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Big Debian Linux Payday For HP

Who said you can't make money by supporting free community-based Linux distributions?

HP is making $25 million by supporting the free Debian GNU/Linux distribution in what may ultimately turn out to be a challenge to commercial distributions from Novell and Red Hat.

HP announced in August 2005 it would be offering support services for Debian, which has been one of the most popular and widest deployed community-based Linux distributions since its inception.GNU/Linux.

In fiscal 2006, $25 million in hardware sales in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) were directly related to HP's Debian support.

"I was pretty shocked when I found out about this," Jeffrey Wade, worldwide marketing manager of open source and Linux at HP, told internetnews.com.

Wade noted that the sales figures were much greater than his own expectations. Though HP announced support for Debian last August, it was only in December that HP began to sell what it calls Debian care packs of support services. Those care packs are bundled offerings of support from HP for predetermined levels of service and response times.

"When we talked in August we said that we'd be introducing a phased approach," Wade explained. "We're now in phase four of our hardware testing, and we'll be finished by the end of this quarter and then we'll have all ProLiant and Blade System Servers supported by Debian."

HP support is set for the Debian Sarge release, which debuted in June 2005. Wade noted that HP is working toward certifying its hardware against the upcoming Debian Etch release, which is set for a 2007 rollout.

Wade was unable to break out figures beyond EMEA, though he noted the bulk of the Debian-related sales were to SMBs and government customers.

"We're the first major vendor to offer this kind of support for Debian," Wade said, adding that, by backing it, the company is validating it as an alternative to commercially branded Linux distributions for customers.

HP supports both Novell SUSE Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Though HP may well make more profit from a Debian-related sale since Debian is free and does not involve additional subscription fees from a third party.

"We're able to offer a better value, and we can make a little bit more margin on it too," Wade said.

Though HP is having success with Debian, the company is not likely to be adding another Linux distribution to its roster anytime soon.

"Every additional distribution that we pick up is a big investment in testing and support which is a challenge from the service side," Wade said. "When we decided to do Debian, we had to figure out what the opportunity was and what sales we would generate.

"This information exceeds what we were expecting to see."