A server is a computer software or a machine that offers services to other programs or devices, referred to as “clients“. There are different types of servers: web servers, database servers, application servers, cloud computing servers, file servers, mail servers, DNS servers and much more.
The usage share for Unix-like operating systems has over the years greatly improved, predominantly on servers, with Linux distributions at the forefront. Today a bigger percentage of servers on the Internet and data centers around the world are running a Linux-based operating system.
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Just to make you further understand the power of Linux in driving the Internet, companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and many others, all have their servers running on Linux-based server software. Even the world’s most powerful supercomputer runs on a Linux-based operating system.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to this. Below, we have explained some of the major reasons why Linux server software is better than Windows or other platforms, for running server computers.
1. Free and Open Source
Linux or GNU/Linux (if you like) is free and open source; you can see the source code used to create Linux (kernel). You can check the code to locate bugs, explore security vulnerabilities, or simply study what that code is doing on your machine(s).
Additionally, you may easily develop and install your own programs into a Linux operating system because of numerous available programming interfaces you need. With all the above features, you can tailor a Linux operating system at its most basic levels, to suit your server needs unlike Windows.
2. Stability and Reliability
Linux is Unix-based and Unix was originally designed to provide an environment that’s powerful, stable and reliable yet easy to use. Linux systems are widely known for their stability and reliability, many Linux servers on the Internet have been running for years without failure or even being restarted.
The question is what actually makes Linux systems stable. There are many determinants which include management of system and programs’ configurations, process management, security implementation among others.
In Linux, you can modify a system or program configuration file and effect the changes without necessarily rebooting the server, which is not the case with Windows. It also offers efficient and reliable mechanisms of process management. In case a process is behaving abnormally, you can send it an appropriate signal using commands such as kill, pkill and killall, thus dealing away with any implications on the overall system performance.
Linux is also secure, it highly restricts influence from external sources (users, programs or systems) that can possibly destabilize a server, as explained further in the next point.
Linux is without doubt the most secure kernel out there, making Linux based operating systems secure and suitable for servers. To be useful, a server needs to be able to accept requests for services from remote clients, and a server is always vulnerable by permitting some access to its ports.
However, Linux implements a variety of security mechanisms to secure files and services from attacks and abuses. You can secure services using programs such as a firewall (for example iptables), TCP wrappers (to allow and deny service access), and Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) which helps to limit the resources a service can access on a server.
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SELinux ensures for instance that a HTTP server, FTP server, Samba server, or DNS server can access only a restricted set of files on the system as defined by file contexts and allow only a restricted set of features as defined by Booleans.
A number of Linux distributions such as Fedora, RHEL/CentOS, and a few others ship in with SELinux feature included and enabled by default. However, you can disable SELinux temporarily or permanently, if need be.
All in all, in Linux, before any system user/group or program accesses a resource or executes a file/program it must have the appropriate permissions, otherwise any unauthorized action is always blocked.
Linux is so powerful and flexible. You can tune it to meet you server needs: it allows you to do whatever you want (if possible). You can install a GUI (graphical user interface) or simply operate your operate your server via a terminal only.
It offers thousands of utilities/tools which you can choose from to do such things as perform system start up and manage services, add users, manage networking and disks, install software, monitor performance and generally secure and manage your server. It also enables you to choose either to install binary files or build programs from source code.
One of the most powerful standard programs present in Linux is the shell, is a program that provides you with a consistent environment for running other programs in Linux; it helps you interact with the kernel itself.
Importantly, the Linux shell provides practical programming constructs that let you make decisions, execute commands repeatedly, create new functions/utilities/tools, and automated daily server administration tasks.
Basically, Linux gives you absolute control over a machine, helping you to build and customize a server just the way you want (where possible).
5. Hardware Support
Linux has a rock-solid support for a mix of computer architectures, on both modern and moderately old hardware. This is one of the most significant factors that make Linux better than Windows for servers, that is if you have a small budget for hardware acquisition.
Linux remarkably supports relatively old hardware, for example the Slackware Linux site is hosted on Pentium III, 600 MHz, with 512 megabytes of RAM. You can find the list of supported hardware and related requirements for a specific distribution from their official websites.
6. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Maintenance
Finally, the total cost of owning and maintaining a Linux server is lower compared to a Windows server, in terms of licensing fees, software/hardware purchase and maintenance costs, system support services and administrative costs.
Unless you are running a proprietary Linux distribution such as RHEL or SUSE server Linux which require subscription, for you to receive premium support and services, you will encounter affordable costs while running a Linux server.
Studies by Robert Frances Group (RFG) and similar companies, have in the recent past found Linux to be less expensive in a typical server environment comparable to Windows or Solaris, notably for web deployments.
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Linux has today become a strategic, efficient and reliable platform for business systems at many small, medium to big companies. A larger percentage of servers powering the Internet run on a Linux-based operating system, and this has been attributed to the above key reasons.
Are you using Linux on your servers? If yes, tell us why you think Linux beats Windows or other platforms for servers, via the comment form below.