Published on August 2nd, 2010 | by Arsalan Mir2
Linux and You – What’s the Right Choice to Make
Guest Post By Sandeep Menon
In today’s world of technology, the CTO or CIO is definitely spoilt for choice. No longer are the days when they have to pick only the established vendors for their IT infrastructures. Total costs of ownership of IT systems have shifted and spread out, and from an operating platforms perspective, there are so many choices that can be implemented.
More recently, the Linux operating platform has become an increasingly attractive alternative as an operating system. Some of the best-run Internet companies today, for example, base their systems on Open Source and Linux. Linux has gone deeper and deeper into the Enterprise, and many organizations run their mission-critical applications on Linux, deep within their infrastructures and data centers. Other organizations though, prefer Linux to run on the edges of the corporate network, supporting file and email systems. Mixed environments made up of Windows and Linux are a norm in today’s IT world.
In looking at Linux, the CTO needs to decide between commercially supported Linux distributions versus an unsupported Linux distribution (where a highly capable in-house IT team is required); versus a community distribution (where one can turn to a community of engineers for help). While each of the various “flavors” of Linux has its pros and cons, the challenge is in managing the potential risks and costs of dealing with varying support issues each Linux offers, and matching with the needs of the company.
While an IT manager seeks simplicity in implementation and management, CTOs and CIOs need to find solutions that work for the different mission-critical applications within the organization, the costs of supporting those applications, the ability of the IT team to support it, as well as the future needs of the organization.
Commercial Linux distributors provide enterprise-class operating system products that are durable, stable, tested, and fully certified like products from proprietary enterprise software companies. These Linux vendors maintain hardware and application certifications for their Linux distributions to ensure optimal performance and compatibility. Enterprise Linux vendors will test all new versions and maintenance updates to guarantee compatibility and make sure that third-party hardware and software continue to perform flawlessly.
Novell, for example, has more than 5,000 software applications that are fully certified on the latest versions of SUSE Linux Enterprise, with independent software vendors (ISVs) contributing an average of 150 new applications each month. Between the versions of SUSE Linux Enterprise 9, 10 and 11, SUSE Linux has the most certified software applications of any Linux distribution in the marketplace. This means that practically every business application needed for the Enterprise can run on SUSE Linux.
At Novell, an update for SUSE Linux Enterprise is made with the entire ecosystem in mind. Customers can implement SUSE Linux Enterprise updates with the assurance that Novell has done everything within its ecosystem of partners to ensure the customer’s operating experience remains seamless.
On the other hand, community supported Linux distributions promote rapid innovation and are less concerned with compatibility and stability. With their faster pace of innovation, community supported Linux distributions have more frequent release cycles than enterprise Linux distributions. Additionally, Independent Hardware Vendors and Independent Software Vendors certify on enterprise editions of Linux only. Community supported Linux distributions are for users that value the newest features and functionalities over the stability and hardware and software certifications of an enterprise Linux distribution that organizations around the world rely on for their mission-critical computing needs.
Operating system security needs to be constantly monitored because security threats develop quickly and have severe consequences for enterprises. Unplanned downtime caused by security issues has real costs for companies by reducing worker productivity, decreasing revenue, and potentially losing the trust of customers. However, few companies have the bandwidth or skills to continuously monitor and respond to operating system security vulnerabilities that threaten their data centers. And investing in additional staff with the right skills can be prohibitively expensive.
Corporate IT decision makers should assess not only the security features of an operating system platform, but also how security vulnerabilities are identified and resolved. Enterprise Linux distributors have teams of engineers that scan vulnerability announcements, so potential threats can be identified in real-time. Once a threat has been identified they will deploy patches to protect systems. For critical threats, a commercial Linux vendor will distribute a patch within hours or days. In less critical situations, they will deliver the security update in a few weeks after first conducting rigorous testing.
When deciding to run a community supported Linux distribution or an enterprise edition without a subscription, organizations will need to assess their teams’ skills and ability to identify and address security threats. Although Linux is less frequently the target of security attacks than other proprietary operating systems, organizations still need to assess the trade-off between the cost of a community supported distribution or running without a subscription and the protection and insurance that an enterprise Linux subscription and distribution provides.
Service Support and Subscription
A subscription for an enterprise Linux distribution not only ensures ongoing maintenance updates, security patches, and the assurance that comes with third-party hardware and software certifications, but also supports service level agreements. The support process is structured and designed to ensure a business customer has their issue resolved. To that end, commercial Linux vendors provide guaranteed response times for addressing an organization’s support issue.
Like proprietary software vendors, commercial Linux providers draw on the cumulative knowledge of world-class software engineers when resolving support issues. Commercial Linux vendors can craft a customized fix for your specific deployment scenario and ensure it will work across certified hardware and software.
If you are considering running an enterprise distribution unsupported or deploying a community supported edition, take in your larger strategy of growth, and see if the Linux distribution is able to meet your long term needs. You will need to address how you will handle support issues. While your enterprise IT staff may have tremendous capabilities, OS support and maintenance is a specialized discipline that is hard to perform effectively and efficiently. Furthermore, providing support is not the community’s business and does not guarantee a response time or a customized fix.
While some organizations could wait for the community to resolve their specific support issues, others do not have the time and manpower to search and test support fixes on their own. Even if your organization could tolerate some downtime, you would still need to spend time resolving the problem and bringing the system back into production, and that personnel time has a real cost. Additionally, for mission-critical systems, organizations can rarely tolerate a moment of downtime. The cost of downtime on these systems often significantly exceeds the cost of commercial support for the system.
In today’s world, organizations seek to simplify systems, mitigate risks and reduce total cost of ownership in their IT infrastructures. Commercially supported Linux has its benefits for certain organizations, while other Linux distributions may suit other companies. Choosing the right Linux for your organization is not that difficult, once you clearly identify the current and future needs of your organization.
Sandeep Menon is Novell’s Country Head for India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Sandeep is considered one of the pioneers of the Linux industry in the ASEAN region, having been involved with growing the open source enterprise business from its early days.