Former Red Hat Execs Want To Rightsize Linux

Billy Marshall and Erik Troan want to make it easier to bundle Linux with software applications.
Red Hat has matured to the point where it finds itself seeding other companies with execs from within its ranks. One recent startup counts a quarter of its employees as former Red Hat staff. RPath lets independent software vendors bundle their applications with Linux in preconfigured packages that optimize the operations of the applications.

Billy Marshall, who as a VP at Red Hat helped take its North American sales from $8 million in 2001 to $150 million in 2005, and Erik Troan, ex-Red Hat VP of product engineering, have moved a few miles down the road to found rPath. The company wants to make it easier to bundle Linux with software applications. It serves app vendors, such as Digium and Ingres, that in turn produce digital files that include the Linux operating system preconfigured to run their specific application.

That bundling may not sound revolutionary, but consider this: Troan came up with Red Hat Package Manager, or RPM, the product that distinguished Red Hat from other Linux distributors. RPM is a method of describing a Linux package amid hundreds of other components. Except for the kernel, Linux consists of hundreds of small component packages. Knowing which package is the most recent and the dependencies between packages was once a skill possessed only by highly knowledgeable Linux programmers. Red Hat simplified all that by embedding the information within the package and allowing automated assembly of a Linux operating system.

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But Troan now considers RPM old hat. He's gone on to invent a new method of assembling Linux, rBuilder, which takes into account the type of application it will be running. Red Hat produces a "one-size-fits-all operating system," says rPath CEO Marshall. RPath wants to produce the size that's just right for each application. Sometimes that right-sized operating system and application will be preloaded on a piece of hardware, with the whole unit shipped to the customer, ready to plug in.

"There is a need," says Raven Zachary, an open source analyst with The 451 Group. "Digium is shipping Asterix"--an open source telephone central switch application--"with rPath because it doesn't want to get bogged down in operating system expertise." Linux is still too complicated for data centers that don't have Linux experience in-house. Receiving an rPath bundle is a way for companies to sidestep the need to acquire that expertise.