Linux is the favorite and most popular OS(operating system) for millions of engineers worldwide. It provides a lot of freedom and flexibility if you’d like to modify every operating system component. That’s exactly what makes it one of the most popular free operating systems nowadays. This article will cover the small number of the most commonly used Linux systems or Linux server distros, more commonly known as Linux server distributions, and consider to implement Linux distributions and using them like cloud servers.
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Jumping ahead, I think every successful cloud engineer nowadays should know at least the basics of Ubuntu and CentOS because other operating systems are very similar to them. You may face these Linux distros(distributions) in every area of modern IT, such as cloud computing for its virtual networks, Docker, Serverless, or Kubernetes clusters.
Great question! So, there are so many Linux distributions available. Where should you get started?
As for me, the most important factors for choosing a Linux distribution are:
- Popularity / Community size
For example, every Linux distros(distribution) tries to solve a specific problem. For example, Gentoo’s target audience is tech geeks and professionals, RedHat targets large Enterprise companies, and Amazon Linux has everything you need to use the AWS cloud servers platform effectively, so you must first think of the exact requirements you need before making a decision.
The second factor is probably the most important because it means that more people can answer your questions at StackOverflow if you need some help.
Now, let’s briefly review the most popular Linux distributions and consider using them in the cloud.
For me, Amazon Linux is one of the best Linux distros and the standard de facto when it comes to working in the AWS cloud as its cloud provider.
This Linux distribution is designed to provide a stable, secure, and high-performance execution environment for cloud applications running on Amazon EC2 instances. It supports the latest EC2 instance type features and includes packages that enable easy integration with AWS.
AWS provides security and maintenance updates to all EC2 instances running this OS. The Amazon Linux is available for you at no additional cost when using it as Amazon EC2 operating system.
The Amazon Linux Server Operating System comes with pre-installed AWS API tools and CloudInit. AWS API tools help you to automate any task from within an Amazon EC2 instance effectively.
CloudInit allows you to automate the instance configuration process at launch time via the EC2 user-data fields.
Benefits of Amazon Linux
- Optimized performance for the cloud
- Predictable long term support from AWS
- AWS integration and automation tools out of the box
- Extras repository for bleeding-edge software
- Secure by default
- Live Linux kernel patching
Amazon Linux is a good choice for:
- Cloud servers at AWS cloud
- On-premises servers
Ubuntu is one of the most widely used Debian-based Linux distributions. It is an extremely popular choice as a Desktop distribution, and the Ubuntu server is a good cloud server OS for different cloud providers, as a base OS for Kubernetes and OpenStack platforms.
According to The 2020 HackerEarth Developer Survey, many users, to be more specific, 66% of experienced developers prefer Ubuntu as well.
This particular distro, Linux distribution, is secure by default. It is also highly scalable and optimized for the performance of your application and container workloads.
Paid support, including 24/7 phone support, is available for you from the Canonical organization, including the most up-to-date software and OS patches, applications support, and infrastructure management solutions like OpenStack, K8s, LXD, MAAS, and Ceph.
Benefits of Ubuntu
- Fast learning curve
- The most vibrant community as a support
- An extremely popular choice for servers and desktops
- Multiple cloud provider’s support including AWS, GCP, Azure, and many others
- The ideal choice for hosting on-premises workloads
- Extended security for your infrastructure and applications
- Various purpose-built configurations for the cloud, Desktops, and infrastructure management platforms
- Most of the required applications are pre-installed and the rest of them can be downloaded from the official repositories.
Ubuntu is a good choice for:
- Desktop OS
- Cloud workloads
- On-premises infrastructure
This operating system is entirely open-source and widely used as a general-purpose Linux distribution. Debian is community-based and is one of the oldest Linux distributions that has been survived since 1993 (more than 20 years old).
In comparison with other distributions like Linux Mint and Ubuntu, Debian has slower development cycles. This makes all the features of Debian more conservative and stable than others, which can be very beneficial in various situations.
Benefits of Debian
- Freely available, reliable, and stable Linux-based operating system
- Various hardware support
- Foundation for an endless number of other distributions
Debian is a good choice for:
- Hosting traditional workloads in the cloud
- Hosting traditional workloads at on-premises
Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is a business-oriented Linux distribution for workstations and servers. This Linux distro is based on the open-source Fedora project. The core software is open-source and available for free. Red Hat utilizes trademark law for prohibiting the redistribution of their official Red Hat Enterprise Linux applications.
RedHat Enterprise Linux is heavily relying on Fedora and CentOS communities. The newest software and features are released for Fedora first, then they are migrating to CentOS distribution, and finally, they become available for the Enterprises using RedHat.
The RedHat company is applying many efforts to make the most popular open-source software available for large enterprises by improving software stability and packaging it to ready-to-use distributions with lots of additional multiple package management tools.
Benefits of RHEL
- Enterprise support in the cloud and at on-premises
- Secure and stable operating system with Red Hat Compatible Kernel (RHCK) and applications running on it
- Easy to configuration and automation
- Professional RHEL certifications are the most valuable and demanding in the industry
CentOS stands for Community Enterprise Operating System. It is another general-purpose free Linux distribution that has been developed by a large community of enthusiasts all over the world. It is compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and has the same administration concepts as RHEL and Amazon Linux. I prefer to think of it as a free alternative to RHEL, first of all.
CentOS has official images for AWS, GCP, and other cloud platforms, so even beginner CentOS Linux users and administrators shouldn’t have any difficulties getting started using it.
CentOS is an excellent choice for everybody looking for a popular general-purpose Linux distribution or learning how Linux operates. It is free, and it has almost the same core applications, concepts and commands for managing the operating system you’ll be using if you need to start using RHEL or Amazon Linux.
Benefits of CentOS
- Free and completely opensource Linux distribution
- Vibrant community
- Similar to RHEL and Amazon Linux
- Supported by major cloud platforms like AWS, GCP, Azure, and others.
CentOS is a good choice for:
- Hosting traditional workloads in the cloud
- Hosting traditional workloads at on-premises
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server was brought to the market by a German-based multinational open-source software company – SUSE. This Linux distro is one of the most common on-premises and cloud-based server solutions for hosting SAP workloads. Like RedHat, SUSE focusing on the Enterprise market segment and provides a reliable operating system for desktops and servers.
Benefits of SUSE
- Enterprise hardware and software support
- A lot of tools for centralized deployment and administration
- SAP workloads support
SUSE leads development efforts for OpenSUSE Linux, which is one of the most secure community-sponsored Linux distributions. Despite SUSE’s leadership and long-term support are very important for the community, the OpenSUSE project is legally independent of SUSE.
SUSE Linux Enterprise and OpenSUSE share the same codebase that makes openSUSE a great choice as a non-commercial version of the enterprise-grade operating system.
Other Linux distributions
There are many other Linux distributions available for you that you can use in the cloud. But those distributions have smaller niche purpose-built communities, and they are primarily focusing on solving particular problems.
If you’re new to the Linux world, I strongly encourage you to get started from Amazon Linux, Ubuntu, Debian, or CentOS.
Here’s a link to Google Trends that shows the search volume for the reviewed Linux distributions. And I hope that helps you to make a final decision in your research.
In this article, we’ve briefly reviewed the most popular choices of Linux distribution suitable for deployment as cloud servers. All of them are the best cloud Linux distro; they provide great features and cover all the needs you might have.
I hope this article was useful for you. If so, please, help us to spread it to the world!
I’m a passionate Cloud Infrastructure Architect with more than 15 years of experience in IT.
Any of my posts represent my personal experience and opinion about the topic.