Linux distribution maker Red Hat has begun the process of
entrenching its Red Hat Network (RHN) services as a source of
revenue for the company by dropping anonymous automated system
updates via its up2date tool and charging for users administering
more than a single machine via RHN.
According to Billy Marshall, Director of the Red Hat Network,
the change shouldn't be a surprise to users who "take a little time
to read the
documentation [Red Hat's] put out." Red Hat released a mail
apprising users of the change several weeks ago.
The primary change in the way the service is offered for
single-system desktop users involves a requirement to register and
provide some basic contact information to establish a customer
record. Previously users were able to run Red Hat's up2date
software anonymously, without providing any personal information.
Marshall stressed that the registration process doesn't
automatically result in receiving the numerous mailings and phone
calls software registration typically entails, noting that by
default, users won't be registered for such lists.
Marshall also noted that downloading Red Hat updates without the
benefit of the RHN's management tools will remain an option for all
Marshall said the registration will provide the ability for
customers to receive automatic e-mail updates of errata and
security fixes separate from receiving marketing-oriented
communications from the company.
Along side the changes in registration requirements, Marshall
said users will have a slightly different experience in obtaining
updates, with a web-based interface that allows them to review
changelogs, queue packages for delivery to their systems, and
receive zip files of fix collections.
The Red Hat customers who will first notice the new charge
structure are those maintaining more than one system via the RHN.
Marshall said that until April 12, the service will be available
for $9.95 per month per system, but after that date, the charge
will increase to $19.95 per month for customers who buy the service
a month at a time. Customers who choose to buy the service for a
year will pay closer to $8.00 per month provided they enroll before
the April deadline.
At first glance, the move may seem counterproductive in the face
of both other commercial software houses, such as Eazel and Ximian, who are both also providing
their own update and dependency-resolution tools in the form of
Nautilus and Red Carpet
respectively. Both provide mirrors of Red Hat's archives and
presumably will continue to allow their users to obtain updates,
anonymously in the case of Red Carpet.
Marshall, however, says Red Hat's model will fly based on the
fact that Red Hat and Eazel are partnering around Red
Hat's deployment of Nautilus as the default file manager on Red
Hat distributions in a deal with undisclosed financial elements
that will involve the companies sharing revenues from the use of
Nautilus as a conduit for Red Hat's update services.
According to Marshall, the current set of services RHN provides
are only a small part of what subscribers will eventually receive
as the company unfolds its overall plan. Marshall said later
iterations of RHN's services will involve Enterprise-class tools
that provide for profiling and management of large groups of
machines based on common hardware and software characteristics. One
hypothetical he offered was the use of RHN to service a large
network of systems serving different purposes with specialized
hardware across several groups of machines. According to Marshall,
system profiles could be created that set the priority of updates
depending on where each system fits into an organization's
production scheme, with less mission-critical workstations
receiving more automated updates for their software as opposed to
essential systems requiring an administrator's approval before
replacing essential packages.
"The focus is not on automagical updating," said Marshall. "The
focus is on system management software, the first two elements of
which happen to be automatic updates and errata fixes."
Marshall said Red Hat's plans will fit into a broader,
"macroeconomic trend" of shortages in qualified tech workers,
moving the process of system administration "from a craft or art to
a set of policy decisions."