How to Put the E in Enterprise Linux

by Sean Michael Kerner

The VP of Linux Engineering at Red Hat explains why enterprise Linux is more than just support.

SAN DIEGO. What's the difference between a community Linux distribution and an enterprise Linux distribution?

That's the question that Tim Burke, vice-president of Linux Engineering at Red Hat, answered during a keynote address at the LinuxCon conference. Burke began by telling the audience that he originally came to Red Hat from the Unix world. Unix to Linux migration is a key starting point in the discussion about what an enterprise Linux is all about.

Burke said that the difference between Unix and Linux is that Linux enables user innovation, and provides freedom from vendor lock-in.

While Red Hat is the leading enterprise Linux vendor on Earth, recently passing $1 billion in revenues, they aren't building Linux alone. Burke said that there are literally hundreds of thousands of projects in the open source world, with only a subset being pulled into Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

Part of the job of being an enterprise distribution is picking and choosing the right projects to pull in. The way Red Hat does that is by being an active contributor and participant in thousands of communities.

LinuxCon "How do you know which projects are ready?" Burke asked. "The fact that Red Hat is actively engaged and participating -- that is what brings value."

Burke also took a jab at other distro vendors, commenting that not all the other vendors that deliver Linux are contributing and participating at that same level.


Hardware enablement is another key enterprise Linux value.

"Everyone assumes that the hardware vendors want their boxes to be supported before the hardware comes out," Burke said. "That requires a huge amount of coordination, and we spend a lot of time on that."

In Burke's view, people in a community Linux distribution wouldn't be likely to volunteer to track vendors' hardware schedules, as it's a process that requires enterprise discipline and regimen.

Security is another key attribute of enterprise Linux. To that end, Red Hat uses SELinux to provide policy and access control on by default. Scalability is another main enterprise focus area for Red Hat.

Then of course there is support.

"A lot of people think that's all the enterprise distro is, but that's not really the point," Burke said. "Sure the teams that help support participate in the upstream communities, and they are the ones to best support the product."

Burke added that for most enterprise customers they are not satisfied with where Red Hat is today and they want to know where the technology is going. User-driven innovation is key to the success of enterprise Linux.

"It's never just Red Hat alone," Burke said. "It's the community working with customers and partners to put it together to make the sum bigger than the parts, and that's what's different than Unix."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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This article was originally published on Friday Aug 31st 2012
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