The 5 Best Linux Servers for Small Business

By Carla Schroder | Posted June 22, 2015
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    Linux servers for small business
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    Linux Servers for Small Business

    Linux powers everything from humble, small business servers to Amazon, Facebook, Google, and the London Stock Exchange. Linux servers offer all the flexibility and power you'll ever need. In this roundup we'll look at some of the best general-purpose Linux servers for your small business.

    All of the Linux small business servers mentioned here run well on modest hardware, plus, they're reliable, stable and secure. You get a complete range of functionality, including essential services, networking and security. Some cater to less-experienced system and network administrators, and some are designed for more experienced IT staff that prefer greater control.

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    ClearOS: Linux server software
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    ClearOS

    ClearOS, which used to be called ClarkConnect, is an integrated network, gateway, and server platform that bundles a wealth of useful features behind a well-organized browser-based administration interface. You get Web, print, messaging and file servers; networking and Internet gateway; VPN; sophisticated user- and resource-management; network charting; databases; and much more.

    Based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and CentOS, ClearOS is maintained by the Clear Foundation. The current stable version is 6.6, and the beta version is 7.0. You may install and use the open source community version for free, or purchase various support options. You can download the software and install it on your own hardware, or you can buy good software/hardware bundles.

    ClearOS has one of the best administration interfaces and superior documentation, so it's a good fit for less-experienced admins or admins who just want to get up and running without a lot of fuss.

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    Ubuntu Server: Linus server software
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    Ubuntu Server

    If you follow Linux news at all, you know that Ubuntu gets a lot of attention, both positive and negative. If you put five Linux fans together in a room, you'll have a hundred opinions and no agreement on anything, so don't let geek controversies bother you. It's what we do.

    Ubuntu Server is a serious server operating system for small businesses that have a good system and network administrator. It doesn't do much handholding, but it is tuned for server work, and it offers a wealth of options so you can tailor it exactly the way you want it.

    It starts with a free open source download. There are no hoops to jump through, no registration or salespeople. Just download and install it. One of Ubuntu's best features is that it has multiple versions (desktop, Server, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, Mythbuntu, and Lubuntu), and all of them are compatible and use the same software repositories.

    No matter which Ubuntu version you're using, you can install any Ubuntu software. Ubuntu's community support is first-rate, thanks to its huge user base and friendly community. Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, offers professional support at various levels including: Ubuntu Cloud integration, the Landscape systems management service, training, virtualization, and integration with multiple commercial cloud services.

    If you're looking for long term support, look no further; Ubuntu releases are supported for five years, and the Ubuntu release schedule is mapped out several years in advance so you know what to expect.

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    Red Hat Enterprise Linux: server software
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    Red Hat Enterprise Linux

    Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is the top dog in commercial Linux distributions. It has first-rate support and services, and provides rock-solid dependability. Red Hat, a pillar of Linux and one of the foundation distributions, makes substantial contributions to Linux and open source year after year.

    Many Linux distributions are descended from it, and you can even get free clones like Scientific Linux and CentOS. Its releases come with the longest support cycles: 10 years, with an optional extended support phase of three years.

    The standard RHEL server subscription is $799 per year, and you get a lot of bang for your buck: unlimited Web and phone support, and response times from 1 hour to 2 days depending on the severity of your issue. Red Hat also has strong database and virtualization capabilities, high availability, cloud, storage products, and partnerships with tier one hardware vendors like Dell, IBM, and HP, which means you can buy RHEL on the hardware of your choice, tuned and ready to run.

    While Red Hat provides superior manuals and RHEL has excellent management and configuration utilities, it's not for a beginner. Of course, you shouldn't let beginners anywhere near your servers anyway. But it's fairly easy for anyone with network and system administration skills to get up and running quickly.

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    SUSE Enterprise Linux: open source server software
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    SUSE Enterprise Linux

    SUSE Enterprise Linux is the other big Linux name. SUSE, like RHEL, is a first-rate business operating system that won't let you down. Priced similarly to RHEL, SUSE also offers great documentation and excellent management tools.

    SUSE offers one product that RHEL doesn't: a point-of-service edition for retailers. It's affordable even for a small shop, though the real cost of any POS is integrating it with your products and inventory, and keeping it updated. SUSE POS supports touchscreens, offers centralized administration and deployment tools, supports network booting and diskless terminals, and has a good graphical configuration capability.

    Another feature unique to SUSE is SUSE Studio. SUSE Studio started out as an easy customization tool for creating custom SUSE images. It still does that, plus it quickly builds custom portable and cloud-enabled application stacks. But that's not all. Everything is cloud and virtualization these days, and so SUSE Studio also builds virtual applications for VMWare, Xen, and KVM.

    If you don't need all that fancy stuff, SUSE Enterprise Linux is still an excellent general-purpose LAN server.

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    Debian and CentOS: Open source linux server software
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    Debian and CentOS

    There is a tie for the fifth spot in our roundup: Debian and CentOS Linux. These are my picks for the experienced Linux admin who doesn't need commercial support or a lot of bells and whistles. Both are lean and efficient, and completely customizable to suit your needs. Both have good community support and a wealth of documentation.

    Debian, like Red Hat, is one of the foundation Linux distributions. Unlike Red Hat, Debian is completely community-maintained and has no commercial interests. Debian and Red Hat represent both sides of Linux and open source. Debian has many offspring, including the popular Ubuntu. Debian doesn't come packaged with a lot of fancy doodads, but it is a mighty power tool in the right hands.

    A clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS usually runs a few weeks behind RHEL releases, all the Red Hat branding has been removed, and it cannot use Red Hat services like Red Hat Network. Security patches and updates are timely, and the excellent Red Hat manuals work fine with CentOS. It's an easy way to get a feel for RHEL, and it's a solid server operating system in its own right.

With a wealth of great open source Linux servers to choose from, here are five top picks to help you zero in on the best choice for your small business.

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