Licensing Enterprise Linux environments – overview
Linux was originally developed as a free Operating System (OS) for Intel x86-based Personal Computers. Since then, the system has been ported to more computer hardware platforms than any other OS. Linux is a leading OS on servers, mainframe computers and supercomputers. As of June 2013, more than 95 percent of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers run some variant of Linux, including the top 80. Whether you consider implementing an Enterprise Linux solution from either Redhat, Oracle or SUSE, or you just need a quick recap of your subscription model’s licensing rules, this article will be your guide.
Learn the basics
Linux Operating Systems are assembled under the model of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Typically, Linux is packaged in a so-called distribution for desktop and server use. Some popular mainstream Linux distributions include the open source platforms Debian, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, openSUSE, Arch Linux, and the commercial platforms Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.
Commercial distributions such as Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux, Oracle’s Linux and SUSE’s Linux Enterprise Server operate under the open source license model. Open source means that the source code is publicly available under a license that gives users the right to study, change, and distribute the software as they wish. While the GPL (General Public License) isn’t the only supported license flavor, it belongs to the most prominent ones. The GPL is a free, copyleft license used primarily for software. Like free software, open source software can be distributed for free, but this is not always the case.
The big question: is open source software free?
Both yes and no, to give you the short answer. Let’s detail this a bit to give you a better grasp. According to the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in order for software to be free, it needs to respect these four essential freedoms, numbered 0-3:
0 – The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
1 – The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it will perform as you wish.
2 – The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
3 – The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.
In general, open source software can be sold and used commercially, and commercial open-source applications have been part of the software industry for quite some time. Despite that, except for Red Hat and VA Software, no other purely open source company has gone public on the major stock markets.
Since several open source licenses stipulate that derived works must distribute their intellectual property under an open source (copyleft) license, independent software vendors and Value-Added Resellers (VARs) had to develop new legal and technical mechanisms to meet their commercial goals. Many traditional mechanisms, like selling the license to use, were not directly applicable anymore.
The financial ROI for many open source software business usually comes from selling services, such as training, technical support, or consulting, rather than exploiting the software itself. Another possibility is offering open source software as source code only, while providing executable binaries to paying customers. Also, providing goods like physical installation media (e.g. DVDs) can be a commercial service. Successful open source companies using this business model are for instance Red Hat and IBM.
The main Linux systems for enterprises
Although there are hundreds of Linux distributions, only a few were created for enterprise use, the most important being: CentOS, Oracle Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Scientific Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop/Server, Univention Corporate Server, and White Box Enterprise Linux. To make things more specific let’s take a few examples and see what the different licensing implications are.
Red Hat: Enterprise Linux
Red Hat Enterprise Linux products are provided on a physical and/or virtual per-instance subscription basis that provides end users access to all benefits during the subscription term. Subscriptions are provided on a physical/virtual system (Red Hat® Enterprise Linux®) or CPU (JBoss®) annual basis.
Every machine running Red Hat enterprise solutions benefits from the services that Red Hat provides. Instead of charging separately for each component Red Hat simply measures the value provided by the number of installed systems, also taking into consideration the number of CPU sockets for each physical machine.
The subscription rules are simple and transparent. End users maintain one subscription per resource running Red Hat software, i.e. an installed instance for Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® and a band [range] of CPUs/Cores for JBoss®
Every installed instance of Red Hat Enterprise Linux or band [range] of CPUs/Cores for JBoss Enterprise Middleware requires an active subscription, which is also known as the “all or nothing clause.”
The most common metrics used to count end user usage for RHEL are CPU Sockets and/or Virtual Guests. Each Virtual Guest requires a separate subscription. Each physical machine requires a subscription that covers the total number of sockets in a machine.
With the new 2013 subscription model, subscriptions can be stacked to cover a machine with many sockets, but a subscription cannot be shared by multiple machines. When assigning multiple subscriptions to a machine, the same level of support needs to be kept.
Oracle Linux takes the same approach as its elder relative RHEL, offering products on a per-instance (system) annual subscription. The licensing metric “system” is defined as “system the computer on which the Oracle Linux programs are installed. Where computers/blades are clustered, each computer/blade within the cluster shall be defined as a system.” This is a straight-forward approach: for 10 Oracle Linux machines 10 subscriptions are required.
If you acquire Oracle Linux support services, all of the systems involved must be supported with any combination of Oracle Linux Premier Support, Oracle Linux Basic Support, and Oracle Linux Network Support.
If you use or apply services or materials of a higher service level to a system supported with a lower service level, or to a system not supported by Oracle, you agree that you have upgraded such system to the higher service level, and commit to promptly order the appropriate services and pay the difference in fees prorated for the remainder of the term. For the purposes of calculating the prorated fees, service for the upgraded system will be deemed to have begun on the date such services or materials were used for, or applied to, such system. For purposes of this paragraph, the level of Oracle Linux support services ranks as follows from highest to lowest: Oracle Linux Premier Support, Oracle Linux Basic Support, Oracle Linux Network Support, and no support.”
SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop/Server
SUSE offers Basic, Standard and Priority subscriptions for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. These are dedicated to and available for:
- different processor architectures (e.g. x86, Intel 64 / AMD64, System z (s390x));
- different operating environments (e.g. physical, virtual);
- different term lengths (e.g. 1 year, 3 years).
Pricing for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server subscriptions is determined by the above and a metric as e.g. populated processor sockets or IFL (Integrated Facilities for Linux) – see below.
All subscription metrics do not differentiate between single core, or multi core, or simultaneous multi-threading capable processors. SUSE has the following operating environments and unit measure:
Intel or AMD processors (“x86” / “x86_64”), physical deployment: “For a system with 32 bit or 64 bit processors, the number of required subscriptions needs to match or exceed the number of populated processor sockets per physical system. (…) One subscription cannot be used to entitle more than one physical system. Each physical systems on which SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is deployed, installed, used or executed needs a subscription: either Basic or Standard or Priority.”
Intel or AMD processors (x86 / x86_64), virtualized deployment: “For a system with 32 bit or 64 bit processors (CPU), “Unlimited Virtual” subscriptions are available for virtualized deployments of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for use as virtual guest or virtualization host. You can use an unlimited number of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server instances per physical system. The number of required “Unlimited Virtual” subscriptions for Your system needs to match or exceed the number of populated processor (CPU) sockets per physical system on which SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is deployed, installed, used or executed.”
“Unlimited Virtual subscriptions are available for 1-2 CPU sockets, 4 CPU sockets, or 8 CPU sockets. One subscription cannot be used to entitle more than one physical system. Each physical systems on which SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is deployed, installed, used or executed needs a subscription: either Basic or Standard or Priority. As an option, these systems need a mixture of Standard and Priority Subscriptions.”
IBM System z (s390x): “For a system with IBM System z processors (s390x), the number of required subscriptions for your environment needs to match or exceed the number of IFLs (Integrated Facilities for Linux) on which SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is deployed, installed, used or executed. You can use an unlimited number of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server instances per IFL. All these SUSE Linux Enterprise Server instances need to have a subscription, either Basic or Standard or Priority. As an option, they need a mixture of Standard and Priority Subscriptions. Different subscriptions are available for EC (enterprise class) or BC (business class) type systems, and zBX (blade center extension).”
IBM Power (ppc64): “For a system with IBM Power processors (ppc64), the number of required subscriptions for your environment needs to match or exceed the number of populated processor sockets (or processor cards or SCMs or MCMs) on which SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is deployed, installed, used or executed. A populated socket is a socket where a physical processor has been installed. You can use an unlimited number of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server instances per populated processor socket (or SCM or MCM). All these SUSE Linux Enterprise Server instances need to have a subscription, either Basic or Standard or Priority. As an option, they need a mixture of Standard and Priority Subscriptions.”
Itanium Processor Family (ia64): “For a system with Itanium processors (ia64), the number of required subscriptions for your environment needs to match or exceed the number of populated processor sockets on which SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is deployed, installed, used or executed. A populated socket is a socket where a physical processor has been installed. You can use an unlimited number of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server instances per populated processor socket. All these SUSE Linux Enterprise Server instances need to have a subscription, either Basic, or Standard or Priority. As an option, they need a mixture of Standard and Priority Subscriptions.”
There are many different terms and conditions that an organization needs to take into account when deploying Enterprise Linux software. Software license management companies like B-lay are happy to assist you with your challenges around licensing Enterprise Linux or any other enterprise software programs. With a complete assessment from B-lay, software licensing will be no surprise anymore, and will deliver exactly the value you are entitled to.