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I'm going to be setting up a network for a small office soon. The network will consist of about 5 workstations (soon to be more) and 2-3 servers (one "real" server and a couple workstations-turned-servers to take some load off the main machine).

I've been asking around to see what server Linux distros people prefer, and it seems like everyone is biased towards using traditional RedHat-like server distros. Every time I mention running an Ubuntu server, everyone says I should run Red Hat instead, but I have yet to hear any reasons not to run Ubuntu servers.

I'm more familiar with using Ubuntu/Debian servers, are there any significant reasons why I should run another server distro that outweigh being familiar with an OS?

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What could you possible need three server for in a small five workstation office ? –  JJ01 Jun 17 '09 at 22:16
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There are plenty of reasons for using that many servers. They don't all have to be there to support the workstations. –  David Pashley Jun 17 '09 at 22:27
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Absolutely! I've got somewhere around 75 servers and 15 users and nearly 30TB of data. It's amazing how non-standard a lot of infrastructures are –  Matt Simmons Jun 17 '09 at 23:54

19 Answers 19

There's no real reason not to, so long as you're not using any software that is unsupported on Ubuntu Server.

We run CentOS because it's got binary compatibility with RedHat Enterprise, which a lot of commercial software releases packages for. It makes my life easier, and it's really pretty stable (not that Ubuntu isn't).

If you know Ubuntu, go with Ubuntu.

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I should start out by saying that I've been involved in the Debian community since 2002, so this is clearly biased.

We use Ubuntu exclusively on our servers. We use Dapper or Hardy, primarily for the 6 years of security support we get on the base OS. We found that Debian's year of security support for old releases wasn't enough for us to rebuild all our servers. The reliablity of releases is a nice thing to have.

We haven't found a significant difference between running Debian and Ubuntu. I have 8 or 9 years experience with building Debian packages, so I'm comfortable rebuilding Debian packages for Ubuntu in the rare cases where something is in Debian, but not in Ubuntu. In some cases, you might even get away with installing the binary packages directly.

I've always been scared away from RPM based distributions, purely because there's such a divergence between distributions that packages for one will not work on another in most cases. Debian has a comprehensive policy guide, which describes how packages should interact. This is possibly Debian's greatest strengths. Redhat and friends also tend not to have the wide range of packages that Debian does. It's very rare that I find something I want that's not available by apt. Yum is in no way comparable to apt-get.

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Yum (with its plugins and accompanying tools like repoquery) is a much better apt-* replacement than I expected it to be when I first started using it. I agree the package selection is sparse, but fedoraproject.org/wiki/EPEL helps a lot. –  sciurus Apr 30 '11 at 21:43

I would look at using RedHat if any of the following are true:

  • You have software that’s only supported on RedHat
  • You need to run on architectures Ubuntu doesn’t support, only I can think of off the top of my head is IBM mainframes
  • You need 24/7 reliability and the support costs that go along with it. I know you can buy support for Ubuntu server, but if I was willing to pay thousands for support contracts I would go with RedHat due to their established reputation in the server market.
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Commercial and closed-source software (like backup agents) traditionally have been most supported on Red Hat (Enterprise).

If you don't have any specific needs to run that kind of software I'd recommend debian or ubuntu to you if you are new to linux.

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RedHat derivatives tend to be much better supported by both software and hardware vendors.

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The real questions are:

  • Are the packages you're going to install supported by Canonical?

This has more to do with avoiding breakage than it does with getting tech support. "Official" packages tend to be vetted better and as a result, will not break (as often) when upgrading to a newer release.

  • Are you planning on using a LTS version of Ubuntu?

Long Term Support also adds to the "stability" factor as Canonical has a vested interest in making LTS releases as stable as possible.

For instance, I recently tried to install OpenERP client and server, version 5. It turns out that the installer is completely broken and while the package does install, it refuses to start the server. Note that this is on 9.04 and the packages are not "officially supported". So your mileage may vary.

Otherwise, it should be fine to use Ubuntu server.

Of course, if you are looking more for stability and long-term use, have you considered Debian instead of Ubuntu?

If you are just looking for something commercially supported, RedHat may be more to your liking. Use CentOS if you happen to have little money but still want the "RPM compatibility" that it brings when trying to install 3rd party apps.

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I'd say familiarity would be the key feature in choosing the OS for the server you plan to administer. Unless you're planning to use the server for something very specific that RH does better than Ubuntu, it doesn't make much sense to learn a new distro and risk making mistakes in the process.

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May I ask then why Ubuntu, but not Debian? If this is a server, you do not need all the fancy desktop stuff Ubuntu provides. What would be the added benefit of using Ubuntu?

IMHO debian is much more easy to understand and maintain than Ubuntu.

Besides that, CentOS/RH or OpenSuse (or SLES) are much better supported from third party commercial software vendors, so if you are going to use such a software, better use them.

And from RHEL/SLES, nothing beats Suse's YaST for service management - easy for basic DNS and Apache config, etc.

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RE: Fancy desktop stuff Ubuntu Server is a pretty bare base OS and has no desktop environment or even X installed. It's more of a minimal install than the default RH or Suse install. –  3dinfluence Jun 17 '09 at 22:46
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Debian is even barer than Ubuntu for server installs though. –  Zan Lynx Jun 18 '09 at 3:28
    
And debian-minimal / ubuntu-minimal is even smaller. The better point here is backported security patches for long enough to upgrade the OS. –  jldugger Jun 18 '09 at 6:53
    
Unlike Debian, Ubuntu has a predictable life cycle - the long term support release is quite suitable for most shops - so you can plan for site upgrades... –  Lester Cheung Oct 4 '09 at 16:10

Not really based on what you've provided. Ubuntu Server is easy to setup and maintain, the community is very large, and the LTS versions are supported for a good long time.

Personally I find package management far superior in the Debian / apt world than in the RedHat / rpm world...but that might just be me.

Anyhow, where it might pay off to use one of the big supported distributions like RedHat is the hardware support. You can buy a server with RedHat or Suse pre-installed, for instance, and it'll work...including all of the management tools. If you use Ubuntu Server you might have to struggle a little bit to get it running, and you might have to manually repackage or find a 3rd party package for any hardware management tools. For instance I have Ubuntu Server running on a Dell PowerEdge machine and had to grab a 3rd party package for Dell's OMSA (which helps you configure and manage Dell hardware). Took a little bit to get configured, but it's been running fine since.

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When I wanted to build my first computer, I asked a few friends about hardware. Everyone told me to go Intel. "Stay away from AMD," they said. "Why?" I asked.

I never received an answer. It almost always boiled down to one simple fact: They were used to Intel, and didn't want to try anything new if they didn't have to.

I suspect what you're finding with server OS's is the same thing.

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FWIW, early AMD chips were more likely to fail during overheating events, than were Intels. This reputation was only aggravated when Intel started actively making it very hard to do over-clocking, which meant all the envelope-pushers ended up running AMD chips, and thus had disproportionately even more temperature-related failures. –  David Mackintosh Jun 18 '09 at 20:03
    
Ok, so at one time there WAS a reason behind it. Good to know, thanks. –  nilamo Jun 19 '09 at 7:58

We've used a few Ubuntu servers for several years (going back to edgy eft) in a mostly Windows network, currently jaunty with likewise/samba for AD integration and NTLMAPS to get apt to update properly through the ISA proxy.

It was easy to configure, is easy (cron-apt and only security repos enabled) to keep updated, and really "just works." If you like Ubuntu I can't think of any reasons to give you to use something else, unless there's a must-have app or feature in another server distro that you find compelling.

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Ubuntu Server has a longstanding bug in the installer that may result in overwriting wrong boot sectors during installation, https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/ubiquity/+bug/356095

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Go with what you are familiar, after all its you who is setting up the server. Like others said unless you are planning to run closed source software on Linux then you should stick to Red Hat.

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I think that should be "if you are planning..." –  Liam Jun 18 '09 at 14:09

From my viewpoint take a look at /etc/passwd yes. In fine WTF tradition it seems that Ubuntu has decided to give all system users LOGIN shells. So it's possible to grab users like game or avahi, or klog etc etc etc.

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The nice thing about Ubuntu Server is the community support ... seems that more people know Ubuntu than the other flavors, and are usually willing to help if you have trouble.

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Do you need Oracle? Are you worried certification is the only way you can tell who's qualified to admin your servers?

Because that's the main features RHEL brings to the table. It was huge news when Oracle announced Unbreakable Linux, because it's a direct attack on RHAT's profitability.

If you're capable of using Postgres, and can interview system administrators on your own / admin it yourself, there's nothing much to look at. RHN is interesting, but not necessary and Canonical offers a similar service called Landscape. Especially at your currently inventory, RHN is completely worthless.

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I would say in your scenario, Ubuntu would be fine. In larger scenarios where you are managing/deploying many boxes I think redhat has better tools to help you.

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Ubuntu is fine in most cases. If you're using a particularly odd package, or on an odd architecture, it is worth looking into how well supported it is by them however. We used to run Dapper on a Sun_4v machine, and we would find that vunerabilities would often take large amounts of time to get fixed, and important bugs in areas like NSS would not get fixed at all. This has not however, been a problem on ia32/amd64

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Regarding Debian versus Ubuntu: I'm personally using Debian stable on every server. There are several reasons but there are the most significant:

  • Ubuntu gets most of their packages from Debian anyway
  • Ubuntu's major advantage is their great pre-configuration on workstations (I run it on a laptop here where Debian sucks) - it does not have any such advantages on server installation
  • Ubuntu has a stable update every half a year. Personally I'd drown in work if I had to upgrade every server twice a year. That's just unpractical. Two years is enough nowadays.
  • Ubuntu introduces some quirks that are way easier on Debian (try "dpkg-reconfigure locales" on Ubuntu)
  • The overall technical knowledge of Ubuntu users seems to be worse than in Debian. The number of wrong or unqualified "me, too" answers on forums and mailing lists is very high.

Other distributions are easily a pain in the... errr.. lower back for me. Examples:

  • SuSE: Their YAST kills manual configurations easily and is harder to customize. It's a "take it as it is" approach I don't like.
  • Redhat: Their "yum" or "up2date" package installers can't compete with the APT system of Debian/Ubuntu.
  • Gentoo: Besides the need to compile most packagea which lead to a slower installation you will have no system exactly like the other. For deploying applications on a server this may quickly become an issue. Not so much for up-to-date workstations perhaps.

On servers I expect a large choice of common packages. A good package/software management system. A large user base. A system that upgrades gracefully. I have tried Debian 8 years ago and never looked back.

The only reason not to use Debian for me is if you have software that isn't supported by the vendor on Debian and you desperately need support. Hardly ever happens to me.

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