Before looking at options of the best Linux server distros, you must have a specific target and clear overview of what you are trying to achieve with this Linux Server OS. The hardware of servers is optimized for maximum efficiency, uptime, and security. These Linux distros for servers also balance between power consumption and computing power. These Linux Server OS focus on serving content to client devices and feature server creation tools does not give importance to GUI. Hence most of the Linux server OSs are headless.
Let’s see some of the best Linux server distros and what each one helps you pick the best one for your business.
Debian GNU/Linux 8 (Jessie)
Debian is over 20 years old and one of the best Linux distros designed with top priority for security. The security is not everything when you consider Linux Server Distros, the stability is the top priority. Why are many of the Linux distros for servers Debian-based! The quick answer is stability. For installing packages, you can use API tools, package manager provided, Gdebi being one of the tools.
If you are looking for an easy-to-set-up email, online game, or media server, this Linux server OS is for you. But this Linux distro for server is limited to such users alone. If you have have more specific server requirements, you can also depend on this. But this one is for quite advanced users as it demands some expertise for setting up. The basic version of this Debian GNU Linux server, which is the Network Boot image, that is coming with a pretty low size 30MB of size.
Download: Debian GNU/Linux 8 (Jessie) (Free)
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Ubuntu Server LTS
Ubuntu might be familiar for the majority of users as an alternative desktop operating system for Windows. Probably you might have used a derivative of Ubuntu when you switched to the Linux platform since the list is so vast, popular, and stable. One thing that makes Ubuntu popular is its marvelous user experience. When it comes to Ubuntu Server, you have two options to choose from.
The first variant of the Ubuntu server is the LTS version (Long Term Support). This LTS version of this Linux distro offers a five-year support cycle. The second Ubuntu Server variant is the rolling-release with nine months of maintenance and security updates. One of the pros of Ubuntu Server is, that this headless Linux server is an out-of-the-box server ready.
Ubuntu server is one of the best Linux Server distros for you if you are a newbie to server operating systems. For newbies, this free Linux server can act as an entry-level server. However, this server is not limited to basic functionality. More advanced server setups are out of reach for Ubuntu.
Download: Ubuntu Server LTS (Free)
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Open SUSE Linux Enterprise Server OS
This Linux server OS is based on the open-source openSUSE Linux distro, formerly known as SUSE Linux. Open SUSE has two derivatives: Leap and Tumbleweed. For those who are looking for Linux server distribution with longer release cycles and stability, then Leap is meant for you. Tumbleweed, on the other hand, fashions rolling release with up-to-date packages such as Linux kernel and SAMBA, which is apt for power users.
OpenSUSE has much more features such as openQA for automated testing, Kiwi to deploy the image on various platforms, Linux configuration utilizing YaST control center, and a comprehensive package manager. OpenSUSE only downloads minimum required packages, and for further package downloads, you can utilize Zypper package.
If you are too busy for lengthy troubleshooting calls, OpenSUSE have you covered with 24×7 rapid-response support. OpenSUSE is one of the best free Linux server distros, more suited for system administrators. This enterprise Linux server demonstrates great performance as a home server OS, web server or even as a combo of both. Apart from the top-notch server capabilities, it has an appealing desktop environment.
Download: Open SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (Free)
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Fedora Linux distro is based on the Red Hat and is community developed, and there is a good backup from community members for regular updates. The Rolekit tool of Fedora allows users to deploy and manage their servers. There is a powerful database service called PostgreSQL is included.
A server operating system does not necessarily require a GUI, and by default Fedora server lacks the same. But you may install GUI if you prefer for handling the OS. Fedora Linus server includes FreeIPA (an integrated security information management solution), which aids to perform auditing from a central location, manage authentication credentials, and access control information. Fedora is best for system administrators and experienced Linux developers.
Download: Fedora (Free)
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CentOS is the acronym for Community Enterprise Operating System, and one of the best Linux Distro derived from Red Hat. In fact, it is a reasonable clone of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux(RHEL). The CentOS Linux distro aims to help users develop open source technologies on Linux servers.
About 30 percent of overall Linux servers are operated on CentOS, the reason is the stability. Full updates are available for CentOS until the end of 2020, and the maintenance updates will be available until June 2024. Thus users are free from the hassle of upgrading in the near future.
The beauty of this best Linux server OS is, that the CentOS can perform pretty well on mainframes. Due to the community support and regular updates, CentOS is almost a bug-free Linux server OS. CentOS is an excellent solution for those looking for an advanced Linux server operating system and a free RHEL variant. The minimum size iso file available for CentOS is 680MB.
Download: CentOS (Free)
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)
Red Hat is a major player in the data center game. This Enterprise Linux Server has pretty good support, almost non-stop, which includes ten-year support for major releases. RHEL not only has a long and quality commercial support but also offers stability operating system for servers.
Enterprises looking for scalability improvements can depend on RHEL as this server OS offers every major update. RHELL Linux distribution includes a new file system that can scale up to 500 TB. This Linux server also has a Docker container virtualization technology.
Download: Red Hat Enterprise Linux(RHEL) ($349)
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Mandriva is known for prioritizing security and stability. Mageia includes a variety of environments such as KDE, GNOME, Xfce, and LXDE. When it comes to databases, Mandriva uses MariaDB instead of MySQL. Servers such as Kolab Groupware Server and 389 Directory Server are also included with this Linux distribution.
Since this light server distribution fashions a variety of environments, Mandriva is suitable for GUI-thirsty users. The tools like MariaDB and Kolab Groupware Server make this Linux server distro a very dependable Linux server. Apart from this, stability and security make it more desired.
Download: Mandriva(Mageia) (Free)
ClearOS is built for servers, network systems, and gateway machines based on RHEL and CentOS. The standard version of ClearOS, which was formerly known as ClarkConnect, has security enhancement features. This Linux server OS features intrusion detection, email server, firewall, and bandwidth management tools.
ClearOS has its paid variants, but for the free version, users can rely on the Community Edition of ClearOS. The updates are also free but not tested. This Linux fashions an administration interface with high-level documentation, ideal for less-experienced administrators.
Download: Clear OS (Freemium)
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Arch Linux is noticed for being a simple and lightweight OS. Like many other Linux distros, Arch Linux also consumes fewer resources than its counterparts. This lightweight Linux server distro properly allots resources to ensure maximum uptime and server efficiency.
A pre-packaged server release is unavailable for Arch Linux, so users must create their own. The updates are rolling release models. You can use Pacman package manager to get the updates with full dependency tracking. Arch Linux is for that user with good technical knowledge to set up a server since a default server release is not provided.
Download: Arch Linux (Free)
Slackware is not a newbie in the server distro game, it has been in the game since 1993. This Linux Server OS features X Window System and several servers (email server, web server, news server, and FTP server). Slackware is another one of the Linux Servers to hold that lightweight tag when you talk about lightweight Linux servers.
The updates of Slackware ensure simplicity and stability furthermore. Package managers such as pkgtools and slackpkg are featured by this Linux server distro. But then Slackware boots into command line interface implies that Slackware suits more advanced users who can work on command line interface.
Download: Slackware (Free)
OpenSUSE Leap is another great choice of linux for servers. It’s the standard OpenSUSE release known and preferred for its stability. Leap uses a source from SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE), another great choice already mentioned on this list. That, in part, gives it the stability it’s known for. OpenSUSE is available for desktops, laptops as well as servers.
OpenSUSE is also available as a rolling release in Tumbleweed, but that’s meant mostly for PCs. The cloud-agnostic design gives you more freedom and has multimode architecture. OpenSUSE is one of the very popular distros. As a result, it has a large online community that can be very helpful should you run into issues. There are no separate ISOs available for servers. However, the default installer does provide the option for server installation.
Download: OpenSUSE Leap (Free)
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Fedora CoreOS was previously known as Container Linux. This is the second Fedora labeled secure Linux distro for servers on this list. Fedora CoreOS differentiates itself, however, because it’s designed to run containers. Fedora CoreOS is an “automatically-updating, minimal operating system for running containerized workloads securely and at scale.”
Red Hat acquired CoreOS in 2018 because of its container-optimized environment. For the uninitiated, Red Hat is also responsible for Fedora. Hence, Fedora CoreOS is Red Hat’s solution for container deployments. Fedora CoreOS ships pre-installed with both docker and podman.
Apart from being available in three different streams, Fedora CoreOS is also available as cloud-launchable images for Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Azure, OpenStack, Vultr, DigitalOcean, and more.
Download: Fedora CoreOS (Free)
Oracle Linux is compiled from the Red Hat Enterprise Linux source code and is open-source. As a result, it’s compatible with RHEL’s entire application library. It’s packaged and distributed by Oracle. This Linux server distro packs in many tools that make it suitable for memory management, file organization, and virtual environments and data systems.
While the distro is free, Oracle does offer paid premium support, which makes it a direct competitor of RHEL. Oracle is optimized specifically for use with Oracle database and other Oracle products. It uses the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel, a custom kernel built and optimized for Oracle software.
Download: Oracle Linux (Freemium)
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There is a variety of Linux server distros available out there. Most of these Linux Distros are the best Linux server distros and perform well but are limited to certain users and businesses. Not all of these Linux server distros are for everyone. Each one of them is meant for different types of users who are targeting different business models. Understanding your use and expertise is important before choosing a server operating system. I hope the above list helps you get a sufficient server OS for your organization or home use.
Just to keep you on track:
Fedora is base distro like Debian and Slackware. These are not based on any other OS.
RedHat is “frozen” version of two Fedora releases. Ubuntu is derived from Debian to be commercial offering. CentOS is RedHat supported open sourceversion of RHEL and gives testinground dor development on Enterprise Linux without cost of lisensing.
Fedora and Debian are comparable distros like RedHat and Ubuntu LTS.
There are lots of good distros for home use but in business RH/C/F landscape gives least headaches. ( I have Linux experience in business use since 1996)
Appreciate the suggestions and thank you for your time. We will review the information and update.
Harri, you are wrong. Fedora is from RH. Since you’ve been using Linux since 1996, you’ll remember when RH was just another distro and it was free, like Mandrake. Fedora is a fork from RH. Ubuntu is a fork from Debian – another base.