Enterprise Linux Explained: Core Features and Benefits

Learn what Enterprise Linux is, what sets it apart, and what makes a distro 'Enterprise' in our specially dedicated article on the subject.

Have you ever wondered, “What is Enterprise Linux? What makes a Linux distribution ‘Enterprise’? Are Enterprise distributions better than others?” If so, you’ve come to the right place to find the answers to all these questions.

The Linux ecosystem is vast, including hundreds of distributions. Although some of the foundations on which the modern Linux world is built, such as Debian or Arch, are known modestly as just “GNU/Linux,” others, like RHEL, are considered part of the Enterprise class.

Does this mean that Red Hat Enterprise Linux, for example, is generally superior to Debian? The short answer is ‘no’; the ‘Enterprise’ makes it more suitable and preferred for some use cases. Let’s first look at what qualifies a distribution as an Enterprise class.

What Makes a Linux Distribution ‘Enterprise’?

A Linux distribution is considered ‘Enterprise’ based on several key features and qualities that align with the business environment needs, particularly in support, security, and reliability. Here are the primary factors that make a Linux distro suitable for enterprise use:

Commercial Support

The most important feature of an Enterprise Linux distro is the availability of professional, commercial support from the vendor. This support can include 24/7 troubleshooting, technical guidance, and help with system maintenance, which is essential for businesses that rely on their Linux environment for critical operations.

Long-Term Support (LTS)

Enterprise Linux distributions typically offer long-term support versions, which receive security updates, bug fixes, and system enhancements for extended periods (often 5-10 years). This stability is crucial for businesses that need consistent, reliable performance without frequent system upgrades.

Compatibility and Integration

Enterprise Linux distributions ensure compatibility and support for various hardware platforms and enterprise software. This includes extensive testing to ensure the distro works well with common enterprise hardware, databases, and applications.

Certification and Compliance

Last but not least, Enterprise distributions often undergo certification processes to comply with various industry standards, such as FIPS 140-2 for cryptographic modules, Common Criteria EAL (Evaluation Assurance Level), and others. These certifications are important for businesses in regulated industries.

From what has been said above, it is clear that Enterprise Linux distributions are specifically designed to meet the needs of business users, where reliability and the possibility of timely and professional support are top priorities.

Additionally, it is essential to understand that when discussing Enterprise Linux, we are talking about a well-established business model. The profits are generated not so much from the distribution itself, which is usually freely available, but from the additional services offered with it.

Top-Notch Enterprise Linux Distributions

Let’s now explore some of the leading Enterprise Linux options businesses favor.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)

RHEL has been a leading name in Enterprise Linux for over two decades. Since its initial release in February 2000, after the previous free-to-use Red Hat Linux phase-out, RHEL wrote the history of paid Linux services, proving that open source can also be a profitable business model. Currently, it is the most widely used Enterprise Linux distribution.

SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE)

SUSE Linux Enterprise is the other name with the longest track record in the Enterprise Linux field. It offers two commercial versions: SLES (the server edition) and SLED (the desktop edition). However, over the years, the company has somehow always remained in the shadow of RHEL, which has dominated this sector. It is gratifying, however, that SUSE has risen sharply in popularity in recent years, making it an equal competitor to Red Hat.


With its introduction in 2004, Ubuntu revolutionized what Linux could offer as a desktop operating system to the average home user. Over time, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has expanded its focus to include business users. Today, they provide various paid subscriptions and extended support for their desktop and server Ubuntu LTS releases, making it a preferred option for many businesses.

AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux

We put Alma and Rocky together because they were both emerged around the same time as a response to Red Hat’s decision to phase out CentOS as a server platform. Both are built on RHEL source code, but that alone is not enough to be considered Enterprise. To fall into this category, both provide paid support services through their associated companies, with TuxCare on the Alma side and CIQ on the Rocky side.

Oracle Linux

Oracle is a name that needs no further introduction. What sets it apart, however, from other Enterprise Linux distros is the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel (UEK) – a kernel explicitly developed for its Oracle Linux, designed to offer better performance, scalability, reliability, and security, particularly in demanding enterprise environments. The distribution is also fine-tuned to integrate seamlessly with Oracle Database and other Oracle-related products, making it an excellent option if your business depends on Oracle’s software.

Bottom Line

I’m sure you already have a pretty good idea of what Enterprise Linux is and what criteria a distribution must meet to fall into this category. The development of this niche is a natural progression in the evolution of Linux as a whole.

For better or worse, the early, passionate days of the 1990s, when Linux was first born from sheer enthusiasm without profit motives, are now behind us. As Linux gained recognition as a versatile server platform, it has become integral to nearly all our modern IT infrastructure.

This widespread adoption, however, highlighted the necessity of distributions that businesses can depend on for long-term reliability and robust support. The Enterprise Linux segment is the natural answer to these needs.

So, to the question from the beginning, are the Enterprise Linux distributions better than the others? The answer is, as always, that it all depends on the specific goals. For individual users at home, Enterprise Linux offers little to no benefits and could even be seen as a drawback because these versions often use older software to maintain stability.

We should also not overlook that Enterprise Linux distributions often have heavy strings attached by the companies developing them, which sometimes impose single-minded views and preferences on the software included in them and on working with it.

On the other hand, betting on an Enterprise Linux distribution’s reliability and 24/7 professional support are invaluable for businesses where server downtime is measured with significant financial losses.

Thank you for your time! I hope this article has been helpful to you.

Bobby Borisov

Bobby Borisov

Bobby, an editor-in-chief at Linuxiac, is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, he has worked as a Senior Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

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