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Ubuntu Server Evaluation

by mike on 01/29/2010

The Ubuntu server is the most innovative distribution for servers. It enables administrators to gain access to cutting edge technology and implement that with new ideas. If you are looking for the latest and greatest, this is the server option for you.

Focus: rating 9
The Ubuntu focus is to provide an Enterprise level server that is cutting edge in technology and innovative in ideas doing this all with an interest in simplicity. The stated goal of the Ubuntu Server Team is “working on simplifying the system administrator’s life, while focusing on advanced features, rock-solid stability, and high performance”(https://wiki.ubuntu.com/ServerTeam/).

Source: rating 9
Debian was the source of the Ubuntu Server but in time, the distance between these two have increased as innovation has brought new ideas and technologies to Ubuntu. The distance is also created by Canonical’s determination to make two releases every year, on time no matter what. At this point Ubuntu is independent in terms of where it is going and so has no real dependency upon any other distributions and their development. Having a history rooted in Debian’s huge application base fits well with the Ubuntu Server focus and has brought many experienced administrators from the Debian camp to show interest in Ubuntu.

Stability: rating 8
Stability is based upon a user base of installations that provide feedback as well as a determined testing cycle. Unfortunately, Ubuntu cannot be cutting edge and innovative and be as stable as administrator’s would like. The biggest negative feedback that I have received from administrator’s who run Ubuntu in production environments is the number of bugs that seem to creep into the system. If you are unwilling or unprepared to solve small bugs on a regular basis, choose another distribution. Now, not to say that Ubuntu is not stable, it is, but you will consistently be nagged by small issues. The 6 month release cycle does not contribute to stability, other distributions like Debian and Red Hat have learned that.

Security: rating 8
Security and stability work together. As an administrator, you may be concerned about the small bugs and what they do with security. That is certainly something to consider. Again, Canonical cannot provide innovative ideas and hardware device drivers that are cutting edge and at the same time provide the highest level of security, it just is not possible to have both worlds. Developers have tried to implement security principles like logging into the system as an unprivileged user. Complex aspects of security that an administrator may choose like SELinux and ACLs are available but not installed by default. If your organization wants to employ SELinux choose CentOS/RHEL which is designed from the beginning for that purpose.

The Uncomplicated Firewall is designed to be an easier way to manage a firewall from the command line. Unfortunately it is not activated on start up so your server has no network protection initially. The Ubuntu 9.10 server brings three new features to the UFW firewall; outgoing filtering update, filtering by interface and bash completion. This now brings a total of 12 new features since the UFW was first released in version 8.04. Finally, the UFW is reaching a mature stage where you can use it instead of writing rules with iptables. This is a good example of an innovative security option that adds value to the system but was in an immature state for 2 years as it developed.

AppArmor enables protection against those zero day bugs, which is great but, AppArmor has several serious issues. First the future is in question for this application as the developers now work for Microsoft and second, AppArmor requires a creation of a security profile for each application. This creation process is limited by the amount of time an administrator needs to use to implement the application and will never be system wide in scope like SELinux. That said, more profiles are available all of the time.

Blocking the loading of additional modules into the kernel after boot is a security feature added to Ubuntu server among many others.

Cost: rating 9
Access to the install CD and repositories of course is free. Documentation from the community is better than most distributions. Ubuntu as a whole has a fabulous community and they are known for their contribution to documentation and forums. However, any consideration of cost must include the cost of solving small issues that arise with cutting edge software so be prepared to allow administrators time to work with these issues. Also, consider Ubuntu training options for administrators to enhance their ability to understand the Ubuntu system and how to use it effectively.

On the flip side of the coin, developers have been true to their goal of making the Linux server easier to deploy. Without actually installing a wide range of Ubuntu servers you would not be able to understand the hard work that has gone into the Ubuntu server config files. For example, when you install Postfix mail server the default configuration already has keys and TLS set up to make your work a little easier. These innovations are small points that Ubuntu servers do not always get credit for and they certainly will save an administrator time.

Features: 10
In terms of available features Ubuntu servers certainly are rated 10 for ideas that you may want to deploy like, Cloud Computing. The Ubuntu server supports the latest apache, MySQL, PHP, FTP, etc. This distribution is an excellent choice if you need cutting edge versions. Again, what Ubuntu gives up with security and stability it makes up for with features and versions.

JeOS provides a version of the Ubuntu server that is created for appliances. This provides an efficient way to use technology on those lightweight devices that so many organization depend upon.

Landscape, for a fee, allows you to manage a large number of servers from one location.

Ease of Management: rating 10
The use of apt-get is legendary and is a great tool for management. Innovative additions to applications like the configuration offered for Postfix make administration easier and installation process provides simple ways to install applications with security enhancements like MySQL, PHP and apache. Overall, management of the Ubuntu server is made easier by the concepts built into the server install.

Support: rating 9
Support provided by the community in bug reports, forums, and documentation cannot be beat by any distribution. Commercial support is provided by Canonical for those difficult issues that you may be facing.

Summary:
If you are using the latest hardware or if you want cutting edge technology supported by innovative ideas, Ubuntu server is the choice for you. One of the reasons we provide Ubuntu server training is that it provides a real contrast to that of CentOS.

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