Linux distros are plentiful, and choosing the right server product can be a daunting task. Are you looking for a supported product, or can you go with a free version? Need Cloud support or virtualization? We’ll try to provide some answers.
Although many Linux distros can quite capably be configured to run as a server, for this review we focused solely on dedicated server products, named and supported as such.
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We tested Ubuntu LTS (long-term support) 16.04.02, Red Hat Enterprise Linux Enterprise Server 7.4, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12 SP2, Fedora Server 26 and Oracle Linux 73. All five products tested are designed and supported as server operating systems, and each product boasts a large user base. However, each of these products appeals to a different target audience, as noted in the narrative and summary chart below.
Ubuntu LTS 16.04.02
Among the many features that makes Ubuntu a popular Linux server, is its LTS (long-term support) versions of their OS. This provides organizations with a stable release for a time period of five years, ensuring OS stability when running business-critical operations. Ubuntu Server is a major player in the cloud segment and provides certified images for use with all major cloud-hosting platforms such as AWS, Rackspace, Google and Microsoft Azure. Ubuntu is also committed to the OpenStack cloud platform, and its AutoPilot installer provides a solid set of tools to deploy and manage servers in the cloud. The Landscape management tools are among the best in the business and allow administrators to manage literally tens of thousands of servers from one interface. Among Ubuntu’s customers is Wal-Mart, AT&T and eBay. Read the in-depth review of Ubuntu Server.
Oracle Linux 7.3
Oracle Linux is the perfect match for those already running or planning to run other Oracle software, such as their databases or any of their many business applications. While based on the latest Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) version, Oracle Linux provides several enhancements like its Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel (UEK). The UEK kernel includes several enhancements to online transaction performance, security and virtualization improvements. It is also engineered and optimized to work with the aforementioned Oracle applications. In addition, Oracle has created its own free VM server for virtual applications. With the core Oracle Linux OS being free and with affordable support options, we think it provides a solid alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux and other commercial Linux server offerings on the market today. Read the in-depth review of Oracle Linux.
Fedora Server 26
Fedora, currently in version 26, focuses on short-life-cycle Linux servers by bringing the latest and greatest Linux technology to market about every six months. This approach is certain to delight those who want access to the latest features. However, it may not be the preferred approach for those running Linux infrastructures where upgrading to a new OS update every six months may be a major undertaking. For those wanting to run independent applications on a single Linux installation, Fedora provides a Docker role that accomplishes this without incurring the overhead of a virtual machine. Fedora support is generally self-serve through online forums and excellent documentation from Fedora’s website. Read the in-depth review of Fedora Server.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 7.4
Red Hat is often synonymous with Linux for many in the IT community and with good reason. Their Enterprise Linux Server is a very solid server, and by adding the whole Red Hat infrastructure with Satellite management, Red Hat Cloud and excellent support, we can see why it continues to be favorite with many in the enterprise segment. All the bells and whistles come with a price though. The OS itself starts at $349 per year, but once you add support and a management tools, it can add up in a hurry. That being said, Red Hat is certified to run on over 100 public-cloud networks, has great support for OpenStack and general virtualization support. For many, the cost of entry may well be worth having access to that kind of infrastructure. Read the in-depth review of Red Hat Server.
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12 SP2
SLES is a multi-purpose server that has long been popular with Internet Service Providers for various Web-based workloads. SLES also has a small footprint version, cleverly named Just Enough Operating System (JEOS). This can be used as a minimized host OS for cloud images, container applications or just to simplify IT operations. One feature of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) that we found very useful is the ability to use SUSE Studio to build your own custom installation. They also provide long-term support versions and provide images of their software for over 50 different cloud providers. The SLES server is free to download and use, but support and patches are only available with purchased support plans, starting at $799 per year. SLES can be managed with SUSE Manager, a unified location for managing multiple Linux installations, and virtual, cloud and physical servers, including Red Hat servers. Read the in-depth review of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12 SP 2.
Here is a handy comparison chart: