but also with Windows systems, Unix systems and competitors' Linux systems, NOCpulse's Santinelli said.

The NOCpulse service is run on Red Hat's own servers. However, as with the earlier Red Hat Network, companies can run an internal "satellite" version. The systems management software satellite version costs $25,000, Santinelli said.

Management software for Linux is a hot area right now, as companies try to make money by smoothing an operating system that's somewhat rough around the edges.

Red Hat isn't alone in its interest. Not only are other Linux companies seeking the same market, existing management software giants including Tivoli, Computer Associates and BMC all are wrapping Linux support into their packages.

At the Linux show, IBM announced a component of Tivoli that identifies failing servers and restarts the programs they're running on functioning servers, the company said. In addition, the Tivoli product can let administrators devote computing resources to applications according to how high their priority is.