Linux Support Services

Linux support services are available from independent vendors, software distributors and the open-source community. Know what each service covers and how much it costs before you sign up.

January 30, 2004

5 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Most vendors offer support for particular distributions on specific hardware and the open-source software it contains. Yearly and multiyear contracts are available from some vendors, especially those not tied to particular distributions. Some may even offer unlimited support contracts. We recommend a yearly contract that covers all your Linux servers. If you plan to add machines throughout the year, however, you could end up with contracts that need monthly renewals, depending on how many machines you have. You'll save yourself some headaches if your contract covers additional machines, with the price to be renegotiated at the end of the term.

Service Levels

Before you sign a contract, work with your administrators to define what kind of support is essential. Quality support providers will determine what action is appropriate based on the support level you choose. To help define what you need, compare support models and vendors.

Ask service providers to show you any data that backs up their claims. This won't necessarily provide you with undeniable proof of a service provider's excellence, but it says something for the provider's business acumen.

Support from your hardware and software vendors, and their relationships with Linux OS vendors, must be considered as well. Your hardware provider or independent software vendor should agree to remedy Linux OS defects involving particular hardware drivers by incorporating necessary patches in all future releases of the distro.Certification and Training

Trained tech support will help you resolve issues faster and with more confidence, possibly letting you get by with 8/5 support. So find out what certifications your prospective support provider requires of its tech-support people. Because most common problems are solved by Level 1 technicians, those techs should be certified. LPI (Linux Professional Institute), RHCT (Red Hat Certified Technician), RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer), SAIR/GNU and CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association) Linux+ certifications are leading curriculum choices.


The most crucial consideration when purchasing new hardware is to verify that it will support the Linux distribution you want.

It's wise to stick with your Tier 1 hardware vendor for the machines that will power the OS, but it's critical that both the Linux vendor and the hardware vendor support your distribution on that hardware. Red Hat and SuSE certify a boatload of hardware, including server-level equipment from Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, all of which offer hardware solutions that ship with various versions of Linux.If you want to rely on newsgroups and mailing lists, avoid exotic hardware--choose a tried-and- true architecture instead. Most Linux installations are deployed on commodity x86 architectures, for example, so finding people in the open-source community eager to help won't be difficult.

Application Support

You're likely to be running open-source software now, including Apache Web servers, Samba file and print servers, and sendmail servers--all of which can be supported by an independent support vendor. System administrators commonly compile and create open-source applications themselves because the Unix operating system doesn't include them. But Linux does. So unless you have a specific need to do it yourself, why not let the vendor apply those security patches and update and test the software for you?

Sys admins commonly install COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) products on servers--so make sure these can coexist with the Linux environment. Thankfully, major independent software vendors are taking steps to certify their software on particular Linux distributions. This is crucial if you're contracting support services: If you're running BEA, IBM, Oracle or Sun software, make sure it's supported on the distribution you select. Also, know that Linux support vendors will send you to your independent software vendor for support of commercial applications, so make sure the ISV supports its products.

Oracle has drummed up a unique solution that will benefit anyone running its products on Linux. Oracle customers receive free Linux support--not just for Oracle software running on Linux, but for Linux in general. This extends down to code-level patches required in the distribution. Through an agreement with Red Hat and UnitedLinux, Oracle can put patches it develops into the Red Hat and UnitedLinux kernel. For this reason, we put Oracle software on the top of the list for Linux support.Management Extras

Some support vendors offer tools to manage your Linux environment proactively. Hewlett-Packard's OpenView and Red Hat Network Monitoring and Management modules, for example, let you look at the health of your servers and help you designate and track important information. Evaluate the effectiveness of the tools before paying the premium--ask for a demo to see if they're worth the expense. Support-service vendors can also make data-collection software available to let administrators easily package the various log files and system-configuration files that technical support may need during a crisis.

Christopher T. Beers is a Unix systems engineer at Syracuse University. Write to him at [email protected].

Post a comment or question on this story.

Some admins prefer to research problems using FAQs, knowledge-based systems and the open-source developer community's newsgroups, mailing lists and Google searches, rather than conventional support services. Because Linux is open source, much of the software is open source as well.

LInux enthusiasts contribute security fixes and software improvements, which make their way into the Linux distribution after brave users on the leading edge have tested them. Open-source assistance is usually found on the Web site devoted to the software in question.Web Sites (documentation and how-to information for various Linux configurations and distributions)

Mailing Lists:

Red Hat

Linux Newsgroups:

• http://comp.os.linux.announce: Announcements
• http://comp.os.linux.hardware: Hardware-compatibility issues
• http://comp.os.linux.setup: Installation and system administration
• http://comp.os.linux.misc: Miscellaneous
• http://comp.os.linux.networking: Networking and communications issues

• http://comp.os.linux.apps: Software applications
• http://comp.os.linux.x: X Window System running under Linux

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights