Skip to Content

The most popular Linux for Web servers is…

Even a Linux fan might not have heard of CentOS Linux but, if you’re a Web or other edge-server administrator, I can guarantee you know about CentOS.

That’s because, according to Web Technology Surveys, in July 2010, “For the first time, CentOS is now leading the Linux distribution statistics on web servers with almost 30% of all Linux servers.”

What’s CentOS other than number 15 on DistroWatch’s list of popular Linux distributions? Officially, CentOS is an “Enterprise-class Linux Distribution derived from sources freely provided to the public by a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor. CentOS conforms fully with the upstream vendors redistribution policy and aims to be 100% binary compatible. (CentOS mainly changes packages to remove upstream vendor branding and artwork.).”

What that really means is that CentOS is built from Red Hat‘sRHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) source code, which is freely available at the Raleigh, NC company’s ftp site. It’s positioned as a free or low-cost server alternative to RHEL 5.

In short, it’s the RHEL for expert Linux users who don’t require Red Hat’s support contracts. Mind you, there are also CentOS support companies, but CentOS’ real market is businesses that don’t need hand-holding.

As the CTO of a major West coast Web site told me at OSCon, “We have a large commercial Web site serving tens of millions of page views a month with lots of advertising revenue. We like RHEL, and of course we looked at Red Hat. However, Red Hat’s subscription prices, at about a grand per server per year, were too much for us. We just didn’t see enough value in paying them for support since we already had experts in-house.”

Another reason for CentOS’ data-center popularity is that CentOS is easy to set up as a server. I use it myself on my own Web servers. I find it easy to maintain, easier to manage, and very fast.

There you have the CentOS story in short. It’s not just Linux-savvy Web sites, though, that have adopted CentOS as their favorite flavor of Linux. Oracle, to create its Unbreakable Linux, an RHEL clone, uses CentOS as its template.

So, if you already have a lot of Linux expertise at your fingertips and want to run some serious Web servers, give CentOS a try. It’s not for everyone — there’s a reason why Red Hat does so well with its RHEL subscriptions — but for Linux experts, CentOS is a worthy Linux server alternative.

Apache alternatives
Submitted by Faeron on July 27, 2010 – 4:46 A.M.
So funny that many people keep on using that old and rusty Apache while smaller, faster and more secure alternatives are available for a long time.
For example Hiawatha, Lighttpd or nginx.

Submitted by sjvn on July 27, 2010 – 10:32 A.M.
I think Apache retains its position both because people know how to use it–I’m sure I’m not the only one who could set up an Apache instance in his sleep–and all the other software that you can plug into into it. That said, I do think the other FOSS Web servers deserve more attention than they’re getting. Personally, I like Lighttpd’s speed.

Just my 2 cents
Submitted by William on July 27, 2010 – 2:26 A.M.
Started of with CentOS 5.1 x64 for web server and Zimbra Open Source email server. Upgraded both CentOS and Zimbra over the last 2 years regularly. The system is also Windows file server and ftp server.
By default the system just runs. That does not mean there is never a problem.
Thank you Red Hat, CentOS and all who contribute to Linux and make it work.

Why would anyone pay for an
Submitted by Marge Inoferror on July 27, 2010 – 12:25 P.M.
Why would anyone pay for an OS that is free and open source??

Submitted by Eric on July 27, 2010 – 11:07 A.M.
Actually, that is a good question, who needs to pay for software… that answer, most of the people who actually live in the real world.

High quality software and support are done by professionals. You know, the kind that *don’t* live in their parents basement… that have bills to pay… like student loans, electric, cable, car, house and medical expenses. Someone has to produce an income to pay them. This is typically done by “selling” things.

Don’t mistake “free” as in “freedom” for “free” as in “no cost”. All IT costs, and the better it is, the more it costs. I’ve been in the industry long enough to know that 90% of your problems and 90% of you pain is directly based on the quality of people, services and software that you have in your environment, with an emphasis on “people”, which is always going to be the majority of your costs. Hardware and software are generally small potatoes compared to staffing costs (and having excellent staff always pays for itself in the end).

I know the OpenSource community is all for “free” but you realize that in Big-IT (not small LANS in a home/dorm or small business), if you don’t have support contracts and SLAs, your dead or very soon will be. At the very least, your competition will sieze the oppurtunity to steam roll you when you make a large enough mistake (like AT&T Wireless’ disasterous CRM upgrade the eventually lead to its sale to Cingular years ago).

Red Hat is a decent company that provides good service. Even though their support and RHEL distros come at a price, they are still cheaper then comparable Windows or Apple installs and so they are a bargain.

If a company can support a small fleet of highly skilled admins and also has a core business of dealing with IT, then distros like CentOS are perfect for them. But for businesses whose primary skills are not IT based, they are going to need support contracts to fill in the gaps so they can focus on their business, instead of adding excess staffing to deal with IT management that is not related to their core competenacies.

And even so, I don’t doubt most enterprises with fleets of talented admins, still have support contracts, merely for the fact that they often come in handy when your staff is to busy to devote a considerable amount of time to a problem that you can get the vendor to fix for you.

REd Hat support is bad
Submitted by SL on July 27, 2010 – 3:49 A.M.
I keep hearing about how good red hat support is, unfortunately for our company, the service is probably the worst of any company I have dealt with so far. Our tech support has been dealing with red hat for a satellite server install sending red hat questions and updates on a daily basis and after three months we are at the same point as when we started. Still isn’t running.

When our contract expires, it will not be renewed since it doesn’t help at all and it costs a lot of money.
Read more comments at

Originally published by the Computer World. Read the original story here