Ubuntu vs RHEL in enterprise computing

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

A remarkable thing happened this year: companies started adopting Ubuntu over RHEL for large-scale enterprise workloads, in droves:

w3tech.com historical analysis of web server operating systems

The trend is even starker if you look at what we know of new-style services, like clouds and big data, but since most of that happens behind the firewall its all anecdata, while web services are a public affair.

The key driver of this has been that we added quality as a top-level goal across the teams that build Ubuntu – both Canonical’s and the community’s. We also have retained the focus on keeping the up-to-date tools available on Ubuntu for developers, and on delivering a great experience in the cloud, where computing is headed.

The headlines for Ubuntu have all been about the desktop and consumer-focused design efforts, with the introduction of Unity and the expansion of our goals to span the phone, the tablet, the TV as well as the PC. But underpinning those goals has been a raising of the quality game: OEMs and consumers demand a very high level of quality, and so we now have large-scale automated testing, improved upload processes, faster responses to issues that crop up inevitably during the development cycle, a broader base of users and contributors in the development release, and better engagements with the vendors who pre-install Ubuntu. So 12.04 LTS is a coming of age release for Ubuntu in the data centre as much as its the first LTS to sport the interface which was designed to span the full range of personal computing needs.

We’re also seeing the wider community respond to the goal of cadence. OpenStack’s Essex release is lined up to be a perfect fit for 12.04 LTS. That is not a coincidence, it’s a value to which both projects are committed. Upstream projects that care about their user’s and care about being adopted quickly, want an effective conduit of their goodness straight to users. By adopting the 6-month / 2-year cadence of step and LTS releases, and aligning those with Ubuntu’s release cycle, OpenStack ensures that a very large audience of system administrators, developers and enterprise decision makers can plan for their OpenStack deployment, and know they will have a robust and very widely deployed LTS platform together with a very widely supported release of OpenStack. Every dependency that Essex needs is exactly provided in 12.04 LTS, the way that all of the major public clouds based on OpenStack are using it. By adopting a common message on releases, we make both OpenStack and Ubuntu stronger, and do so in a way which is entirely transparent and accessible to other distributions.

Quality. Design. Cadence. You can count on them in Ubuntu, and OpenStack.

99 Responses to “Ubuntu vs RHEL in enterprise computing”

  1. Mark Shuttleworth: o Ubuntu está crescendo e passa Red Hat | Blog Seja Livre Says:

    […] Shuttleworth , em seu blog oficial, declarou que não só o ambiente “home” está crescendo, mas também a adoção do Ubuntu em […]

  2. mark Says:


    Yes, we’re agreed, this stat is just a lightweight taste of how companies think about their public-facing, less important servers. The picture would be different if we could peek into the guts of the data centre. Nevertheless, since we don’t have reliable data for what happens behind the firewall, this is valuable even accepting and acknowledging its limitations.


  3. mark Says:


    Yes, wouldn’t it be great if that changed?

  4. Andy Says:

    @Benjamin Kerensa
    I think you’re wrong – the reason that many companies use CentOS rather than Ubuntu isn’t to do with cPanel, it’s because customers want the stability and features of RHEL but want it for free.

  5. josh Says:

    I permanently moved all of my servers and workstations from centos to Ubuntu couple months and I made a damn good decision. Ubuntu Lts is really stable, that is, perfect for mission-critical environments.

  6. Pieter Says:

    A bit odd to call the article “Ubuntu vs RHEL in enterprise computing” and then compare Public Web Services. They are hardly the same. Anyone in the Large Enterprise business knows that there are a zillion more servers behind the firewalls, all invisible from the outside World. And the majority of those servers run Red Hat Enterprise Linux (& CentOS) and to some extent AIX, HPUX, Solaris and zOS. Given this reality this post seems wishful thinking.

    I can imagine that Mr. Shuttleworth is enthusiastic about OpenStack as indeed it presents an opportunity for Canonical. But I wonder how big that opportunity is. Red Hat participates in the development of OpenStack and OpenStack is already available on RHEL6 (CentOS6) and Fedora. This means the RHEL/OpenStack combo is on the table too as a solution. Where’s Canonical’s USP that will make the Enterprise choose Canonical over Red Hat? With RHEL (& CentOS) already deeply entrenched into the Large Enterprise, will Canonical be able to convince the Large Enterprise that they are better than Red Hat? That’s a tough sell. For one, Red Hat’s Support is unmatched and one of the most important reasons for the Enterprise to choose Red Hat year after year. OpenStack may be available for Ubuntu but does Canonical’s support match Red Hat’s? Time will tell. I look forward to see the best solution win.

  7. Andy Bailey Says:

    Without a Common Criteria certification or FIPS 140-2 validation, I can think of one really big enterprise in which Ubuntu is a non-starter.

  8. Shuttleworth: Ubuntu beats RHEL | Install Ubuntu Says:

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  9. Jef Spaleta Says:


    I’m sure Mark can correct me if I’m wrong about this… But Canonical’s concept of the “partner” repository as originally envisioned was meant to provide exactly the enterprise level application validation from the first LTS release onward.

    I believe the idea was Canonical charged those application developers money to be included in the partner repository so Ubuntu users could gain easy access to the software. It’s not really clear what the business arrangements were with different partners, but I would not point to the partner repository concept as a successful approach (regardless of the number of glowing press releases generated when something was being prepped to enter the repository.)

    Mark seems to be hinting that Canonical is ready to try something different. It would be nice to see him articulate how this new approach is going to be better than the previous partner concept and to address some of the lessons learned in its failure to generate interest from enterprise application developers.

  10. yman Says:

    I think we should all watch this TED Talk:


  11. Adam Williamson Says:

    Mark: so, you admit Jef’s points, but you significantly don’t produce the data he asked for – how many of those Ubuntu deployments are *Canonical-supported, revenue-generating* Ubuntu deployments? Because that’s the _accurate_ comparison to RHEL. No-one, but no-one, is running their public-facing web server on a non-supported – i.e. non-paid – RHEL. At least, I dearly dearly hope they aren’t. However, it seems reasonable to assume that a lot of the Ubuntu deployments are unpaid ones.

    There’s nothing _wrong_ with that, but it’s clearly somewhat unhelpful to compare paid with unpaid deployments.

    (For anyone playing along at home who doesn’t know – I work for Red Hat. Don’t trust me. They sign my paychecks. :>)

  12. Adam Williamson Says:

    For giggles…


    Operating Systems


    (used until recently)

    Yeah, I don’t run my site on RHEL either. =)

  13. Greg Says:

    HA! This is the best post I’ve read in a month and I barely got through the first sentence before I knew it… Every time you write a new post, I think, I should work for this person.

    Linode, the fastest growing VPS provider, is solidly Ubuntu: http://www.linode.com/about/ up from 48% Ubuntu to 57%! RHEL doesn’t even make their list.

  14. Догоним и перегоним в исполнении Шаттлворта - Linux в Беларуси Says:

    […] своем блоге Марк Шаттлворт опубликовал статью в которой он показывает как Ubuntu обходит RHEL как основа […]

  15. Martin Says:

    Dear Marc,

    please do your maths: When talking about RHEL please don’t forget to add CentOS. And even then you compare apples and oranges: We have a free operating system without support on the one side and a operating system with support on the other side. The chart would be more interesting when comparing supported platforms with unsupported ones.

  16. Ubuntu Is Spanking Red Hat, Says Ubuntu Founder | Install Ubuntu Says:

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  17. Ubuntu vs RHEL 服务器市场谁更符合潮流? | 极地 EA163 Says:

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  18. Frans Thamura Says:

    all meruvian using ubuntu in desktop 100%.. no windows, except my mac (1 mac).. and the server all centos .. i am also forgot, how to install RHEL 🙂 … we try openstack, right ubuntu in server….

  19. mark Says:


    The maths are quite sound. Ubuntu is available with full commercial support. When you factor in CentOS, Fedora and RHEL vs Ubuntu and Debian, for a whole-ecosystem view, the trend is just as pronounced.

  20. Adam Williamson Says:

    mark: The ‘ecosystem’ numbers don’t seem particularly indicative of anything much. As others have pointed out, it’s somewhat hubristic to describe Debian as part of the ‘Ubuntu ecosystem’; if anything, it’s the other way around. I’m not sure what comparing Debian+Ubuntu numbers with Red Hat+CentOS+Fedora numbers tells you about Ubuntu and RHEL; you can’t assume that there’s really any particular relationship between a Debian deployment and Ubuntu / Canonical, or, honestly, between a Fedora deployment and RHEL / Red Hat.

    The comparison you claimed to be making is ‘Ubuntu vs. RHEL in enterprise computing’. You’ve acknowledged the rather large shortcomings of the numbers you cite, the most significant being that you continue to refuse to split the Ubuntu numbers into paid/Canonical-supported and unpaid/un-Canonical-supported. Yet at the same time you seem to continue to place much more weight on the problematic numbers than they seem remotely capable of supporting…

  21. Jef Spaleta Says:

    Mark is fundamentally wrong to imply that somehow Ubuntu is taking marketshare or clients away from RHEL to any extent. Certainly the data doesn’t support it. But the fact that he’s taking potshots at RHEL says a lot of who he thinks Canonical’s competitors actually are now. Hint: It’s not Microsoft. He hasn’t talked about fixing bug #1 in years now. He’s setting his sites a little closer to home (again) and trying to chip away at marketshare from another linux vendor. He need to learn to avoid drawing direct comparison to other linux vendors. He could have just noted the upward trend of Ubuntu alone without commenting on “the enterprise” or RHEL and muddling the message with overreaching propoganda. The magic art of the underpromise/overdelivery seems to be lost on him.

    Though it is useful to run a series of thought experiments concerning the actual state of the webserver marketplace.

    For each of the gratis distributions if it became for-pay-only…what would happen to the market dynamic?
    For each of the for-pay distributions if it became gratis deployment…what would happen to the market dynamic?
    For each distribution if it stopped being produced entirely…what would happen to the market dynamic.

    When I run through the full set of such thought experiments..here are the conclusion I draw.
    When choosing a webserver distribution people make 2 choices in this order.
    1) Do I need support: If yes then SUSE or RHEL
    2) Which gratis deployment option do I use: CentOS,Debian,Ubuntu

    The reality is Ubuntu is more likely than not taking webserver marketshare that would otherwise go towards Debian if Ubuntu wasn’t offering a gratis server instance. The real important insights in the trendlines are really about the Debian and Ubuntu relationship. Ubuntu and Debian and pretty much interchangeable for gratis server deployment needs are they not? The real question of merit is not why are people choosing Ubuntu. The real question is why are those people not choosing Debian. I’d wager the answers you get are pretty orthogonal to the identified needs that paid support have successfully targeted for SUSE and RHEL businesses. Canonical needs to understand why people are choosing Ubuntu over Debian and build a compelling business around those reasons.

  22. Jasna Says:


    Canonical will understand why people are choosing Ubuntu and what do they want with it… Just wait for survey results 😉

  23. Jef Spaleta Says:


    There are already published survey results. I have read the pdf announced on Feb 14 on Canonical’s blog. I am a voracious reader of pretty much everything Canonical decides to make public. I make every effort to be as informed as I can be about any topic ahead of engaging with Mark directly. If I am misinformed it is only because Canonical has declined to provide the information and then declined again to answer questions I. I am more than happy to integrate new sources of information when they become available and are adequately explained as to how they were captured.

    Sadly none of the survey data that Canonical has decided to make public speaks to commercial support uptake as far as I am aware. The latest survey summary does talk about the types of community support people are using interestingly enough. But nothing public in the survey results about commercial support interest. That omission is very very interesting to me. The omission itself screams at me in a way that a muted purple and grey bargraph can’t.

    Either Canonical is afraid to ask people to comment on commercial support in the user survey, or they are afraid to make the answers concerning commercial support public. Either way it doesn’t really look good when Canonical simultaneously lifts up Ubuntu as a commercially supported offering that is winning against RHEL but at the same time declines to publish survey results concerning that very same commercial support that the tout. They go through all the trouble of making the survey and publishing the rah-rah results..and nothing about commercial support. Message received, loud and clear. The Ubuntu server using community..whether it be traditional server usage or cloud workloads doesn’t want or need or care about Canonical’s support offerings. But even still Canonical needs to try to play this game of implication that somehow Ubuntu usage has a hope making the leap into a business model for Canonical support…just need enough of the market right….just a enough and boom..paying customers. Total fantasy. Canonical needs new executive blood to chart a sustainable course for its business.


  24. Mike Says:

    Ubuntu is becoming better than ever!!

    Thank you Mark and the Ubuntu community for this great work.

    I’m also actively learning Python, to make open-source extensions for the SchoolTool application funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation.

    This is improving IT technologies from all over the world, more effective than the work of Bill Gates Foundation, because this is IT in human centered design.

    Kind regards,


  25. Jasna Says:


    Can you give me the link of results here ?

    I do follow almost everything related to Ubuntu via facebook, google+ and twitter.. Haven’t seen the notification that results are done.. Last week was announced that filling the survey will be prolongated..

    Maybe I’ve missed them… I’d like to see them…

    Look, I think you’re a bit harsh with this commercial and money thing…. From the outside I can conclude that Canonical’s strategy goal is in the area of users… Didn’t get the picture that they have strategy goal in the area of finance yet. I didn’t see that Mark would emphasize it out very strongly as users…

    It’s up to him what he wants to achieve and in what direction he wants to take Ubuntu.. Due to that he’ll take certain steps to achieve it…

    You can’t expect something will happen over a night… You can’t twist a firm upside down over a night….

    It’s funny for me that you comment what Canonical needs and you don’t run that company shoulder to shoulder with Mark… Maybe I’m to harsh now…

    I know we can all write here…And it’s great that someone like Mark actually want’s to hear us…

    But a little objectivity wouldn’t hurt right?

    I mean we all have to be aware that this is Internet and a lot of things can be misunderstood right?

    So, I didn’t get Mark’s post like he was claiming some *enterprise* victory over RHEL.. I got it like Linux patterns are changing… by enterprise I got it like *different firms are developing different distros*

    Understanding something over Internet can be difficult… You can see that by only reading our comments here…

    One side got it like I did… the other side got it like you did – commercial stuff and money….

    At the end I started to laugh actually, because this somewhat turned into a pissing match…. 😀

    Must say in the end … You should put yourself into Mark’s shoes for one day and then you’ll see how in a difficult position he is just like anybody else who runs a company and project of Ubuntu’s magnitude…

    This subject what one company should do or not do is very case sensitive… Yes Mark can see our comments… maybe even see them as usefull maybe not… But he’ll draw the line, he has to…That’s why I was a bit harsh by saying on my previous post that our comments are pretty much useless, because we don’t run this company nor project…

    At least that’s what I think and see it….



  26. Jef Spaleta Says:



    Over night? of course I dont expect anything to happen overnight. Canonical however has been incorporated as a business now for 8 years. And all along those 8 years Canonical has been trying to break into the enterprise.
    Let me give you a partial summary of the history of merit here:

    2006, Canonical’s now defunct Ubuntu Professional Certification was marketted to “enterprise” customers…mimicking RHEL’s professional training concept.
    2006 Canonical commits to support Sun SunFire servers using the Sparc arch. Lots of blah-blah about enterprise hardware. Drops the arch entirely in 2008
    2007, Landscape was original marketted as “enterprise-ready” management…basically mimicking RHEL’s rhn concept.

    8 years… multiple attempts to fire up some sort of enterprise revenue stream…and here we are again. ssdd. Except this time its the Cloud, and in the Cloud each every one of the hosting providers who are leveraging Ubuntu deployments are going to absolutely _crush_ Canonical’s hopes of support revenue.

    Mark completely misses the core problem he is going to have to face in the Cloud. Its not Red Hat, its not RHEL. Its every single hoster he wants to partner with to make Ubuntu ubiquitous in the cloud right now is the future competition that is going to bleed Canonical dry of revenue. Those hosters are going to provide bundled services to support Ubuntu at price points that Canonical simply can not compete with. Moreover, because customers are already paying those hosters money there will be an established vendor trust relationship. Even if canonical’s support is better (it wont be) those hosters already have a direct line to the wallets of their customers for value-add.

    So yes Ubuntu will dominate the cloud in terms of deployment numbers, maybe surpassing Debian maybe not. And yes people will profit from supporting Ubuntu. But it will not be Canonical. It with be Rackspace and DreamHost and Linnode and even the 500 lb gorilla that is Amazon..they will all roll out support bundles as part of managed solutions built on Ubuntu (and Debian) which trickle back absolutely no revenue to Canonical.

    The potshots at RHEL that Mark is doing right now are just wasting ammo. Ammo he’s going to need for the real fight is ahead. And its going to be bloody horrible mean fight..a civil war of sorts…because Canonical is going to be fighting tooth and nail for revenue with companies that are ostensibly partners in driving the Ubuntu server adoption right now. Rackspace as the driver in openstack is going to pummel Canonical for support revenue to support Ubuntu instances. And I fully expect Rackspace to reach out from a position of revenue strength and start diving into the on-premises private cloud infrastructure market. There is no bright spot for Canonical’s cloud strategy I am afraid.


  27. darislav Says:

    Greeting Mark!
    I really want to know what you think about an idea: not only rip the UI from MacOS but sell similar computers too, like make Canonibook with beautiful design and Highly Optimized (for Ubuntu) hardware?

  28. Jasna Says:


    Thanks for the results…

    Wow your post… what can I say.. to much negative stuff for me 🙁

    Hmm …How come you don’t write one, just one positive sentence… When I’m reading your posts I have a feeling like Canonical can’t survive for a day.. I’m not attacking you.. I just get that vibe…

    I know being coutious is ok … but looking everything from the negative side is not my kind’a thing…

    And I’m still not getting the vibe *Canonical being in trouble*….nor that they’re a copy of another company… nor that their main target are enterprises…

    I still see, from the outside, that users are the main target… especially users on the proprietary side of a fence…

    As I wrote here already, I don’t see Canonical with Mark’s eyes… Therefore I can just superficially comment here….

  29. Jasna Says:

    Looks like my previous comment disappeared or Mark erased it 😀


    That’s not the survey I meant… I meant the Ubuntu user survey 🙂

    I guess results are still not done 🙂

  30. Jasna Says:

    My bad it’s back 😀 (some magic happens here 😀

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  34. InterKnight Says:

    I have used Ubuntu for nearly seven years now, and I must say that I feel that it is probably the best Linux distribution to date…for a sighted user. Sadly enough, however, Ubuntu has had a number of releases which worked perfectly for sighted users, but were extremely broken for visually impaired users. This also seems to be the case for the upcoming Ubuntu 12.04. If the problems which exist for blind users also existed for regular users, the release would be put off until things were rectified. I still use Ubuntu, and probably always will, because it is what I know. But I must say that I do not feel at home in my system any more. Do I think Ubuntu could take a great lead in the enterprise? Most definitely. It has a lot to offer. But I think that a lot of work needs to go into the accessibility of the system. Despite all of the setbacks in accessibility, I do appreciate all of the work which is put into Ubuntu. The Accessibility Team also does a wonderful job, but it does not seem that accessibility is an important factor to Canonical. How does accessibility relate to this post? Well, as a blind graduate of an IT-related program, I feel that Linux is the best way to go when it comes to business. If, however, blind professionals cannot fully access their systems, thee can be no progress. I’m sorry for the rant, but myself as well as other blind users have been getting tossed aside since the release of Ubuntu 11.04. I want to feel at home in my system again. I think Unity is great, but as a blind user, it is not completely ready for production use. All the best.

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  38. kjh Says:

    What concerns me most about Ubuntu is that I have been seeing a new class of Linux ‘Admins’ having the same unremarkable level of experience as the most recent generation of Windows Admins:

    I run Windows on my home PeeCee. I know how-but-not-why to click-click-clickety-click. I think I am a Administrator, therefore I am a Windows Server Administrator.

    now take that statement and: sed -e ‘s/Windows Server/Linux Systems/g -e ‘s/Windows/Ubuntu/g’

    — kjh

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  44. j03 Says:

    All you Ubunutu haters are funny. You’re just mad because your peepees are getting smacked down. Ubuntu should be hailed and respected – for bringing an attractive open source desktop OS to the masses and away from the destructive corporatocracy which has made them dumb sheep-like beings for so many years 🙂

  45. Lilian Says:

    If Ubuntu will take over RedHat customers that will be very bad news. 60% of the Linux Kernel is written and maintained by RedHat, a bunch of good software is written by RedHat and they contribute it to the Open Source World. While Canonical… If RedHat looses customers then it won’t support Linux so much then Canonical wouldn’t be able to say that look how good our operating system is because almost all the stuff they are using is actually RedHat’s work… Bye, bye RedHat equals Bye, bye Ubuntu.

  46. mark Says:


    Customers who want work done on the kernel, and hardware providers who are shipping new silicon and want a kernel to show it off, will always drive kernel development. Canonical is just as effective a conduit for that as any other company, so I don’t think your fears will materialise.

  47. Andrew Ampers Taylor Says:

    @mark @lillian

    Life always goes on. There are so many examples in this world where people have thought something has ended, but on it goes. Mark is right when he says your fears won’t materialise.


  48. fossfreedom Says:

    Mark – its not clear what the LTS upgrade strategy is beyond 12.04.

    i.e. – could a 12.04 business jump to 16.04 directly – i.e. plan to upgrade in 4 years time? If a 12.04 user keeps going for the full 5 years – can we assume they need to first move to 17.04 … 17.10 and then 18.04 LTS – doesnt sound ideal for business users.

    Any chance of clarification?

  49. mark Says:


    We support LTS-to-LTS upgrades, so yes, you could stay on 12.04 LTS, then move to 16.04 LTS (in our current testing plan we would test the migration from 12.04 to 14.04 and then to 16.04, not directly).