Caldera announces support for other Linux versions

In a move to increase revenue and its services business, Linux and Unix vendor Caldera International Inc. will now offer global support for other brands of Linux, including those of Red Hat Inc. and SuSE Linux AG.

In an announcement today, the Lindon, Utah-based company said it will expand its Linux support coverage through its Caldera Global Services division on a worldwide basis to help expand the use of Linux in the enterprise.

Under the new initiative, Caldera will begin offering services and support for Linux distributions from market leader Red Hat Inc. in Raleigh, N.C., SuSE in Germany, Turbolinux Inc. in Brisbane, Calif., MandrakeSoft Inc. in Altadena, Calif., and Conectiva SA in Brazil.

Reg Broughton, a senior vice-president for operating systems and services at Caldera, said the move is a logical step following Caldera’s acquisition of the former Santa Cruz Operation Inc. (SCO) in August 2000, which brought SCO’s worldwide global services unit to Caldera. With skilled support people around the world as a result of the acquisition, Caldera chose to expand its Linux offerings in response to customer requests and needs, he said.

“What we’re finding is that our customers aren’t on just one specific release” of Linux but may be using several brands in their operations, Broughton said. “It’s rare to find customers using only one.”

Also, he said, customers of other brands of Linux will find Caldera’s offering compelling because customers can fulfill all of their support needs with one phone call. “We offer very consistent, very broad-based support around the world,” Broughton said.

Caldera will provide a wide range of Linux support and training, along with professional and online services, to customers under the program.

“Our expansion to support all Linux distributions allows customers to confidently roll out Linux solutions backed up by a worldwide professional team,” Broughton said. Because Linux is similar to Unix, the company’s vast Unix background has helped make the transition seamless, he said.

“It didn’t take a huge leap for us to support multiple Linuxes,” Broughton said. “We’ve been thinking about this for some time.”

Pricing for the services will vary depending on customer requirements, he noted.

Analysts say the move is a smart gamble for Caldera, which is expanding its services without necessarily having to expand its costs for providing them.

“Caldera is trying to find a way to use all of the professional services resources they acquired from SCO,” said Dan Kusnetzky, an operating systems analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass. “Obviously, there’s not enough Unix [work] to keep them busy, so they’re trying to use them [elsewhere].”

The idea makes sense, he said, since the various flavors of Linux are like the different brands of consumer appliances that generally all work the same way in each category. “If you learn to use a microwave oven from Sears, it doesn’t take a lot of training to use a microwave from Sanyo,” Kusnetzky noted.

But Kusnetzky said he’s not sure that a Red Hat customer would call Caldera or any other Linux vendor to get support for its Red Hat products. “They’d go to Red Hat,” he said. And if the Red Hat software had been installed on new hardware bought from a vendor such as IBM, then it’s likely the user would even go to IBM for support rather than call Caldera, he said.

Bill Claybrook, an operating systems analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, agreed that while most Red Hat customers won’t probably be knocking down Caldera’s doors for help, it is possible that customers of other distributions, including Mandrake, SuSE and Turbolinux, would be interested in Caldera’s services.

“If they can offer this service and they’re not spending additional money, it doesn’t hurt them,” Claybrook said. “It’s another way for them to generate revenue. I suppose there’s no reason why they can’t do this.”

Tony Adams, a product support services analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said that since Linux distributions are based on the same basic code, Caldera’s strategy is worth a try. “It’s important to maximize the work for the staff you already have,” he said.

At Red Hat, spokeswoman Melissa London said Caldera’s announcement was unexpected but isn’t viewed as a threat. “It’s a nonevent,” she said. The issue, she said, is that it’s hard to imagine Red Hat customers calling Caldera for support. “Would you take your Ford to a General Motors dealership?” she asked. “We certainly wish our friends at Caldera good luck.”