Isn’t Linux “free”?  In some sense, the short answer is yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that…  The easiest way to think of it is that you are not paying for a license to use SUSE Linux Enterprise, but rather the support, patches, and updates. There is actually a lot of value in purchasing a subscription for SUSE Linux Enterprise compared to simply using a community release of Linux (for free), such as openSUSE.  We had this discussion with a customer recently so I thought I would post some of the highlights.  Let us know if you have any questions about our list:

  1. Support.  The freely downloadable versions of Linux (e.g., openSUSE) are categorically unsupportable.  Novell will not offer tech support to anyone for the openSUSE or SUSE Professional products regardless of emergency.  That said, the enterprise version of SUSE (SUSE Linux Enterprise or SLE) includes the ability to get a variety of support options from a company with 25+ years experience of offering world-class support for mission-critical infrastructures.  Unsupported fringe-service Linux servers are one thing, but when a company bets mission-critical applications on Linux, supported Linux allows the customer the greatest possible confidence in minimization of issues (prevention) and expeditious reconciliation of problems (resolution).

    Novell also offers our customers a variety of tiered-support options to ensure customers get the appropriate support experience and level of expertise for their organization.  While one organization may be perfectly okay with talking to a different support engineer for each issue on a 12×5 basis, other organizations might demand to speak to the same engineer each time who is already familiar with their environment on a 24×7 basis, or perhaps even have on-site Novell support engineers supplementing their organization.

    Novell technical support is also adept at supporting heterogeneous environments, not just a pure-Linux environment.  We have support personnel trained in a wide variety of platforms, architectures, and products – and we have backend support agreements in place with several major manufacturers to provide a more seamless experience to customers.  The result is that we can often resolve issues more quickly and with less finger-pointing than our competitors.

  2. Efficiency.  Expedited access to the necessary patches and fixes is unavailable to those using the free editions of Linux.  Your organization’s primary objective is not to maintain its own Linux distribution. Running a freely downloadable version of Linux enterprise-wide amounts to using and maintaining your own distribution.  This laborious and time-consuming process includes researching the necessary patches and fixes to the OS, manually selecting and installing those patches without any authoritative guidance, and conducting your own testing and integration with your chosen applications and hardware products.  This increases the probability of errors and downtime of mission-critical systems, as well as increases the chances for incompatibilities with applications you may be running on Linux.
  3. System Management.  Along the lines of specialization, system management tools (e.g., ZENworks Linux Management) work only with the supported versions of Linux like SLE.  Features such as remote patch deployment, application distribution, remote control, and imaging require use of a supported version of the distro.  While some limited systems management can be accomplished through complex and customized scripting abilities built into these community distros, these management solutions are not as supportable or elegant as ZLM.  ZLM’s ease of use, power and flexibility makes allows an organization to see nearly immediate returns on the investment.
  4. Application Support.  Nearly all formal application support will be on the enterprise version of Linux.  Customers will find very few ISVs agree to support their applications on unpaid Linux.
  5. Hardware Support.  Nearly all formal hardware vendor support will be on the enterprise version of Linux.  Customers will find very few IHVs agree to support their hardware on unpaid Linux.
  6. Open Source Community Support.  Many of the primary contributors to the development of open source software work for the Linux distributions.  The community forums are quick to note, among the many reasons to pay for Linux, that providing remuneration to those that contributed most significantly to its development is a compelling reason to purchase the enterprise version.
  7. Legal Compliance.  There is no legal mandate to pay for maintenance from Novell (or another Linux distro) for use of the OS (although support, patches and updates will be unavailable in that case).  That said, it is not permitted to use a paid subscription of SUSE Linux Enterprise for one box and duplicate the use of that server’s legal access to patches and fixes for other unsupported servers in the infrastructure.
  8. Indemnification.  While Novell does not believe there are any IP concerns with the use of Linux, some customers are interested in getting some indemnification on the Linux distro they use (just as they receive with their proprietary software).  Novell offers indemnification to our customers, and is provided only to customers who have paid subscriptions of SUSE Linux Enterprise.

Still have questions?  – Let us know or post a comment.