Oracle Linux vs RedHat

Oracle and Red Hat are big names in the world of enterprise Linux. With more similarities than differences, the choice between Red Hat’s Linux distribution, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), and Oracle’s clone of RHEL, Oracle Linux (OL, formerly known as Oracle Enterprise Linux), is not easy. This article introduces both of these widely deployed Linux distributions and compares them to reveal what the strengths and weaknesses of each are.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) started in 2000 as Red Hat Linux Advanced Server. Three years later, in 2003, Red Hat rebranded Red Hat Linux Advanced Server to Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS and introduced Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES (Entry-level Server) and Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS (Workstation). A few rebrandings later, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES is now Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the company’s base enterprise server product.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux is intended to be a stable Linux distribution with long-term support and freely available source code. Once stripped of all Red Hat’s trademarks, anyone can rebuild and redistribute Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is how Oracle Linux, along with Fedora, CentOS, Scientific Linux, White Box Enterprise Linux, StartCom Enterprise Linux, Pie Box Enterprise Linux, and several other Linux distributions came to life.

Commercial Support

Often, the only major difference between Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its derivatives is the lack of commercial support from Red Hat. One year of Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server subscription for one physical server with two sockets starts at $799 for the Standard subscription plan and goes up to $3,098 for the Premium subscription plan with all add-ons, including smart management, high availability, resilient storage, and extended update support.

The Standard subscription plan includes support during standard business hours over web or phone, unlimited support cases, and access to Red Hat Enterprise Linux Atomic Host, which is a variant of Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server (RHEL Server) designed and optimized to run Linux Containers. The Premium subscription plan additionally includes around the clock support for severity 1 and 2 cases, which are problems that severely impacts your use of the software in a production environment or where the software is functioning but causing a high impact to portions of your business operations and no procedural workaround exists.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux is also available with commercial support for workstations as Red Hat Enterprise Linux Workstation. This robust, secure, and cost-effective desktop environment built on Red Hat Enterprise Linux comes with integrated email, calendaring, contact management, and office applications, and it also includes development tools for provisioning and administration.

Oracle Linux (OL)

Oracle Linux is compiled from Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) source code and is available with two Linux kernels: the Red Hat Compatible Kernel (RHCK) and the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel (UEK).

The Red Hat Compatible Kernel is based on Linux version 3.10 and supports the compression of swap memory to reduce I/O overhead (zram), the recording of crash dumps on systems with up to 3 TB of memory, DynTick for suspending the system tick when there is only a single runnable task, Hardware Error Reporting Mechanism (HERM), and NUMA-aware scheduling and memory allocation for improving the performance of NUMA systems, according to the release notes for Oracle Linux 7.

The Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel powers Oracle Cloud and Oracle Engineered Systems such as Oracle Exadata Database Machine and features various optimizations and security for enterprise cloud workloads. For example, DTrace provides Oracle Linux customers with a comprehensive, dynamic tracing framework, while native support for Linux Containers (LXC) and Docker makes it effortless to deploy applications quickly and efficiently with Linux container technologies.

Commercial Support

Oracle provides around-the-clock support for Oracle Linux in 145 countries for traditional, cloud-based, and virtual environments. Oracles enterprise-class support starts at $119 per year per system for the Oracle Linux Network Support package and includes access to patches, updates, and security fixes via the Unbreakable Linux Network (ULN).

Customers who would like more support from Oracle can pay for the Oracle Linux Basic Support and Oracle Linux Premier Support packages, which start at $1,199 and $2,299 respectively. Oracle Linux Basic Support includes 24×7 access to log unlimited number of service requests via web or phone, integrated management features with Oracle Enterprise Manager and Spacewalk, XFS support, high availability with Oracle Clusterware, application and system containers with Docker and LXC, spacewalk support, and comprehensive tracing with DTrace, in addition to what is included in the Oracle Linux Network Support package.

The Oracle Linux Premier Support package adds lifetime sustaining support, premier backports, Oracle OpenStack for Oracle Linux support, scalable storage with Ceph storage for Oracle Linux, software collection library, and zero-downtime updates with Ksplice, in addition to everything included in the Oracle Linux Basic Support package.

Should I Choose RHEL or OL?

For many people, the choice between RHEL and OL comes down to how invested they are in Oracle’s ecosystem, especially Oracle Database, a multi-model database management system. While Oracle Database works on RHEL, Oracle has no qualms about stating that it runs best on Oracle Linux.

Jeff Darcy, a former member of the RHEL filesystem group, raises another point that all those who are choosing between RHEL and OL should consider, “I’d also like to point out that using a subsidized clone slows development of the original which represents 90 percent of the innovation and value vs. just building your own distribution from the upstream bits.  It also rewards a predatory business practice, which is ultimately bad for everyone.  Open source is supposed to be about collaborating, not taking someone else’s work and using it (plus profits made elsewhere) to undercut their business model.”

In other words, those who believe in the principles behind open source software and recognize the necessity to support open source contributors should consider supporting Red Hat as only a few other corporations contribute as much to various open source projects as Red Hat does.

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