Free linux servers for small business

If you follow Linux news at all, you know that Ubuntu gets a lot of attention, both positive and negative. If you put five Linux fans together in a room, you’ll have a hundred opinions and no agreement on anything, so don’t let geek controversies bother you. It’s what we do.

Ubuntu Server is a serious server operating system for small businesses that have a good system and network administrator. It doesn’t do much handholding, but it is tuned for server work, and it offers a wealth of options so you can tailor it exactly the way you want it.

It starts with a free open source download. There are no hoops to jump through, no registration or salespeople. Just download and install it. One of Ubuntu’s best features is that it has multiple versions (desktop, Server, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, Mythbuntu, and Lubuntu), and all of them are compatible and use the same software repositories.

No matter which Ubuntu version you’re using, you can install any Ubuntu software. Ubuntu’s community support is first-rate, thanks to its huge user base and friendly community. Canonical, Ubuntu’s parent company, offers professional support at various levels including: Ubuntu Cloud integration, the Landscape systems management service, training, virtualization, and integration with multiple commercial cloud services.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is the top dog in commercial Linux distributions. It has first-rate support and services, and provides rock-solid dependability. Red Hat, a pillar of Linux and one of the foundation distributions, makes substantial contributions to Linux and open source year after year.

The standard RHEL server subscription is $799 per year, and you get a lot of bang for your buck: unlimited Web and phone support, and response times from 1 hour to 2 days depending on the severity of your issue. Red Hat also has strong database and virtualization capabilities, high availability, cloud, storage products, and partnerships with tier one hardware vendors like Dell, IBM, and HP, which means you can buy RHEL on the hardware of your choice, tuned and ready to run.

While Red Hat provides superior manuals and RHEL has excellent management and configuration utilities, it’s not for a beginner. Of course, you shouldn’t let beginners anywhere near your servers anyway. But it’s fairly easy for anyone with network and system administration skills to get up and running quickly.

There is a tie for the fifth spot in our roundup: Debian and CentOS Linux. These are my picks for the experienced Linux admin who doesn’t need commercial support or a lot of bells and whistles. Both are lean and efficient, and completely customizable to suit your needs. Both have good community support and a wealth of documentation.

Debian, like Red Hat, is one of the foundation Linux distributions. Unlike Red Hat, Debian is completely community-maintained and has no commercial interests. Debian and Red Hat represent both sides of Linux and open source. Debian has many offspring, including the popular Ubuntu. Debian doesn’t come packaged with a lot of fancy doodads, but it is a mighty power tool in the right hands.

A clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS usually runs a few weeks behind RHEL releases, all the Red Hat branding has been removed, and it cannot use Red Hat services like Red Hat Network. Security patches and updates are timely, and the excellent Red Hat manuals work fine with CentOS. It’s an easy way to get a feel for RHEL, and it’s a solid server operating system in its own right.