ServersUbuntu LTS 10.04, a Linux OS at Its Best

Ubuntu LTS 10.04, a Linux OS at Its Best




As you’ve probably seen, Canonical just released the latest LTS
(long-term support) version of Ubuntu. Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) exists in
both desktop and server form. The desktop form will be supported for three years and the server version five years, making the OS an appealing option for enterprise users. I looked at the server edition for ServerWatch.

Installing

Is Lucid Lynx as clear as a Linux OS can be? We check out the latest long-term support edition of Ubuntu.

The install is text-driven but straightforward. Having said that, the first
time I tried it there was a glitch in the base system install. It worked fine the
second time, and I’ve seen no similar reports elsewhere, so I think it was
probably a network/download glitch.

I liked the offer of automatic home directory encryption. This has obvious
advantages on the desktop (reducing the risk of losing large quantities of
personal data if your machine is lost or stolen), but it’s equally useful on a
server if you ever keep any admin information or passwords on your user
account on the server. Obviously, if you’re running a centralized file server
for home directories, you’ll need to encrypt those directories manually.

The collections of server packages were also useful. You’re given the
opportunity of installing various types of servers (e.g., LAMP, authentication,
web server or mail server), which automatically selects a particular set of
packages for install. You can install any or all of the package
groupings, or manually choose your own packages.

The install CD also has an option to set up a cloud install. I didn’t try
this out myself, but you need at least two machines. Documentation is
available online
for it. Unfortunately, at present this hasn’t been updated for
10.04, but this
documentation covers adding it to an existing 10.04 install
. It seems
still to be a reasonably manual process, rather than being automated as yet.

First Impressions

Once installed, you boot up to a console prompt — no unnecessary X server
here! — with a login message promoting Canonical’s Landscape server management product. Landscape allows you to monitor and manage multiple Ubuntu
servers online (including cloud management services). Note, however, that Landscape is a product that must be purchased. It’s available either online, or as a server install so you can keep it within your own local network.

During install, I chosen to set up Apache and Dovecot. Both were
functional as soon as I booted up, although I had to do a little extra
configuration to get Postfix running properly. MySQL and SSH were also
running fine on bootup. Basically, what I got was a fully-functional server,
just waiting for me to turn it on and start dumping my own content (e.g., web site
data and databases) into the appropriate places. I was impressed with how
slick and niggle-free the process seemed.

However, chances you will not want to stick with the default
configuration of everything you’ve installed. For configuration
management, Ubuntu and Debian remain very much about editing config
files manually.

Ubuntu does have eBox,
which provides a web interface for monitoring and configuring server systems.
Unfortunately, this works only via Firefox (not via w3m or links), which means
you’ll have to either install X on your server or allow it to run an
https server specifically for eBox and access that via a desktop machine.

Personally, I’m not enthusiastic about web-based tools; I’d rather see
something more along YaST lines that can be run on a console on the machine
being configured. Ubuntu also has Puppet available, but that’s about
configuration file maintenance rather than about providing any kind of configuration
management interface.

Another management tool offered is phpMyAdmin,
which allows you to administer your MySQL server via a web interface. As with
everything else, it’s a straightforward install, which will reconfigure Apache
as part of the install and even set up your database automatically. You
can also do this manually if you prefer. Once Apache is installed, if you’re sticking
to a console, use links rather than w3m, as phpmyadmin works
better with frames. However, in this case you may want to just stay with the
MySQL command line, as phpMyAdmin is definitely more usable in a graphical
browser. It is useful if you don’t want to have to remember (or look
up) sets of SQL statements.

Conclusions

It’s convenient to have a server install that’s entirely separate from the
desktop install, and while it
may not be as visually slick as the desktop version, that’s not really what
you want on a server. The install was straightforward; I really liked the
package collections; and everything was functional on first bootup. Five
years of support is good, and all the software installed was fairly up-to-date
(within a couple of release points, which is reasonable given the testing
cycle needed for a long-term release). Ubuntu provides security updates
regularly, so any security improvements in more recent releases should be
rolled out to your servers quickly.

One problem I found was that the documentation available online is a bit
shaky. In some cases, it still refers to earlier releases, which isn’t
very reassuring. However, Ubuntu is obviously making an effort with its
documentation, and it’s easier to find information than it is with some other
distros.

Overall, Lucid Lynx is an impressive offering and definitely something I’d be happy to
use for my own servers. More console-driven system management tools and
better documentation, would make it an even better option.

Juliet Kemp has been messing around with Linux systems, for financial reward and otherwise, for about a decade. She is also the author of “Linux System Administration Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach” (Apress, 2009).

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