Last year, Red Hat announced that it plans to offer OpenStack on a subscription basis as a commercial, enterprise-grade product. OpenStack is an open source software project for building private and public clouds.
Red Hat's engineers contribute to the OpenStack project, and the company is an old-hand at productizing open source projects and offering them on a subscription basis. It is probably best known for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), a productized version of the open source Fedora Linux operating system, as well its JBoss Enterprise Middleware, based on JBoss community projects.
Companies such as Red Hat make a lot of money selling products based on open source projects. But if the underlying software is free, what exactly are you paying for when you subscribe to these products?
1. Enterprise-Grade Support
If your company uses open source software in mission critical areas then you'll probably need someone to provide support when the software doesn't work as expected.
With proprietary software, the availability of support is a given, but when you download and run an open source project you may have to rely on the help and support of the project's developer community. That help may arrive, but then again it may not: Community support comes with no service-level guarantee and a 24x7 telephone support line is not provided.
Third-party companies offer support for some open source software on a commercial basis, but Gordon Haff, a senior manager at Red Hat, says, companies like Red Hat that sponsor and productize open source projects are in a better position to provide you with support than these third-party companies.
"One key piece of value is that for most of the core software technology that we offer through subscription, we employ the experts who are, in fact, the key contributors to that software," he says. "More importantly, they are a key part of the developer community, and can put in changes or fixes for you when they are required," he adds.
2. Input Into New Features
Another benefit of paying a subscription is that in many cases it can give you a say in the product's roadmap, according to Haff. This is clearly not possible if you simply download and run the open source software.
Therefore, if there are certain features you want, paying a subscription can be a cost effective way of getting them incorporated into the product.
Ironically, paying customers have to wait longer for new features than other users do because new features are released in the "upstream" open source projects before they make it to the productized versions of the software. In other words, Fedora is more "cutting edge" software than RHEL.
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