Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) beat Wall Street expectations with a 22-cent-per-share profit in the fourth quarter.

Driven by a 14 percent increase in revenue compared with a year ago, before the recession hit, the world’s top Linux software developer and services provider exceeded analysts’ expectations by 2 cents a share.

The Raleigh-based company said Wednesday after the markets closed that revenues hit $166.2 million in the last three months of the year. That total is 18 percent higher than in the same quarter in 2007 and also represented a 1 percent increase in sales from the third quarter despite the global slowdown.

For the year, Red Hat reported $652.6 million in revenues, up 20 percent from 2007. Profits rose to $178.1 million, or 86 cents a share, up from $165.3 million a year earlier.

The news sent Red Hat shares up 5 percent in after-hours trading after closing at $15, down 27 cents for the day.

In an environment in which many companies are looking to cut costs, Red Hat said it closed more than 100 deals topping $250,000. Red Hat positions Linux as a less-costly alternative to proprietary software solutions such as Microsoft.

“Our value proposition is even more compelling in a challenging economic environment, and we believe that’s a key driver to our solid financial results and market-share gains,” said Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat’s chief executive officer, who has been on the job for just over a year.