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Network World - Introduced in 1991, Linux boasts an estimated 67 million users worldwide according to linuxcounter.net. Free versions abound, but companies adopting Linux as part of critical infrastructure typically require more support than a community of unpaid, albeit enthusiastic, volunteers can provide.
The five products we tested -- SUSE Enterprise Server 11 Service Pack 2, Mandriva Business Server 1.0, ClearOS 6 Professional, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.4 and Ubuntu 12.04 LTS -- are all enterprise server versions offering commercial support options, either at the OS level or in the form of commercial management tools and support plans.
For enterprises, the advantages of going with commercial support options include LTR (Long Term Release) versions of the software, improved interoperability, application support and legal protection if a portion of the open source software is found to infringe on third-party intellectual property rights. Also, vendor longevity is more likely with a Linux distribution that’s backed by a commercial revenue stream.
We initially thought commercial goliath Red Hat might dominate in our tests, but in our final tally Ubuntu came out on top. Ubuntu delivered intuitive, uncluttered management tools, excellent hypervisor support, and transparency (commercial and open source versions are one and the same). Canonical also boasts progressive strategic alliances with large cloud providers. Ubuntu is also closely associated with the popular OpenStack platform.
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The remaining four contenders fell into two categories with Red Hat and SUSE representing enterprise-level offerings and Mandriva and ClearOS geared more towards small and midsize businesses. In the SMB segment ClearOS edged out Mandriva. (Watch a slideshow version of this story.)
ClearOS is easy to install, provides the most common server roles, which are easy to deploy, and has an impressive management interface that runs on a number of different devices. ClearOS can also be configured as gateway server, which we found appealing.
Cloud-wise, although ClearOS has a beta version for Amazon EC2, we would like to see support for some of the other public cloud platforms.
Mandriva, also primarily aimed at the SMB market, sports all-inclusive server roles and security features packaged into one at a reasonable price. We found the Mandriva website a bit lacking in terms of technical product information, especially for customers seeking to evaluate products.
Both Red Hat and SUSE are very robust enterprise server products with substantial customer bases. The online SUSE Studio provides a way for administrators to build a custom server appliance that will run on a variety of different virtual and cloud platforms. We also found SUSE to be one of the easier solutions to deploy and with excellent cloud support through OpenStack.
Red Hat gets high marks for its management tools, although we found some of the subscription and server management solutions a bit fragmented and cumbersome to navigate. Taking the guesswork out of whether RHEL will run on a certain hardware configuration, Red Hat certifies its server products to run a wide range of hardware from most manufacturers. Compared to some of the other vendors, we found Red Hat’s online documentation to be a notch or two above. We also liked the Red Hat Security Response Team, which constantly monitors and updates customers with information regarding security threats, and we received several notifications during the testing period.