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Speaking to a receptive crowd of 800 at this morning's first keynote at the Red Hat Summit, Director of Online Services Matt Maddox officially introduced the anticipated service, first announced in March during the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 launch. RHX is designed to allow participating members capitalize on existing and new Red Hat customers desire and ability to pay for enterprise-level applications and services.
Reaching customers has always been a problem for open source companies, and reaching customers that are willing to pay for services and support can be an even greater challenge. That challenge is something RHX members hope will be addressed.
The online service will feature products and services from the current set of 14 members, companies that include Alfresco, EnterpriseDB, MySQL, Pentaho, SugarCRM, and Zimbra. Initially partners are from North America, with a planned European expansion later this year.
Users of RHX can download free trials of members' software, purchase and download products, and have products installed through Red Hat Network (RHN) technology. There will also be areas of the site where users can submit feedback and reviews of individual products, which fits with Red Hat's goal of using social networking to winnow and grade open source software features from the userspace. When asked what would happen if there was a dispropotionate number of negative reviews for a given product, one of the risks of running an open feedback oriented site, Donald Fischer, Red Hat's VP of Online Srvices, replayed that they should be able to handle those sorts of incidents on a case-by-case basis.
Besides the social networking aspect, which is likely culled from Red Hat's recent venture with the Mugshot social networking site, RHX will utilize existing RHN technology to actually deliver and install software to customers. Maddox indicated that fully integrated stacks can be delivered via this RHN-based delievery system. This means "the operating system, the application, and everything in-between," Maddox stated to the press after the keynote.
Participants who use RHX to acquire software will also gain a single point of contact for support. Support questions will be handled by Red Hat (for level one concerns) or the RHX member (for levels two and up), but the customer will be deal with the initial contact at Red Hat.
Revenue from the subscriptions will be shared between Red Hat and the partners, though Maddox did not comment on specifics.
The motivation for implementing RHX, from Red Hat's side, was to ideally minimize the confusion on the part of the users on how to implement full solutions, such as messaging platforms, or database systems, instead of piecemeal installations, one component at a time.
Partners in the RHX system seem eager to participate in this online service, because Red Hat offers them a strong sales path, as well as a global presence that helps with support. Chandler Kant, Founder and CTO of the open source backup software company Zmanda, summed it up: "We'd rather develop and let Red Hat sell for us."
Other partners cited Red Hat's market reach as a big benefit.
"For us, the big benefit was access to the broader market reach," stated Helen Donnelly, Sr. VP of Marketing for EnterpriseDB. "[Such as] the small- to medium-sized business market, the individual user who wants to explore different solutions and is looking at whole ecosystems, and doesn't really want to just look at individual piece-parts."
RHX has the potential to affect Red Hat's channel program, which applies value-added services to customers. Integrated stacks would seem to cut out value-added partner sales. Red Hat disagrees "It's really not a disintermediating of the channel in any way," replied Fischer. Channel partners who are also members of RHX attending the post-keynote press conference agreed with Fischer's statements, indicating their comfort level was fairly secure.
Use of the RHX site is free, but registration is required to actively participate in reviews and forums, as well as downloading software.
This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.