In the technology world, there is a vast difference between technophiles and IT professionals working in a business environment. Technophiles tend to be highly caffeinated power users who can’t wait to get their hands on the latest technologies and put them through their paces. Business-based IT professionals take a much more conservative approach to technology. They don’t try to fix things that aren’t broken, and they usually don’t upgrade to new versions of software unless there are some serious benefits involved.

Although some IT pros may moonlight as technophiles during nonworking hours and dabble in the latest technologies, they tend to stick with well-seasoned software and systems in the organizations where they work. Red Hat, the incumbent leader of the Linux market, has shown that it understands this dichotomy and has recently recast its Linux product line to meet the needs of both groups of techies.

Making the corporate move
Since the late 1990s, Linux has been steadily gaining ground in businesses as it has been adopted for use in front-end Web servers, DNS servers, firewalls, file and print servers, and other basic networking functions. However, these deployments have mostly been limited to small businesses and low-level edge servers in larger networks.

More than any other Linux distribution, Red Hat has catered its flavor of Linux to suit the corporate palette and thus has gained the majority of the corporate market in the United States. Because Red Hat has focused its brand of Linux on business use, it has taken a much more cautious and reserved approach to incorporating bleeding edge technologies and programs into its distribution.

But even though this approach has helped Red Hat Linux become more entrenched in businesses, it has turned away some Linux enthusiasts and technophiles who want to stay up to date with all the advances of Linux software. Since many of these Linux enthusiasts are also volunteer programmers and/or evangelists for the open source operating system, Red Hat knows that it needs to appeal to these folks as well. The company seems to have found a way to better serve both sides of the Linux audience.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux
At the beginning of last year, Red Hat released Red Hat Linux Advanced Server, a souped-up version of its Linux operating system. It was engineered to include higher level server functionality, such as clustering and load balancing, and could accommodate bigger servers with a greater numbers of processors and larger amounts of RAM. In addition, Red Hat Linux Advanced Server offered more comprehensive support and service options—a must when dealing with enterprise business customers.

Red Hat Linux Advanced Server was a hit with customers, especially those who had been longing for a truly enterprise Linux solution. It also spurred a number of deals with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and independent software vendors (ISVs). That further extended the impact of Red Hat Linux in the enterprise by having the product coupled with established server hardware from companies such as IBM and Dell and supported and guaranteed to work with enterprise software from companies such as Oracle and BEA.

Now, the company has extended the Advanced Server initiative and molded it into a new product line called Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which now includes three products.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS
Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS is simply a continuation of the Red Hat Linux Advanced Server product. It is aimed at larger servers, supports up to eight CPUs and 16 GB of RAM, and offers the most extensive options for support (including a 24×7 support service). The standard edition of the product costs $1,499; the premium edition costs $2,499. I recommend that companies that are interested in this product contact a Red Hat sales rep to figure out the best solution.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES
Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES is aimed at the smaller servers—the kind that gave Linux its start in the corporate world—such as file and print servers, basic mail servers, firewalls, DNS servers, and departmental Web servers. ES supports only up to two CPUs and 4 GB of RAM. The basic edition sells for $349, includes 90 days of support, and is available only as a download from Red Hat’s site. The standard edition costs $799, includes a full year of support, and comes in a box with CDs and printed manuals. (It’s also available as a download for those who want instant access.)

Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS
Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS is the new corporate desktop version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It supports up to two CPUs and comes with software aimed at end-user desktop use. It does not include most of the server software packages that come with AS and ES, and it doesn’t support clustering. Like ES, the basic edition of WS comes with 90 days of support and is available only via download; the standard edition comes with a year of support and offers CDs and printed manuals. The basic edition of WS sells for $179, and the standard edition costs $299.

For a look at where Red Hat sees the various versions of the Enterprise Linux line fitting into a typical network, take a look at the diagram in Figure A.

Figure A

Red Hat Linux
In addition to releasing the Red Hat Enterprise Linux line, the company is now targeting Red Hat Linux at SOHO customers and home users, which include technophiles and Linux enthusiasts. Currently, two iterations of the product are available: Red Hat Linux 9 ($39.95) and Red Hat Linux 9 Professional ($149.95). The difference is that the professional version comes with a lot more software, including programs such as Ximian Evolution that users normally have to pay for separately.

For $60 a year, you can subscribe to the Red Hat Network, which provides some basic support for these products, as well as the latest ISOs (image files that can be burned into installation CDs) for download. A more advanced subscription includes additional support functionality and is available for $96/system/year.

End sum
For businesses that want to take advantage of the benefits of high-end Linux but still require technical support—either because they want to run mission-critical applications or they simply do not have any Linux gurus on staff—Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS is a great option.

For those that don’t have Linux experts on staff but want to deploy basic Linux servers or desktops, the standard editions of ES and WS, respectively, may provide a great way to make it happen without having to hire Linux admins or consultants.

On the other hand, companies that do have admins or consultants with proven Linux knowledge and experience don’t really need the ES or WS products (especially the basic editions). The Linux admins can download Red Hat Linux and a ton of open source applications for free and easily set up network servers and desktop workstations that are virtually identical to the ones built and supported by Red Hat.