August 11, 2003 1:20 PM PDT

Dell tightens Linux ties

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Dell has expanded its work with leading Linux seller Red Hat, but its relations with No. 2 SuSE are warming.

Dell's primary Linux partner is Red Hat, whose software it bundles with its servers and with whom the company has signed support contracts. Last week, Dell announced it has begun making Red Hat's new midrange version of Linux available with its servers.

But because of customer demand, the Round Rock, Texas-based computer maker and SuSE are starting to work more closely together, SuSE CEO Richard Seibt said. In one recent customer deal, Dell bid with Red Hat as a partner and IBM bid with SuSE. Dell won, but the customer requested that Dell install SuSE's Linux, Seibt said. SuSE declined to disclose the name of the customer.

As a result, SuSE is in the process of making sure its software works well on Dell machines, he said. "We have just got all the systems from Dell, and we have begun to certify the products," Seibt said.

Dell wouldn't say whether it was working to elevate SuSE toward Red Hat's stature, with technical support and joint sales relationships.

"Red Hat remains our main partner for Linux distribution, and we continue to monitor customer requirements for their software needs," the company said in a statement.

Full SuSE support from Dell "would make sense, because SuSE is gaining visibility at the CIO level due to some pretty big customers in the United States," said Stacey Quandt, an independent analyst. SuSE's U.S. customers include Ford Motor and several Wall Street companies, she said.

SuSE's support for IBM's zSeries line of mainframe computers has appealed to corporate customers, she added. "It's a significant foot in the door, and somewhere where Red Hat initially fell short," Quandt said.

SuSE has already certified several Dell servers for use with its operating system.

Of the top four server makers, Dell is the only one without a full-fledged SuSE relationship. Two weeks ago, Sun Microsystems joined IBM and Hewlett-Packard as a SuSE partner.

SuSE, which is based in Germany, is strong in Europe, Forrester analyst Ted Schadler said. "If Dell wants to make hay in Europe, they've got to do a SuSE deal," he said.

Red Hat remains the top-ranked seller of Linux. At the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo last week, Dell announced it is shipping the new Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) ES version with its dual-processor PowerEdge 1650 and 2650 servers and its two-processor 4600 server.

Red Hat released RHEL ES, meant for lower-end servers, in March as a response to customers who were unhappy paying the steeper price of RHEL AS, which is designed for high-end servers.

Dell installs RHEL AS, but not ES, Dell spokeswoman Carmen Maverick said. "You do install (ES) yourself," she said, but the Red Hat software comes in the same box as the server, she said.


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