So, you’ve read our article “Windows or Linux for your servers” and you’ve decided to go with Linux. That’s a great first step! You’re going to benefit from a high level of freedom and enjoy professional open-source software often for free. But now it’s time for the next big question – which Linux distribution should you get? We have selected five excellent Linux distributions for your servers!
How to choose a Linux distro for your server?
When choosing a Linux distribution for your servers, you need to pay attention to a few important points:
- Purpose: The first task that you should do is to define the purpose of your server. Are you hosting your site on a web server? Or maybe you’re creating a database server, mail server, application server, or something else? What are you going to do with this server should be the first question you ask yourself before choosing a Linux distribution.
- Stability of the OS vs new features. If it is not a stable version it could crash often and affect you negatively. However, choosing a stable OS will mean that all the software has been well-tested before it gets the “stable” version. That means that you won’t be able to benefit from new features the moment it arrives.
- Performance. This is one of the top factors when choosing an OS and distro. There are some distros that are optimized for low power consumption, others are focusing on maximum performance. You should get the right one for your needs.
- Upgrades – How often does it receive updates? Is there a big community of Linux developers? Updates can help you not only with stability, but also with server security. The faster you fix vulnerabilities the better. There is also the issue of documentation. If you choose a not-so-popular Linux distribution, you might have a hard time finding information about it.
- Long-term support (LTS). You have probably seen the LTS sign next to a Linux distro’s name. It means that there will be support for many years to come. In the case of Ubuntu LTS, the long-term support is five years of general support and five more years after that of security updates.
- Security. There are many aspects of the security of your server. Security updates, available software packages, additional features, and more.
- Easy setup process.If you are a part of a new startup company, you will probably prefer an easy and fast installation process. If you choose any of the five excellent Linux distributions for your servers, you will be delighted to know that they are very easy to set up.
- Ease-of-use. How easy is it to get started? Can you find everything you need? There are some more user-friendly Linux distros – some include a user interface that could be of great help.
- Package management. You want a distro that has a wide variety of available software, but you should know that different distributions will have different package managers. For Ubuntu, you will use the “apt”, for Arch-based Linux distros is “pacman”, and “yum” for Red Hat and CentOS, etc.
- Enterprise support. There are some Linux distros that are not free. A great example of this is Red Hat Linux. It is a paid distribution and there is a whole company that stands behind it. You can get professional help and support and excellent enterprise experience.
The Linux distributions in this article are not arranged in any particular order. They are all very good Linux distributions.
Ubuntu is possibly the most popular Linux distribution out there with excellent support and very good user experience. There are plenty of developers that use it daily.
You can use it to set up web servers, media servers, deploy containers, email servers, game servers, etc. It offers a very stable server environment. Ubuntu Server is compatible with most public clouds and can run on x86, ARM, S390X, and more.
Thеre is a lot of software available for Ubuntu. Its repository is vast and there is an easy-to-use package manager called “apt”. It will be easy for you to find the software you need and install it.
What makes Ubuntu an excellent distro for your server is the fact it has long-term support. You can get up to five years of feature updates and up to ten years of security updates. That makes it far easier on your mind when planning the future. Later on, you can update from the current LTS version to another LTS version and have several more years of support, without the need to start from scratch.
Ubuntu has one weakness: overall, it is a heavy and resource-hungry OS. This is why there is an Ubuntu Server version. It has fewer packages installed and no graphical user interface (GUI), but it has all server-centric packages and services preinstalled (Apache, MySQL, PHP, Python, Perl, etc.).
Debian is one of the most well-known Linux distributions, and probably one of the oldest. It was introduced to the market back in 1993!
It provides many API tools, a package manager, excellent security, and a stable environment. It is relatively easy to set up as a primary server, and is very easy to update.
Some can argue, but most will agree, that Debian is even more stable than Ubuntu. Debian provides slightly older, but more stable packages. It is a small trade-off, but for many, it is worth it.
Just like Ubuntu, Debian also has long-term support. Debian stable provides at least five years of LTS. That is very useful if you want your server to run smoothly for a long period of time without any big changes.
Debian has a big community. There it is an open-sourced OS, and there are plenty of volunteers that contribute to its development. The documentation available on the Internet about it is extensive, and you can find plenty of forums with questions and answers about Debian issues.
This Linux distribution uses Apt package manager, and it has plenty of software in its repository.
This distribution is good for servers because it has plenty of server-centric applications. On Debian, you can easily run web servers like Apache, or Nginx, database servers like MySQL, PostgreSQL, email servers, DNS servers with BIND, and more.
The last thing worth mentioning, Debian runs pretty much on anything. It is widely known that this Linux distro can work on a wide range of hardware, and even on “ancient” components from decades ago.
However, Debian also has a few weaknesses. There is no profit-driven company behind it, so you can’t get official Enterprise support. Another issue is that it uses Systemd, which is a controversial topic in the Linux community.
OpenSUSE (SUSE Linux)
OpenSUSE was also introduced in 1993. There are various versions of it, but one of the most stable ones is OpenSUSE Leap. It can be used for a home server or web server. It offers frequent updates, and support for OpenQA for automated testing, Kiwi for image deployment, and YaST. It is also very easy to install.
OpenSUSE can be great for Linux developers. It uses the Open Build Service (OBS). This is an open-source toolset, that can be used to auto-build and later distribute software packages across different Linux distributions. OBS was originally developed for openSUSE, but it is now used on Red Hat, Fedora, CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian, and more.
YaST (Yet another Setup Tool) is another great tool, with a not so amazing name: It facilitates the system’s management. It uses a centralized interface for configuring different aspects of the OS. It is a great helper for administrators and makes setting up a server a breeze.
This distro uses a different file system – Btrfs. This file system offers snapshots, compression, and integrity checks, which can be very useful for server use.
As you can imagine, openSUSE has a great range of server applications. You can install various web servers, database servers, virtualization technologies, and more. It is a truly versatile OS.
Talking about stability, openSUSE Leap is an excellent choice. It emphasizes stability and reliability. That makes it ideal for server environments.
This Linux has also its disadvantages. YaST is great, but it also creates a great dependence. Apart from that, the release cycle of openSUSE is not as frequent as other distros.
Read more about it on openSUSE’s site.
Fedora Server is based on Red Hat, but it is upstream. That means that it gets all the new packages and updates first. Don’t get overexcited about it. It is a double-edged sword. It is not as stable as Red Hat, but innovative at the same time. Still, having the latest software can add new functionality to your server and that can be beneficial.
With Fedora, you can use a Rolekit tool for deploying and managing your servers. This distribution includes the PostgreSQL Database Server. It is a heavier version that includes many features and can run on different architectures – x86, ARM, Power, and S390X. It also supports a desktop environment – GNOME, and KDE.
In contrast to the other options on this page, Fedora has a very rapid release cycle. You will find frequent updates and new versions being released in quick succession.
This distro can be used for containers and cloud-focused tech. Containers can keep different environments, applications, and services separated in distinct containers, making Fedora very suitable for server environments like Kubernetes and Docker.
By now you know that the worst aspect of Fedora is weaker stability. It is not made to be the most stable OS out there and there is nothing you can do about it.
Check Fedora’s site.
Red Hat Enerprise Linux (RHEL)
Many hate the Red Hat company because it has killed various Linux distros and strayed away from the open-source culture of Linux. Yet, some can argue that there is a need for companies that specialize in Enterprise Linux. It is very useful to have a whole company full of experts that provide services for a specific Linux distro, and can develop it in the future.
For a fee, the company offers a vast knowledge base, specific technical support, patches, and even certifications. All of that makes it really good for mission-critical applications.
The stability of this distribution is top-notch. It has two other distros on top which are upstream – Fedora and CentOS Stream. Every new update and package is tested there before it gets down to the Red Hat Enterprise Linux. That ensures compatibility and security.
This distro also has long-term support. It beats Ubuntu and Debian and offers up to ten years of support. That is quite a long support!
RHEL also has great security. There is a whole team behind it that creates new features and patches. It is one of the most secure Linux OS distros out there. This is one of the reasons it is in our five excellent Linux distributions for your servers.
What is its biggest disadvantage? It is a paid distro. All the other distributions on the list are free of charge, so this is a big minus.
Check RHEL’s site.
We used to recommend CentOS, but Red Hat, the company behind Fedora, Red Hat, and CentOS, made some really important changes in the past. It used to be downstream of Red Hat, making it even more stable than the Red Hat distro. Now it is positioned upstream, just above Red Hat and under Fedora. That killed its main selling point.
Many people who have used CentOS don’t like the changes and the new CentOS Stream, and they are migrating to the similar AlmaLinux.
Check out our previous articles about CentOS:
- What is CentOS Stream? The future after CentOS 8’s end
- How to create and use a Sudo user on CentOS 8/CentOS Stream?
- How to configure and manage the firewall on CentOS 8?
- What is CWP and how to install it?
- What’s new in CentOS Linux 8.
Which one is for you? Depending on your needs, there will be a few here that are more suitable. Go to their websites and investigate even further. Choose wisely. Yes, you can always change the Linux distribution for your servers, but this will mean downtime, complications, and damage to your workflow.
Neterra Cloud offers cloud servers with the following operating systems:
- Alpine Linux
- Amazon Linux 2
- CentOS Stream
- CloudLinux Server
- Kali Linux
- SUSE Linux Enterprise Server
- Oracle Linux Server
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux
- Rocky Linux
- Scientific Linux
- Springdale Linux
- Windows Server 2008
- Windows Server 2012
- Windows Server 2016
- Windows Server 2019
Neterra Cloud offers dedicated servers with the following operating systems:
- Windows Server 2012
- Windows Server 2016
- Windows Server 2019
- Windows Server 2022