[nSLUG] Is commercial linux support worthwhile?

gnwiii at gmail.com gnwiii at gmail.com
Sat May 27 16:46:36 ADT 2006

On 5/27/06, Donald Teed <donald.teed at gmail.com> wrote:

> We are studying options for a Linux to take over where FreeBSD
> has run core Internet operations.  There is some suggestion that we
> would be better off with a commercial Linux such as Redhat or Suse
> so that when someone leaves or goes on vacation, there is
> still some way to handle difficult problems.

Although it sounds sensible, I'm not sure that approach plays out in practice.

I've used commercial support for "real" unix and from Red Hat for help
with hardware problems (determining whether certain failures were due
to hardware or software) and
things like getting NFS working between R.H. and SGI (eventually the
R.H. engineer was
corresponding directly with his SGI counterpart).  Many people will
spend all sorts of time inventing workarounds before they will ask
anyone for help, much less call a vendor,  especially if they know
there will be a charge for the call.  Preparing a good problem report
is an art and requires the ability to answer skill-testing questions
about the hardware and software configuration.  The first level of
commercial support is often scripted and will ask you to do things
like boot from a rescue CD and run some tests in single user mode, and
will want to carefully verify your configuration.  Only then will the
problem be passed on to someone who knows more than how to read a
script. When the goto guy is away, the remaining staff feel pressure
to do more than the normal workload, so it is hard to find time to
take on new open-ended tasks.

When people do go outside for help with a problem while the usual goto
guy is away, the "solutions" often cause other problems because the
outside support doesn't know your systems.

> I have never used commercial support from Redhat or others
> in the Linux field.  Can anyone compare their quality to say
> posting in a forum or a mailing list like this one and getting
> help, possibly the same day or sooner?

If you run bog standard hardware and apps that are widely used, most
problems can be solved using free forums much faster than the time it
takes to get to a real support person.   Where you really need
professional help is with oddball hardware or unique applications.

> Has anyone heard of a company that sells Linux support of
> Debian as a service?  Canonical was mentioned in the Debian
> user's mailing list, but on Canonical's page they only say Ubuntu
> so I've emailed that company about the options available.

I've noticed that many sites arrange to have a tame guru (often a
retired employee, or someone poached from a university) for emergency
situations.  There is a big advantage to having an ongoing
relationship someone who knows both your hardware and your operational
needs and can judge how to approach problems with less disruption of
critical tasks.  If the person who set up your systems retires and
isn't interested in such an arrangement either you are Microsoft (your
stock options were too generous) or you need to ask whether your
systems are maintainable.

George N. White III <aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca>
Head of St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia


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