Server Operating Systems… The Famous Five


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By    -   Head of Technical Projects

When it comes to dedicated servers, choosing an Operating System to suit your needs is crucial. Here at VooServers we offer a variety of custom setups, but by far the most common requests at setup time are for the “Famous Five”. That is, Windows Server 2008 (R2), Windows Server 2012 (R2), CentOS (6.x/7.x), Debian and Ubuntu. This quick rundown will be just the resource you need if you’re on the fence about one or the other.

Linux

Linux Logo
From the five OS’s mentioned, 3 of them are Linux based (or at least *nix core based). Linux OS installs are by far the most popular for server deployments and it’s easy to see why. Low resource overheads, unparalleled stability and vastly reduced licensing costs (often NONE). For the sake of these overviews, we’ll be looking at the non-GUI, server-core installations.


CentOS

The “go-to” Linux OS for many. Praised for its simplicity, this Linux OS is a popular choice for the fact it is built around, and entirely based on, RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux). It is almost 100% binary compatible with the RHEL Cores. That fact alone opens up a lot of flexibility with packages and software installs, but negates the need for a costly RHN (Red Hat Network) update/support license.

Stability/Server Features: 3 out 0f 5
Ease of Use: 3 out of 5


Debian

Debian Logo
Another very popular OS choice. Debian embodies the epitome of server stability. And has been a prominent Server OS for nearly 20 years. This unparalleled stability is traded off with usability, and Debian is often criticised for being slightly too cumbersome. It’s often compared negatively to RHEL, but this is typically by users who are not fully familiar with Debian’s operations. Another point of note, as of the Debian Squeeze release around 2011, all software packages bundled and installed with the OS are free software, prior to this, certain packages required extra purchases.

Stability/Server Features: 4 out of 5
Ease of Use: 2 and a half out 0f 5


Ubuntu

Ubuntu is the modern spawn from a collaboration between the Debian Linux Kernels, and a for-profit organization named Canonical. As a server OS it is reliable, but unnecessary packages to aid user experience often become the undoing to this stability. Certain aspects of the OS, such as the installer, how the OS implements ‘sudo’, and its package manager mean that Ubuntu is remarkably easy to use – at least compared to its Debian father. Users of Ubuntu often compliment the level of support given by the technical communities, with it being such a new and upcoming OS, the interest and activity level is high.

Stability/Server Features: 3 out of 5
Ease of Use: 4 out of 5


Windows

Windows Logo
The remaining two Operating Systems are Windows based. In many applications, there’s simply no alternative than to have a globally recognisable and usable GUI, product support at the touch of a button and the most widely developed-for software system in the world. Of course, the trade-off here is cost. Licensing is a serious consideration when planning out your deployment. As much as you’d love the ease of an MS GUI, can your endeavour justify the rather large cost of Windows Licensing?

Windows Server 2008 R2

The “go-to” choice of many. Core in the industry for many years, the support of 2008 R2 has been hard for Microsoft to shift over onto the 2012 range of Operating Systems. Built on a Windows 7 Kernel and Core, it’s no nonsense GUI and rock solid stability are a force to be reckoned with in the server world. The only problem is, these days, there are some technical limitations that you should consider… 2008 R2 caps Physical Memory at 1Tb, and if you’re using it as a Virtualization Host, the VHD file format for virtual disks is capped at 2Tb. If operating in a Cluster, you can only have 16 2008 R2 Nodes. If you’re planning a large scale deployment, or Virtualized Applications that plan to use a lot of disk space, these should be taken into account, and traded off against 2008’s massive support base, bug free nature and no-frills “just works” GUI.

Stability/Server Features: 3 out of 5
Ease of Use: 4 out of 5


Windows Server 2012 R2

2012 R2 is built on a Windows 8 Core (or rather an 8.1 Core). Released late 2012 it addresses many of the limitations imposed by 2008 R2, Physical Memory for example, is now capped at 4Tb. Hyper-V now uses the VHDX file format, increasing the disk limit to a whopping 64Tb. And for you clustred-computing guys out there, you can have up to 64 2012 R2 nodes with a max of 8,000 VM’s! The downside, in our opinion, is that 2012 R2 has unfortunately ported across most of the 8.1 GUI. That is, the metro interface, app screen, and start button. In a server environment, when precision is key, and fluidity of tasks dictates your daily workflow, I can see no reason to have a full featured metro interface on a server. Even areas such as Task Manager, and Control Panel, are greatly cumbersome to use in a rush.

Windows Server 2016 is soon to be released (Technical Preview already under testing). This is built on a Windows 10 Core, and will address the interface issues inherited by 2012.


Stability/Server Features: 4 out of 5
Ease of Use: 3 out of 5


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