While some people prefer to use Windows as the operating system (OS) for their dedicated servers, many others prefer to use Linux. Linux is open-source software, can be configured to work efficiently for a variety of purposes and, in many instances, can be used free of charge. The biggest problem in deciding to use Linux is that a second choice has to be made on which distribution to install. For dedicated servers, some of the most popular Linux distributions are CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian and Fedora. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and some server operators will make a choice based simply on personal preference. However, before making a final decision, it is best to learn about each Linux OS.
Ubuntu is one of the newest and most popular Linux distributions available today, but most of its users install it as a desktop OS rather than as a server OS. It is extremely simple to use, and this is noted as the primary reason why it is so popular as a desktop OS. In addition, Ubuntu is available free of charge.
Although Ubuntu is new, its enormous surge in popularity has matured the OS beyond its years. It was originally based on the Debian distribution of Linux, and the first release became available in 2004 through Canonical Ltd. Despite Ubuntu being free, it is distributed and updated by Canonical, which is a for-profit company based in the UK.
Ubuntu is continuously updated through a rolling-release model. New releases become available every six months, and every fourth release is considered to be a major update. Ubuntu distributions are bundled with proprietary software, but many users enjoy the features this software adds to the OS.
Debian is one of the oldest Linux distributions that continues to be updated and improved. The OS was originally released in 1993, and it is primarily maintained by a group of volunteers who make important decisions through a democratic process. Some people have criticized this process, but the fact remains that Debian is still around, and it has spawned several other popular distributions, including Ubuntu.
Debian is a stable and reliable distribution of Linux, which is one of the reasons why it has been used as the basis for so many other distributions. However, it has many other benefits, including the ability to be continuously upgraded without having to be re-installed. In addition, Debian supports the greatest variety of hardware architecture of any Linux distribution.
Debian was made to be beneficial for all types of systems, including servers and enterprise systems, and releases go through a strict, four-phase hierarchy: experimental, unstable, testing and stable.
CentOS stands for Community Enterprise Operating System, and it is a community-based rebuild of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). It was originally compiled for two primary purposes: to be used as a specialty server OS and to remove the branding and logos of the original vendor. Although the branding and logos were removed, CentOS conforms to Red Hat’s distribution policy because it is available free of charge through CentOS.org.
The team of CentOS core developers is still relatively small, but the community is growing rapidly and includes administrators, managers, enterprise-system users and other Linux developers. The OS also benefits from an extensive network of mirror sites and free support options. In addition, continued development of the OS is geared toward stability, which means that new releases are few and far between. However, each release includes a very small number of bugs, has powerful features and is compatible with a wide range of enterprise software.
Although CentOS works with most enterprise software without having to tinker with it, it is not always officially supported by software vendors, which can be scary. In addition, the long wait time between releases means that other Linux distributions often provide newer and more powerful features.
Of the four Linux distributions mentioned here, Fedora is probably the least suited to server or enterprise environments. Fedora was created and is currently maintained by Red Hat as a free edition of its Linux-based software, and it is marketed toward desktop users. If at all possible, Red Hat would prefer that those who require enterprise or server software use RHEL, which is a paid version created for commercial applications. However, as of the end of 2013, some rumours have been circulating that Fedora 20 will include a set of application packages that support big-data server environments.
The focus of Fedora is on the inclusion of new, cutting-edge software packages. The release cycle is very fast, so new software is readily available. However, Red Hat remains very conservative as to what will be included in each release. While the compatibility with new software is important for individuals, many people operating servers are more concerned with stability.
Linux is a popular OS for dedicated servers, but some users have a difficult time determining which distribution will work best for their specific requirements. Four free distributions are commonly used for dedicated servers: CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian and Fedora. Some of these distributions, such as CentOS, are very stable and are specifically designed for servers, but others, such as Fedora, work better in desktop environments.
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