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Making the case for enterprise Linux

An unpaid for Linux distribution can cost your customers a lot, despite the free price tag. Learn how to sell clients on enterprise Linux and find out what benefits you can reap.

Linux is free, and that is the main reason behind the success of Linux. But Linux users will tell you, it’s "free...

as in speech, not as in free beer." There is big business behind Linux and money to be made on Linux and open source for channel solution providers.

One of the best parts of Linux is also one of the most challenging parts of Linux: it is free. There is a potential lack of control, lack of support, lack of security and even an absence of any guarantee that your application will do what it needs to do. And that means that the price of an unpaid for Linux distribution may be higher than you think. Explaining these drawbacks to customers attracted to the low price-tag is important.

So why are your customers better off using an Enterprise Linux distribution, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server? The most important reason: it comes with support. This is not only technical support if things don't work as expected, but also support for selected hardware and software. So if you sell a solution to your customer that consists of specific server hardware and a specific business application, you and your customer can be confident that it will work.

Another important reason why many companies around the world like to pay for their Linux distribution is that it comes with the right to make support calls. In the cheapest subscription (normally about $300 per server annually), online or phone support are offered – with a response delay of up to one business day. But if your customer pays more, support can be guaranteed within a few hours, and the engineers are the people that have put together the software and know it better than anyone else.

The last main reason why people tend to pay for Enterprise Linux, is because it gives access to updates. And these updates are verified by your Linux distribution, which gives a guarantee that they are secure to install on mission critical servers.

Now there are Linux distributions like CentOS that rip of the logo out of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and make it available as freely downloadable software. But that doesn't mean that CentOS provides the same benefits as Red Hat. There is no business behind CentOS, they don't have programmers on the payroll that can help in case the software doesn't work out as expected, which means that you're still on your own if things do go wrong.

Linux certification and partner programs
The two major players in the Linux market are Red Hat and SUSE. Both offer good certification opportunities for end users as well as partners. The Red Hat RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer) certification can be earned after creating some real-life configurations and is considered amongst the best IT certifications available. SUSE offers an equivalent with its Certified Linux Professional (CLP) certification. For both of these, different training courses are available and sold through the partner channel as well.

With regard to selling Enterprise Linux, both Red Hat and SUSE offer tiered partner models, from Silver to Platinum. These models are based on a fixed price for the products, and a higher discount that can be obtained by partners that sell more. Also, the bestselling partners will get a pipeline of leads directly from the Linux vendor, allowing the partner expand their Linux business and revenues.

So using a commercial Enterprise Linux distribution isn't free. But as outlined in this article, there are many reasons why your customer is better off with such a Linux distribution. And it´s even better for the reseller, as money can be made on the Linux subscriptions, and also because it´s clear where the customer or VAR can get help in case the software doesn´t work as expected.

This was last published in November 2011

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