Choosing a Linux server distribution for your projects can be a daunting task, especially with the many options available. This guide aims to simplify your decision-making process by highlighting the key features and advantages of the leading Linux server distributions. Each of these distros brings its unique strengths to the table, catering to various needs and preferences, ensuring that your project’s requirements are met efficiently.
If you’re on the hunt for a Linux desktop distribution, be sure to check out our article, “Choosing the Best Linux Distro for Desktop.”
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How to Select the Best Linux Server Distro
Selecting the right Linux server distribution is a task that goes beyond seeking the so-called “best” in a general sense. The reality is, the concept of the ‘best’ distribution is highly subjective and varies based on individual needs and project specifications. What works excellently for one project might not be the ideal choice for another. It’s all about finding a distro that aligns seamlessly with your unique requirements, be it in terms of system performance, security features, support, or software compatibility.
To navigate this decision effectively, it’s crucial to start by assessing your project’s demands. Consider factors such as the nature of the workload, hardware/architecture, expected traffic volume, and security needs. For instance, a high-traffic e-commerce site may have different requirements compared to a small, internal company server.
Furthermore, your level of expertise with Linux systems plays a role. Some distributions are tailored for users with extensive Linux experience, while others are more user-friendly, providing a more streamlined, albeit sometimes less customizable, experience.
Another critical aspect to weigh is the community and commercial support available for the distribution. A robust support network can be invaluable, especially in mission-critical environments where downtime can have significant repercussions.
By keeping these factors in the forefront, you can move closer to selecting a distribution that not only meets but enhances your server’s functionality and reliability. With this in mind, let’s begin.
Let’s sort the best Linux server distro’s into the following categories:
- Free General Linux Server Distros.
- Free Enterprise-sponsored Linux Server Distros.
- Paid Enterprise Linux Server Distros.
Shortlist: Best Linux Server Distros
Arch Linux = A rolling release distro with very detailed documentation regarding setup.
CentOS 7/8 = Update: CentOS Stream and CentOS 8 alternatives.
Debian = 20+ years of experience with over 60,000 packages. Ubuntu LTS server is based on Debian SID.
Fedora Server = short-life cycle distro for the use of the latest software.
OpenSUSE = Focuses on creating usable open-source tools for software devs and Sysadmins.
Oracle Linux = Oracle’s “Unbreakable Kernel” and zero downtime patching.
Red Hat Linux (RHEL) = targeted toward the commercial market with training and support.
SUSE Linux Enterprise = provides interoperability with Windows and other platforms.
Ubuntu Server = Specific server edition, extremely popular with commercial support available.
Free General Linux Server Distros
The following are commonly used to get started quickly. These distros are popular on servers, virtual machines, and desktops. These distros are perfect for beginners and even advanced Sysadmins.
Ubuntu Server edition uses the same APT repositories as the Ubuntu Desktop Edition. The differences between them are the absence of an X Window environment in a default installation of the server edition and some changes to the installation process. Canonical offers commercial support for Ubuntu Server.
Debian comes with over 50,000 free packages available. Debian launched in 1993, with its first stable release in 1996; as such, it’s incredibly stable and secure. Many other Linux distributions are Debian-based, including Ubuntu.
Arch Linux comes as a minimal base system that can be readily utilized as a server. Popular server software is available in the official repositories, even more in the AUR, and the wiki contains much detailed documentation regarding sever/software setup. It’s a rolling-release distro.
Free Enterprise Linux Server Distros
These distros are also open source but benefit from a relationship with commercial Linux companies. The following recommended Linux server distros are open-source, enterprise-based, or funded by commercial Linux parent companies.
CentOS is for Sysadmins who need enterprise-class operating system stability without the cost of certification and support. CentOS is a 100% compatible rebuild of RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) in full compliance with Red Hat’s redistribution requirements. UPDATE: For CentOS Stream or CentOS 8 Linux server alternatives, see: What CentOS alternative distro should you choose?
OpenSUSE is an independent Linux distribution sponsored by SUSE Linux and other companies. Development is focused on creating usable open-source tools for software devs and Sysadmins. Tools and apps include YaST, Open Build Service, openQA, Snapper, Machinery, Portus, and Kiwi.
Fedora Server is a Linux distribution developed by the community-supported Fedora Project and owned by Red Hat. Fedora Server is a short-life cycle distro that enables system administrators to use the latest server-based technologies.
Oracle Linux is an enterprise-class Linux distribution supported by Oracle and built from source packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Some of the unique features of Oracle Linux include a custom-built and rigorously tested Linux kernel called the “Unbreakable Kernel”, tight integration with Oracle’s hardware and software products including most database applications, and zero downtime “patching” – a feature that enables administrators to update the kernel without a reboot.
Also, check out: ClearLinux.
Paid Enterprise Linux Server Distros
If you require enterprise Linux for advanced features and commercial support, these commercial distributions will be THE best to work with. Contact them by email or phone for more information.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is a Linux distribution developed by Red Hat and targeted toward the commercial market. All of Red Hat’s official support and training and the Red Hat Certification Program center around the Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform.
SUSE Linux Enterprise is an interoperable platform for mission-critical computing. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server provides interoperability with Windows and other platforms, and it provides a secure foundation for a broad range of edge, departmental, and data center needs.
Other noteworthy Linux server Distros
ClearOS, Scientific Linux, Turnkey Linux, and Univention. If you feel I’ve missed a great option, please add it in the comments section below. Include the website link and a specific focus or advantage of that distro.
Choosing the ideal Linux server distribution is a personalized and strategic process that demands careful consideration of your specific needs and project requirements. From free general-purpose distributions like Ubuntu Server and Debian to more specialized enterprise-focused options like Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise, the choices are diverse and tailored to fit a wide range of server environments and user expertise.
The key takeaway is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to Linux server distributions. Your choice should be informed by a combination of factors including the nature of your project, hardware compatibility, security requirements, and the level of support you may need. Remember, the Linux community is vibrant and resourceful. Don’t hesitate to explore community forums, read user reviews, and experiment with different distributions to find the one that best aligns with your objectives.
I hope this guide has been a helpful starting point in your quest for the perfect Linux server distribution. For the most current information and updates on each distro, be sure to visit their respective websites and consider engaging with their user communities for deeper insights and support.
As always, your feedback and insights are valuable. If you believe there’s a noteworthy distro that I missed, or if you have specific experiences to share, please contribute in the comments section below.
Reference: Distrowatch – a handy website you can use in your search/research.
Last updated: December 18th, 2023.