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Utility computing reaches Red Hat Network

The company plans to expand its network service so customers can set up or reconfigure Linux servers from afar, a "provisioning" system that marks its entry into utility computing.

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Stephen Shankland
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Red Hat plans to launch and announce a network service to let customers set up or reconfigure Linux servers from afar.

The "provisioning" system marks Red Hat's entry into the utility computing vision that's swirling through the computing industry. The Raleigh, N.C.-based company is set to launch the new service on Wednesday at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York.

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The provisioning service will be part of the Red Hat Network, which has a free module for distributing software updates to Red Hat Enterprise Linux customers and a system management module that costs an extra $96 per server per year.

The provisioning module of Red Hat Network will cost $192 per server per year to use, a price that includes the management module, said Sean Witty, product marketing manager for Red Hat Network.

With the service, a central administrator can perform several functions from a central management console including: installing a particular software configuration based on a template; "cloning" the configuration of one server and applying it to another; "rolling back" the configuration of a server to a previous state; and adjusting configuration files.

Red Hat's offering--the latest in a move to convert its leading Linux market share into new sources of revenue--bumps up against new management offerings from established industry companies. For example, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Computer Associates International and Veritas Software all sell, or are working on, provisioning software.

"Provisioning is hot right now," said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. However, "one of Red Hat's issues here is that they're going to start running into their system partners who have their own integrated provisioning approaches."

In the last two years, Red Hat has registered 1.5 million computers with the Red Hat Network, Witty said.

Provisioning is one key step to the utility and on-demand computing ideas slowly transforming from concept to reality in the computing industry. According to that vision, management costs will diminish as networks of computers respond automatically to changing work requirements, with companies buying only the minimum amount of gear for the tasks at hand.

Red Hat expects to reduce the amount of manual labor required to use the provisioning software in the future. "We are entering into a world of automation," Witty said.

The provisioning service doesn't lock out others with their own management software systems. The new version of Red Hat Network introduces a programming interface by which other software can monitor and control the servers, said Greg Peters, director of Red Hat Network product development and engineering.

"Anything you can do programmatically through our user interface, you can do with this API (application programming interface)," Peters said.

The provisioning service can be used to control only Red Hat servers--a fraction of corporate computing networks that the utility computing vision encompasses. But Haff believes that's typical of today's provisioning technology.

"At least at this point in time, provisioning is something that tends to be done in islands anyway," he said. "So the lack of a grand unified provisioning theory isn't necessarily a show-stopper."

Red Hat Network services are available two ways--from Red Hat's own central site or through a satellite server that essentially provides customers with their own miniature and customizable Red Hat Network.

The satellite network costs $26,500 per year. In the past, using the satellite required that information be stored in a customer's Oracle database. But now the satellite will come with the option of an embedded Oracle database for $3,000 year.

About 25 percent of new Red Hat Enterprise Linux installations are connected to a satellite server, and Red Hat hopes to increase that percentage, Witty said.