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Red Hat Enterprise Linux: Subscription Guide

What is a Red Hat Subscription?

A Red Hat Subscription provides the following:

Access to the Software as well as access to updates, upgrades, corrections, security advisories and bug fixes for the Software (if and when available). It also allows customers to download all supported version of Enterprise software, with continuous support, along with access to online information resources for that product. This includes bug fixes, feature/compatibility updates, security updates, source code and documentation.

Additionally, certain Red Hat Subscriptions includes access to Red Hat support and all include access to the Open Source Assurance Program – which provides customers with cover should there be a legal dispute over Intellectual Property within Red Hat software that has been used within the customer’s solution.

“If an unaffiliated third party initiates a legal action against Client alleging that Client’s use of Covered Software directly infringes the third party’s copyrights, patents or trademarks, or misappropriates the third party’s trade secret rights (“Third Party Rights”) (such action, a “Claim”) and Client has complied with the terms of this Agreement and the Support Agreement(s), then:

  • Subject to the other terms in this Agreement, Red Hat will (i) defend Client against the Claim and (ii) pay costs, damages and/or attorney’s fees that are included in a final judgment against Client (without right of appeal) or in a settlement approved by Red Hat that are attributable to Client’s use of the Covered Software”

Red Hat Enterprise Linux coverage

A Red Hat subscription is required for “each and every instance or installation”, in whole or in part, being used in your environment. The Red Had Enterprise Linux (RHEL) family includes:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Platform Portfolio

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server Entry Level
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux for IBM POWER
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux for IBM System z
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux for SAP business applications
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux for Virtual Datacenters
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform
  • Red Hat Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure

Physical Environment

In a physical environment, your subscription is based on the number of “socket-pairs” in use in the system. For example, 8 CPUs will require 4 subscriptions.

Virtual Environments

Light – medium virtualisation

For Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server (RHEL) deployed in a virtual environment, subscriptions are based on the number of “virtual instance pairs” running the product. For example – 16 VMs will require 8 subscriptions. This is available for the following products:

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server Entry level
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Add-Ons

Heavy virtualisation

There is also a subscription model that allows an unlimited number of RHEL virtual instances; this is based on a physical socket-pair basis and is available for:

  • Red Hat Cloud Infrastructure
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux for Virtual Datacenters
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Add-Ons

Red Hat will support Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) to run up to 4 concurrent guests. To run 5 or more, it is recommended to purchase subscriptions for:

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux for Virtual Datacenters


  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform

Subscriptions can be “re-purposed” and used to cover virtual or physical instances as required. So, as you move towards heavier virtualisation, you can re-purpose your physical subscriptions to cover your new virtual instances.

Public Cloud

Red Hat Cloud Access allows you to migrate RHEL subscriptions into the public cloud, with Red Hat certified cloud providers. For non-RHEL subscriptions, prior written permission is required from Red Hat in order to move these to the public cloud.

Disaster Recovery


The server is on and ready to go – such as within a failover cluster. In this case, the backup server must be fully covered with subscriptions – just as the production server. All servers must be covered with subscriptions of the same configuration and support SLA.


Here, the server is periodically (no more than every 60 days) turned on to receive backups and updates. Warm backups are used in scenarios such as:

  • Mirroring
  • Replication
  • Log-shipping

All servers must be covered with subscriptions of the same configuration and support however, the warm server subscriptions are 50% of the production subscription costs.


A cold backup server has the required software installed but is then turned off until the event of a disaster, or for periodic procedure tests. Red Hat do not allow you to apply updates to the installed software until the backup server moves into production. As the 2 servers are never running simultaneously, you do not need to acquire subscriptions for Cold backup servers.


For teams of 25 or more, there is Red Hat Enterprise Developer. This comes with 2 support variants:

Professional = Response time of 2 business days

Enterprise = Response time of 4 hours

For smaller teas, including individual developers, the is Red Hat Developer Workstation. If “self-support” isn’t sufficient, Professional or Enterprise support can be added.

Desktops & workstations

There are 3 Red Hat options for desktops and workstations:

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Workstation
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Developer Workstation

Each aimed at users with different requirements and professional/enterprise support can be added as required.

 Red Hat Sattellite

This additional subscription provides:

  • Patch Management
  • Provisioning
  • Configuration Management
  • Monitoring

To help keep your RHEL systems compliant and secure. It also provides granular reporting on:

  • Allocated subscriptions
  • Available subscriptions
  • Subscription expiration dates

Which may be beneficial when managing assets.

Do note that all systems using this subscription require the “Smart Management” add-on.


Red Hat Add-ons

High Availability Add-on

This provides on-demand failover for up to 16 nodes in a cluster, and includes failover support for Apache, MySQL and PostgreSQL.


Resilient Storage Add-on

This makes a single copy of all files within a cluster visible to each node, while also ensuring data protection if nodes fail.

Network Load Balancer Add-on

This add-on helps provide redundancy for web servers, networking and more.

Scalable File System Add-on

This provides support for large file systems, between 16 and 100 Terabytes.

High Performance Network Add-on

This add-on is aimed at environments where low latency and high capacity are key.

Smart Management Add-on

This, coupled with Red Hat Satellite, enables management and provisioning of your Red Hat environment. An optional “Network Monitoring” module is also available.

Extended Update Support Add-on

This offers an additional 18 months on top of the standard 7 year support lifecycle offered by Red Hat.

Add-on availability

Add-on Product Availability
High Availability Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for SAP applications

Resilient Storage Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for SAP applications

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for HPC Head Node

Network Load Balancer Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for SAP applications

Scalable File System Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for SAP applications

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for HPC Head Node

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for HPC Compute Node

High Performance Network Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for SAP applications

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for HPC Head Node

Smart Management All version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Extended Update Support Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for SAP applications

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for IBM System z

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for IBM POWER


There are 3 levels of support for Production environments, Self-Support, Standard and Premium.

Premium support offers 24×7 support (for severity 1 & 2 incidents) as well as Extended Update Support. The latter can also be purchased as an add-on to Standard support.

RHEL Self-Support Standard Premium
Hours of coverage None Standard business hours Standard business hours

(24×7 for severity 1 & 2)

Support Channel None Web & phone Web & phone
Number of cases None Unlimited Unlimited
Response times Initial & ongoing Initial & ongoing Initial Ongoing
Severity 1 None 1 business hour 1 hour 1 hour/as agreed
Severity 2 None 4 business hours 2 hours 4 hours/as agreed
Severity 3 None 1 business day 4 business hours 8 business hours/as agreed
Severity 4 None 2 business days 8 business hours 2 business days/as agreed


Organisations must be careful when it comes to what patches are applied and by whom. In most cases, applying patches/updates/bug fixes etc. that are not provided directly by Red Hat will invalidate the Red Hat support contract.

Some 3rd party vendors such as IBM & HP are authorised Red Hat support partners while others, such as Oracle and Novell, are not.

All or Nothing rule

Appendix 1, section 1.2 of the Red Hat Enterprise Agreement covers what is known as the “All or Nothing” rule:

“While you have subscriptions entitling you to receive Subscription Services for a Red Hat Product, you are required to purchase Subscription Services in a quantity equal to the total number of Units of that Red Hat Product (including variants or components thereof).”

This means that, within a product family, you cannot pick and choose which installations are covered with active Subscription Services, i.e. if you have 31 RHEL instances, you either have to purchase 0 subscriptions or 31.

3rd Party Access

The Red Hat Enterprise Agreement also includes details of the types of use that not-permitted with these Subscriptions:

“A Software Subscription provides you with ongoing access to a variety of services for your personal (internal) use. Accordingly, providing our services to, or using for the benefit of, a third party (for example, using Subscription Services to provide hosting services, managed services, Internet service provider (ISP) services, or third party access* to or use of the Subscription Services) is a material breach of the Agreement.”

*Despite this, 3rd parties such as “contractors, sub-contractors and outsourcing vendors” may use your Subscription Services, providing you remain responsible for all obligations under the Enterprise Agreement.

It then goes on to say:

“The foregoing sentence is not intended to limit your internal use of the Software to run a web site and/or to offer your own software as a service, provided such web site or service (a) does not include a distribution, sale or resale of any of the Subscription Services and (b) provides as the primary component of the web site or service a material value added application other than the Software and/or Subscription Service.”

Offering a chargeable service using Red Hat Subscription Services products is expressly prohibited. Any services being offered must be free of charge and offer additional value over the base Red Hat product.

Overall terms are contained within the Red Hat Enterprise Agreement; region specific versions of which can be found here –


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About Rich Gibbons

Rich has been in the world of IT and software licensing since 2003, having been a software sales manager for a VAR, a Microsoft licensing endorsed trainer, and now an ITAM analyst looking at software licensing and cloud.

A Northerner renowned for his shirts, Rich is a big Hip-Hop head, and loves travel, football in general (specifically MUFC), baseball, Marvel, and reading as many books as possible. Finding ways to combine all of these with ITAM & software licensing is always fun!

Connect with Rich on Twitter or LinkedIn.


  1. Petr Šilhan says:

    As far as I know, Resilient Storage Add-on contains also High Availability Add-on. Thanks for the great summary of the RH licensing!

  2. SpAMmed says:

    Can you license RHEL Server software on VMware ESX hosted virtual machines using the “Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server” by socket pair license as opposed to only using the”Red Hat Enterprise Linux for Virtual Datacenter” socket pair license?

    The rules above seem to permit ESX clusters to be licensed by socket pair only when the license is RHEL VDC, otherwise you have to use RHEL Server VM pair license.

  3. Ugo says:

    For virtualized environment, you must licence guests or use a “Virtual Datacenter” subscription (unlimited guests).

  4. Michel Royer says:

    Thanks for the guide.

    But what is the rule to apply when you want to use RHEL Server on a cluster of VMware ESX?

    For example if you have a cluster of 3 ESX (each with 2 processors) with 8 RHEL VM what is the number of RHEL Server subscriptions needed?

    In this example it is clear that it will require 3 RHEL VDC subscriptions but what about the number of RHEL Server subscriptions ? 4 x 3 = 12 subscriptions or 4 subscriptions only ?

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