To better understand what enterprise Linux is, one must first understand each of the related distributions of this product, along with its many functions. Then you have to consider enterprise Linuxs varied levels of functionality.
Red Hat Linux was first released to the world in 1994 as Red Hat Linux 1.0. Created by the company Red Hat, it was the first Linux distro that used the RPM package manager. In 2003, Red Hat Enterprise Linux was born.
During this early period is when the community alternative for Red Hat users was born. This project was then named Fedora and is considered the community distribution supported by Red Hat, yet it remains independent from Red Hat as a separate project.
An issue brought up by various businesses is that Red Hat Enterprise Linux is not free of charge. Because it's only available with an arguably expensive subscription to Red Hat Enterprise Linux support, some businesses have been looking for a viable Red Hat alternative. These businesses like the stability of the enterprise Linux distribution, just not the requirement to pay Red Hat for their support.
CentOS has been referred to often as Red Hat without the expensive support price tag. This is accurate, as CentOS is indeed based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Unlike its Red Hat counterpart however, CentOS is completely free of charge, enterprise friendly and is designed to meet the needs of enterprise servers, workstations and desktop environments.
More of a Red Hat alternative than a means of saving money like with CentOS, Oracle Enterprise Linux is a product that is based on the Oracle Unbreakable Linux project, that Oracle the company offers to its enterprise customers and partners. This Linux distribution comes with Red Hat-like support and was created to compete directly with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
SuSE Linux was initially created by "Software und System-Entwicklung" aka "Software and systems development." SuSE also had its earliest origins dating back to 1992. The first real "release" of SuSE however, did not actually make an appearance until 1996. As the SuSE Linux distro continued to evolve, the packaging system from Red Hat Linux was added to SuSE to provide better functionality for the end user in package management.
During the course of this growth, SuSE grew at a rate that finally ended up putting too much uncontrolled growth into the mix. This forced them to sell off their Linux offerings to Novell. This acquisition was completed in 2004.
In 2005, Novell decided to open things up to the community a bit more, so they created the OpenSuSE project. The idea was a simple one. Take SuSE enterprise Linux and ask for greater participation from a wider group of users and developers from within the community.
The single biggest change to SuSE took place in 2006, after Novell decided to enter what is called a software covenant. This very controversial covenant agreement took place between Microsoft and Novell. The idea was Novell reaped benefits such as better interoperability with Windows, in addition to a cross-license on the use of patents.
Today, SuSE comes in two distinctive versions. The first, SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED), is what companies looking to put SuSE to work for their businesses would use for enterprise Linux. SuSE enterprise Linux goes beyond the desktop, it also tackles the server needs of many businesses both small and large.
Enterprise Linux thin clients are often connected to one or many servers. They are able to provide a complete desktop experience for those needing to access a workstation from their cubicle. And previous to this enterprise evolution, one would have had a full-fledged operating system locally installed.
Now thin clients have made enterprise Linux more transparent to the end user as they only see a desktop with the applications they are looking to run during their day-to-day tasks. The thin clients that make this possible sometimes run something called LTSP (see below)
LTSP or the Linux Terminal Server Project, is designed to remove much of the prohibitive cost barrier that affects smaller businesses, schools and even non-profits looking to develop their enterprise workstation choices.
The functionality provided by LTSP is rather straight forward. LTSP gives thin client ability to previously obsolete workstations otherwise destined to be recycled. By allowing servers to handle the load of enterprise Linux instead of a bunch of standalone workstations, LTSP allows IT departments to focus on maintaining the network, rather than troubleshooting countless individual workstations which can be plagued by user error.
Best of all, using LTSP with thin clients translates into power savings as well. Bundle this with a huge cut in hardware/software costs and a savings from other hassles, using this solution as part of enterprise Linux provides economic value.
Other defining factors for enterprise Linux is access to a solid, easily "migratable" database solutions. The one most Linux users on the Web are likely familiar with is known as SQL. There are a number of flavors to choose from, including SQLite, PostgreSQL, MySQL, among a few others.
Most companies running enterprise websites using popular blogging platforms are likely most familiar with MySQL, due to its availability and flexibility. While some users might look elsewhere for other more commercial options from the SQL universe, many small to medium sized businesses needing a stable database option for web hosting feel that MySQL does the job nicely.
Enterprise Linux backup and mirroring options are considered to be so good, they rival proprietary alternatives.
One popular option is called AMANDA or the Advanced Maryland Automatic Network Disk Archiver. Designed to be provide enterprise class network-based backup options to the enterprise environment, AMANDA allows for multi-platform backups to both tape and disk drives alike.
On a slightly lesser scale, rdiff-backup provides both mirroring and backup solutions over the enterprise Linux network. This relatively simple to use command line, commercial grade mirroring application gives the IT staff of any given company complete control over drive to drive archiving.
Enterprise Linux has a wide number of Linux encryption options available. Some of the lesser known solutions include PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy. PGP is arguably not as FoSS friendly as GnuPGP, however. Another option is OpenSSL, which serves as an open source alternative to the more mainstream SSL.
Another remote access solution is called OpenSSH. Designed to provide a virtual tunnel to a computer for remote access with either a command line or even using X for a GUI experience, OpenSSH is among the most secure ways to remotely access your computer.
Unlike enterprise Linux VPN solutions, OpenSSH is easily implemented by even the smallest of businesses. It's perfect for direct PC to PC tunneling without the need to run a full-fledged VPN server for other enterprise users.
Based on Java, the virtual meeting tool known as Collaborative Virtual Workspace (CVW) is definitely among the best virtual conferencing options for enterprise Linux users.
Providing whiteboard, video/audio abilities, CVW is said to be among the best open source solutions for remote access to a company-wide meeting. In some users views, CVW offers a full-featured alternative to proprietary solutions.
Enterprise Linux, from its use on the server or desktop workstation as a thin client, down to running the back-end to things like email servers or databases, has no singular definition that truly does it justice. It as more of ecosystem than a stand alone product.
Enterprise Linux has empowered businesses, schools and small home based businesses to reduce costs from proprietary software. And thanks to the countless support options available, there are job opportunities for those versed in implementing Linux in the enterprise world.