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Your business has probably purchased a lot of proprietary software the same way it purchases any other goods – you buy product A and install it on machine B. There was something like a warranty period, where you may receive a certain level of support or a replacement for serious issues, but otherwise, it was just a good that was purchased. If it doesn’t meet your needs, you go out and buy something else – even if it is the same product just a version or two later.

But with open source, there’s a slightly different approach. There has to be. Unlike proprietary software, where the software is the product, with open source software, everything is already out there and available. And not just the end package; the sourcecode itself is freely available to your engineering department.

According to Gartner, 95% of companies are using open source software, so it is entirely reasonable to ask what are we purchasing?

What open source companies (like Red Hat) offer you isn’t a product; it’s an ecosystem of improvement and support.

A License Isn’t a Subscription

One thing to clarify – a software license is not the same thing as a software subscription.

A software license defines how you can use a certain piece of software. With proprietary software, this is usually displayed in the Terms & Conditions screen when you’re installing it. With open source software, the license applies to how the code can be used, and this usually covers things like whether it can be modified, how contributors have to be attributed, and whether changes need to be contributed back to the project.

Red Hat’s software is available with a software subscription. In exceedingly simple terms, this defines what kind of support you can receive for the software that you have and it defines a period of time that that support is available. So, the software license is defined by the sourcecode; the software subscription is what you purchase to cover your systems.

(Because software subscriptions define support periods and offer a lot of other supporting resources, even some proprietary firms offer software subscriptions. The license gets you the bits; the subscription gets you enhanced support.)

Support Is More Than Access

Open source software is constantly moving. That is great because of how adaptable it can be. It is less great in how unstable it can be if you are trying to track with the latest version. Even on upstream projects, there is a big difference between the latest version (which is almost like a rough draft or a work in progress) and latest stable version.

One of the first and core actions that Red Hat does in working with open source software is to test it. Quality assurance – combined with iterative engineering to address bugs, usability issues, and feature gaps – is what sets apart our products. That extra care takes the amazing, tech-advanced projects of open source and helps stabilize them enough for real-life production workloads.

As an extension of that, we have certified providers for hardware, software, and cloud, so that you can know a given Red Hat product will work in those heterogeneous (and more realistic) environments.

The other vacuum that Red Hat fills is with knowledge. We have resource libraries for product documentation, troubleshooting, knowledge articles, reference architectures, and case studies. We offer specialized analytics (Red Hat Insights), specialized web applications (Access Labs), and security issue tracking that help make managing systems more effective and more reliable.

Additionally, the subscription is for a period of time, not a static release. If there are new releases for your product, errata (patches) for bugs and enhancements, or security updates, your subscription allows you to access them.

A really great analogy is in the Wikipedia description of subscription business models. Think of season tickets to the opera. You not only have access to all of the regular shows at their regularly scheduled times; you get preferred seating, access to members-only showcases, and backstage receptions with artistic directors and performers. You get access to a larger world.

But What Does a Subscription Really Offer Your Environment

If you look at a software purchase as a product that you buy, it seems like a static transaction. But IT departments aren’t static anymore. You don’t only have X number of servers in your data center; with virtual machines and especially cloud systems, X is only your baseline – your department can scale up or down, depending on load.

That’s the advantage of a subscription model. It is flexible. There are different levels of subscriptions for physical and virtual machines and, through the Red Hat Cloud Access Program, those subscriptions can be moved from physical to cloud and back, depending on the demands on your systems. Certain certified cloud providers even support on demand subscriptions, so you can create and destroy cloud instances dynamically – and still have those instances supported by Red Hat Global Support.

That’s the power of a subscription. It allows you to adapt your purchasing patterns, your development cycles, and your upgrades according to your needs. And we can support you as you do it.

Want to Learn More?

You can download a whitepaper that goes into more detail on the different benefits of a Red Hat subscription. You can also check out more on the Cloud Access program and how middleware products can work in public clouds.

About the author

Deon Ballard is a product marketing manager focusing on customer experience, adoption, and renewals for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the foundation for open hybrid cloud. In previous roles at Red Hat, Ballard has been a technical writer, doc lead, and content strategist for technical documentation, specializing in security technologies such as NSS, LDAP, certificate management, and authentication / authorization, as well as cloud and management.