Chosing an Enterprise Linux Server Distro


  • Service Provider

    Choosing a Linux distribution for your server can be a confusing task. No guide could include all potential factors but here is a quick guide to understand what distros should be on your short list and when to consider which ones.

    First, there are three key distros to consider for production servers: Suse and OpenSuse, CentOS and RHEL and Ubuntu. Each of these is a heavily used, well tested and enterprise vendor-backed distro. Support is broad both in traditional OEM terms as well as from communities and third party support vendors.

    The biggest factors that you will use in deciding which distro to use will come down to non-distro factors:

    • The distro with which you or your organization has the most experience is likely going to be the best choice unless the distro that you are used to lacks a key feature, update or has a compatibility problem.
    • The distro primarily used by your application vendor can be a very large factor. In many cases it may make sense to choose the distro that the vendor themselves use as it will have the most testing, documentation and the largest user base. (This is not always the case, MongoDB and Ubuntu is an important case in point where the primarily test base is also the one least kept up to date.)
    • The distro(s) best supported by your platforms of choice whether than is hardware, hypervisors or cloud providers. Considering how these will interact can be very important.

    All other things being equal:

    • RHEL / CentOS is generally considered the best all around server distribution. Mature, extremely stale and incredibly broad enterprise support. Great performance and features.
    • Suse / OpenSuse is generally considered the best all around server distro outside of the US. Very mature and incredibly broad features and enterprise support. Largest focus on storage and clustering technologies making it unique when looking at building storage systems.
    • Ubuntu is the newest enterprise option for Linux. Less mature than the other offerings and with a more cumbersome and problematic update cycle Ubuntu is often the preferred option for pure cloud deployments and is seeing more and more use as a primary application platform. Generally would only choose it based on the primary reasons and not on any current technical advantage.

    Part of a series on Linux Systems Administration by Scott Alan Miller



  • Do you know anyone that pays for Canonical support?


  • Service Provider

    @johnhooks said:

    Do you know anyone that pays for Canonical support?

    Yes, and it was less than stellar in the one case of which I know.



  • I've never had any interaction with paid support for Linux. What's the main reason for having it? Is it essentially for C levels to have someone to blame?


  • Service Provider

    @johnhooks said:

    I've never had any interaction with paid support for Linux. What's the main reason for having it? Is it essentially for C levels to have someone to blame?

    Why do people get support for any product? People pay for Windows and VMware support all of the time. Red Hat support, for example, is some of the best in the business. They will do tons for you including patching things that are broken, reading memory dumps and more. They get seriously involved. Support isn't cheap but it's pretty intense. I've never needed to use it, but if you are going to call on them they provide a serious degree of support.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    @johnhooks said:

    I've never had any interaction with paid support for Linux. What's the main reason for having it? Is it essentially for C levels to have someone to blame?

    Why do people get support for any product? People pay for Windows and VMware support all of the time. Red Hat support, for example, is some of the best in the business. They will do tons for you including patching things that are broken, reading memory dumps and more. They get seriously involved. Support isn't cheap but it's pretty intense. I've never needed to use it, but if you are going to call on them they provide a serious degree of support.

    I didn't realize they got that involved. I've only ever dealt with Windows support, once or twice. It left a lot to be desired.


  • Service Provider

    @johnhooks said:

    I didn't realize they got that involved. I've only ever dealt with Windows support, once or twice. It left a lot to be desired.

    It's a very different world when the ONLY thing you pay for is support.



  • @johnhooks said:

    @scottalanmiller said:

    @johnhooks said:

    I've never had any interaction with paid support for Linux. What's the main reason for having it? Is it essentially for C levels to have someone to blame?

    Why do people get support for any product? People pay for Windows and VMware support all of the time. Red Hat support, for example, is some of the best in the business. They will do tons for you including patching things that are broken, reading memory dumps and more. They get seriously involved. Support isn't cheap but it's pretty intense. I've never needed to use it, but if you are going to call on them they provide a serious degree of support.

    I didn't realize they got that involved. I've only ever dealt with Windows support, once or twice. It left a lot to be desired.

    I'm curious about your experience. I've made a handful of support calls for Windows over the years and they all have been anywhere from more than good to OMFG Awesome!

    About 13 years ago I was updating Windows at a client in the middle of BFE. It was 11 PM and things where going great, until they weren't. I found myself with a box that wouldn't boot. I spent the next 6 hours on the phone with MS support (the server was booting again in 2-3) fixing issues caused by the Windows update. By 7 AM when employees started rolling in, it appeared everything was good, I took off to get a few hours sleep. I came back around 10 AM to find that there were still a few issues left. I called MS again and they continued to work with me for several more hours and we the problems completely resolved.

    While my second major wasn't nearly this treacherous, it was similar in that the MS tech clearly wanted to get my issue solved as much as I did, and we licked it too.

    On the server side, I really like MS support!



  • @Dashrender said:

    @johnhooks said:

    @scottalanmiller said:

    @johnhooks said:

    I've never had any interaction with paid support for Linux. What's the main reason for having it? Is it essentially for C levels to have someone to blame?

    Why do people get support for any product? People pay for Windows and VMware support all of the time. Red Hat support, for example, is some of the best in the business. They will do tons for you including patching things that are broken, reading memory dumps and more. They get seriously involved. Support isn't cheap but it's pretty intense. I've never needed to use it, but if you are going to call on them they provide a serious degree of support.

    I didn't realize they got that involved. I've only ever dealt with Windows support, once or twice. It left a lot to be desired.

    I'm curious about your experience. I've made a handful of support calls for Windows over the years and they all have been anywhere from more than good to OMFG Awesome!

    About 13 years ago I was updating Windows at a client in the middle of BFE. It was 11 PM and things where going great, until they weren't. I found myself with a box that wouldn't boot. I spent the next 6 hours on the phone with MS support (the server was booting again in 2-3) fixing issues caused by the Windows update. By 7 AM when employees started rolling in, it appeared everything was good, I took off to get a few hours sleep. I came back around 10 AM to find that there were still a few issues left. I called MS again and they continued to work with me for several more hours and we the problems completely resolved.

    While my second major wasn't nearly this treacherous, it was similar in that the MS tech clearly wanted to get my issue solved as much as I did, and we licked it too.

    On the server side, I really like MS support!

    It wasn't anything major. The one time the motherboard died in a pc and we had an update license on it. We called to see if we could move the license to a new machine and it took about 45 minutes for the guy on the other end to free the license. It very well could have been because he was new, but it just seemed like it was a good while to do something simple.



  • Is Ubuntu preferred over Debian in enterprise environments? I've just always heard that, in a lot of ways, Debian is essentially Ubuntu with a bigger focus on stability and security. On the other hand, I suppose there's more probably more professional support available for Ubuntu.


  • Service Provider

    @WingCreative said:

    Is Ubuntu preferred over Debian in enterprise environments?

    Debian really is not even considered an enterprise option because it does not have an OEM support vendor behind it. It has nothing to do with code quality, only that guaranteed support from the vendor itself does not exist and is generally considered a requirement for the enterprise space.


  • Service Provider

    @WingCreative said:

    I've just always heard that, in a lot of ways, Debian is essentially Ubuntu with a bigger focus on stability and security.

    Not a good way to think about it. Ubuntu is Debian with a focus on business, not hobbyist, use. It is literally a copy of Debian, with features added or removed, with full support. The import part is Debian + support = Ubuntu.


  • Service Provider

    @WingCreative said:

    On the other hand, I suppose there's more probably more professional support available for Ubuntu.

    Not really more. Different. Both have effectively unlimited support. But only one has OEM vendor support as an option.



  • @scottalanmiller that all makes a lot of sense, and is probably also why I've heard that Debian is more popular among the open source enthusiast crowd where having OEM support isn't as much of a critical requirement. Thanks for the clarification!



  • I wish I could agree that RHEL/CentOS is better than Ubuntu. I've used so many flavors and releases and every time I give it an honest try, yum fails me: Takes too long, doesn't resolve dependencies, breaks other packages, etc. I always have problems and they're usually not worth spending hours and days fixing when there are other distros that work better for me. I've gravitated to Ubuntu Server because it just keeps working. I stick to LTS releases and generally don't have problems.

    Also, excellent article comparing top distributions here:

    http://distrowatch.com/dwres.php?resource=major


  • Service Provider

    @quicky2g said:

    I stick to LTS releases and generally don't have problems.

    I've actually had Canonical completely drop support for LTS with known stability problems and race conditions. To the level that the product would have to be classified as "not supported." The LTS concept is totally just a naming convention and has no bearing on their support provisioning.


  • Service Provider

    @quicky2g said:

    I wish I could agree that RHEL/CentOS is better than Ubuntu. I've used so many flavors and releases and every time I give it an honest try, yum fails me: Takes too long, doesn't resolve dependencies, breaks other packages, etc.

    What kinds of issues? I've yet to have YUM break anything and I've managed thousands of CentOS/RHEL servers. This is very surprising. Is this with third party repos or the RH ones?



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    @quicky2g said:

    I wish I could agree that RHEL/CentOS is better than Ubuntu. I've used so many flavors and releases and every time I give it an honest try, yum fails me: Takes too long, doesn't resolve dependencies, breaks other packages, etc.

    What kinds of issues? I've yet to have YUM break anything and I've managed thousands of CentOS/RHEL servers. This is very surprising. Is this with third party repos or the RH ones?

    I remember installing 3rd party apps (Can't remember names off the top of my head) and needing dependencies that weren't resolved. Then I'd try to manually install dependencies and yum would fail to install them and/or break another package (Somehow always something system related). Got frustrating enough after multiple times throughout the years that I just stopped using anything with yum.

    To be fair, I've also had issues with apt but had better luck finding resolution.


  • Service Provider

    @quicky2g said:

    I remember installing 3rd party apps (Can't remember names off the top of my head) and needing dependencies that weren't resolved. Then I'd try to manually install dependencies and yum would fail to install them.

    Up to this point, it just means that the software in question wasn't supported on CentOS, doesn't imply a CentOS or YUM issue. If dependencies were not resolved it means that they were not met. That's an issue solely with the third party software.


  • Service Provider

    @quicky2g said:

    ...or break another package (Somehow always something system related). .

    This I have never seen happen.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    @quicky2g said:

    ...or break another package (Somehow always something system related). .

    This I have never seen happen.

    I've seen it happen in my early days... It can happen if you use say... a Repo specifically for say... Mandrake (Mandriva) while you run CentOS (this is just an example, I can't remember the specific distros this actually happened to me with). Gotta make sure any repos you add in are for your specific OS and version -- and not a newer version, or a different distro altogether.





  • @scottalanmiller said in Chosing an Enterprise Linux Server Distro:

    Suse / OpenSuse is generally considered the best all around server distro outside of the US. Very mature and incredibly broad features and enterprise support. Largest focus on storage and clustering technologies making it unique when looking at building storage systems.

    Why is Suse / OpenSuse considered the best outside of the US specifically?


  • Service Provider

    @wirestyle22 said in Chosing an Enterprise Linux Server Distro:

    @scottalanmiller said in Chosing an Enterprise Linux Server Distro:

    Suse / OpenSuse is generally considered the best all around server distro outside of the US. Very mature and incredibly broad features and enterprise support. Largest focus on storage and clustering technologies making it unique when looking at building storage systems.

    Why is Suse / OpenSuse considered the best outside of the US specifically?

    Because Red Hat is the leader in the US, and Suse is the leader elsewhere.


  • Service Provider

    @scottalanmiller said in Chosing an Enterprise Linux Server Distro:

    @quicky2g said:

    ...or break another package (Somehow always something system related). .

    This I have never seen happen.

    If I had to wager, it would be updating PHP. I have seen people have problems trying to update PHP to something newer than RHEL supports and break stuff. Usually manual install of PHP though.


  • Service Provider

    @dafyre said in Chosing an Enterprise Linux Server Distro:

    @scottalanmiller said:

    @quicky2g said:

    ...or break another package (Somehow always something system related). .

    This I have never seen happen.

    I've seen it happen in my early days... It can happen if you use say... a Repo specifically for say... Mandrake (Mandriva) while you run CentOS (this is just an example, I can't remember the specific distros this actually happened to me with). Gotta make sure any repos you add in are for your specific OS and version -- and not a newer version, or a different distro altogether.

    No, this is not the same thing. You are adding in a third party system that was not setup properly to support RHEL/CentOS.

    I have never had a non third party system cause a problem.



  • @JaredBusch said in Chosing an Enterprise Linux Server Distro:

    @dafyre said in Chosing an Enterprise Linux Server Distro:

    @scottalanmiller said:

    @quicky2g said:

    ...or break another package (Somehow always something system related). .

    This I have never seen happen.

    I've seen it happen in my early days... It can happen if you use say... a Repo specifically for say... Mandrake (Mandriva) while you run CentOS (this is just an example, I can't remember the specific distros this actually happened to me with). Gotta make sure any repos you add in are for your specific OS and version -- and not a newer version, or a different distro altogether.

    No, this is not the same thing. You are adding in a third party system that was not setup properly to support RHEL/CentOS.

    I have never had a non third party system cause a problem.

    Let's just say I learned that lesson the hard way, lol.



  • +1 for primary application platform on Ubuntu.

    If you mean what I think you mean, I use Centos for General server stuff, basically a server that can handle anything or can be more than 1 thing, however for Ubuntu and cause of the snaps, I use Ubuntu for specific roles like :

    File server
    Or
    RockChat server

    For specific purpose roles.



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