Red Hat vs. SUSE: How do these Linux distributions stack up?

Deciding between Red Hat and SUSE may not seem simple, but comparing training, pricing and certifications should help companies understand which would best suit their employees.

Red Hat and SUSE produce powerful but different enterprise Linux environments. All Linux distributions share similar commands, directory structures and general features. Some distributions differ by package manager, distribution-specific commands or pre-installed software. These components change over time among the various enterprise-class distributions.

Red Hat and SUSE offer more than a Linux distribution. They provide support packages, management tools, cloud services and container hosting. Each vendor is a major player in the enterprise operating system arena.

Explore supported architectures, pricing, product support, training and certification options for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES).

Supported architectures

Consider whether the organization's architecture is supported when selecting a Linux distribution. This helps when considering any specialized hardware platform the company might use in its IoT, data center or embedded application systems.

RHEL 9 supports the following architectures:

  • AMD and Intel 64-bit.
  • Arm 64-bit.
  • IBM Power Systems.
  • Little-endian.
  • 64-bit IBM Z.

SLES 15 supports these platforms:

  • AMD and Intel 64-bit.
  • Arm 64-bit, including Raspberry Pi.
  • IBM Power LE Systems.
  • 64-bit IBM Z.
  • IBM LinuxOne.

Both distributions cover most architectures.

Subscriptions and support

Both companies offer enterprise OSes via subscriptions that include support and provide additional benefits, such as training.

Red Hat subscriptions

Red Hat subscriptions are available in one- and three-year increments at three different levels: Premium, Standard and Self-support. Premium and Standard support are the most common choices. Red Hat subscriptions provide many essential services beyond tech support, including Red Hat Customer Portal, Insights and Satellite.

Each subscription has a different cost, not including add-on bundles and support access. Self-support is the most budget-friendly at a yearly price of $349; however, it does not come with Red Hat customer support. The Standard subscription costs $799 a year and offers weekday support via the web and phone from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time in North America. The Premium subscription costs $1,299 and has the most support available with 24/7 access for severity 1 and 2, cases as well as weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in North America via the web and phone for severity 3 and 4 cases.

SUSE subscriptions

SLES 15 is sold as one-, three- or five-year subscriptions that include various support and feature options. The two levels of support are Standard and Priority. They differ by availability and the speed at which problems are addressed. Standard support is available during weekdays, 12 hours a day. Priority support is available 24/7.

SUSE subscriptions include security updates, product upgrades and technical support. Pricing varies by the number of sockets and VMs needed. Read the subscription documentation carefully, or contact SUSE directly for more information.

SUSE offers subscriptions for its Enterprise Desktop distribution, starting at $54 per year.

Training and certifications

Linux can have a steep learning curve. With a preference for the command line and scripting, Linux administrators must become comfortable with many commands and various syntaxes. Most commands are generic across distributions, but some utilities are vendor-specific.

Companies like Red Hat and SUSE offer administration tools, configuration management, centralized monitoring, and cloud and on-premises versions. Each of these may have application-specific commands.

Selecting a distribution also means choosing a suite of services that enables administrators to get the highest ROI on that platform. Training is one of the biggest factors in realizing performance, security, scalability and cost-effectiveness.

Red Hat trainings

Red Hat offers an extensive training service that encompasses self-paced resources, online live delivery and on-site, staff-specific opportunities. Manage training through a Red Hat Learning Subscription, where subscribers sign up for courses, read supplementary documentation and prepare for certification exams.

There are three Red Hat Learning Subscription plans: Basic, Standard and Premium. Basic subscriptions offer 20 training units for $6,000. Standard subscriptions offer 25 training units, including the ability to chat with experts and take certification exams, for $7,500. Premium subscriptions offer 30 training units, including live, virtual sessions, for $9,000.

Red Hat certifications

The Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) exam covers a broad range of general system configuration and administration tasks, including tools, scripting, storage, networking, security and containers. RHCSA exam details include the following:

  • Cost: $500.
  • Number of questions: 20.
  • Exam time: 2.5 hours.
  • Passing score: 70%.

The Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) exam includes all skills from the RHCSA objectives and adds extensive coverage of Ansible, including nodes, playbooks and content collections. RHCE exam details include the following:

  • Cost: $500.
  • Number of questions: 20.
  • Exam time: 4 hours.
  • Passing score: 70%.

Red Hat certification exams differ significantly from many competitors by being entirely hands-on. The exams present the participant with one or more virtual servers and a list of configuration objectives. Successfully passing the exams means correctly configuring the VMs to match the objectives.

Other training and certification topics include performance tuning, container management via Kubernetes and OpenShift, and additional depth on Ansible.

SUSE trainings

SUSE Linux also offers e-learning and instructor-led training options. Both options are managed through a learning portal and related subscription. Instructor-led training is customizable, ensuring staff members receive the right attention for the products they support.

There are three SUSE eLearning Subscription training levels: Individual Silver, Individual Gold and Enterprise Platinum. The Individual Silver level costs $2,250 and offers videos, e-books and practice quizzes for a year. The Individual Gold level costs $5,250 and offers study materials, 200 hours of live technical labs, five certification exam vouchers and the ability to contact experts for a year. The Enterprise Platinum level has all that Individual Gold offers but for five people.

SUSE certifications

The SUSE Certified Administrator (SCA) exam builds knowledge of standard SUSE server administration tasks, including deployments, system management, software maintenance, networking and storage. SCA exam details include the following:

  • Cost: $149.
  • Number of questions: 70.
  • Exam time: 90 minutes.
  • Passing score: 70%.

The SUSE Certified Engineer (SCE) exam is a more advanced certification that builds on the skills from SCA and adds monitoring, encryption, centralized authentication and configuration management, using Salt. SCE exam details include the following:

  • Cost: $195.
  • Number of questions: 80.
  • Exam time: 90 minutes.
  • Passing score: 70%.

Red Hat versus SUSE: Which is best for you?

Deciding between Red Hat and SUSE may not be so simple as deciding on the basic OS. Instead, look at support options, additional enterprise management tools, automation solutions, cloud capabilities and integrations, and training opportunities that best suit your employees.

Also, consider staff familiarity. Perhaps your organization has a long history of working with a particular vendor while using a variety of distributions, and the company has now decided to standardize on one platform. If many of your administrators are already comfortable with one distribution and its monitoring or software management tools, then it may make sense to stick with it.

SUSE generally tends to be more prevalent in Europe, while Red Hat is more abundant in the U.S.

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