You know how you can tell that Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 is a real enterprise-class operating system? No, it's not because the word "enterprise" is in its name. What makes RHEL 6 an enterprise OS is that it now has so many features and add ons - and prices for each - that it is no longer easy to describe it in one sentence. But this one will work in a pinch: RHEL 6 costs more than RHEL 5.
The packaging for RHEL 6 is similar to that used with RHEL 5 when it was launched in March 2007. The client versions of RHEL 6 are fairly simple. If you want to use the basic desktop, it costs you $49 a year to get a support contract, which is absolutely competitive with Windows and other Linuxes in terms of pricing.
This RHEL 6 Desktop includes all the tools a modern office worker needs: the Firefox browser; the OpenOffice 3 suite for word processing, spreadsheets, and such; the Evolution/Thunderbird email clients, and the Planner/TaskJuggler calendars. If you are an application developer, then you probably want RHEL 6 Workstation, which costs $179 per year for a standard (9x5) business support contract and $299 per year for a 24x7 contract. If you pay for three years of support from the get-go, Red Hat chops around 5 per cent off the price, as you can see in the table below:
RHEL 6 Desktop and Server Edition pricing
Support subscription pricing has gotten more complicated with RHEL 6. RHEL 5 had a base server with four virtualized operating system guests included in the price and then a step up to the Advanced Platform with unlimited guests for a lot more dough - and including a lot more software functionality. Now, you have to pay a premium to go virtual at all, and if you want to go virtual with unlimited virtual machines, you have to pay a lot more money.
As you can see from the table above, the foundation RHEL 6 entry server carries the same price as the RHEL 5 entry product did: $349 for a basic, self-supporting annual subscription contract, $799 for a standard 9x5 business contract, and $1,299 for a 24x7 premium contract. As was the case with RHEL 5, this entry server license covers a machine with two processor sockets. It is not licensed per machine, like Novell does with its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.
With RHEL 5, this entry server included the use of up to four virtual machine guests, but with RHEL 6, you only get to have one OS image (what Red Hat calls one guest) on the box. Now, with RHEL 6, if you want to start using the embedded KVM or Xen hypervisor to slice up the server, you have to pay more money than you did with RHEL 5. But even as you pay more, the cost per VM goes down. (In the table, I am using a two-socket Xeon 5600 server as a baseline, and I also assume that the customer wants one VM per physical core, which is common in data centers these days).
It is important to realize that these RHEL 6 support subscriptions are sold in two-socket chunks, while the RHEL 5 Advanced Platform licenses were sold for an entire physical machine and had an unlimited amount of virtualization. RHEL 5 Advanced Platform cost $1,499 per machine for a standard license and $2,499 per machine for a premium license. Advanced Platform also included Red Hat's Cluster Suite and GFS file system, which are not included in the heavier configurations of RHEL 6. They're carved out separately as add-ons that carry their own fees for support.
On the IBM Power platforms, there is no such thing as a basic, entry license, and the RHEL 6 product offers unlimited virtualization in two-socket blocks. The KVM and Xen hypervisors don't work on Power-based systems, and customers use IBM's PowerVM hypervisor to carve up the boxes. The standard license for a Power-based machine is $2,700 for a two-socket block, while a premium license costs $4,300.
Assuming customers are using eight-core Power7 chips and putting virtual machines on each core, the Power version of RHEL costs about 15 per cent more core. Of course, that comparison does not include the cost of the PowerVM hypervisor, which ranges from tens to thousands of dollars per core, depending on the machine.
The pricing for RHEL for IBM's System z mainframes is exactly the same, and one can hardly imagine a price increase being possible at $15,000 per core for a standard contract and $18,000 per core for a premium contract. But remember that IBM's mainframe shops are used to spending much more money than this on their z/OS operating systems. To them, this still feels like a price break.
Red Hat is also selling a special HPC edition for RHEL 6, which is similar in concept to the HPC edition that the company cooked up for RHEL 5 back in October 2008. That HPC edition was $249 per server node, and with RHEL 6, Red Hat has done the smart thing and separated out the functions of a head node in a Linux cluster separately from the compute node functions and charged accordingly. So the head node costs a lot - more than the regular RHEL 6 license in fact, because it has messaging middleware and HPC tunings in it.
We're talking $1,598 for a standard license compared to $799 for the most basic RHEL 6 on a two-socket block. But the compute nodes cost $79, which is cheaper. So say you have a cluster with 64 compute nodes and two head nodes, RHEL 5's HPC edition would have cost $16,434 for standard support. On that same cluster, RHEL 6 HPC edition costs $8,252 - almost precisely half as much. This, by the way, makes RHEL 6 competitive with SUSE Linux among HPC shops, which is the point of that repackaging and repricing exercise with RHEL 6 HPC Edition.
Red Hat has also put together a special version of its Linux for running SAP ERP applications, which costs the same as the premium license for the RHEL 6 Server Edition, but which is tuned specifically for SAP apps and middleware.
That leaves us with the add-ons to the RHEL 6 server, which are outlined here:
Add-On modules for RHEL 6 Server
What used to be called Cluster Suite is now called the High Availability Add-On, and it provides system clustering and failover capability for the Apache Web server, the MySQL and PostgreSQL databases, and SAP applications. The Load Balancer Add-On providers load balancing for Web servers, databases, networks, and storage, while the Resilient Storage Add-On includes the GFS2 clustered file system and a clustered implementation of SAMBA and the Cluster Logical Volume Manager.
GFS2 scales up to 100 TB, which is a lot more than the 16 TB of the default ext4 file system used in RHEL 6. The Scalable File System Add-On is the RHEL 6 module for the XFS clustered file system, and the price varies depending on what kind of server node it is attached to. (XFS also scales to 100 TB). The High Performance Network Add-On includes the RDMA over Ethernet (RoCE) protocol for doing high-bandwidth, low-latency networking on Linux clusters. And finally, the Smart Management Add-On for managing, monitoring, and provisioning RHEL 6 servers though the Red Hat Network or its localized version, Red Hat Network Satellite.
It is important to note that these add-ons are only available for the x64 variants of RHEL 6. Sorry IBM Power and mainframe shops, but you are probably up to your ears in IBM tools anyway. ®