The interest in the Ubuntu Server is directly related to the interest in the Ubuntu Desktop.
As a Linux Trainer, I have access to as many as 75 different students each week. These students are typically IT people from small organizations who have a Windows administration background and now since their company sees the cost savings of Linux are moving to Linux Servers. A typical pattern that I see is people who have a GUI preference, little understanding of the Linux OS in general and want a fast easy path to managing a Linux Server. The other typical aspect of these users is that they have a Linux laptop loaded with, yep you guessed it, Ubuntu. Easily 75% use Ubuntu as a Desktop experiment.
No one argues too much that Ubuntu dominates the Linux Desktop. That is clearly seen in all of my contact with people that I train. So how does the experience with the Ubuntu Desktop impact a choice for a Server OS and should it?
The impact that the Desktop has on the Server choice is in the following:
1. Easy Administration
Sure everyone likes easy, no one but an idiot wants hard. But, can you label a text based only server as easy. Yes installation is fast, slick and one click options for things like the LAMP Install, but is that easy administration? No, it may be easy install but in reality CentOS is just as easy to install. I don’t know how many people have told me that they selected Ubuntu because the LAMP install was so easy. Well with CentOS it is simply:
yum install PHP mysql-server
One command, but the perception is that CentOS is more difficult. Just not so. My point is, there is no such thing as “Easy Administration”, Linux servers, especially from the command line, will take Windows based administrators some time to come up to speed on administration.
2. Community Based Support
Now this is really an interesting aspect. Red Hat probably has the largest most fully developed Pay for Support available for any Linux distro. Ubuntu’s Pay for Support is not well known, in fact many users had no idea that it was an option. But Pay for Support is not what Ubuntu Server admins are looking for. They are looking for the FREE Community based support. This is where Ubuntu shines. Their community based support both at the site and across the Internet is much better known than any other distro. This is the support that Ubuntu users are used to and what they think will be the answer for the server as well.
3. Cutting Edge Technology
Here is one of the major differences of philosophy between Red Hat/CentOS based servers and Ubuntu Servers. Red Hat/CentOS focus very thorough testing of drivers and applications. Whereas Ubuntu, because they pride themselves on being on the cutting edge, focus on drivers and application versions that, well…they have not been as completely tested. Again, much of this acceptance is driven by Ubuntu Desktop users who choose Ubuntu based on the ability to better detect wireless drivers for their laptop and this cutting edge thinking has carried over to the Server choice. Cutting edge is great, but you will certainly be exposing your server to greater risk in bugs and security issues with this type of focus.
4. Simple Security
Here again, Ubuntu’s lack of security focus is what draws users and what will eventually create serious issues for Ubuntu users. The “Uncomplicated Firewall” by Ubuntu is a good example. The attempt to create a firewall that is easy to manage is a misnomer. You just cannot do it …simple firewalls on a server are bad firewalls. What I mean is, you cannot just boil security for an Ubuntu server down into a few basic commands. One of the reasons administrators look at Ubuntu as an option is that it is not using the dreaded SELinux that Red Hat/CentOS uses by default. The fact that 90% of all Red Hat/CentOS servers have turned off SELinux seems to be lost on Red Hat people. The point is, users came to the Ubuntu Desktop because of it’s simple security, and now that carries over to the Server.
So what’s my point?
I believe there is trouble on the horizon for Ubuntu administrators in general. Organizations that choose a server OS based on Simple Administration, Community Based Support, Cutting Edge Technology and Simple Security are likely to regret it. That is not to say that the Ubuntu Server is a bad choice. Organizations need to choose Ubuntu Server with a focus on training their administrators in the difficult aspects of server administration. They need to evaluate fee based support and reject the temptation to just “google” all of their solutions. Organizations must carefully evaluate if they need cutting edge drivers and if not, carefully eliminate applications that could be potential risks. And finally, business must get serious, very serious about security. Security is not simple…it is hard work. If an organization will carefully evaluate these issues their Ubuntu Server experience will be much more rewarding.