In this article, I'll share the top Linux distros for enterprise environments. Some of these distros are used in server and cloud environments along with desktop duties. The one constant that all of these Linux options have is that they are enterprise grade Linux distributions -- so you can expect a high greater degree of functionality and, of course, support.
What is an enterprise grade Linux distribution?
An enterprise grade Linux distribution comes down to the following – stability and support. Both of these components must be met to take any Linux distribution seriously in an enterprise environment. Stability means that the packages provided are both stable to use, while still maintaining an expected level of security.
The support element of an enterprise grade distribution means that there is a reliable support mechanism in place. Sometimes this is a single (official) source such as a company. In other instances, it might be a governing not-for-profit that provides reliable recommendations to good third party support vendors. Obviously the former option is the best one, however both are acceptable.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Red Hat has a number of great offerings, all with enterprise grade support made available. Their core focuses are as follows:
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server: This is a group of server offerings that includes everything from container hosting down to SAP server, among other server variants.
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop: These are tightly controlled user environments running Red Hat Linux that provide basic desktop functionality. This functionality includes access to the latest applications such as a web browser, email, LibreOffice and more.
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux Workstation: This is basically Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop, but optimized for high-performance tasks. It's also best suited for larger deployments and ongoing administration.
Why Red Hat Enterprise Linux?
Red Hat is a large, highly successful company that sells services around Linux. Basically Red Hat makes their money from companies that want to avoid vendor lock-in and other related headaches. These companies see the value in hiring open source software experts to manage their servers and other computing needs. A company need only buy a subscription and let Red Hat do the rest in terms of support.
Red Hat is also a solid social citizen. They sponsor open source projects, FoSS advocate websites like OpenSource.com and also provide support to the Fedora project. Fedora is not owned by Red Hat, rather its development is sponsored instead. This allows Fedora to grow while also benefiting Red Hat who then can take what they like from the Fedora project and use it in their enterprise Linux offerings. As things stand now, Fedora acts as an upstream channel of sorts for Red Hat's Enterprise Linux.
SUSE Linux Enterprise
SUSE is a fantastic company that provides enterprise users with solid Linux options. SUSE offerings are similar to Red Hat in that both the desktop and server are both focused on by the company. Speaking from my own experiences with SUSE, I believe that YaST has proven to be a huge asset for non-Linux administrators looking to implement Linux boxes into their workplace. YaST provides a friendly GUI for tasks that would otherwise require some basic Linux command line knowledge.
SUSE's core focuses are as follows:
- SUSE Linux Enterprise Server: This includes task specific solutions ranging from cloud to SAP options, as well as, mission critical computing and software-based data storage.
- SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop: For those companies looking to have a solid Linux workstation for their employees, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop is a great option. And like Red Hat, SUSE provides access to their support offerings via a subscription model. You can choose three different levels of support.
Why SUSE Linux Enterprise?
SUSE is a company that sells services around Linux, but they do so by focusing on keeping it simple. From their website down to the distribution of Linux offered by SUSE, the focus is ease of use without sacrificing security or reliability. While there is no question at least here in the States that Red Hat is the standard for servers, SUSE has done quite well for themselves both as a company and as contributing members of the open source community.
I'll also go on record in suggesting that SUSE doesn't take themselves too seriously, which is a great thing when you're making connections in the world of IT. From their fun music videos about Linux down to the Gecko used in SUSE trade booths for fun photo opportunities, SUSE presents themselves as simple to understand and approachable.
Ubuntu LTS Linux
Ubuntu Long Term Release (LTS) Linux is a simple to use enterprise grade Linux distribution. Ubuntu sees more frequent (and sometimes less stable) updates than the other distros mentioned above. Don't misunderstand, Ubuntu LTS editions are considered to be quite stable. However I think some experts may disagree if you were to suggest that they're bullet proof.
Ubuntu's core focuses are as follows:
- Ubuntu Desktop: Without question, the Ubuntu desktop is dead simple to learn and get running quickly. What it may lack in advanced installation features, it makes up for with straight forward simplicity. As an added bonus, Ubuntu has more packages available than anyone (except for its father distribution, Debian). I think where Ubuntu really shines is that you can find a number of vendors online that sell Ubuntu pre-installed. This includes servers, desktops and notebooks.
- Ubuntu Server: This includes server, cloud and container offerings. Ubuntu also provides an interesting concept with their Juju cloud "app store" offering. Ubuntu Server makes a lot of sense for anyone who is familiar with Ubuntu or Debian. For these individuals, it fits like a glove and provides you with the command line tools you already know and love.
Ubuntu IoT: Most recently, Ubuntu's development team has taken aim at creation solutions for the "Internet of Things" (IoT). This includes digital signage, robotics and the IoT gateways themselves. My guess is that the bulk of the IoT growth we'll see with Ubuntu will come from enterprise users and not so much from casual home users.
Why Ubuntu LTS?
Community is Ubuntu's greatest strength. Both with casual users, in addition to their tremendous growth in the already crowded server market. The development and user communities using Ubuntu are rock solid. So while it may be considered more unstable than other enterprise distros, I've found that locking an Ubuntu LTS installation into a 'security updates only' mode provides a very stable experience.
What about CentOS or Scientific Linux?
First off let's address CentOS as an enterprise distribution. If you have your own in-house support team to maintain it, then a CentOS installation is a fantastic option. After all, it's compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and offers the same level of stability as Red Hat's offering. Unfortunately it's not going to completely replace a Red Hat support subscription.
And Scientific Linux? What about that distribution? Well it's like CentOS, it's based on Red Hat Linux. But unlike CentOS, there is no affiliation with Red Hat. Scientific Linux has one mission from its inception – to provide a common Linux distribution for labs across the world. Today, Scientific Linux is basically Red Hat minus the trademark material included.
Neither of these distros are truly interchangeable with Red Hat as they lack the Red Hat support component.
Which of these is the top distro for enterprise? I think that depends on a number of factors that you'd need to figure out for yourself: subscription coverage, availability, cost, services and features offered. These are all considerations each company must determine for themselves. Speaking for myself personally, I think Red Hat wins on the server while SUSE easily wins on the desktop environment. But that's just my opinion – do you disagree? Hit the Comments section below and let's talk about it.