Why Free May Hurt Your Appliance or Cloud Business | SUSE Communities

Why Free May Hurt Your Appliance or Cloud Business


In my role, I work with a lot of prospective partners who ask the question “Why should I pay for Linux when I can get XYZ distro for free?”  My answer to this involves several facets.

  1. Security – When a major security issue comes along, the commercial distributions are on the embargo list and working on a patch BEFORE the issue is made public. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to provide this patch to your customers sooner than several weeks after the issue is made public?
  2. Stability – Enterprise Linux releases are put through the wringer.  The gauntlet of tests aren’t just what the distribution maintainer run, but what the beta customers and partners do it as well.  When bugs are found, they are fixed the right way and up-streamed.
  3. Certification – IF you ever want your system to go inside of a government or highly secured environment, the customer is going to be looking for Common Criteria certification, FIPS compliance, etc.  A free distribution is going to have a tough time with this.
  4. Liability – If your device is protecting data, providing critical infrastructure services or running systems that have the potential to affect welfare of a human being, do you really not want a dedicated support organization and engineering team behind you in the event that you are sued?  I can hear it now, “No your honor, we didn’t think it was important to have access to kernel engineers.”  Not exactly the statement I would want to be making in court.
  5. Remove objections – Especially if you are a startup, it doesn’t make sense to go it alone.  Lean on the credibility of a well known and respected brand as part of your solution.
  6. Improve time to market – I know that our distribution provides a number of tools to improve dev, test, and production image build times.  We also support a number of technologies that assist in software distribution (openSUSE Build Service), QA (openQA), and update management (SLMS and SMT).
  7. Engineering – Doesn’t it just make sense to leverage a large Linux engineering team instead of a few guys on your payroll?  Let an enterprise Linux vendor do what we do best, make a solid and supportable Linux distro, you should focus on what makes you money.
  8. Lifecycle – While you may hope that your enterprise customers upgrade every few years, it is inevitable that some will want to deploy and then stay at a steady state for years on end.  With offerings like our Long Term Service & Support and the overall thirteen year life-cycle, you can provide your customers with the steady state environment they seek.
  9. Hardware – This seems like it should be simple, but it is not. I have seen partners encounter weird issues with hardware that turns out to be a flaw in the firmware or at the silicon level.  Having a vendor that provides a certification program and the engineering to back it up is helpful in ensuring stability.
  10. Software Ecosystem – While you may be building an appliance image, at some point you may want to add another vendor’s product to the solution to enhance your value proposition.  SUSE is supported by over 4,000 software partners, making it easy to find the applications you or your customers are interested in.

These are just a few of the reasons I think it is important to look long and hard at the relatively small expense to include a commercial Linux distribution as part of your development process.  There are certainly a myriad of other reasons, ranging from tool sets, HA stacks, etc, but we’ll leave those for other discussions.

As always, feel free to comment or contact me with any questions.


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