Linux maker throws Red Hat into ring

With their newly created government business unit, officials at Linux distributor Red Hat believe the federal market will become fertile ground for the open-source operating system.

The presence of Linux in government agencies has greatly increased since the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux in 2002. Every Cabinet-level agency uses it in some way, said Paul Smith, Red Hat's newly appointed vice president of government sales operations.

He said the company's "marquee customers" include the Energy Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Army. The new division should enable Red Hat to expand its federal portfolio quickly, he added.

Several other companies, including Penguin Computing and SuSE, issue Linux distributions, meaning they customize the operating system. The companies also offer support services and other extras.

"Historically, distributions were differentiated by features included," said Matt Jacobs, vice president of sales at Penguin Computing. "In the contemporary environment, the distributions have come more in line with each other in features," and that makes the added service offerings essential.

For example, Red Hat offers a subscription service that gives customers access to new versions, patches, professional services, migration assistance and training.

Linux has gained greater acceptance in large organizations because it has proved itself to be reliable and at least as secure as competing choices, said Gordon Haff, a senior analyst at Illuminata.

"It's been growing in some places more rapidly than others," he said.

"Wall Street and high-performance computing [settings] have been a couple of the areas of particular strength. Where people are more technology innovators, Linux has expanded more rapidly."

But many government officials are still reluctant to step away from familiar systems, said Dendy Young, chairman and chief executive officer of GTSI, a Red Hat partner.

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