Surviving the recession with Free Enterprise OSes (Part 2)

Surviving the recession with Free Enterprise OSes (Part 2)

Summary: 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.



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.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

CentOS and Scientific Linux

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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 Edition

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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.


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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 OpenSolaris

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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.


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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.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Servers, Software


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Great blog! One remark: support for Ubuntu Server LTS is 5 years

    Excellent article, well documented! This should be very helpful for decision making, particularly in companies.

    One remark though: the server edition of Ubuntu is longer supported than you have written. Plus not every server edition is LTS....

    An Ubuntu LTS server edition is supported with security and stability updates for 5 years. A "normal" Ubuntu server edition receives support for only 18 months. So as a company, you will want LTS for your server, and not a normal server edition..
    See the release cycle (note the orange bar for the extended support of the LTS server edition):
    • Thanks, I'll amend it

  • Debian

    You forgot to include another distribution used in the enterprise.


    It may require a little more skill to administer but commercial support is also available from companies like hp if you need it.
    Tim Patterson
    • BTW...

      Very good blog Jason.

      You are a credit to ZDNet.
      Tim Patterson
    • Ubuntu is a free, Debian derived Linux-based OS

      If you didn't know, and the have made it easier to admin. So
      I like the idea of the really stable Debian platform, with the
      better ease of use.
  • @Tim Patterson re Debian

    Debian is in Part 1 of this article, although arguably Ubuntu Server is closely aligned with Debian Stable.

    Debian is not positioned as an "Enterprise" OS and I included it in Part 1 which was more intended for End-Users, but its certainly a very good option for Enterprise Server use, particularly if you use Stable.
    • HP has had enterprise Debian Support since 2006.

      Google Debian and Hewlett Packard for more information.
      Felix Derzhinsky
  • jason you should try this

    pc-bsd at

    this is personally the best bsd distro yet
    • PC-BSD 7.0 is resource hungry

      I have installed PC-BSD 7.0 as one of the 10 operating systems on my multiboot laptop. I'm not so thrilled with this version, as it uses KDE 4.1.1.

      The menu is rather unfathomable (looks a lot like Windows Vista, need I say more....). And what's even more important, my laptop becomes a bit sluggish: PC-BSD 7.0 is noticeably more resource hungry than Ubuntu, Fedora and openSUSE (all with Gnome).

      I liked PC-BSD better in it's previous version, 1.5.1. That one used KDE 3.5 and was much more lightweight.
  • And you forgot ..

    If you REALLY want stability without the hassle of all sorts of config files screwing things up. Look at the OLDEST of all distro's - Slackware.

    'Nuff said ...
  • @ Linux4U: Re Slackware

    Slackware was eliminated because it's not likely to survive a recession. It's had a number of issues in the past when its survival and continued development was at risk.
    • Not Viable

      Slackware is the result of tireless work by Patrick Volkering and the Slackware team. I don't see Slackware as being affected much at all by a recession. Slack is great in it's own right.

      However, Slackware is not a viable in most enterprise situations due to the lack of an easy package manager which checks dependencies and there is no 64-bit option.
      Tim Patterson
      • Package Management...

        Hey Tim...
        I just thought I would mention, (if you had not already seen it) that over at Distro Watch Weekly, for the past few weeks,
        they have been running what they call "package management cheatsheet"
        that may be of interest?

        the first & second installments can be found in the right hand column under Archives, issues 271 & 272

        While not official, there are some package managers for Slack, as well as some that are not necessarily Distro dependent.

        Also While the Slack standard method may not be as quick & convenient as something like APT, it has its own advantages, and there are simple scripts.

        @JasonP Slack & Debian are used in enterprise. (just not talked about much) Not Only HP but there are other concerns small & large that use/service/support them.......
        They are not the oldest surviving distros for no reason?......

        BTW it's great to see useful & Positive blogs about Linux & on ZDnet... good job.....
      • Merit and Survivability are not the same

        I am not trying to diminish the work of Patrick and his developers. Slackware is an excellent distro. However, if you were to take a swag at which distributions had the best chance of weathering a protracted recession or a flat out depression, Slackware is not likely to make that list.

        And yes, it is not viable as an enterprise distribution for the reasons you mention.

        There are a number of other distros that did not make the list in Part 1 and Part 2. This was not a "slight". I like many other distros such as Xandros/Freespire and Mandriva. However the relative size of their support communities and the amount of resources they have at their disposal compared to the systems listed on these two lists are very small.

        Others were eliminated because they didn't fit in the "Desktop/End-User" or "Enterprise" category, such as Gentoo, which while likely to survive a recession, is more of an embedded and custom solution development OS.
        • Clearly..

          You had your reasons for including or not including certain distros. That's fine. Your choice.

          On Slack I would disagree. The merit is there but on survivability, Patrick has weathered tough times for Slack and even his health before. There is no reason to think the Slackware team can't or won't weather hard times in future and come through just fine.
          Tim Patterson
          • Probability and actual outcomes

            I don't believe -any- Linux distribution has had to deal with an economic slowdown of the type that is being forcasted. I know that Slackware and other small distros have weathered previous rough storms, such as personal economic problems and resource scarcity, but nobody has had to go through something of this magnitude yet. There's no baseline.

            Slackware and the other distros that didn't make the list could very well come out OK. My excluding them from this list is not a death sentence -- the list was meant to be along the lines of "if you had to make the safest choices possible in an Open Source OS, which ones would you pick?"
        • @both Jason & Tim. There was a similar discussion/debate last week on DWW.

          In which,
          Ladislav is planing to update "The Major Distro/Top Ten" page:

          by removing Knoppix & Mepis for LinuxMint & CentOS.

          Those are good entries, yet I don't agree, (would rather see the list expanded to 15 or 20)

          Anyway, like Jason's blog, it is his site/criteria/opinion/decision.....

          Personally, After the kernel, GNU toolset, & GPL.
          I see the main/core distros in order as:
          Scratch & Source
          Red Hat

          Everything else are Progeny, Derivation and/or Remastered Compilations.

          All noteworthy & worthwhile for various reasons.

          This is only how I tend to look at it.......

          So I would disagree that Slack is not used (or a good choice) in enterprise/business and also disagree that it would not weather economic difficulties.

          But who's to really know what's to come?
          If it/they don't, maybe their progeny & derivations will........

          Speaking of Gentoo/Gentoo based distros have you seen Sabayon or Zonbu?
  • RE: Surviving the recession with Free Enterprise OSes (Part 2)

    Call me shocked! You actually know what other operating systems are aside form linux! Considering the strong bias zdnet and its bloggers have I didnt think they knew anything else existed outside of it.

    If you are running a unix system already then the best choices are going to be Solaris 10, OpenSolaris, or one of the BSD's. These operating systems have proven their worth on the server side from their continuing development and support. The documentation is top notch, the community is more than helpful.

    Contrast this with the linux offerings. Linux would not be a smart move. Its nothing more than a mesh of patches put together very poorly and held together by some glue. The problem is that no one knows what the other person coded so you do not have a fully integrated system and thats why there are so many issues with running it. The constant daily patches would turn most organizations off due to the down time. Always having to check for file versions, going to the website to see if its been updated, downloading the source, extracting it in an uneasy manner, writing complex commands just to get it to compile, installs wherever it wants, finding that file just to run the application only to have it segfault and when it does that it takes down the whole system in a kernel panic.

    The linux community is a disaster. They actively promote violence, issue death threats, call names, and are incapable of having a decent conversation. Imagine trying to get tech support when the technician on the phone calls you a moron and tells you he wishes you were dead. Then says you are stupid for not finding the answer yourself thus negating the whole point of tech support. If you are going to run linux you will be making a LOT of support calls.

    Do the right thing, go with a BSD or Solaris.
    Loverock Davidson
    • This blog is way over your head, dear. Yours is How to print a picture.

      Take a pill, Loverock. Nobody loves you and everybody knows you are mentally retarded.
      • Thank you!

        You proved my point in my post! You know the one about the linux community being very insulting. And you wonder why people don't want to use your OS, take a look around!
        Loverock Davidson