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Software-defined storage has major benefits. Ceph is among the leading options for software-defined storage, so you may already have decided to start implementing software-defined storage in your environment. But which product do you use? Ceph is available as open source software, and there are commercial Ceph products as well. Knowing the differences between commercial and open source Ceph can help you decide which option best fits your needs.
Ceph, by nature, is open source software. In general, that means that the source code of all software in Ceph is available for review and use to anyone. The conditions on how open source Ceph can be used are described in the Lesser General Public License (LGPL). This license allows users to integrate Ceph into their software, even if that is proprietary software, but the source code needs to remain available at all times. That means that, if the software would be integrated in a proprietary software solution, a strict separation of code needs to be applied. As a result, theoretically, any storage vendor can integrate Ceph code into its product.
Ceph is available for free, and as a result, anyone can build a Ceph-based software-defined storage environment for free. Ceph offers a quick-start guide that describes how to set up a Ceph environment. Roughly, it describes how to make the Ceph software available on your Linux distribution by adding a Ceph repository, and once the repository is added, it guides you through a significant number of steps to set up the open source Ceph environment.
This is where the first problems occur: Setting up Ceph by following the guidelines is not trivial, and it's easy to get into problems for reasons that are not always so obvious. The complexity of this manual setup procedure could scare away novice Ceph users that are not experts in the subject matter yet.
Commercial Ceph distributions
As often is the case in the world of open source software, companies don't always require software to be free to start using it. From an enterprise perspective, support is important as well. Just imagine what happens if you start committing your terabytes of corporate data to software-defined storage in Ceph. Something bad happens, and your company data is inaccessible or lost. Companies want someone to rely upon, and that is why commercial Ceph distributions have been developed, offering support for Ceph.
Currently, there are two significant software vendors offering commercial Ceph: Red Hat with Red Hat Ceph Storage and SUSE with SUSE Enterprise Storage. From a support perspective, both companies have a comparable solution, so on first sight, it doesn't really matter which company you purchase from.
To some, however, it appears as if Ceph is owned by Red Hat. The reason is that Red Hat acquired Inktank back in 2014, and Inktank was the company created by the founders of the Ceph project and offering commercial support to Ceph. That doesn't make Red Hat the owner of Ceph. Ceph is an open source project where multiple vendors participate, including Canonical, CERN, Cisco, Fujitsu, Intel, SanDisk, SUSE and Red Hat. All of these companies are equally involved in the Ceph project, so there is no reason to assume that Red Hat Ceph Storage would be any better than SUSE Enterprise Storage.
There are some technical differences, though, as both Red Hat and SUSE try to stand out with specific features. SUSE, for instance, has developed the Ceph iSCSI gateway, enabling Ceph users to access Ceph storage like any other storage product. And Red Hat, for instance, has closely integrated Ceph-Ansible with its Red Hat Ceph Storage. These are not unique selling points. Both companies understand how the open source ecosystem works, and the code for both of these projects is available as open source Ceph software under the LGPL. So, a technical feature that may be available in one Ceph product will be available in others as well. And if it hasn't been tightly integrated yet, the software is available in the Git repositories.
So, where does that leave us as far as the differences between open source Ceph and commercial Linux Ceph? Commercial Linux Ceph may offer a better streamlined solution that is easier to install out of the box. But as I just mentioned, that's not a real difference, as all of the components of Ceph are available in the Git repositories. So, it really comes down to the support offering of the distributions. Therefore, if you're interested in running commercial Ceph software, talk to your SUSE or Red Hat sales representative, and ask about the conditions of the support offer, as well as prices, to find out which Ceph option fits best in your organization.