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Firstly, I'm fully aware that this question gets asked often but it seems like its been a couple of years since the last good roundup of the available distributions.

I'm also aware that the best distribution is often the one that you're most familiar with but for this exercise can we leave that answer out.

We currently support about half a dozen websites spread over two CentOS based physical servers. We're up for renewal and are looking at getting 1 big server running VMWare (vSphere Hypervisor) to manage all current and a handful of planned new sites.

The ideal distribution should be stable and secure, sit happily in a VM envirnoment, and be relatively easy to maintain (in terms of updates and security patches).

Any suggestions, recommendations, or things to avoid?

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closed as not constructive by Sven, Bryan, Bart De Vos, Sirex, ThatGraemeGuy Feb 24 '12 at 12:31

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This question is hugely subjective, and generally not a good fit for this Q&A site. The FAQ makes this quite clear. gWaldo's answer below sums it up perfectly, as it's largely down to your personal preference. – Bryan Feb 24 '12 at 11:58
Thanks for everyones opinions, you've given me a few things to think about and I'm sorry that it didn't quite fit in with the Q&A format. – Rob Forrest Feb 24 '12 at 13:14
up vote 2 down vote accepted

What's wrong with CentOS? Since you're already running your existing sites on CentOS, I'd assume you have some institutional knowledge about it. In the worst case, you'd be upgrading to CentOS 6, but that may be an easier path than learning the configuration details of Debian or Ubuntu LTS, etc.

CentOS is essentially Red Hat Enterprise Linux, so we're already in the realm of "distro for production web server". If you feel CentOS may lag too much behind RHEL, you can look into getting a proper RHEL installation, or one of the other ones.

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Any distro is fine. Use what you're comfortable configuring and securing.

My only recommendations are to install the bare minimum needed to make it work. Unless you can't configure your server without a GUI, don't install a desktop.

Installing additional components increases the risk of vulnerabilities, and (especially the case of desktop environments) uses up system resources.

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I appreciate your input but I was hoping for a bit more than that really. I'd be more comfortable using the best tool for job. Some say that Debian is incredibly stable but others end up going for Gentoo, what characteristics define a good production LAMP server? – Rob Forrest Feb 24 '12 at 11:42
More than happy with command line so they'll be no GUI – Rob Forrest Feb 24 '12 at 11:51
Gentoo squeezes the most performance out of your machine because it compiles everything, where Packages are built for a general-case, and don't include the benefits of newer processors. I can't speak to it's stability. – gWaldo Feb 24 '12 at 11:57
That sounds like a nice benefit but with that does it not breed compatability issues and added difficulty to configure and maintain? – Rob Forrest Feb 24 '12 at 11:59
Debian historically has been a very stable distro, but I've heard that they're trying to go to a scheduled release cycle (instead of "when it's done"). While this will likely keep the packages newer, I personally have a concern that it may degrade the reputation for being rock-stable. I often use the most recent Ubuntu LTS release, and have been very happy with them. – gWaldo Feb 24 '12 at 12:00

I'm always using Debian, it's fast, stable, has got an awesome amount of packages and the default configuration files are (really) helpful. Of course there is also CentOS, but I'm not a big fan of RPM and for me configuration and updating is better under Debian. Derived: If you need more up-to-date packages go with Ubuntu Server (only if you rly need), if you need RHEL-compatibility go with CentOS and for everything else Debian is a great choice. VMs are no problem in any of these distributions.

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I would personally avoid consolidating 2 server in one single server, because if it goes down (think about an hardware problem or network interface misconfiguration) then ALL of your web sites are down. I would rather get 2 new servers and split the load of the various web sites between the two.

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That's a good point that you raise here. When does server consolidation become putting all your eggs in one basket? – Rob Forrest Feb 24 '12 at 11:52
Our providers can offer us a 1hr Hardware replacement SLA and a 100% Network Guarantee with a Raid 10 setup surely that's sufficient redundancy to negate the risks? – Rob Forrest Feb 24 '12 at 11:55
@RobForrest: That's easy: Whenever you are dependent on a single system or piece of hardware, be it a switch or a VM serve, all your eggs are in that one basket. There are various degrees of severity though, a failing VM server can be hard to replace, while a switch can be replaced in minutes in some cases. – Sven Feb 24 '12 at 11:58

Nothing much has changed since that last round up. If anything, everything is even more comfortable within a VM than the last time you saw these.

There are some differences if you're going to be using paravirtualization or OS Zones instead of a full-virtualization solution such as HyperV or VMWare. Because of this, a better question for you to investigate is the effect of these hypervisors on your Webserving environment. VMWare/HyperV are easy to set up, where something like LXC can yield a few percentage points better performance. Only you can judge what is best for your case.

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We were hoping to implement a full bare-metal virtualisation solution such as the VMWare HyperV ESXi vSphere (how many names does this need??). LXC isn't one that I've come accross, I'll look into that. Thanks. – Rob Forrest Feb 24 '12 at 12:08

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