Red Hat spawns new Unix killer: Extended Update Support

Linux is at technical parity with Unix, Red Hat claims. But is the new Extended Update Support offering for Red Hat Enterprise Linux ust another nail in the Unix coffin?

For enterprises that are reluctant to run mission-critical applications on Linux rather than Unix, Red Hat Inc. has an answer: an extended support offering that allows IT managers to run on the same release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) for longer without invalidating their support contract.

For more on Unix-to-Linux migrations:
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Is Linux growing at Windows' or Unix's expense?
"We're trying to remove the last possible objections as to why [enterprises] would choose Unix over Linux," said Gerry Riveros, the product marketing manager for Red Hat's enterprise solutions. "We have done a lot of research as to why people continue to use Unix over Linux, and we feel like we have programs in place to address their concerns."

Now, with Red Hat's Extended Update Support (EUS) option, enterprises can stay on the same minor release of RHEL for up to 18 months, up from just six months, in keeping with support policies of Unix distributions like IBM AIX and Sun Solaris. The Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat tends to issue a major release every two years, and a minor release every six months, consisting of new hardware support, security patches and bug fixes (RHEL is currently at version 5.2). For best practices, Red Hat – and indeed, most operating system vendors – recommends that customers update to the latest release as soon as possible.

We're trying to rem.ove the last possible objections as to why [enterprises] would choose Unix over Linux.
Gerry Riveros,
product marketing manager, enterprise solutionsRed Hat Inc.

The problem arises for enterprise shops with stringent uptime and testing requirements, Riveros said. For them, updating a server means revalidating the new OS and their applications to prevent interaction conflicts. That revalidation process can be time-consuming and takeup to several months.

"There's a class of customers who have said to us, 'We want to standardize on a minor-point release for the longest possible time period,'" Riveros said. Now, by purchasing Red Hat's EUS option, those customers can leave a server alone for three times longer than they could before.

Customers with a need for EUS are likely larger enterprise customers, Riveros said, usually with 100 or more RHEL enterprise subscriptions. EUS costs $60,000 per year for up to 100 servers, $80,000 per year for up to 500 servers, and $120,000 for up to 1,000 servers.

Technical parity between Unix and Linux?
With its new enterprise-friendly support offerings, Red Hat believes it has leveled the playing field between Linux and Unix. Asked if there are any technology reasons for an organization to choose Unix over Linux, Riveros said, "I don't think so, no."

But while Linux has come a long way toward becoming an enterprise-class operating system, there are still plenty of reasons a shop might opt for Unix, said Gordon Haff, the principal analyst at Illuminata in Nashua, N.H.

For one thing, individual versions of Unix have features that you can't find in Linux. For instance, Solaris has the Zettabyte File System (or ZFS) and DTrace, while AIX has an advanced containers feature. And broadly speaking, "Unixes are still generally more scalable, more robust and better instrumented than Linux," Haff said. When you look outside the x86 architecture, there are also questions of Unix variants' integration with the specialized processor hardware, Haff said. Take IBM AIX's virtualization on Power features: "It's a complete hardware/software stack that gives you complete control over your environment," he said.

Haff conceded that Red Hat's EUS option might be compelling for some customers. "I'm sure Red Hat didn't come up with this out of the blue, and they doubtless have customers for whom this was important." However, that this is a great game changer – I don't buy that."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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