Alan Hargreaves' Blog

The ramblings of an Australian SaND TSC* Principal Field Technologist

Journalistic Fact Checking (or lack thereof)

I have just been reading US Marshals Switching to Red Hat Linux by Michael Arnone from Federal Computer Week, and I must say that I am astounded by the inaccuries and complete lack of fact verification let alone reseach done by the author.

Let’s have a look at some parts of the article.

Red Hat Enterprise Server is cheaper and has better features than the Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW) Latest News about Sun Microsystems SCO Linux the Marshals have used for years, Campbell said. “It was a natural for us to consider Red Hat as an [operating system] to run on,” he said.

I can only assume that this “Sun SCO Linux” that Michael talks about is Interactive Unix, that exits support on July 23 this year.

From the page referenced above, we see that this product was based on System V Release 3.2.

I can’t find the exact specifics, but it looks to me like we started selling this product in about 1996.

I’m not surprised that Red Hat Linux has more features. I’d expect my mobile phone to have more features!

Because Red Hat provides open source Latest News about open source software, it’s easy to download a free evaluation copy, Campbell said. It also doesn’t have to run on proprietary equipment like Sun products do, which lowers the total cost of ownership.

This reads almost like Red Hat Marketing, and is simply not true. It’s also contradicted further down the article, but we’ll get there shortly.

Almost a year ago, Sun open sourced Solaris. Back in January of last year we announced that the License cost for Solaris 10 is $0. This is not a free evaluation copy, this is the real deal. How on earth could one justify that statement?

We also have competitive analysis showing how Sun’s support costs are cheaper than Red Hat’s, but I am only mentioning that as the article talks about TCO. They don’t actually talk about cost of support.

“Agencies don’t have a ton of money to spend,” Campbell said. The Marshals expect to save US$50,000 to $100,000 a year by using Red
Hat.

Compared to what? If we are talking about the current support costs of Interactive Unix, then it’s not a reasonable comparison. This type of comparison needs to be made between competing products.

Another benefit is that Red Hat Network allows the Marshals to patch and monitor servers remotely, Campbell said. That’s important because the agency doesn’t have IT staff in every office to update software manually, he said. “This makes our life so much easier,” he added.

And this is only possible with Red Hat because?

Red Hat supports other software the Marshals use and provides better technical support than other vendors, Campbell said, adding that Red Hat supports Enterprise Server 3.0 for eight years, while Sun only supports SCO for five.

Say what?

Let’s have a look at how Sun supports Solaris (remember we need to compare competing products here, not what they are replacing).

As a support engineer myself, I am very aware of how this works.

It’s actually very simple. Sun provides a tiered off level of support for five years AFTER THE FINAL SALE OF THE PRODUCT. This means that after we make the final sale of a particular Solaris (and we have not reached this point for Solaris 8 & 9 yet), that we see the following:

Phase Support Level
Vintage Phase 1 (Years 1 & 2 After Last Ship Date) The level of support will provide contract customers full remedial support excepting requests for enhancements and cosmetic bugs. Patches will be created as needed and distributed via SunSolve(SM). This provides no material reduction in the level of support. However, patches will not be rolled up into quarterly updates.
Vintage Phase 2 (Years 3, 4 & 5 After Last Ship Date) Contract customers will continue to receive telephone support and access to existing patches in SunSolve.

OK, let’s take an example. Solaris 2.6 was released in February 1997. Last ship was July 2001. It drops off support in July this year. That makes for nine years of support, the first six of which were complete with rfe and cosmetic bugs being fixed.

How about Solaris 8? Solaris 8 was released in March 2000. We have still not done the last ship for it, so this means that there will be phase one suport for at least until mid 2008, and phase 2 support until at least mid 2011. Folks, that’s 11 years and still may be more depending on when we have the last ship of Solaris 8.

Upgrading operating systems allows federal law enforcement agencies to migrate from the proprietary applications and hardware they have, said Helmut Kurth, chief scientist and lab director at Atsec, an IT consulting firm that evaluates products for Common Criteria certification.

And how is Red Hat different to any number of other Unix/Linux offerings out there in this regard?

The Marshals chose SCO Linux years ago because it was one of the first operating systems that ran on the Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) Latest News about Intel Pentium processors the agency has, Campbell said. Solaris and other operating systems now run on Intel machines, but the Marshals prefer Red Hat, he said.

Here is the contradiction that I mentioned earlier. Remember how Campbell said “It also doesn’t have to run on proprietary equipment like Sun products do” ? Well I guess you could call Intel a proprietry architecture, it’s certainly not as open as SPARC, but I don’t think that’s what he meant. He’s acknowledged that Solaris runs on the intel architecture here, but earlier implied that one had to buy expensive hardware from Sun to run Solaris. Sounds like another page from the Red Hat book of marketing.

We also see the real reason that Red Hat was chosen. Let me quote it again.

“Solaris and other operating systems now run on Intel machines, but the Marshals prefer Red Hat, he [Campbell] said.”

The Marshals prefer Red Hat. It’s hard to argue with that.

Going further down the article.

The U.S. Marshals Service and other law enforcement agencies use Red Hat Linux because it handles sensitive information securely, said Paul Smith, Red Hat’s vice president of government sales operations.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Version 3.0 is at Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL) 4 out of a possible 7 and is certified under Controlled Access Protection Profile (CAPP) at EAL 3+.

News Flash. Red Hat are not the only O/S out there with this certification. Solaris has had these for an awful long time.

In conclusion, I certainly hope that the Marshals were a bit more diligent with the US taxpayers money than this article is making out. My reading shows that they did not do any research into the serious competitors and that is just sad. All that I ask is that when evaluating the replacement of a system that has been in place for some time, that you look at all competing products (the currently shipping versions thereof) with an open mind.

The other sad thing, which I mentioned at the top of this blog is the complete lack of research and fact checking by the author.

To quote a famous Australian TV investigative journalist/celebrity, “shame”.

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Written by Alan

June 7, 2006 at 8:02 pm

Posted in OpenSolaris

2 Responses

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  1. One might wonder why agencies which spend public money bother with fact checking when it seems clear that a vendor’s marketing department did all the “research” to “back up” the press release.

    James McPherson

    June 8, 2006 at 6:02 am

  2. The Common Criteria certification that Solaris has is at for CAPP and RBACPP at EAL4+ so not only do we have it we have a higher certification than what the article quotes for RedHat. Trusted Solaris 8, and the soon to be release Trusted Extensions for Solaris 10, add LSPP to that still at EAL4+.

    Darren Moffat

    June 9, 2006 at 7:08 am


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