HP to sell homegrown version of Linux

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) will step out on its own and begin selling a homegrown version of Linux, focusing on creating what it called an ultra-secure version of the operating system instead of relying on partner distributions as it has in the past.

The open source Linux OS has enjoyed wide adoption on servers and workstations with a number of vendors such as Red Hat Inc. selling their flavors of the OS to customers. HP and other major hardware sellers often bundle a version of Linux outsourced from Linux OS specialists with their products.

HP, however, has decided to develop an in-house version of Linux -- named HP Secure OS Software for Linux -- with a special focus on making the operating system more secure. Linux has been championed as a highly scalable operating system, but HP customers such as telecommunication companies are looking for a more secure version of Linux that could run on their Web servers, said Roberto Medrano, general manager of HP's Internet Security division.

The company will make its Linux distribution available on its own servers as well as non-HP hardware that passes qualification tests. HP will also offer a host of consulting services around the operating system to help make sure customers take advantage of the security features in the product.

HP will sell its version of Linux for about US$3,000 per server and begin shipping the product next week, Medrano said. The operating system is built around version 2.4 of the Linux kernel and comes with other software including the Apache Web server.

HP's version of Linux will come with a "virtual compartment" that helps prevent unauthorized communication between programs, networks and files. This feature should lower security risks for users managing information with different sensitivity levels on the same server.

The new software will also come with a detection system for alerting administrators about hacking attempts and a containment feature that locks a hacked program, preventing it from damaging applications or launching other attacks, according to HP.

While the core of HP's version of Linux will be released to the open source community, many of the security features including the "virtual compartment" technology will remain in HP's hands only, HP officials here said.

One analyst wasn't surprised by HP's move and said it could prove a boon for the company, at least in the short term, as it tries to sell computers and software to customers that place a high priority on security, such as government agencies.

"HP has clearly taken a step ahead of some of its rivals," said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software research at International Data Corp. (IDC), based in Framingham, Massachusetts. "There is a chance that lead will give them an advantage in government markets, but if it does, it is momentary at best."

Rivals like IBM Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp. have the engineering know-how to turn around a similar, security-focused version of Linux in fairly short order, Kusnetzky said.

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has already developed its own secure version of Linux which it made available to the open source community. That could provide the basis for a project undertaken by IBM or Compaq, the IDC analyst said.

If the government or other customers start to show interest in HP's product, IBM and Compaq would likely develop a similar offering, Kusnetzky said.

As well as government users, HP expects ISPs (Internet Service Providers), telecommunication companies and large e-commerce companies to drive adoption. The company already has sold 300 licenses for the software to an e-commerce company, Medrano said, although he declined to identify the company.

HP, based in Palo Alto, California, can be reached at +1-650-857-1501 or at http://www.hp.com/.

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