Linux in Government: Linux Desktop Reviews, Part 3 - Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Unless you qualify as an enterprise class customer, you might find it difficult to obtain a copy of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) desktop. Red Hat requires a minimum purchase of 10 units, and the 10 unit starter pack costs $2,500. Individuals might find this to be a steep price, especially when you can download most Linux distributions for free, including Red Hat's own Fedora Core product.
However, enterprises find the Red Hat service model to be especially helpful when they want to manage large numbers of desktop computers. Even small- to medium-sized businesses find the Red Hat cost structure to be comparatively inexpensive. In addition, the bundled services surpass any other offering for enterprise class desktops, regardless of the platform.
In this article, we discuss how the RHEL desktop meets and exceeds a maturity model for open source. We also discuss the design and usability of the desktop product itself.
When you log in to the RHEL desktop, you immediately notice a difference in look and feel from other Linux desktops. Some might characterize the difference as that between a stripped-down Chevy and a Jaguar. Figure 1 provides a look at the default login screen.
In 2002, Red Hat chose to change its business model to one focused on the enterprise model. In an article titled "Defining the Linux Enterprise", I wrote, "The enterprise market consists of software applications used by corporations, government agencies, schools, not-for-profits, or other organizations, regardless of size. The software differs from that used by consumers. You will not likely find an integrated judicial case management system on the shelves of your local computer store next to the games, for example."
I also wrote:
You may recall the uproar that occurred when Red Hat discontinued its retail product in favor of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Many of us, as consumers, felt cheated. We wanted everything Microsoft offered on [its] desktops and we wanted an alternative.
Red Hat probably made a reasonable decision, even though it displeased many Linux advocates. Consider that the enterprise market represents approximately $200 billion per year in potential revenue compared to half of that for the consumer market. Additionally, enterprises provide a plethora of revenue opportunities, ranging from service offerings and consulting to intricate application and infrastructure products with higher profit margins. Red Hat needed to position itself where it had smaller competitors and more ways to make money.
Give Red Hat credit for tackling a tough market and winning. The company has constructed an organization that creates high customer satisfaction, furthers Linux acceptance and encourages many hardware OEMs to provide support for open-source platforms. That OEM hardware support probably would not have occurred from the Linux community alone.
We are asking some difficult questions about enterprise support in this series. In fairness, we asked each company the same ones (see Resources). Let's look at how Red Hat answers those questions.
What kind of support organization does Red Hat offer related to users? If you run into a problem, can you contact someone for help? How, over the phone or by e-mail?
Red Hat has a global services organization comprised of support, professional and learning services. It bundles support and maintenance with the purchase price of the technology. Phone and e-mail support are available around the globe, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
How big is Red Hat's support organization? Does the company out-source its support?
Red Hat has more than 100 people on hand globally in its support organization. Red Hat does not outsource support.
Does Red Hat have a professional services organization? If someone wants to buy a large number of desktops, how would Red Hat handle a big order?
Red Hat offers professional services globally. For large or complex deployments, Red Hat offers assessment and deployment services to match varying architectures. For a large desktop implementation, Red Hat assigns a technical account manager to manage the deployment and to handle post-deployment support.
Red Hat historically has offered documentation for the user. How about technical documentation, is there anything for the administrator?
Red Hat offers documentation to the administrator or person responsible for managing the systems. Also, Red Hat offers an on-line knowledge base that provides additional documentation, troubleshooting tips and support.
What kind of solution/provider ecosystem exists? Does Red Hat have resellers? How robust is that reseller organization?
Red Hat has a robust ecosystem. Top resellers include IBM, HP, Fujitsu and Dell. These companies offer tier-1 support for minor issues. More complex issues are transferred back to Red Hat.
What is Red Hat's server strategy? Does the company provide back-office functionality and identity management?
Red Hat Enterprise Linux began in the back-office datacenter. The company has experienced notable success powering some of the most computer intensive workloads in the financial and government sectors. As of October of 2004, Red Hat added identity management to its solution portfolio.
What tools exist for rolling out and managing the desktops? Does the company offer on-site training?
Red Hat sells its desktop as a bundle, with provisioning to aid in the deployment of consistent corporate desktops. Red Hat offers on-site training as well as learning services in 150 global locations.
How can administrators and help-desk people learn to provide desk-side support in their own companies? Does curriculum exist?
The Red Hat offers Certified Engineer and Certified Architect curricula designed for administering, maintaining and securing systems. Users have reported high levels of satisfaction.