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Linux database support comes at a price

While database software makers have posted free Linux versions of their enterprise products, in-depth technical support is for paying customers only.

Linux database software is here, but you might have to work a bit harder to find technical support.

While database software makers have posted free Linux versions of their enterprise products, in-depth technical support is generally only available after products have been purchased. And even with company-supplied tech support, keeping Linux-based servers up and running can be challenging for the uninitiated, analysts warn.

All of the major database companies--Oracle, Informix Software, Sybase, and IBM--now, or soon will, offer Linux ports of their flagship products.

However, most of those products are offered with support options that are more limited than for other operating systems, said Mike Sun, an analyst with Giga Information Group.

Oracle offers support for its Linux database through online discussion groups and Linux distributors. The company plans to offer full technical support. IBM offers a free version of its Linux rendition of DB2, including access to moderated discussion groups. Informix, which also offers a free version of its Dynamic Server database, provides 30 days of free technical support. Full technical support is available for a price after users purchase the database software. Sybase offers a free developer's version of its Adaptive Server Enterprise database with support available through Linux distributors.

Those options are a far cry from the top-of-the-line technical support offered to buyers of database software for other versions of Unix and for Windows NT. Support options for those products runs the gamut from telephone support to onsite technicians, depending on how critical the application is deemed and how much companies are willing to shell out.

While additional service options may become available as more companies are willing to go the Linux route for Web servers and other small to medium-sized applications, right now, the limited support could put a crimp in company's plans for deploying business applications on Linux servers, Sun said.

"From a departmental level, Linux is probably a doable thing," said Sun. "But, I don't think that enterprise applications will ever run on Linux--at least not until someone stands up and says 'I'll support Linux fully.'"

That day may come soon. Informix executives now believe that demand for its software on Linux is coming from deep-pocketed corporate customers. In July, the company dipped its toe into the Linux waters by posting a free copy of its Informix-SE database to its Web site targeted at curious developers. Overwhelming demand led the company to expand its Linux plans, executives claim, to include its flagship Dynamic Server database.

Sun adds that even if database software and application makers offer a full range of support options on Linux, getting answers to technical problems with Linux itself can be a problem.

"Support is not a problem from the database makers, per se. If you pay for full support, you call Informix or Oracle and get help. But what if the problem is back in Linux itself? Then what do you do?" Sun said.

Sun said Linux support consists of going back to the Linux discussion groups to find out what the problem is and how to fix it. With Unix versions from major vendors, such as HP-UX or Solaris, companies have a direct contact so they can obtain an answer to technical support questions in some sort of reasonable time frame.

Linux distributors, such as Red Hat Software, which recently gained financial backing from Intel and Netscape Communications, offers online support and additional technical support through local service providers.

Caldera, which distributes OpenLinux, also offers online and pay-as-you-go support options.

Still, companies interested in taking the Linux plunge must be ready to exist in the open source universe, said Sun. "If you are running a 24x7 shop, are you willing to have to the CEO breathe down your neck to find an answer? I'd think it's much more palatable to be able to point a finger at HP or Sun," he said.