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When I do a yum update or apt-get update, my machine is hitting several servers and downloading several packages. I would imagine that those servers are handling millions of similar requests on a daily basis.

Who pays for the maintenance, existence, bandwidth of those servers? If the answer depends on the distro, then CentOS, Arch and Ubuntu would be good examples. I am wondering about this because I am using these free operating systems and I am consuming bandwidth, but I have not paid anybody for this privilege.

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I doubt that any single mirror sight handles "millions of" requests on a daily basis. CentOS alone has nearly 500 mirror sites, so that would tend to spread the number of downloads out quite a bit. Though I am sure some get hit harder than others. –  OldTimer Apr 15 at 23:34

5 Answers 5

up vote 32 down vote accepted

I would assume most distros accept individual private donations (they may also accept free hosting). However, that is probably not the bulk of their financing in most cases.

Note that some of the major distros may have some paid staff, and possibly also office space, the cost of which likely exceeds that of hosting the repos1. This should not be taken to mean that they are not primarily volunteer based (except for the commercial variants, they are), just that they do have operating budgets.

Fedora is owned by Redhat, and the latter is a publicly traded, billion dollar annual business. I would presume they do quite a bit to help support the former.

According to wikipedia, CentOS is now also owned by Redhat and earlier this year Redhat announced their ongoing sponsorship of CentOS development.

Ubuntu is owned by Canonical, which I do not think is on a par with Redhat, but they probably still have revenues into the tens of millions USD per year. Last time I downloaded an image, Ubuntu was pretty aggressive about encouraging you to make a small donation at the same time. $5 a year would I think cover the costs of repo hosting associated with the average installation.

The Debian project has been around for nearly 20 years and surely has a substantial core of users willing to help support it. They also have a list of "partners" here which provide them with resources. I would think Canonical helps out significantly, since Ubuntu is reliant upon Debian, but judging from this link provided in Kiwi's answer, they are still having to beg publicly for $250K to cover meeting costs, which is pretty disappointing.

Arch is likely much poorer than the other distros mentioned here, but they may still collect enough money from various sources to support some development staff and hosting. They do not appear to obviously solicit on their site, so I would guess this funding comes mostly from industry (and possibly, government) grants.

1. To get some idea of how much this hosting would actually cost, consider that GNU/Linux systems probably account for 1-2% of desktop systems worldwide and at least 40% of web servers. If we then assume this might amount to ~25 million systems, if a large (theoretical) distro accounted for 10% of those and each user accounted for 4 MB a day averaged out over time, this would amount to 10 TB/day. I would think if you know the right people, you could perhaps get 3000 TB/month for <$5000 US.

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Most Linux distributions are run by volunteers and don't have paid staff. Maybe Canonical and Red Hat do have some, but Gentoo, Arch, Debian, Mint etc. etc. don't. Also, Debian and Gentoo strike me as "major" distributions. –  Faheem Mitha Apr 12 at 17:02
    
@FaheemMitha I'm aware that they are mostly volunteer, my point was most of them (including Debian, I've added a link about this) do have paid developers employed by them. My general point with this is that hosting is not the major expense of running a distro, and that expense is one they all cover one way or another. I've added some qualifiers regarding this ;) –  goldilocks Apr 12 at 17:13
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Kinda nice to see Arch rubbing elbows with the rest, even if it is in something of a prince and pauper manner. –  mikeserv Apr 12 at 17:23
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I think AWS is going to be at the high end of that kind of thing. I doubt people who run linux distros are going to require that kind of support and infrastructure, they just need boxes online somewhere. My guess WRT 100 TB/month = $200 is based on, e.g. this or this (which is potentially a fair bit less than $200); and presumably you'd get a deal on 10 of them. –  goldilocks Apr 12 at 18:53
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It should be noted that most distro's have many many mirrors of the repos that are run by volunteers. When you do an yum update you can see the mirror list your distro goes through before it finally starts downloading things. Many are at universities, research labs, big corporations donating server space, etc. –  SnakeDoc Apr 12 at 22:56

Like @goldilocks answered, the Ubuntu softwares doesn't necessarily come for free. There are commercial packages available with Ubuntu also. Look at this link for the list of commercially provided softwares by Ubuntu.

It is the same way like how google works. I do google search for almost everything but I am not paying anything. Also, there are companies which promote such open source development by funding them. So basically, we as end users are enjoying the services of this wonderful open source community.

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Most of the time big company like Intel IBM AMD ...
If you look at Ubuntu that's the canonical company that handle the bandwidth.
For source forge lots of universities offers bandwidth and once again big company like phone operators (free in France for example).

Centos gives a list of bandwidth sponsor on this page
http://www.centos.org/download/mirrors/

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I also remind of a cooperation between HP and Mozilla for the lunch of Firefox ## where HP was providing a big server to Mozilla to distribute the new version while Mozilla was speaking of HP on his blog.

edit 2

Debian seems to need money as this article came up recently
https://wiki.debian.org/FriendsOfDebian

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With regard to Debian, companies using Debian donate servers and bandwidth. I think the Project also uses monetary donations to purchase hardware, particularly specialist hardware. You can find discussions of this on the Debian mailing lists. However, I've never heard of Debian paying for bandwidth. Presumably they can find enough ISPs to let them use bandwidth for free.

The same is presumably true of other community projects. The more commercial projects like RHEL presumably pay their own expenses.

See this list of Debian partners, thanks to goldilocks. These are some of the people who provide assistance to Debian as I mentioned above.

Note that the Debian Project itself does not pay anyone to work for it, with the occasional historically rare exception. But companies can and do pay people to work on Debian. This is commonly termed sponsorship.

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Usually each Linux distro has a few central servers were they put directly all the packages. But there exists mirrors arround the world that have copies of these packages. These mirrors comunicate directly with the central servers looking for updates periodically. Normally there is a delay in the release of an update between this central servers and the mirrors. How short is that delay depend on how often the mirror communicate with the central servers looking for difference between his packages.

These mirrors are (usually) universities and companies that voluntarily provide their services for the benefit of the distros community.

Aditionally mirrors help to distribute the load, so the central servers not necessarily need to have a high bandwidth or many resources.

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This is a very important point that the other answers missed. –  Seth Apr 13 at 5:09

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