Canonical’s Ubuntu Server offers a serviceable alternative to server offerings from other Linux vendors and from Microsoft
Canonical and the Ubuntu Project have done great things to help bring Linux to the mainstream desktop. But what about the server edition? If Ubuntu can bring the same level of polish to its server offerings, it should be a formidable competitor to Microsoft and other Linux vendors. Looking at Ubuntu Server 10.04, aka “Lucid Lynx,” there’s a lot to like and also some disappointments.
Is Ubuntu Server as polished as its desktop cousin? In a word, no. The software is solid, and the package selection for Ubuntu Server is fairly deep and comprehensive. For organisations looking for a Debian-like OS with a much more predictable life cycle and the option of support, Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Long Term Support) may be a good choice. All things being equal, I’d probably choose Ubuntu Server over another community server distribution like CentOS, but I prefer Debian-like systems for servers.
Ubuntu doesn’t offer the same kind of management tools that you’ll find with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (Anaconda and other tools) or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (YaST). If the options are RHEL, SLES and Ubuntu LTS, the choice is a bit tougher. The documentation and management tools, barring Landscape, aren’t yet on par with the other enterprise counterparts.
Once set up, Ubuntu LTS is a solid system. It’s an especially good choice for web servers, mail servers and so on. I like the depth of packages that are offered via the Universe repositories, but I’d like to see better management tools in future releases.
Ubuntu 10.04 Server Edition is available for free download. Canonical offers paid support for the distribution, priced at $750 (£505) per system per year for 9/5 support, and $1,200 (£808) per system per year for 24/7 support.
Installation is fairly bare-bones, with a text-mode installer that offers two main choices: Ubuntu LTS Server or the cloud edition of Ubuntu Server. For the most part the installer is simple enough to use, but has a few rough edges. This is especially true when it comes to partitioning. The text-based partitioner is a bit confusing to use and doesn’t handle nonstandard partitioning schemes as well as it could. Lynx also lacks a good option for automated installation, though it’s possible to use FAI (Fully Automatic Installation).
To put Ubuntu Server through its paces, I installed it on several systems, from a dual-Xeon machine with 8GB of RAM to a Atom-based netbook with 1GB of RAM. Though the netbook isn’t suitable for any mission-critical deployments, you can actually run a decent LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Python/Perl) system for a local network off a netbook with 1GB of RAM. I do like the preconfigured selection of software. Ubuntu LTS offers nine software collections, including DNS (Domain Name System) server, LAMP, PostgreSQL, OpenSSH server (which should be installed anyway), Tomcat and Samba. It’s also possible to select software manually during the server installation, if you need to.
It’s worth noting that this is the first LTS to offer the option of encrypting the partitions and home directories for users. I tried Lynx with and without disk encryption and didn’t notice a significant performance hit with encryption.