How to Choose the Right Linux to Facilitate Flexibility and Innovation

Joe Gerkman, Director-HP Global Alliance, SUSE
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Joe Gerkman, Director-HP Global Alliance, SUSE

Today’s world of technology offers an endless fountain of advancements that grant business leaders a wide array of options when it comes to selecting products for their IT infrastructures. More and more, CTOs and CIOs are opting to use Linux and Open Source Software (OSS) because it provides the gift of choice. The choices for implementation have no boundaries when selecting an open source enterprise operating platform.

A few years back, Forrester and IDC declared Linux had crossed the chasm into mainstream adoption as a means for cutting costs and as a driver of growth. Linux remains one of the fastest-growing operating systems in the world and it continues to move deeper into the enterprise; some organizations rely on Linux to run mission-critical applications that fully integrate the technology into their IT infrastructures. For others, Linux runs on the edges of their corporate network, supporting things like file and email systems. Mixed environments made up of Windows and Linux are typically the norm in today’s IT world.

Business leaders have the option of choosing between commercially supported Linux distributions or community distributions. Both have their pros, but the challenge comes in managing the potential risk and costs of dealing with varying support issues each Linux system offers, and matching those with your company’s needs.

While IT managers seek simplicity in implementation and management, there are many factors to take into consideration that meet the needs of the business: the number and diversity of mission-critical applications, costs and ability of the IT team to support it, security requirements, and the length of time needed to support the application or environment

"When choosing between commercially supported Linux distributions or community distributions, it’s all about making the right choices for your company and environments while minimizing risk"

Ecosystem

Commercial Enterprise Linux distributors provide enterprise-class operating systems that are known for durability, stability and fully-certified products that are comparable or even better to what is used by proprietary enterprise software companies. These Linux vendors maintain hardware and application certifications for their distributions to ensure the upmost optimal performance and compatibility. Enterprise Linux vendors test all new versions and maintenance updates to guarantee compatibility and ensure third-party hardware and software continues to perform faultlessly and provide a lifecycle of support for their products. You can also obtain your Enterprise Linux products from your server hardware provider (e.g. Hewlett Packard Enterprise), which can provide additional benefits.

Community-supported Linux distributions have their perks too. They can promote rapid innovation with more frequent release cycles than Enterprise Linux distributions. Community distributions are perfect for users that value the newest features and functionality over stability and hardware and software certifications of an Enterprise Linux distribution. Community versions are also great for companies that have workers with a lot of technical skills who are able to spend time nurturing applications.

Security

Security threats can develop in the blink of an eye and can have severe consequences for enterprises, hence why operating system security needs to be constantly monitored. Unplanned downtime caused by security issues can have a real cost for companies, resulting in reduced worker productivity, decreased revenue and even the potential loss in trust of customers. However, few companies have the bandwidth or skills to continuously monitor and respond to all security vulnerabilities.

Corporate IT decision-makers should assess the security features of an operating system platform and how security vulnerabilities are identified and resolved. Enterprise Linux distributors have teams of engineers that scan vulnerability announcements in real-time. Once a threat has been pinpointed, engineers will deploy patches that will protect systems from negative consequences. For more critical threats, a commercial Enterprise Linux vendor will distribute a patch within hours or days. In less critical situations, they will deliver security updates after a few weeks of rigorous testing.

Service Support and Subscription

With a subscription for an Enterprise Linux distribution, businesses are granted ongoing maintenance updates, security patches and the assurance that accompanies third-party hardware and software certifications, in addition to service-level agreements. The support process is very structured, designed to handle all issues that a business may face.

Like proprietary software vendors, Commercial Linux vendors draw on the cumulative knowledge and wisdom of world-class software engineers when it comes to resolving support issues. They can craft a customized fix for specific deployment scenarios and ensure it will work across certified hardware and software.

When deciding between Linux distributions, take into consideration your long-term growth strategy. Does the distribution lock you into their stack, or give you freedom against vendor lock-in? How will your support issues be handled? OS support and maintenance is a specialized discipline that is difficult to perform effectively. Keep in mind that providing support is not the community’s business and does not guarantee a set response time or a customized fix for each issue. Even if your business can tolerate some short-term downtime, you still need to spend time focusing on resolving the issue at hand in order to bring your system back into production. For mission-critical systems, organizations can rarely tolerate a moment of down time the cost of it often significantly exceeds the cost of commercial support for the system.

It’s Your Choice!

Life is all about choices. For IT Management, it's about making the right choices for your company and environments while minimizing risk. Because of the nature of OSS and Linux, there is always a choice you just want to be careful about limiting that choice. Part of the power and benefit of moving towards Linux and OSS is by leveraging the competition to create a benefit for your organization.

A key takeaway as you considering Linux or reviewing the capabilities of your current Linux provider: don't trade one lock-in for another. If you have switched from UNIX, Windows or some other proprietary system to Linux, the worst thing you can do is fixate on only one vendor. Because you may find that you've traded one lock-in situation for another.

Best Practices Include:

• Having infrastructure components which are open-standards based and/or support multiple vendor products, even if that means reduced functionality or adding additional layers of software.
• Making sure you can change tiers and/or OSS from one version or vendor to another.
• Leverage your in-house or consultancy Linux skills to build up an environment that can respond to your company’s needs rather than that of your Linux vendor.
• Always shop around for a better Linux solution. More than 95 percent of uses similar components and can make a switching easy, saving you time, money and allowing flexibility to move when necessary.
• Investigating the purchase of Linux through your hardware providers, like HP, where you can avoid finger-pointing and obtain a single point-of-contact and support for hardware, OS and applications.

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