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Title says it all. For personal usage, I tend to prefer Debian/Ubuntu over Redhat. It's not necessarily that I dislike Redhat (or more specifically CentOS or Fedora) so much as it is that I like Debian's package management system so much better.

What are the reasons why Redhat is so popular?

(And just to be clear, I'm asking because I genuinely want to know what the reasons are. So no flame wars!)

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20 Answers

up vote 43 down vote accepted

In the early days of Linux being taken more seriously in the everyday business world there was always a nervousness that followed mention of the name. Tech employees found that "It was started by a university student in his basement" wasn't the best way to sell the idea of an Open Source operating platform to management.

The need for a solid company backing Linux alternatives was filled by Red Hat in those early days and probably had the single biggest impact on Linux for the Corporate Masses. They were able to provide support solutions along with their own branded versions of the OS.

Thanks to their early success with the full range of Linux uses from personal to corporate, they built up a huge amount of momentum and a recognisable brand which remains with them to this day, even with competition from other big names like Novell.

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Agreed, there is a strong first mover advantage in the service delivery space. –  Dave Cheney Apr 30 '09 at 12:10
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That and the fact that Red Hat is sponsoring so much open source development, it's relatively easy for them to support it. After all, the employ a lot of the coders. –  wzzrd Jun 5 '09 at 9:10
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1) Redhat has a long supported lifetime for each distro (e.g. rhel3, rhel4, rhel5...)

I think RH distros are released every couple of years and then highly supported for 4-5 years, then supported for security and major bugs until 7 years, then finally End of Lifed.

This long life cycle is valuable for companies who develop software as it means you can run your software for up to 7 years without having to update it a lot, you know APIs won't change, defaults probably won't change and major versions won't change. However this is also a major gripe for some, especially developers).

However security and bug fixes will be back ported and on occasion new features. New packages may be introduced e.g. a new interpreter might be introduced if it is becoming fashionable.

See the following link for details: http://www.redhat.com/security/updates/errata/

2) A lot of commercial software is released for rhel. In fact I'd say that it is the most commonly supported linux platform for commercial software. It has a lot of reach with the large scale enterprise apps e.g. oracle, peoplesoft, sap, db2 are all supported.

3) Same with hardware. Most if not all tier 1 hardware vendors (and even some of the dinky little HW vendors) provide drivers, firmware installers, utils and config tools for RHEL a well as certify their hardware to work with RHEL.

4) It has good management software for small and large scale fleets i.e. RHN and Satellite server (basically your own local version of RHN).

5) RH provides indemnity against patent infringement cases e.g. SCO style cases

6) RH provides support. Possibly the best linux support around. Not sure. However I've found the support to be lacklustre myself.

6) It has training and certs - both the training and certs are good from what my colleagues say. I've never attended any, but my colleagues, who I respect a lot, all say good things about the training and all think the cert is worth something because the exams are practical and difficult, even for god, experienced sys admins.

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It actually boils down to 2 factors:

  • Certified Hardware Support Commercial
  • Support is available

I don't think there's much more to it. It's neither better nor worse than other distros. RH just happens to provide support which is what you want (or better need) in an enterprise environment.

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One more reason that went unmentioned: in the US defense/intelligence space, Red Hat is the only Linux distribution that has all of the certifications and accredidations that government agencies are looking for.

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If you are living in an enterprise IT environment you often find yourself in what I call the 3rd-party-vendor-support-matrix-hell. Meaning for every decision you make you have to make sure that whatever OS/software/hardware you are using is "supported" or "certified".

RedHat Enterprise Linux is simply found on almost every support matrix from commercial software and hardware vendors. You might also find Novell/SuSE SLES on the matrix. But then that's it. End of supported Linux distributions. And even then these vendors often only list RHEL releases which are at least one generation behind the current major release. That's where the long term support offers from RedHat become important.

It is also very important to many managers that there is a company you can point your fingers at and open support tickets in case of problems.

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I forgot to mention another argument: RedHat offers a certification system (RHCT, RHCE, RHCA). –  Cyberdrow May 20 '09 at 18:58
    
Novell/SLES is gaining huge inroads. We're moving from a mishmash of BSD, Ubuntu, OpenSuSE and Redhat to SLES11 in a giant flock. –  Karl Katzke Jun 8 '09 at 19:34
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Simple answer: Support, Reputation, and Certification.

Many enterprise class applications only "officially" run on RHEL, and they will not support you if you run it on a different distro, so the support angle is two fold.

Suse is coming up in a big way though.

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I have worked in a Library system and a School District. In environments that I have worked in Ubuntu has dominated. Mainly because its free. and my bosses had a grudge again RHEL.

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I don't make the decisions in my workplace so this could be wrong but I get the impression we run RHEL because it's "enterprise-y" and "official"; you get a contract, a telephone support number and an invoice. It's easy: you pay money to RedHat, they give you their product. It gives a feeling of security and stability (neither of which I mean in their accepted sysadmin terms). Business likes this.

IMHO, I'd rather we ran Centos or Fedora and spent the money we pay RedHat on paying people to develop open source software. RH support hasn't been brilliant for us, RHN is kinda naff (slow, doesn't offer much now Spacewalk is available) and bugs can take a long time to fix. Not a great return on the money we spend. If we used Centos/whatever our fixes go back to the project where they can be tested and integrated before waiting for a new release (or.. maybe not as Centos is sort of like RHEL -- but you get the idea). We could pay Reductive Labs to help us with Puppet integration or pay a developer to develop some Apache stuff we might need.

Of course, if everyone abandoned RHEL maybe we wouldn't have Centos or Fedora..

(disclaimer: these are my views, not those of my employer, blah blah)

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History and Marketing.

Red Hat was founded in 1995, is a commercial organization that specifically marketed a set of 'enterprise-grade' software and services.

Ubuntu? Was not even released until 2004.

Debian? There is no real major RH-like corporate entity behind the core Debian project, is there?

All that said, I'm betting on Canonical/Ubutu making in roads into the enterprise world over the coming years.

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Support on enterprise-quality hardware and software.

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Its like why 100 year old wine is so popular. Its 'aged to perfection'. RHEL certifies itself as stable and offers support to that effect. As such, they do their best to make darn sure the code they package works to all expectations. The problem is, they stay two steps behind the current development edge in their releases, however this policy gives enterprise users a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Once in a while they get bitten, I remember them pulling some crazy code from perl's unstable tree and causing a gazillion aps to run at 100% cpu utilization .. developers also get annoyed because the packaged libraries are ancient.

Really, why is anything popular? Because lots of people say "It worked well for me". You get tried and tested code with RedHats patches applied to fix and squash all reported bugs. The only way they can do that is to give you older code that had time to stew in the wild.

Personally, I find it too confining, I need to modify my kernel without voiding my support agreement .. but many other people just want the damn thing to work :)

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Back a few years ago, when I needed to put in a security scanning server, I wanted to run Nessus, etc., we started looking at Linux distros. Management insisted on an OS I could make a support call on. Red Hat's mechanisms for purchasing one year of support were straight forward and easy. So even though the two of us putting the system in had plenty of experience on Debian, we went to Red Hat immediately. Red Hat gives you the packaged support option management wants at little or no fuss. So both the business side and the techie side are satisfied.

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Red Hat has been around for a long time, the product is well known. There is a well known large company (Red Hat) providing support for the product.

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Red Hat is popular in the enterprise world because the application vendor that provides support for linux needs to write documentation about their product and they usually choose one (RHEL) or two (Suse Linux) distributions to support. Since Suse is not really popular in the USA, RHEL seems so popular.

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My company went with Redhat 7.3 when we migrated off of solaris in 2001/2002. At the time, they had the best support for the hardware we were using (Dell, which we chose because we already had a vendor contract with them from our Windows systems).

When we reached the next decision point, I heavily considered Debian (Ubuntu, which is desktop focused, was not around and would not have been considered if it was). The problem was,at the time it had been something like 2 years since the last stable release and it was horribly out of date. Everyone was using the testing trees for production and it felt nasty. We ended up choosing Red Hat Enterprise Linux, followed shortly by using CentOS when possible and only using RHEL when we had a support contract issue with another vendor (cough oracle cough) that required a true-blue RHEL install with a support contract.

The big upside for us was the support life cycle - if I install RHEL on a server, I know I'm going to get 5 years of support life cycle, including security bug fixes. That life cycle gives us warm fuzzies when maintaining the servers.

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Many commercial applications are available only in RPMs linked for specific versions of RedHat.

Yes, you can probably hack something together so it runs under Debian... but how much is your time worth?

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Familiarity may be a factor.

I run CentOS on all my (one) Linux servers. I chose CentOS for cost reasons (its free) and for support reasons (the comprehensive RedHat documentation applies).

There are clearly differences between RedHat derivatives and Debian derivatives. I'm moderately well versed in the command line administration of a RedHat derivative and don't see any reason to deviate from this path when I acquire more servers.

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We use it because it's one of the few flavours of Linux that Oracle will (officially) run on.

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Redhat was the main distro company to focus on Enterprise-y support in the earlier years of linux.

Ubuntu's support infrastructure is relatively new in comparison.

I think unfortunately that's how some companies judge stability and security.

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It ships with Dell

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I suppose that's as good an answer as any. :-) –  Jason Baker Apr 30 '09 at 11:52
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But seriously, if you ring your server vendor for support, do you wanna be running CrappyDistro0.77b or something that they officially support? –  Dave Cheney Apr 30 '09 at 11:55
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I'd rather be running YetAnotherAwesomeDist14.30, but I agree with your point. CrappyDistro0.77b is so outdated... –  Mikeage Apr 30 '09 at 12:29
    
At the end of the day, if you want some 1st level crash carter to be getting your server back up and on the network, then you need to make it as easy as possible for them. If you run your own datacenter, or have 24x7 on call staff, maybe you can try some of the more outlandish distros, but if you and your machines are separated by a large body of land or water, then you gotta KISS. –  Dave Cheney Apr 30 '09 at 13:00
    
Is there much Dell in the enterprise? None of the places I've worked for have had a positive opinion of Dell (and hence had little if no Dell equipment). –  Brian Knoblauch May 4 '09 at 16:42
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