Redhat Fedora

Robert G. Brown rgb at
Wed Sep 24 20:54:46 EDT 2003

On Wed, 24 Sep 2003, Bob Drzyzgula wrote:

> Also, I'm thinking I must not know enough about Mandrake's
> cluster distribution. Looking at their website, it
> seems to cost $2320 for 1-8 processors, $4176K for 9-16
> processors. Why would a cluster shop that had previously
> used Red Hat Linux choose to use Mandrake rather than
> Red Hat's Enterprise WS distribution, which costs $299
> per single- or dual-processor system, except perhaps on
> technical grounds?

The interesting question is why anybody in their right mind would pay
for any sort of GPL-based distribution that scales per number of
processors.  Especially pay numbers like these.  Hell, one might as well
be running Windows.

I personally think that the global internet has long since moved on to
a place where this just won't fly, especially for GPL software.

It's almost funny, in a very sad sort of way.  People all over the world
(many of them on this list) have written and contributed the actual
software and continue to maintain it.  Red Hat is now preparing to turn
around and sell our own software back to us at an absurd markup and with
little (really) added value other than the distributional packaging and

I personally think that what is going to happen is that the community
will interpret this as control and just route around it.  People on the
Internet proper will just ignore the prices; corporate managers who feel
a need to "buy" something may pay them.  Companies seem to be trying to
treat open source software as a proprietary product and moving away from
the support model.

The real tragedy associated with this is that linux is finally maturing
to the point where it could really challenge on the desktop, not just
the server/cluster/specialized market, and these absurd prices could
retard that process for years.  Red Hat in particular has missed the
boat by charging crazy prices for box sets for some years.  What, they
think Joe Consumer is going to buy a box set of linux for $150 when it
comes "free" and preinstalled on their PC?  They should be selling box
sets for $15 and trying to sell a LOT of them, not a few at crazy

> > nor are "we" willing to pay enough for
> > vendors (like Scyld) to build cluster distros.
> This sounds right.

Absolutely.  It is a matter of what people need.  MPI, PVM, and more are
often or even generally available in rpm format and are a whole lot of
what people need.  The cluster users who need to go a long way beyond
this exist, but there are fewer and fewer of them at each additional
price notch.  COTS HPC clusters were invented because they were a CHEAP
road to supercomputing that supported the needs of a hell of a lot of
HPC cycle consumers with only a few, relatively simple tools.  The same
issues exist with Myrinet and SCI -- I'll be there are dozens of
clusters installed on plain old ethernet for each one of the clusters
installed on high end networks (which, frankly, are worth a lot more
than high end/expensive "distributions" since Red Hat cannot alter the
fundamentally limiting computation/communications ratio at a given task
scale, but a faster network interface can!).

So pay no attention to the high road.  Distribution vendors that take
the high road are going to starve on a rich diet of a few high margin
sales, just as a lot of the traditional Unix vendors have been doing at
ever increasing rates ever since linux was invented.

Look instead to the low road.  Look to distributions (like Debian or
freebsd) that charge nothing, or charge a very modest low margin fee.
In the market of the future one will be able to grow fat on huge numbers
of LOW margin sales, just as Microsoft (for the most part) has for
years.  If Sun Microsystems had released their perfectly good Unix for
PC's for a retail price of $15/system in a box set a decade plus ago (or
even $50), Linux would never have gotten off the ground, Windows NT
would have been killed in its cradle, and Sun would own the universe.

I think it must be the scent of blood in the water -- Microsoft is
finally showing signs of distinct vulnerability, the linux desktop is
finally good enough to sell to corporate customers, and the long awaited
phase transition is at hand.  Now all the linux distro people can think
about is how fast they can get their options and their shareholder's
highly depressed shares above water.

Slow and steady (and low margin sales and true added value support) will
win this race.  Red Hat is already facing a sort of defection of a
rather huge part of their installed base; how long will they stay on top
once the Universities and other institutions that provide their real
base of programmers turn their energies to something that they don't
have to turn around and "buy back"?

With the GPL, not long at all, not long at all.


Robert G. Brown	             
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at

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