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Novell Goes After Red Hat Linux Users

There are a plenty of ways to grow a business, including the old-fashioned approach of stealing customers from your competition. The latest entrant is Novell, which is pitching customers of Red Hat's Linux to migrate over to Novell.

As part of its offer, Novell (NASDAQ: NOVL) said it would provide support for existing installations after it migrates existing Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) qusers.

You might say Novell's migration pitch offer is taking a page out of the playbook of Oracle, which made a naked pitch for Red Hat's customers a couple of years ago, complete with offers of support.

The end goal with Novell though is to actually move users over to Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES). Red Hat currently leads the enterprise Linux space with Novell trailing in the second position.

"This is something we've been doing on a one-off basis for several years now," Justin Steinman, director of marketing for open platforms at Novell, told InternetNews.com "We're formalizing a program around something that we've been quietly doing for years now in an attempt to take more share away from Red Hat."

The program is specifically targeting existing Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) users as well as CentOS users for migration to Novell. CentOS is a free clone of RHEL. Steinman noted that Novell would provide support for both RHEL and CentOS for up to two years while the user migrates their installation over to SUSE Linux Enterprise.

The idea of Novell managing a Red Hat installation is not an entirely new one for Novell either. As far back as 2003, Novell was offering Red Hat management with its Ximian Red Carpet solution. That product has since evolved into something called Zenworks Linux management and it can be used that to manage your SUSE servers or Red Hat servers.

As part of the migration offer Steinman claimed that Novell would be delivering fixes and updates to Red Hat servers. As well Novell is claiming to guarantee binary compatibility with Red Hat.

A Red Hat spokesperson told InternetNews.com that Red Hat has no comment on the Novell migration offer.

Both Red Hat and SUSE use RPM (originally the Red Hat Package Manager) as their packaging solution which allows for certain degree of compatibility. As well Steinman argued that 70 percent of SUSE Enterprise Linux is the same as RHEL.

"Overall we find that it's not difficult to migrate but it does take time," Steinman argued. " There is the application porting and coding and then also there is some minor training that need to get done. While the two distributions are 70 percent the same there is still a 30 percent difference."

In contrast, Oracle which also offers a competitor to RHEL, takes a different approach. With Oracle Unbreakable Linux, Oracle claims to offer binary compatibility with RHEL and applications that work on RHEL will work with Oracle's Linux.

While the goal for Novell is to grow share in the Linux market, it is only targeting Red Hat with its migration effort. Novell is not currently targeting Ubuntu or Debian Linux users for migration.

"This is being driven by customer demand," Steinman said. "We haven't heard from customers nor have we seen a lot of Ubuntu or Debian in large data center environments."

The Novell Red Hat migration offer also has another angle to it with interesting competitive overtones. One of Novell's largest Linux customers is actually Microsoft by way of a multi-year agreement that sees Microsoft reselling SUSE Linux support certificates.

"It will absolutely be available through Microsoft certificates," Steinman said.