Red Hat Network aims to ease Linux management

Paul McNamara, Red Hat Inc.’s vice-president of product marketing, and Erik Troan, vice-president of product engineering, briefed LinuxWorld last month on the release of Red Hat Linux 7.0 and the initial rollout of the Red Hat Network.

Graphics and security are two areas that were improved in Red Hat 7.0. The new release is based on the 2.2.16 Linux kernel; it includes XFree 4.0, Mesa (an Open GL library for 3D graphics), and hardware support for the i810, i815, Rage 128, Voodoo III, and Voodoo V chipsets. In a major change of philosophy, most network services will now be turned off by default at installation instead of being turned on. With the RSA crypto patents expiring last week, the release will also include strong cryptography in products like the GNU Privacy Guard with RSA signatures, along with the inclusion of SSH and the SSL module for Apache. A secure virtual private network is also included.

There is also an optimized GCC compiler, with particular performance gains for the Pentium II and Pentium III platforms, along with USB support for keyboards, mice and printers, improved internationalization and Japanese language support.

The big news, however, is not inside the box. Red Hat is launching a new initiative, the Red Hat Network, with which customers will be able to automate the management of their Red Hat Linux machines. According to McNamara, “The Red Hat Network is a connection between the customer’s machine and Red Hat, where we provide a rich set of management tools and delivery mechanisms for open source software.”

Users can select among a variety of options from the Red Hat Network. They can receive e-mail notification of updates; they can opt for notification and delivery of the packages; or they can choose to actually have the upgrades installed automatically. Control over the process is very fine-grained, including control over which products are to be updated and which are not.

The network is aimed more at large commercial customers than individuals. If a firm has 1,000 Red Hat Linux machines acting as file servers, for example, all of them can be defined as a single image and all could then be maintained automatically.

Future enhancements to the network will make it much more than just a software update service like the one available for free to users of Debian and Helix GNOME. Eventually, the network will provide monitoring and alerts for things like low disk space availability, service availability and security. But even as it stands today, the network means that when the 2.4 kernel is production-ready, customers will have immediate access to it, as well as to journalling filesystems and other upgrades.

McNamara noted, “Our model really isn’t about selling free software, it’s about being a conduit by which customers can unlock the value of open source software.” In other words, the Red Hat Network is about selling service instead of software, and that is one of the dreams of the free software movement, not an affront to it.