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RHEL subscription management

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Red Hat Enterprise Linux and other Red Hat products are sold through annual subscriptions called licenses. There are multiple types of licenses depending on the level of support you get, as well as number of socket of your server. Also virtual servers have additional issues.

Licensing system  in RHEL is a very complex beast, that requires study.  Many hours of sysadmin time are wasted on mastering its complexities, while in reality this overhead that allows Red Hat to charge money. So the fact that they are supporting it well tell us about the level of deterioration of the company.  Red Hat support of this subsystem is usually dismal, unless you are lucky and get knowledgeable guy (I once did).  In most case they search database and quite something from it, without even understanding what problem you are experiencing. Sometimes this quote helps, but often it is completely detached from reality.

All-in-all Red Hat successful created almost un-penetrable mess of obsolete and semi obsolete notes, poorly written and incomplete documentation, dismal diagnostic and poor troubleshooting tools. And the level of frustration sometimes sometimes reaches such a level that people just abandon RHEL. I did for several non-critical system. If CentOS or Academic Linux works there is no reason to suffer from Red Hat licensing issues. Also that makes Oracle, surprisingly, more attractive option too :-). Oracle Linux is also cheaper. But usually you are bound by corporate policy here. 

"New" subscription system (RHSM) is slightly better then RHN for large organizations.  It allows to assign specific license to specific box and list the current status of licensing.  But like RHN it requires to use proxy setting in configuration file, it does not take them from the environment. If the company has several proxies and you have mismatch you can be royally screwed. In general you need already to check consistently of your environment with conf file settings.  The level of understanding of proxies environment by RHEL tech support is basic of worse, so they are  using the database of articles instead of actually troubleshooting based on sosreport data. Moreover each day there might a new person working on your ticket, so there no continuity. RHEL System Registration Guide ( is weak and does not cover more complex cases and typical mishaps.

Especially if you are behind restrictive firewall troubleshooting with Red Hat support is a real issue. They simply do not understand this (pretty common) large corporate  environment.

Red Hat Subscriptions are built based on the following hierarchy.

Subscription management clarifies the relationships between local systems and available software resources because it gives a view into where software subscriptions are assigned, apart from installing the packages. Red Hat Subscription Manager works with yum to unit content delivery with subscription management. The Subscription Manager handles only the subscription-system associations. yum or other package management tools handle the actual content delivery. Chapter 5, Yum describes how to use yum.

 Generally, this is called software license management; with Red Hat's subscription model, this is subscription management.

There are two licensing system used by Red Hat

  1.  Classic(RHN)
  2. "New" (RHSM).

In its current stage classic licensing system is simply not functional enough for a large enterprise that has complex mix of systems (HPC clusters, servers that require premium support, regular support (most of the servers), self-help system (only patching), etc).  You can slightly improve things by using you own patch distribution server (, but the licensing system remain complex and sysadmin unfriendly.  Using multiple accounts (one for each type of license) might help but I never tries that. Usually each organization has a single account in Red Hat.

"New" subscription system (RHSM) is slightly better.  It allows to assign specific license to specific box and list the current status of licensing.  See  RHEL System Registration Guide ( for details.

The RHEL System Registration Guide ( outlines all the options available for registering a system via Red Hat Subscription Management (recommended) or Red Hat Network (RHN) Classic (legacy), including How to register and subscribe a system to the Red Hat Customer Portal using Red Hat Subscription-Manager (, answers to some common questions:

There is also an online tool to assist you in selecting the most appropriate registration technology for your system - Red Hat Labs Registration Assistant ( If you would prefer to use this tool, please visit"

If you are behind proxy  With RHNSM you do need to put proper parameters into /etc/rhsm/rhsm.conf . Like RHN, RHNSM does not take values for proxy from environment as any well written program should. See How to access Red Hat Subscription Manager (RHSM) through a firewall or proxy

 Defining Subscriptions, Entitlements, and Products

The basis of everything is a subscription. A subscription contains both the products that are available, the support levels, and the quantities, or number of servers, that the product can be installed on.

Subscriptions are managed though the Certificate-Based Red Hat Network service, which ties into the Subscription and Content Delivery Network (CDN).

The repository where the product software is located is organized according to the product. Each product group within the repository may contain the primary software packages and then any required dependencies or associated packages. Altogether, the product and its associated packages are called a content set. (A content set for a product even includes other versions of the product.) When a subscription grants access to a product, it includes access to all of the associated packages in that content set.

A single subscription can have multiple products, and each system can have multiple different subscriptions, depending on how many entitlement certificates are loaded on the machine.

Any number of products, for any number of different architectures, can be contained in a single subscription. The subscription options that are visible to a consumer are filtered, by default, according to whether the architecture for the product matches the architecture of the system. This is compatibility. Depending on compatible subscriptions makes sure that subscriptions are allocated efficiently, only to systems which can actually use the products.

Some subscriptions define some element count on the consumer, like the number of sockets on the machine, the number of virtual guests on a host, or the number of clients in a domain. Multiple subscriptions can be combined together to cover the counts on the consumer. For example, if there is a four socket server, two subscriptions for "RHEL Server for Two Sockets" can be consumed by the system to cover the socket count. Combining multiple subscriptions to cover the system count is called stacking.

The subscription tools can display even incompatible entitlements. Alternatively, the architecture definition for the system can be overridden by defining custom system facts for the subscription tools to use.

It is important to distinguish between subscribing to a product and installing a product. A subscription is essentially a statement of whatever products an organization has purchased. The act of subscribing to a subscription means that a system is allowed to install the product with a valid certificate, but subscribing does not actually perform any installation or updates. In the reverse, a product can also be installed apart from any entitlements for the system; the system just does not have a valid product certificate. Certificate-Based Red Hat Network and the Content Delivery Network harmonize with content delivery and installation by using yum plug-ins that come with the Subscription Manager tools.

Subscription Management Tools

There are two subscription manager in Red Hat: RHN and RHNSM. In large corporation people should generally  use RHSM and migrate to it from "Classic", if some systems still are using the old RHN. It also makes sense to do that if you are behind restrictive firewall. For some reason RHN does not require as many names to be opened ( is enough). 

The Subscription Manager tracks and displays what entitlements are available to the local system and what entitlements have been consumed by the local system. The Subscription Manager works can display important for large organizations information such  as specific license quantities, how much of it was consumed,  or subscription expiration dates.


The Red Hat Subscription Manager tools are always run as root because of the nature of the changes to the system. However, Red Hat Subscription Manager connects to the subscription service as a user account for the Customer Service Portal.

The Subscription Manager handles both registration and subscriptions for a system. The Subscription Manager is part of the firstboot process for configuring content and updates, but the system can be registered at any time iether via the Red Hat Subscription Manager GUI or CLI. New subscriptions, new products, and updates can be viewed and applied to a system through the Red Hat Subscription Manager tools.

The different Subscription Manager clients are covered in "Using Red Hat Subscription Manager Tools".

Subscription and Content Architecture

Content includes new downloads, ISOs, updates, and errata, anything that can be installed on a system.

Subscription management helps to clarify and to define the relationships between local server infrastructure and the content delivery systems. Subscription management and content delivery are tightly associated. Entitlements (assigned subscriptions) identify what a system is allowed to install and update. In other words, entitlements define access to content. The content delivery system actually provides the software packages.

There are three parties that are involved in subscriptions and content:

The subscription service handles the system registration (verifying that the system is allowed to access the content). It also supplies the system with information on what products are available and handles a central list of entitlements and remaining quantities for the entire organization.

The content delivery network is responsible for delivering the content to the system when requested. The content server is configured in the Red Hat Subscription Manager configuration and then tied into the system's yum service through the Red Hat Subscription Manager yum plug-in.

Both the entitlement server and the content server used by a system's Red Hat Subscription Manager tools can be customized. The default settings use the public subscription service and Content Delivery Network, but either one can be changed to use organization-specific services.

The operating infrastructure can be divided into completely separate organizations, which can be further divided into environments. The organization divisions allow a single parent to be able to partition content services and subscriptions to groups, and these groups are opaque to each other. This structure is very useful for ISPs, colocation facilities, or other service providers which may be customer groups that need to be independent of each other but still under the administrative control of the service provider itself. The multi-tenant structures are described in Section 4.3, "Managing Special Deployment Scenarios".
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