Red Hat undercuts Microsoft on high-performance OS pricing

Red Hat Thursday released a Linux software stack for compute-intensive IT environments that it said costs less than Microsoft's price for its comparable Windows offering.

Red Hat charges a subscription of US$249 per node, or server, per year for Red Hat HPC Solution, a new offering that combines Red Hat Enterprise Linux with Platform Open Cluster Stack 5, clustering software it has licensed from Platform Computing.

Red Hat HPC Solution also includes device drivers, a cluster installer, cluster-management tools, a resource and application monitor, interconnect support and a job scheduler. The yearly subscription also includes ongoing technical support, bug fixes and any future software updates, said product marketing manager Gerry Riveros.

Comparably, Microsoft's Windows HPC Server 2008, which also combines the OS with components needed for clustering and managing the HPC environment, costs a one-time fee of $475 per node, which on the surface seems less expensive than Red Hat's offering.

However, to get maintenance and software updates, Microsoft requires that enterprise customers purchase an Enterprise Assurance (EA) maintenance agreement for three years. Though Microsoft will not disclose publicly what those agreements cost, those familiar with them said they typically cost about 25 percent to 29 percent of the price of the product.

Factoring in the cost of the EA, the cost of one Windows HPC 2008 Server over three years would be more than $800, while a comparable HPC offering from Red Hat is about $750.

Through its public relations firm, Microsoft Thursday declined to provide estimates about how much Windows HPC Server 2008 will cost over three years for customers beyond the per-node pricing, saying that information will be available on its Web site on Nov. 1.

Customers who require HPC environments perform tasks such as data modeling or complex, computer-generated simulation that require complex computational power.

Before Thursday, Red Hat offered only a version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux for HPC environments; customers have to assemble other components of the software needed to build a full-scale HPC environment themselves, Riveros said.

He acknowledged that pressure from Microsoft in the HPC market inspired the company to sell an all-in-one offering for a competitive price. Customers, too, asked Red Hat to combine the components with the OS to make for easier deployment and management, he said.

"We wanted to remove the chief roadblocks, the whole hassle of trying to put it together themselves," Riveros said.

Linux is the OS most used for HPC environments and has been dominant in the market for some time. However, over the past several years Microsoft -- a relative newcomer to the space -- has stepped up its efforts because the company wants people to use Windows in that market.

Last month Microsoft released to manufacturing Windows HPC Server 2008 as a complete bundle for deploying and managing high-performance clusters at what it claims is a competitive price. Microsoft and Cray also last month unveiled a $25,000 personal supercomputer, the Cray CX1, that they said will give people an HPC environment at their desktop.

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