Top 10 Linux Server Distributions of 2015
You know that Linux is a hot data center server. You know it can save you money in licensing and maintenance costs. But that still leaves the question of what your best options are for Linux as a server operating system.
The Top 10 Linux server operating system distros ranked by ease of use, cost, available support and data center reliability.
We've researched, crunched the numbers and put dozens of Linux distros through their paces to compile our latest list of the top ten Linux server distributions (aka "Linux server distros") — some of which you may not be aware.
The following characteristics, in no particular order, qualified a Linux server distro for inclusion in this list: ease of installation and use, cost, available commercial support and data center reliability.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 Linux server operating systems for 2015:
At the top of almost every Linux-related list, the Debian-based Ubuntu is in a class by itself. Canonical's Ubuntu surpasses all other Linux server distributions — from its simple installation to its excellent hardware discovery to its world-class commercial support, Ubuntu sets a strong standard that is hard to match.
The latest release of Ubuntu, Ubuntu 15.04 "Vivid Vervet," debuted in April 2015 and ups the ante with OpenStack Kilo support and Snappy, an optimized packaging system developed specifically for working with newer trends and technologies such as containers, mobile and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Ubuntu's Long Term Support (LTS) version, which is released every two years and includes five years of commercial support for the Ubuntu Server edition, was last updated in April 2014 as Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.
While Red Hat started out as the "little Linux company that could," its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) server operating system is now a major force in the quest for data center rackspace. The Linux darling of large companies throughout the world, Red Hat's innovations and non-stop support, including ten years of support for major releases, will keep you coming back for more.
RHEL is based on the community-driven Fedora, which Red Hat sponsors. Fedora is updated more frequently than RHEL and serves as more of a bleeding-edge Linux distro in terms of features and technology, but it doesn't offer the stability or the length and quality of commercial support that RHEL is renowned for.
In development since 2010, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 (RHEL 7) made its official debut in June 2014, and the major update offers scalability improvements for enterprises, including a new filesystem that can scale to 500 terabytes, as well as support for Docker container virtualization technology. The most recent release of RHEL, version 7.1, arrived in March 2015.
The Micro Focus-owned (but independently operated) SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) is stable, easy to maintain and offers 24x7 rapid-response support for those who don't have the time or patience for lengthy troubleshooting calls. And the SUSE consulting teams will have you meeting your SLAs and making your accountants happy to boot.
Similar to how Red Hat's RHEL is based on the open-source Fedora distribution, SLES is based on the open-source openSUSE Linux distro, with SLES focusing on stability and support over leading-edge features and technologies.
The most recent release, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12 (SLES 12), debuted in late October 2014 and introduced new features like framework for Docker, full system rollback, live kernel patching enablement and software modules for "increasing data center uptime, improving operational efficiency and accelerating the adoption of open source innovation," according to SUSE.
If you operate a website through a web hosting company, there's a very good chance your web server is powered by CentOS Linux. This low-cost clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux isn't strictly commercial, but since it's based on RHEL, you can leverage commercial support for it.
Short for Community Enterprise Operating System, CentOS has largely operated as a community-driven project that used the RHEL code, removed all Red Hat’s trademarks, and made the Linux server OS available for free use and distribution.
In 2014 the focus shifted following Red Hat and CentOS announcing they would collaborate going forward and that CentOS would serve to address the gap between the community-innovation-focused Fedora platform and the enterprise-grade, commercially-deployed Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform.
CentOS will continue to deliver a community-oriented operating system with a mission of helping users develop and adopt open source technologies on a Linux server distribution that is more consistent and conservative than Fedora's more innovative role. At the same time, CentOS will remain free, with support provided by the community-led CentOS project rather than through Red Hat. CentOS released CentOS 7 in March 2015, which is derived from Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.1.
If you're confused by Debian's inclusion here, don't be. Debian doesn't have formal commercial support but you can connect with Debian-savvy consultants around the world via their Consultants page. Debian originated in 1993 and has spawned more child distributions than any other parent Linux distribution, including Ubuntu, Linux Mint and Vyatta.
Debian remains a popular option for those who value stability over the latest features. The latest version of Debian, Debian 8 "jessie," debuted in April 2015, and will be supported for five years. Debian 8 marks the switch to the systemd init system over the old SysVinit init system, and includes the latest releses of the Linux Kernel, Apache, LibreOffice, Perl, Python, Xen Hypervisor, GNU Compiler Collection and the GNOME and Xfce desktop environments.
Next Page: Top Ten Linux Servers in 2015: Next Five
Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions.
Forrest Stroud is a senior enterprise IT editor and writer with more than 15 years experience. Forrest has managed and written for some of the most recognizable technology content sites on the Internet, including ServerWatch, Webopedia, WinPlanet and Enterprise Storage Forum.