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Commercial Linux Distro Support Shootout

By Kenneth Hess (Send Email)
Posted Feb 18, 2009


Ken Hess
Money can't buy you love; nor can it buy you happiness. But it just might bring you peace of mind. The Big 3 commercial Linux vendors; Canonical, Novell and Red Hat are ready to serve you through support subscription services for your Linux infrastructure. There are some big advantages to using commercial vendor support for your systems: 24x7 priority support, fixed support costs and experts who know your operating system inside and out.

Cover Your Assets: If you're looking to deploy Linux in the enterprise, chances are you're considering Red Hat, SUSE or Ubuntu. Sure, whichever one you pick will likely save you money, but don't forget to factor support into the mix. Doing so will save you both dollars and headaches in the long run.

All three companies provide two basic levels of support: Standard and Priority. Standard is support during normal business hours and defined as either 9x5 or 12x5 support, depending on the vendor. A priority-level subscription buys you 24x7 support and one-hour turnaround on priority-one incidents. All subscription models include unlimited incidents. Prices vary widely between vendors, but all are on a per-machine basis.

The idea of fixed yearly support costs is an appealing one. Knowing exactly what your desktop and server support costs will be for the coming year makes it much simpler to create a budget. Purchase a three-year subscription and enjoy a 10 percent discount on the price. Imagine accurately planning a three-year budget — that's the stuff of bean-counters' dreams!

You know you've spent your support dollars wisely when you hear a calm voice on the other end of your frantic support call say, "Thank you for calling (Vendor) support, I'm here to help." There's nothing quite like personalized support — you'll experience no fumbles, no stumbles and no million questions about which operating system you have, which kernel you're running or why you picked this distribution over another. Your information pops up on the support person's screen and your incident enters the queue.

Now that you know why you want commercial vendor support, let's look at who delivers it and how much it costs. Please see the Support Pricing Matrix table at the end of this article for a cross-vendor comparison of support options. All of this information is also publicly available on the vendor web sites. Prices shown are "street prices" per physical machine and do not take volume or corporate discounts into account.

Canonical

Canonical is the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu Linux. Sponsorship includes development, ongoing support and a pledge to keep Ubuntu Linux free to use for any purpose. Canonical is a commercial, for-profit company that provides engineering and development services, 24x7 support for Ubuntu Linux, training, hardware certification and application packaging.

Canonical's Standard support offering is 9x5 — covering your local business hours only — a deviation from the "norm" of 12x5 support from the other two companies. Its Priority support is far more expensive than the competition, which is sure to be a deterrent to many would-be Ubuntu users.

Novell

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Novell owns, develops and supports SUSE Linux, which took the place of its own NetWare operating system. Novell offers SUSE Linux in two basic flavors: SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES). Novell has a long history of first-rate support and some of the best technical folks in the business.

Novell opts for a somewhat conservative stance concerning its flagship operating system in favor of stability over leading-edge features. Competitive support pricing for both Standard and Priority options and Novell's rock-solid stability make it a palatable business choice.

Red Hat

Red Hat Linux is the world's most popular commercial Linux distribution. Known to be a true open source success story, Red Hat, the company, is the standard by which all other Linux companies are measured. Excellent support, training and the industry's most sought-after technical certification (the RHCE), make Red Hat a competitor that's hard to beat.

A quick call to Red Hat's Sales Department gives you the lowdown on its Desktop Support options. Apparently, the company views the corporate Desktop as non-critical, since your best support option buys you 12x5 phone support and web support.

Support Pricing Matrix
  Desktop
Standard
Desktop
24x7
Server
Standard
Server
24x7
Canonical $250 $900 $750 $2,750
Novell $120 $220 $799 $1,499
Red Hat $80* $299** $799 $1,299
*Red Hat's Standard Corporate Desktop Support Option.
**Red Hat's Standard Corporate Workstation Support Option.

Based on support option pricing and coverage, Red Hat is the clear winner of the server support shootout. For corporate desktop coverage, Novell takes the prize. The overall winner of the comparison goes to Red Hat for its inexpensive ($80 per computer per year) desktop support and 24x7 ($1,299 per server per year) server support. This combination makes the most economical sense for enterprises that want to maximize support bang for the least amount of bucks.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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