It's a small step for Dell and symbolic victory for Ubuntu Server Edition, Canonical's Linux distribution. Specifically, selected Dell PowerEdge servers are now certified to run Ubuntu Server Edition. Does that mean Dell is shifting away from Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell SUSE Linux? And what are the implications for Linux channel partners? Hmmm... Here's the reality check.

No doubt, Dell remains firmly committed to Red Hat and Novell SUSE Linux. In fact, Dell does not plan to factory install Ubuntu Server Edition. Nor does Dell's technical support teams officially support Canonical's operating system.

So what exactly is Dell doing with Ubuntu Server Edition? In a Sept. 27 blog post Dell states:
"The Dell Linux Engineering team has been working with Canonical over the past 2 years to certify Dell PowerEdge servers with the Ubuntu Server Edition operating system. Dell and Canonical have worked together to ensure that customers can feel confident in deploying Ubuntu on select PowerEdge servers in their production environments.

Ubuntu Server Edition is not factory-installed by Dell and our technical support teams do not officially support the operating system. However, customers can purchase support contracts directly with Canonical at canonical.com.
Alas, too bad neither Dell nor Canonical mention channel partners as a potential safety net for Ubuntu Server Edition deployments.

To help improve systems management, Dell says, the PC giant has released OpenManage 6,3 compiled for Ubuntu 9.10. But here again, the release is "not officially supported by Dell or Canonical at this point." For more details, Dell says readers should refer to the blog Dell OpenManage 6.3 for Ubuntu.

Real Progress?

Still, there is some progress here. Canonical's hardware certification site now lists Dell PowerEdge servers -- which could be comforting to VARs and businesses that want to run Ubuntu Server Edition.

The Dell PowerEdge certification move comes amid some turbulence in the Linux server market:
  • Red Hat continues to show momentum with Linux, and customers are beginning to discover Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV).
  • Some customers are delaying Novell SUSE Linux deployments until Novell's pending ownership status is addressed.
  • And let's not forget Oracle, which is starting to more heavily promote Oracle Linux.
Can Canonical really hope to compete against those server software giants? Hmmm...
  • A few years ago, Sun Microsystems promoted Ubuntu Server Edition on selected systems but that effort seems to have faded away -- especially as Oracle digested Sun.
  • IBM does some work virtualizing Ubuntu desktops on centralized servers, but Big Blue hasn't said much about Ubuntu Server Edition.
  • HP in June 2009 certified selected ProLiant servers to run Ubuntu. But like Dell, HP isn't pre-installing Ubuntu Server Edition.

Dell: Canonical's Best Friend?

Still, Dell seems to be working with Canonical on a number of fronts. A few prime examples:
Visit www.Dell.com/Ubuntu in the United States and you'll often find some Dell systems with Ubuntu preinstalled. Now, Dell seems to be taking interest in Ubuntu Server Edition.

But let's keep Dell's Ubuntu interests in perspective. For Ubuntu Server Edition to really succeed at Dell, the PC giant will need to (A) offer the operating system as a preinstalled option (B) support the operating system and (C) educate Dell PartnerDirect VARs about Ubuntu Server Edition. So far, A, B and C are yet to happen.

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