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What is Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

Red Hat® Enterprise Linux is one of the most popular and trusted versions of the Linux operating system (OS). This flagship product of the Red Hat company is often used as the core OS for Linux-based hosting packages, and brings scalable security and support for shared, virtual and dedicated servers.

Choosing an OS for Your Linux-Based Hosting

When choosing a web hosting plan, one of the options to consider is what operating system your server will run. If you're choosing a Linux-based hosting package for your website, you'll most likely encounter a variety of options with regard to available bandwidth, processing power, and storage capacity. Depending on the plan you choose, you might also have a choice of operating system (OS) for your server.

There are many different Linux distributions available to choose from, and deciding which one is best for running your Linux server can be bewildering. All Linux-driven servers feature some version of Linus Torvald's Linux operating system (itself derived from the Unix system), and most distributions share a lot of common functionality, but some are optimized specifically for running servers, while others may be better suited to personal computers.

When it comes to choosing a Linux distribution specifically for your server, one of the most popular versions of the OS is Red Hat® Enterprise Linux.

What is Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (often abbreviated RHEL) differentiates itself from many other versions of Linux because it is designed exclusively for the commercial market. RHEL is developed by Red Hat, Inc., an American software company who is the largest corporate contributor to Linux. RHEL is a top choice for enterprise-level servers that need a stable OS to run powerful and resource-intensive software.>

There are many variants of RHEL offered by Red Hat, but the version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux designed for running Web and other servers is called RHEL Server. RHEL Server is optimized for high-efficiency resource management, Web application support and control, and strong security. These features are key to creating and supporting shared, virtual, and dedicated hosting platforms for customers of all types.

Like other versions of Linux, RHEL is often used in a LAMP configuration (Linux, Apache Web server, MySQL database management, and PHP HyperText Preprocessor (PHP) scripting support). This configuration forms the backbone of many Web servers, and enables support for a wide array of other applications and content.

RHEL is open-source, but requires the purchase of a license. However, because the source code is freely available, there are third party derivations of RHEL available, distributed with Red Hat-trademarked material stripped out. CentOS is one of the most popular derivatives of RHEL.

RHEL itself may require a license, but other popular varieties (including CentOS, which is derived from the Red Hat Linux core) are designed to provide 100% compatibility with, and identical functionality to, RHEL — without the need to purchase software or a license. In fact, CentOS and RHEL are often found as side-by-side or even combined OS options for Linux hosting packages (particularly cloud-based virtualized hosting packages that draw on multiple systems simultaneously).

A web host with RHEL Server may be right for you if...

  • You're running an enterprise-level server that needs to be able to handle heavy loads.
  • You need to run an enterprise software package that requires RHEL.
  • You want to be able to take advantage of the 24x7 customer support provided by Red Hat.

On the other hand, you may want to consider another option, such as CentOS, if...

  • You prefer to handle technical issues and support on your own, and don't need professional support available.
  • You value stability and reliability over keeping up with the latest software developments.

RHEL for Web Application Development

If you're looking for a solution to developing and hosting custom Web applications in the cloud, you may want to consider OpenShift by Red Hat, which is built on a foundation of RHEL. The online version of OpenShift gives developers an opportunity to test out the platform as a service (PaaS) with no need for installation, while the Enterprise version allows you to run OpenShift in your own data centers or private cloud.

By default OpenShift supports development in Ruby, Python, PHP, Perl, and Java, and the option to add any language you choose. Using OpenShift, it's easy to streamline your app development, testing, and deployment processes, while reducing the amount of time spent on monitoring and operations work. Its focus is on enabling developers to quickly release apps, with available features like application cloning, version support, and automatic scaling.

Finding a RHEL Web Hosting Plan

Because it's already been purchased for the server, RHEL won't generally add to your monthly hosting fees. However, depending on the package you select (including some dedicated hosting packages that allow you to purchase and install your own OS for maximum configurability and control), you may have to purchase a subscription or other license to use RHEL on your Web server. As always, check with your host before signing on the dotted line.

Red Hat Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • There are a number of Linux distributions out there. Why should I use Red Hat? Will it cost me more, or save me money?

    It all depends on your needs, but there is another thing to consider. Red Hat’s business model revolves around support rather than one-time software purchases. This means it could make more sense for some organisations. However, while Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is sometimes touted as a “free alternative” – you need to bear in mind that it simply has a different business model.

  • What about alternatives like Fedora and CentOS? How is Red Hat different?

    Fedora is community driven and free, while Red Hat is a commercial release that generates revenue through long-term support. CentOS is also based on Red Hat releases, but it’s a community project and is therefore free. However, there is no professional support, although CentOS has a big and dynamic community.

  • Will Red Hat hosting cost me extra? Will I need to pay for additional features?

    Red Hat is a commercial release, so if you need a standalone license or subscription, you will have to pay. On shared hosting plans, you will use the host’s Red Hat, so you won’t have to worry about paying. You will not have to pay for features commonly found in alternative Linux distributions.

  • How many people use Red Hat anyway?

    Red Hat dominates the paid Linux market and market research indicates it commands a 2/3 share of said market. The enterprise market is still dominated by Microsoft, but Red Hat Enterprise Linux has twice the market share of all other Linux distributions combined.

  • Isn’t CentOS basically the same as RHEL?

    Yes and no. CentOS is indeed based on Red Hat code, but there are a few significant differences. RHEL is certified by governments and can be deployed on more products. Since it’s a commercial product, it also has professional support, unlike CentOS.

  • Can I use cPanel on Red Hat Enterprise Linux? What about alternative control panels?

    Yes; you can use cPanel and WHM on RHEL servers, as long as they meet the admittedly conservative hardware requirements. Most major control panels should have no trouble working in a Red Hat environment.

  • What programming languages are supported on RHEL? What about scripting languages?

    Since you’re dealing with a Linux environment, Microsoft Windows specific languages are not supported. However, RHEL supports virtually all common programming and scripting languages that can run on Linux, including Ruby, PHP, Perl, Python and many others. Since it benefits from more support than most Linux platforms, RHEL should ensure good long-term compatibility and support for fresh releases.

  • Are there any downsides to Red Hat Enterprise Linux? Anything I should worry about?

    There aren't any obvious disadvantages compared to other Linux distributions, at least not from a technical point of view. However, RHEL is a commercial release, so you will have to pay for the privilege. If you feel comfortable with CentOS, and if you don't feel the need for cutting edge support and the latest software releases, you could use it (or any of a number of alternatives). Once again, it all depends on your needs and skills.

  • I am currently on Ubuntu – is there a reason I should move to RHEL?

    Most enterprises no longer use Ubuntu – they have moved to Red Hat or CentOS for development. If you are a professional, Red Hat provides more stability, superior support, updates and more. If you are a hobbyist, you may want to play around with CentOS first, just in case it meets all your needs.

  • How many companies use Red Hat Enterprise Linux? Any big names on the list?

    A lot of major companies around the world rely on RHEL. Red Hat claims about 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use its software in one form or another. As much as 50 percent of the world’s trading volume runs on Red Hat. The New York Stock Exchange started using RHEL in 2010.

  • What about support? I know RHEL is supposed to be better than other Linux distributions, but how relevant is this difference for the average user?

    Hardly anyone would dispute that Red Hat offers the best support in the Linux universe, but whether or not you actually require that level of support is another question. If you're new to the industry and have a tight budget, the benefits of Red Hat support could be outweighed by the cost. It also depends on your skill set, i.e. if you are experienced, you could be able to sort out most of the issues on your own, without wasting too much time.

  • Which hosting companies use Red Hat?

    The list is simply too long – Red Hat is the flagship Linux distro, so it is widely used by many hosts, especially hosts specializing in enterprise hosting packages. Hosting companies can use Red Hat on all Linux-based packages, including shared, VPS and dedicated servers, or they can offer different Linux distributions on some.

  • But wait, if my host uses Red Hat, does that mean I have to pay more?

    Not necessarily. If your host uses RHEL on its servers, you won't have to worry about additional hosting fees. Of course, the cost is passed down to the consumer, but on most shared and VPS plans it is negligible. However, if you want to install RHEL on a dedicated server on your own, you will need to purchase a subscription or license. It is important to note that you need to check with your host whether or not this is possible prior to making a purchase.

  • How do I install Red Hat on my server?

    It depends on what sort of server you have. If you are interested in a shared or VPS hosting plan, then you can't change the OS and must stick to the one provided by your host. However, if you are setting up your own server, or installing RHEL on dedicated hardware, comprehensive documentation and guides are available online. Bottom line – consult your host.

  • What about Microsoft support? What if I need MS SQL, or MS Access?

    Red Hat cannot support proprietary Microsoft technologies, standards and languages. In case you absolutely need Microsoft services, you have no choice but to get a Windows server.

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