5 top Linux server distros: How to choose the right one

What you need to know to choose among Ubuntu LTS, Oracle Linux, Fedora Server, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Enterprise Server

intro linux distros

Choosing the right Linux server product can be a daunting task, and with all the different versions of the Linux OS out there, you have a long list to choose from. Are you looking for a supported product, or can you go with a free version? Do you need cloud support or virtualization? We aim to provide some answers and some clarity.

What are Linux servers and why does your business need one?

While the Linux OS was originally conceived as a desktop operating system that would rival windows, it really found its footing in the server space. A Linux server runs the most efficient and powerful variants of the OS, and Linux servers are designed to handle the most demanding business application requirements. Linux servers are used for network and system administration, database management, web services and much more.

There are a number of factors that make the OS particularly well suited for server use:

  • Stability: Linux servers are famous for their long uptime, and can often be maintained without the need for reboots.
  • Security: Linux is generally considered to be more secure than Windows or macOS.
  • Flexibility: Because Linux is open source and available from numerous vendors, it's easier to get a Linux server that does what you want it to do or to customize it to your needs.

Then there's the matter of what Linux servers cost. As we'll see, some Linux servers are free; some vendors will charge in order to provide a built-to-order experience. And even most free distributions offer paid support services to help keep your systems up and running.  

Related: Must-know Linux commands

nw linux servers pro cons chart IDG

Which Linux OS is best for servers? This is, of course, not a simple question with a single answer. This article will instead examine different types of Linux servers. We'll review five top Linux server distros, and try to give you a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of each, as well as what each Linux server distro is used for:

  • Ubuntu LTS offers the stability of a long-term release along with access to necessary bug fixes. It is also dominant for use in OpenStack.
  • Linux Fedora is free and offers frequent upgrades but lacks paid-support options.
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is cloud-friendly, and has powerful management tools — but these come at a hefty price.
  • Oracle Linux is an obvious choice if you're already using Oracle's database or middleware products. It's compatible with Red Hat, but it's free to use and the paid support options are reasonably priced.
  • SuSE Enterprise Linux Server offers a solid server environment and the ability to create custom server appliances.

Let's take a deeper look at each.

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