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Wondering what the various advantages/disadvantages of having a shorter Long Term Support (LTS) support period were over longer ones.

I notice Ubuntu provides 5 years of support, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) has 7 years, and Novell has a 10 year support cycle.

Are these numbers essentially meaningless beyond 3-4 years (i.e., servers are replaced/upgraded by then)? Or is there a benefit to the different support durations?

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I think you'll have to evaluate them based on your specific needs. Only you know the hardware replacement cycles your company has. In general for Desktops shorter is probably better. Servers benefit from the longer cycles, however my opinion is once a server lasts 10 years it becomes untouchable at an organization(in the bad way) like no one knows how to use it and is afraid to modify it. This can be the bad side of supporting something that old. Your going to be missing out on newer libraries, and the newer daemons(maybe that 10 year old bind doesn't support ipv6). Instead you should pick a release cycle you are happy with and plan your infrastructure around the fact youll have to upgrade the OS eventually.

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This completely depends on the organization.

If you can get the devices to be upgraded on a 3-4 year cycle, then you don't need to worry about longer support; if your organization likes to avoid touching servers until they grind to an age-induced halt, longer support can be very handy.

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Then is it common to update the OS before the LTS is up? In other words, does the LTS include some sort of safety factor? I don't have the experience to understand why there's such a difference of 5 and 10 years knowing the speed of technological change. –  mt3 Mar 17 '11 at 17:16
    
@mt3 Yeah, you'll basically want to evaluate how often you'll be able to update the OS, (hardware upgrades for physical servers, and some sort of update schedule for VMs) and just make sure that your chosen OS will still have support active for the OS when your last device is still running it; otherwise, you're risking not getting security patches anymore. The different companies have different policies depending on how far back they're willing to support; not to generalize but Novell's customers tend to be less.. flexible. –  Shane Madden Mar 17 '11 at 17:21
    
Shane, thanks for the info. –  mt3 Mar 21 '11 at 1:25
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