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

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The installation process prompts users to input for items such as network, time zone, user and partition configurations. During the installation you can also add other features such as HTTP/HTTPS/FTP and select a predefined use case scenario for the server. The default role is used for physical servers and virtual guests. For virtual hosts you can choose either a kernel-based hypervisor (KVM) or bare-metal hypervisor (ZEN)

SUSE management

With our new SLES server up and running, we evaluated our management options. As with the other versions of Linux, you can manage the server from the command line or a third-party generic GUI. SLES also comes with the GNOME desktop installed and boots to it automatically when you first start the server. YaST (Yet another Setup Tool) is part of the installation and can be used to configure most aspects of a SUSE server such as hardware setup, and to manage services such as DNS, DHCP, FTP and HTTP. The YaST interface can also be used to manage users and security features like certificates, firewalls and auditing.

While we found the YaST toolset to be adequate for managing common tasks on one server at a time, the more robust SUSE Manager offers administrators a way to manage multi-server environments. SUSE Manager provides a unified location for managing manage multiple Linux installations, virtual, cloud and physical servers, including Red Hat servers.

SUSE Manager can be installed either as part of a regular SUSE Server installation or on the ‘minimized’ version of SLES, the Just Enough Operating System (JeOS). We decided to test SUSE Manager on our freshly installed SLES server, and a short wizard walked us through the installation process. SUSE Manager is accessed via Web browser and once logged in you are presented with an impressive (and somewhat overwhelming) collection of options from the left-hand menu. New users may wish to refer to the ‘getting started’ guide.

With SUSE Manager a local software repository can be downloaded and maintained; in fact, SUSE recommends this. For instance, deployment of software updates to multiple instances can be accomplished in one operation. The dashboard can also alert administrators to systems that may need updating as well as check for compliance with in-house or regulatory and legal requirements. The SUSE Manager provides several on-screen reporting features, including online visualization of network infrastructure.

SUSE support

SUSE provides solid, free online and offline (PDF) documentation for most SUSE Linux Enterprise Server features. While the server is free to use and comes with a 60-day free trial, any support, including patches after the initial trial period, requires a support plan from SUSE. There are a number of support options, depending on the type of server environment. Standard support is available starting at $799 per year per server and priority (24/7) support is $1,499 per year per server. Support subscriptions provide integration with the SUSE Customer Center, a web portal to manage subscriptions and support access. In addition, you can purchase add-ons such as training and storage.

SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is a solid and mature server product. Our complaints are relatively minor. One is that we found the SUSE Manager a bit unwieldy to navigate with too many options presented in one place. We think a more modern dashboard-like layout with the ability to drill down to detail sections would be more practical. As with some of the other servers, support costs can balloon in a hurry for any but the smallest installations, negating some of the ‘free and open source’ argument.

In the SUSE plus column are the long-term support and the ability to create custom server appliances using SUSE Studio. SUSE also offers impressive scalability: up to 8192 CPU cores and 64TiB RAM, has supported the XFS file system for more than 10 years (see SUSE YES hardware certifications). Although SUSE lacks its own virtualization, it supports leading open source hypervisors, Xen and KVM, plus open source paravirtualized drivers for all major hypervisors. Support for Linux containers is integrated into the virtualization management infrastructure.

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