Dedicated servers exist in many different varieties, and attempting to distinguish between all the different kinds can be rather difficult. This article will focus on some key differences between different operating systems for dedicated servers and explain the difference between Windows servers and Unix / Linux varieties.
Windows Dedicated Servers
To understand Unix servers in all their variety, it is necessary to understand and distinguish them from Windows dedicated servers. Windows dedicated servers are usually more expensive and less used than Linux/BSD servers. It is, however, the preferable option for a variety of software components and some additional other uses where it may be a desirable alternative.
ASP, or Active Server Pages, is a web-based programming language which was developed by Microsoft. There are some software packages which claim to allow ASP to be used on Linux, but there’s nothing that’s very widely used or recommended. ASP runs the best (and arguably only) on Windows servers. Therefore, ASP developers and sites which wish to utilize ASP will use Windows Servers. If a site intends to utilize the ASP programming language, a Windows server would be the logical choice.
FrontPage Server Extensions may also present a reason to use Windows servers. FrontPage is a website editor made by Microsoft. Certain publishing and development features in the software can only be utilized if the server the sites are designed for has FrontPage extensions available. While there is support for this under Linux, FrontPage and it’s extensions were originally designed for Windows servers. There may exist certain compatibility issues with Linux servers and the FrontPage extensions. If a site needs to make use of these extensions, a Windows Server would be the preferable choice.
Windows Servers support most software that runs on Linux also with a few exceptions. PHP, a popular web programming language can be installed and used on Windows servers. MySQL, one of the most popular (and free) database platforms is also available for use on Windows servers. In addition to mySQL, Microsoft also offers it’s own flavor of SQL called called Microsoft SQL Server, or MsSQL for short. While most normal users may not take advantage of high end server software such as ASP or MsSQL, some businesses prefer the support and commercial aspects surrounding Microsoft products, instead of the free and “unsupported” nature of Linux/BSD variants. Larger businesses or those looking to use ASP, FrontPage, and MsSQL may find that Windows servers more closely match what their needs.
Unix / Linux Dedicated Servers
Linux Dedicated Servers vary somewhat from their Windows counterparts. That’s because many different distributions of Linux are available, while only 1 variety of Windows Server is used.. Ubuntu, Redhat, Mandrake, and Debian are all varieties of Linux (and there are still far more). Some distributions appeal comes from the fact that they can be used on a desktop environment as an alternative to Windows, however the ones utilized for web hosting are more geared towards use as a server.
The first of these is called Redhat Enterprise Linux. Redhat Linux was formally a free, open-source operating system but migrated more into the commercial side of things, instead opting for Enterprise-based services. While it is still “open source” technically, the basic subscription package runs over $300. The standard price does include web support for any problems, and more expensive packages can be purchased which include 24×7 phone support. While the costs associated with the operating system may be high, businesses who wish to use utilize a Linux-based operating system with Enterprise solutions and greater levels of support than free, open source operating systems may wish to utilize Redhat Enterprise Linux.
For those that find Redhat Enterprise Linux appealing, but the price tag not so appealing, Fedora may be a better alternative. It’s based off of Redhat Enterprise Linux, but does not include any sort of commercial support. While the two are not the same piece of software, Redhat engineers also work on Fedora, and some of the enhancements to Fedora go into Redhat and vice versa, making the two closely related. While Fedora works perfectly fine in a server setup, it’s more designed for the desktop user in mind. Those who find the desktop environment particularly appealing may wish to use it, however, other operating systems more intended for usage as a server are available. Fedora is available free of charge for use on a dedicated server.
CentOS is an operating system based on Redhat Enterprise Linux like Fedora The newest version, 5.0, and is based off of Redhat Enterprise Linux 5. It differs from Fedora as it’s not designed at all to be a desktop operating system. While limited desktop functions do exist, CentOS is designed for servers. CentOS is one of the more popular choices, as it’s easy to upgrade and maintain, well-supported, and designed specifically for server environments.
FreeBSD is another server operating system that differs slightly from the above Linux ones. While FreeBSD itself is not Linux, it’s quite comparable to Linux. Unlike Linux, all of the utilities on FreeBSD (the programs, the kernel, the shell etc.) are all part of the operating system and developed by the same set of developers, unlike Linux which tends to be a bunch of different programs thrown together in one distribution. FreeBSD also has a reputation of being stable, and for having the longest uptimes out of any other linux-based server environment. It may not be good for a desktop environment or have many “frills”, but FreeBSD’s impressive stability, uptime, and security enhancements make it a solid choice for a dedicated server operating system.
Ultimately, the choice ofÂ which dedicated server operating system to run is up to the user or company using the server. However, an important thing to keep in mind is the software that will be installed. Similar to how only Windows will run sites based on the ASP programming language, certain widely used software may not be able to run on the operating system of choice. For example, cPanel, a popular web hosting control panel, is currently not available for Windows Servers but will run on all of the Linux/BSD operating systems mentioned above. This is an important thing to look at when choosing which server operating system may be right for individual needs.