In the ever-changing world of business computing, the push to do more with less never seems to let up. In response, some companies are considering deploying Linux. But which distribution? Unfortunately for IT departments, no single Linux distribution is likely to offer a one-size-fits-all solution that works for everyone.
Thankfully, though, there are plenty of great Linux distributions, ranging from the enterprise-friendly options from Red Hat or Novell down to community-supported alternatives without the need for outsourced IT help.
In this article, I’ll look at the benefits of both corporate and community supported distributions and how they might best fit into the enterprise space. In addition, I’ll offer suggestions as to which option might make the most sense in each type of enterprise scenario. I’ll also take a look at specialized Linux distributions.
Community or paid support
There are some enterprise distributions that don't rely on marketing from big companies like Novell or Red Hat. One of the biggest examples that comes to mind include CentOS. This distribution is widely accepted as a Linux server OS, with an estimated 30% of all web servers running it.
We're also seeing newcomers making a name for themselves within the server space, with names like Ubuntu. With support for Ubuntu being offered both by the community and Canonical, companies all over the world have a viable alternative to Red Hat and Novell when it comes to large-scale Linux support on demand. Increasingly, however, smaller Linux support firms are making themselves available to help out regardless of which Linux distribution you prefer. I think this may change the competitive landscape for Red Hat and Novell, in the long-term.
When it comes to community support, based exclusively on my experiences, Ubuntu's community overshadows everyone else by a mile. From know-how to a decent response time to questions, I think that Ubuntu wins over other distributions from a community perspective.
As for community support for enterprise users, however, I cannot point out any clear winners here. The Novell supported openSUSE community is very knowledgeable and can be a tremendous resource to tap into. At the same time, the Red Hat supported Fedora team is both wise and not too overlooked either. Regardless of which distribution you choose, all of them have plenty of community support and paid support solutions available.
User access, not desktop access
It's been said that Linux has lost the war for the desktop space. This claim is generally made by a company that is under the impression that the war for "desktop dominance" still matters. The truth is that in the enterprise space, there's still plenty of room for competition, as everything is going to the cloud.
Virtualization, thin clients and location-independent access is where the desktop workstation is headed. Bundle this with more virtual software being run from the server vs. on a localized installation resident on a desktop, and you begin to see how the term "desktop" is becoming meaningless in the enterprise space.
The new turf war for Linux companies and Microsoft alike is about functionality. Provide a means of doing something better, with greater stability and price management and you win the game.
For Linux-supporting companies like Red Hat, Novell, etc, this means the biggest edge will be saving the enterprise customer money. This is an area where Linux could win easily, since the cost to do business is all in how the supporting company does business.
Using open source solutions for things like reliable CRM solutions over proprietary alternatives translates into providing the biggest savings overall. In theory, the open source provider should win. And among those open source firms, it will be the most agile and cost-conscious that will win overall.
Back on the desktop workstation front, I think that the most successful distributions in the enterprise space will be those that can be customized and made to fit the needs of a specific company, with the greatest ease. Whether it's working as a thin client for a specific need or providing a portable distribution that fits on to a flash drive, the key is being flexible.
It's the flexibility of a given distribution that will likely be the driving force behind its adoption in the enterprise space. And this flexibility requires that the distribution be made available to the end-user in whatever way the company using the distribution sees fit.
Software vs solutions
In the past, many companies offering services in the enterprise space centered their efforts around software. Take PBX systems as one example.