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Ubuntu for servers

By   |  October 20, 2005

Following the slew of new Ubuntu versions released under the Breezy Badger 5.10 banner last week, the Ubuntu team has finalised the server version of the operating system, Ubuntu 5.10 Server.

Ubuntu has seen great success in the Linux desktop environment — a small but growing niche in the IT sphere. While previous Ubuntu versions could be installed and used as servers, Ubuntu never featured strongly in this space, even though it is the traditionally strong sector for Linux.

Whether Ubuntu can replicate its wild success on the desktop in the server environment remains to be seen, although it seems unlikely. Debian, the Linux distribution on which Ubuntu is based, enjoys a strong following amongst server administrators, as does Redhat and Novell\’s Suse Linux.

What Ubuntu Server does have going for it, though, is a small footprint, a wise choice of applications, and out-of-the-box security.

Weighing in at only 400 megabytes with the default installation, the Ubuntu team has obviously given a lot of thought about what one really does and doesn\’t need on a server. The desktops that ship with Ubuntu — KDE and Gnome — are not installed by default (which would account for most of the space saving). Real systems administrators wouldn\’t want them anyway.

Server applications include Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL, PHP, Zope, OpenLDAP, Bind and Samba. It also features multi-processor support out of the box.

Probably the biggest selling point is security, with no network ports active by default. If you want a service, you have to turn it on. Open ports that administrators know nothing about are a major source of security vulnerabilities — a problem that even Microsoft has recognised and is addressing with its Trustworthy Computing initiative. Ubuntu\’s free security updates are also appealing to server administrators.

While an Ubuntu server is cool in concept, server administrators are loathe to swap out working servers to try something new, which means that Ubuntu will be limited in large part to greenfield implementations. Ubuntu has also made a name for itself by using the latest software in its distributions, which is awesome for the desktop but not ideal in the server environment.

The greatest challenge Ubuntu will face in the server market however will be competition. If you think the desktop market is tough, the server market is cut-throat. At least on the desktop, Linux only faces one serious competitor — Microsoft.

On the server side, however, Redmond is joined by IBM, Novell and Sun (to name but a few) on the proprietary side, and has to compete with a host of other Linux distributions too. That\’s not mentioning FreeBSD, NetBSD and the like.

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