In Part 1, I discussed the four Free Linux distributions that are best position to provide extended support and ample functionality to an end user through a protracted recession, as well as having the characteristic "safeness" or "stability" factor in terms of being able to weather the economic storm -- i.e., their relative ability to resist the inevitable Darwinian culling of the herd that is likely to befall many of the less popular or less-supported distributions. In this second part, I'm going to list the Enterprise-class Free and Open Source Operating Systems which have similar characteristics. Unlike the previous list, not all of the OSes listed here are Linux-based -- some of these are UNIX systems.
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CentOS and Scientific LinuxWeb Site: http://www.centos.org
More Information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centos
Web Site: https://www.scientificlinux.org/
More Information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_Linux
Can't afford the support licenses for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) but still want the industry-standard support of a Red Hat based environment? You could go with Fedora, Red Hat's developer Linux platform, but their six month release cycle and 1-year lifespan for each release makes it a difficult choice for mission critical, enterprise Linux systems that need to stay in stable operation and have predictable maintenance cycles. Instead, you might want to consider either CentOS or Scientific Linux, both of which are near-identical clones of RHEL based on publicly available RHEL source code. They both run the same exact 3rd-party RHEL-certified software and 3rd-party packages intended for use in the RHEL environment, while running the same exact enterprise regression-tested kernel of RHEL, with none of the support costs. Unlike RHEL which requires an entitlement to Red Hat Network, patches and updates to CentOS and Scientific Linux are absolutely free -- although they are released at a delayed interval from Red Hat's own patches, usually about a week's difference or less, depending on the severity of the bugfix or vulnerability.
What's the difference between the two? CentOS (which is an acronym for Community Enterprise Operating System) is assembled and compiled by a small team of independent developers and is supported by independent donations. In comparison, Scientific Linux is an officially supported project of Fermilab and CERN -- the American and European scientific institutions behind well-known high-energy physics research such as the Tevatron and the (in)famous Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Scientific Linux differs slightly from CentOS in that it includes packages that are not in the base RHEL distribution to support features such as clustering and use as a graphics/visualization workstation (The software is used to monitor the LHC's various experiments) as well as optional minor "tweaks" to certain base packages.
Given the probability Red Hat will continue to release source code for the foreseeable future, both of these distributions should be fairly recession resistant, although having the support of a major scientific research concern may tip the balance slightly in Scientifc Linux's favor.
The Support Skinny: CentOS aims to support their OS using an exact mirror of the patch and support cycles for RHEL, which is four years for RHEL's "first phase support cycle" , which includes new device driver support, security vulnerability fixes, functionality improvements and bug fixes. Scientific Linux has committed to a similar support cycle for the first 3 years following a version's release.
Ubuntu Server EditionWeb Site: http://www.ubuntu.com/server
More Information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu_Server_Edition
Like its desktop counterpart, Ubuntu Server is quickly making waves as a viable alternative to commercial Enterprise Linux distributions such as RHEL. Just take it from large not-for-profit organizations like Wikipedia who recently announced that they were standardizing all 400 of their server systems on the fledgling Enterprise Server OS.
While Ubuntu Server Edition has all the expected functionality that you would expect of a rock-solid Linux server OS, It has some design elements that differentiate it from its commercial competition -- it's installed without any X server, making it a much lighter install than RHEL or SLES's default configuration, and has no services running on open network ports by default, making it a much more secure default system. Like OpenSUSE and the much more expensive SLES, Ubuntu Server utilizes AppArmor, which allows systems administrators to enable special security profiles which restricts the behavior of installed programs, Ubuntu Server Edition also includes a rootless role-based administration model as well as increased Kernel and Compiler hardening. Ubuntu Server Edition also distinguishes itself from other Enterprise Server distributions in that it includes a "JeOS" (Just Enough Operation System) installer that allows for better installation and creation of virtual appliances.
The Support Skinny: Ubuntu Server Edition releases that are are classified as LTS (Long Term Support) releases include 5 years of security and stability updates. LTS versions are being released once every two years. "Normal" Server Edition releases are supported for 18 months with updates. The current LTS is 8.04.
OpenSUSEWeb Site: http://www.opensuse.org
More Information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opensuse
Unlike its Red Hat sponsored rival, Fedora, which is targeted primarily towards bleeding edge development releases and has a limited lifespan, OpenSUSE exists as both a community development platform and a stable environment. While Novell would certainly prefer you use SLES as a server, the fact of the matter is that much of what ends up in SLES originates in OpenSUSE, and while its two year support lifecycle is shorter than either CentOS/Scientific Linux or Ubuntu Server Edition LTS, OpenSUSE's is certainly more than good enough to use for stable enterprise server use, particularly if you are doing advanced web application development and need the very latest packages for LAMP that the other "enterprise" distros lag behind. OpenSUSE also is one of the few Linux distributions that is already enabled out-of-the-box with VMWare's openvmtools paravirtualization stack, so getting it up and running within the free VMWare ESX 3i and VMWare Server hypervisors are a piece of cake.
The Support Skinny: 2 years of security and stability updates for each major version. Versions are being released once every 6 months. The Current release version is 11.0. OpenSUSE can also be purchased in boxed format with installation media, a printed Start-Up manual and 90 days of paid technical support for $59.95.
Solaris 10 and OpenSolarisWeb Site: http://www.sun.com/software/solaris/
More Information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solaris_10
While Linux is getting most of the attention in the free OS area, let's not forget that some organizations might be better served by running a real UNIX OS. Sun's Solaris operating system, which used to belong to the realm of super-expensive RISC servers, has been available on the x86 architecture for approximately 10 years. However, Solaris first became an "Free" OSI-compliant Open Source OS, licensed under Sun's CDDL in June of 2005.
Among Solaris 10's advanced capabilities include Xen virtualization (using Sun's Solaris-based xVM Server) and Solaris Containers, which allow multiple virtual Solaris 10 systems with completely isolated settings and applications to run in isolated "Zones" off a single kernel instance of Solaris. Unlike hypervisor-based virtualization which require separate and complete instances of an OS to be spawned including kernel and libraries, Solaris Containers use only a very small amount of systems overhead and can be used with I/O intensive applications such as databases without any performance degradation.
Solaris also distinguishes itself using the highly scalable 128-bit Zetabyte File System (ZFS) which allows for "pools" of disk which greatly reduce the complexity of administrating and expanding large amounts of networked storage.
Solaris 10 is free for download provided users register on Sun's web site for a free entitlement but requires access to Sun's Solaris $350 per year subscription service to receive patches and bugfixes. However, the Solaris 10 DVD is refreshed approximately 2 times per year with cumulative fix and vulnerability roll-ups, so if you choose to go this route without purchased support, you'll need to rebuild your box periodically. OpenSolaris, which is targeted more towards technical desktop users and software developers, uses the same rock-solid kernel as Solaris 10 and has many of the same features, and has free continual software and package update feeds.
The Support Skinny: Sun's support cycle for Solaris 10 is slated to be for 10+ years. Major OpenSolaris milestone builds are released twice per year, with continual package updates and fixes released as they become available. Solaris 10 install media is updated approximately twice per year. Both Solaris 10 and OpenSolaris have "Essentials" and "Production" paid technical support options available in addition to Premium support options.
BSDMore Information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BSD
Solaris isn't the only free UNIX available -- BSD, which is based on the Berkeley Software Distribution part of the UNIX family tree, as opposed to the AT&T Systems V kernel tree that Solaris, AIX, HPUX and SCO Unix is derived from, may not be as "Sexy" as Solaris or Linux but the OS is no slouch either -- it's one of the most stable implementations of UNIX there is on any CPU architecture (read as, verified uptimes in YEARS without reboots) and also one of the best performing as well. And unlike Solaris, BSD UNIXes don't suffer from a lack of ported Open Source software packages. For the most part, BSD is at package parity with Linux as both a Server and a Desktop OS, and its device driver compatibility list exceeds Solaris's, running on many different architectures.
BSD isn't as much a single distribution of UNIX as much as it is a family of similar UNIX distributions. The most well known, FreeBSD, has the lion's share of installed base and boasts the largest of support communities. OpenBSD, another popular derivative, has a number of additional security enhancements and undergoes a very thorough security auditing process, which makes it a popular choice for the paranoid-set. Yet another derivative, NetBSD, has been used extensively for embedded device development and has been praised for its wide platform independence.
No matter which BSD you choose you can be assured that you've got a stable platform with a comprehensive software library which will keep going, going, and going, no matter what the economy throws at you.
The Support Skinny: The BSD's have very long support life cycles, measured in years, and bugfixes and updates are continual for major versions. Commercial support for different flavors of BSD are available from various support vendors through the respective flavor's web sites.
Do you plan to implement any of these free Enterprise OSes at your organization as cost cutting measures? Talk Back and let me know.