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Five commercial Linux versions feature easy install, solid management tools and cloud integration.
The five Linux servers we tested -- SUSE Enterprise Server 11 Service Pack 2, Mandriva Business Server 1.0, ClearOS 6 Professional, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.4 and Ubuntu 12.04 LTS -- offer commercial support options. The advantages include LTR (Long Term Release) versions of the software, improved interoperability, application support and legal protection.
Ubuntu came out on top. Ubuntu delivered intuitive, uncluttered management tools, excellent hypervisor support, and transparency (commercial and open source versions are one and the same). Canonical also boasts progressive strategic alliances with large cloud providers. Ubuntu is also closely associated with the popular OpenStack platform.
Ubuntu is free to download and install with no licensing fees. However, the Ubuntu Advantage management system requires an annual subscription and is licensed by server. The annual subscription includes legal assurance and various levels of support.
Red Hat gets high marks for its management tools, although we found some of the subscription and server management solutions a bit fragmented and cumbersome to navigate. Red Hat certifies its server products to run on a wide range of hardware. We found Red Hat’s online documentation to be top notch. We also liked the Red Hat Security Response Team, which constantly monitors and updates customers with information regarding security threats.
Red Hat pricing
Annual subscriptions are available per server with either 2 or 4 sockets. Subscriptions can be purchased with 1, 4 or unlimited virtual guests. The below pricing is for a server with 2 sockets for up to one virtual guest. Subscriptions include management tools (Red Hat Network Satellite), software updates and support (standard and premium only).
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server
SUSE is a robust enterprise server product with a substantial customer base. The online SUSE Studio provides a way for administrators to build a custom server appliance that will run on a variety of different virtual and cloud platforms. We also found SUSE to be one of the easier solutions to deploy and with excellent cloud support through OpenStack.
By server (2, 4, 6 or 8 sockets, physical or virtual server), one year subscription which includes software updates and support (available for Standard and Priority versions only).
Targeted at the SMB market, ClearOS is easy to install, provides the most common server roles, which are easy to deploy, and has an impressive management interface that runs on a number of different devices. ClearOS can also be configured as gateway server, which we found appealing. Cloud-wise, although ClearOS has a beta version for Amazon EC2, we would have liked to see support for some of the other public cloud platforms.
The ClearOS Pro licensing model is based on 1-year subscription for one server (physical or virtual), with access to over 65 Marketplace apps and software updates.
Mandriva Business Server
Mandriva, also primarily aimed at the SMB market, sports all-inclusive server roles and security features at a reasonable price. We found the Mandriva website a bit lacking in terms of technical product information, especially for customers seeking to evaluate products. Mandriva has its own IT management software, Mandriva Pulse 2, a full-featured solution that provides features ranging from software deployment and management to operational supervision and maintenance. Pulse 2 can also manage both Linux and non-Linux installations (Windows, Mac, Unix).
Mandriva is licensed by server with either 50 or unlimited users. The annual license fee includes software updates and support plans that provides 1 or 3 years of support.