I recently spoke to a friend of mine, a reseller of some storage proprietary software, who was at odds to fulfill his client’s request. The client supposedly requested a software with storage capabilities that go way beyond the one that he resells. On inquiring from his competition, none of the competitors’ software could be all inclusive on the client’s request; they would offer some features and lack in some, much to the chagrin of my friend and the client alike. It was at this point that I proposed and demonstrated an open source solution that would cater for two thirds of the clients requirements and the remaining could be rewritten and customized to meet the client’s needs. The response from my friend was swift. That it is the policy of the government and most corporate not to procure ‘unproven’ technology systems and software. This came on the backdrop of his acknowledgement that indeed my solution addressed his client’s needs and went a mile further to arrest issues that the client had not thought of that would have arisen later on.

We did engage in a candid discussion thereafter and a number of inferences cropped up. Why would someone say a technology is unproven just because it is open source? If the issue at hand is support, several open source software are built and maintained by reputable companies around the world who still offer support. If the issue is robustness, some of the open source systems are more stable than most proprietary software.

In most cases, Linux is referred to as a malleable operating system. You can shape, it, bend it, panel beat it until you get what you want. In this discussion, I will focus on Enterprise Linux operating systems (Red Hat and SUSE).  Aside from the cost, what other factors will make an enterprise or African governments and its agencies deploy Linux?

Commercial Support

Red Hat and SUSE Linux, which happen to be the only two enterprise-level Linux, offer commercial support to its clients. The support also incorporates long-term support (LTS) for new releases. In this way, should a client have worries about the system experiencing issues beyond their scope, you can always call the vendor or one of its partners to help you out. Since the software is not subject to licence, this presents a huge cost saving on the client’s side especially if the deployment is on a huge scale like in the case of government and blue chip enterprises.

Linux Stability

As a government or business owner, what you want is a system that will serve you 99% plus of the time. Linux up-times guarantee this. Any new releases, patches or service packs can be installed and updated without necessarily rebooting the system. Red Hat uses Ksplice for live patching while SUSE uses kGraft.

.NET and SQL Server Support

Most of you would never have imagined that one day Microsoft will open source .NET and SQL Server. Well, yeah. They did. And the intent was to tap in the growing number of developers embracing open source tools. In the event that your application runs on Microsoft platform, rest assured that it can now run on Linux as well. With the stability that Linux offers, it’s time to start exploring the alternative. More to that, Microsoft saw it fit to join Linux Foundation and be part of the contributors of Linux operating system and its other open source projects. In fact, Microsoft has a dedicated sub-domain for everything open open.microsoft.com.


Most proprietary software will release updates on not so short intervals. Linux on the other hand releases regular kernel updates. It also releases security patches on an almost daily basis. In any case, a closer review of most zero-day exploits affects proprietary software as opposed to UNIX or Linux systems. In the 2015-2016 Linux Kernel Development highlights, the “zero-day build and boot robot” testing system found nearly 400 bugs, all of which were fixed. This is in part due to the large community of developers that contribute to the development of the operating system and therefore can easily identify vulnerabilities in the system. In addition, enterprise-level Linux comes with applications that, should the system be breached, minimizes an application’s ability to be used to spread the malware for instance across the entire system. Red Hat uses SELinux to do this while SUSE uses AppArmor. That way, spread of a malware attack is restricted only to the affected program or task.

Large Community of Developers, Integrators, Testers, Documentation Experts

There is no community like Linux’s as far as development is concerned. Its developers are pooled from large companies (Intel, Red Hat, Samsung, SUSE, Google, IBM, LInaro, Texas Instruments, Renesas among others) and individual developers (Hartley Sweeten, Geert Uytterhoeven, Arnd Bergmann, Al Viro, Takashi Iwai among others). In the 2015-2016 Linux Kernel Development highlights, there were 5,62 developers representing nearly 500 companies who take part in developing and maintaining Linux. All the work is managed by Linux Foundation who oversee the development of Linux.

Linux, the Leader in Cloud Computing and Mobile Space

Linux powers 79 per cent of web servers. Any mention of cloud technology and it is almost inevitable to note that it is powered by or inspired by Linux. From virtualization, containers, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Micro OSes, Unikernels, Microservices, software-defined networking and software-defined storage, DevOps among others. In fact, nearly a third of Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, deploy Linux for their applications. Linux Kernel also powers Android and Tizen operating systems as well. In terms of storage, this article explains why the future of enterprise storage is open source.

Cases in Point

  • Governments, from US, China to North Korea, have already moved to Linux and open source and for a good reason. First, it offers cost savings and open data formats which makes information sharing easier. The White House, US Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration all moved to Red Hat Linux. NASA also runs on Linux
  • United Nations shifted to use mySQL for their database
  • Education: schools and colleges in Europe, Asia, Americas are using Linux even in their basic education. A good number of universities use Scientific Linux, which is a derivative of Red Hat, for teaching and research.
  • Stock markets: Majority of stock markets in established economies like New York Stock Exchange run on Linux.
  • Transport: majority of bullet trains in established economies run on Linux. Most of the major airports also use Linux for operations as well as air traffic control.
  • Corporates: Google, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, McDonalds, OpenStack, Yahoo!, Wikipedia all run on Linux

The total cost of ownership (TCO) of Linux is way lower than that of proprietary systems. Cost elements includes acquisition, migration, operation and support. The low TCO is highly attributed to no cost on license fees.

I would like to challenge African governments to institute policies for the adoption of Linux and open source systems. It is the only way we can, at a budget, bridge the digital divide in the shortest possible time as it provides a ‘level playing field’. In doing so, we will be building capacity for local people of not only software development but also other engineering spheres. Check here for a list of users of Linux and open source software.

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