A recent blog on TechRepublic mentioned the importance of Red Hat for Linux however I don’t think the blogger, Jack Wallen, quite hit the nail on the head.
The first worthwhile Linux distribution was Debian and it continues to be the most important base for user-accessible Linux, most notably Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a superb desktop, but it is exasperating as a server OS. Debian is based on the principle of constant updates which just doesn’t work in a business environment, where configuration management is critical. Constant updating is particularly perilous with Open Source; I have seen point updates break things. Further, in a professional environment you want to stage updates. So for instance you might introduce Apache 2.2 in Test, but leave it on 2.0 for Staging and Production. Later you can introduce it in Staging and Production. This is just too difficult on Debian to bother even trying.
Enter Red Hat. RH understood the needs of business, and created a much more controllable Linux. It also introduced a new, extremely valuable, facility: the ability to stay on old versions of software without the associated risks. For instance, Apache 2.0 has a few known vulnerabilities and the only remedy from the Apache Software Foundation was to upgrade to the latest version of Apache. This left businesseses in a quandary: Upgrade and risk almost certainly breaking the corporate web site, or just hope no one notices it’s running a vulnerable web server. Red Hat had the solution: it back-ported the security fixes into Apache 2.0 and all was well. This is a service it provides for all its packages.
RHEL isn’t a flawless business OS—for instance, patch auditing is unsatisfactory—but it’s what made Linux acceptable to the business community.