You may have heard about new data centers being built around the world. Every year the number of these massive facilities increases. These servers use hardware similar to the one you probably own, but just faster and more powerful. You are likely reading this on a Windows or Mac computer. Maybe you are reading this on an iPad. So if they are so similar, why are these servers running Linux? They use the same hardware, but why do most people choose Linux for their server? Why does Linux completely dominate the server market, in regards to Operating Systems?
Most companies choose to run their servers on Linux, because Windows and MAC computers are primarily designed for a good single user experience. Many normal computer users are not concerned purely about speed, reliability, cost, and security. You may consider your computer fast, but these servers can run circles around your home computer before it can even boot up. Linux completely dominates servers.
The Modern Data Center
Think about a computer with 4 CPU processors, each with 64 cores. Would you trade your quad-core or octa-core pc for a 256 core system? Then imagine a bunch of these systems mounted right next to each other, Row after row of loud fans, whining noises, and little LED lights flashing everywhere. That is a datacenter.
Outside of Las Vegas in the middle of the desert, for instance, stands one of the largest data centers in the United States. This data center covers around 3.5 million square feet. Inside those racks of servers, you will find what seems to be just like regular computers.
Next, consider the cost to run all of that. How much is that going to cost on a daily or even annual basis? Does the operating system you are on right now even support one 64-core CPU?
Next, who is a hacker going to write a virus for? Yes, that hacker may want to get into a data center, but with a firewall after firewall, will he ever be able to get in? What if that hacker can just write a little piece of code and infect several thousand of unsuspecting people? It’s a better bang for the buck to just go for quantity as compared to quality for a hacker. Typically hackers focus on the desktop market.
Think about if it was your job to manage or secure a data center. Then decide what kind of equipment you could use, there you would have to consider all these factors. The needs of a server though somewhat similar, have massive differences from the laptop you may be reading this on.
When it comes to personal computer licenses, it can get expensive very fast. Have you strolled down the software aisle at your local electronics store lately? Do you remember how much a copy of Windows costs? The expense of Windows contributes to the domination of Linux in the server market.
Windows Computer Licenses
The big boys in the Operating System world charge a pretty penny when you are wanting to use their software. Each representative will tell you all about how much support they offer, all the updates you will receive, and how they will help you achieve your goals. These are just salespeople like many other salespersons out there. The sales rep has a sales quota they must reach. They probably are not looking out for your bottom line, anyways.
On the official Windows website, Microsoft lists their server prices ranging from $501 to $6,155, per license. You might be able to get a reduced price for getting these in bulk, but that is going to require much more capital upfront.
Oh, did you want some extra features? That is going to cost you also. Do you want 24/7 support? That is another fee. When something does break down, you are calling some offshore tech support center and you cannot even understand the tech at the other end. This is the Microsoft world. Be prepared to pay and pay some more.
Apple does not offer servers anymore
Are you an apple person? Do you want to make sure those new shiny servers have an apple sticker on everyone? Well, to be frank, MacOS Server is dead, read about it over at ZDNet. Sorry, Apple doesn’t have your back when it comes to servers.
Linux Server Operating Systems
Now let’s talk about Linux, which has a long history in the server market. If you have a few small servers you need to run, my suggestion is to always check out CentOS. CentOS is a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Red Hat has been the leader in Linux Server Operating Systems for decades. CentOS can run your small server with ease.
For most people, the easiest way to get your hands on a server is through a VPS (Virtual Private Server) or Dedicated Server. This allows someone to lease a server in a data center. As of the writing of this article, I checked the prices for a VPS on ionos.com. Adding a Windows Server license to a single VPS server is going to cost around $20 a month. That can be an increase of $240 a year for an individual to budget for just for the license over a free Linux distro today.
Why does Linux dominate the server market: cost-effectiveness.
When it comes to reliability, a few things need to be considered. One of the biggest factors is going to their need to run updates. The need to reboot and produce additional downtime can reduce the overall availability of a particular server. When was the last time your Windows machine received the annoying pop-up about updates? You then decide to go ahead and run that update and maybe an hour later you are finally back in business. That can be some serious downtime for a server. Some of those may be critical and others not as important. Many versions of Linux can update without any downtime. This is known as “No Reboot” patching.
One of the most common problems with Windows products is the dreaded blue screen of death. Blue screens can be caused by a whole range of issues, but Windows and their immediate crash dump on a blue screen can cause a major outage. For all that money spent on their software, Windows is still notorious for the Blue Screen of Death.
I have multiple Linux servers. Though I use them nearly daily, I rarely ever have to think about if that server online. Honestly, they just seem persistent. Several Windows workstations I use, even with all the settings set to not hibernate or sleep, are often found powered off regularly or in the middle of another update without even prompting me.
Why does Linux dominate the server market: better reliability.
The thing that makes Linux so versatile and fast as compared to Windows is something called overhead. Think of a large set of light switches in a home and you can turn off many of the lights, especially for the rooms you are not using. These are usually referred to as services or processes. In Linux, you will sometimes see these referred to as daemons.
Linux can run on fewer lights switches turned on, whereas Windows will need to have a larger number of lights always on. Linux users can also opt for certain distros or versions that do not install light fixtures where Windows would always have light fixtures installed and turned on. That is the flexibility to meet the demand your server needs.
My favorite distro for this is to install CentOS minimal version. This will start with a completely bare-bones install of Linux, with the fewest number of services installed while maintaining stability. It has all the basic security ready to go, but then I can install only what is necessary for my task and never have any of the infamous bloatware found on so many systems today. It is like starting with a one-room house and being able to form it to my needs, instead of everyone using Microsoft’s blueprint of a large full-size family home. With a few tries, you can have a fully operational system running in a matter of minutes.
Why does Linux dominate the server market: better speed.
One of the biggest concerns out there lately is the ever-growing data breaches, viruses, and malicious software. Every week another report can be read about another large corporation having a data breach. Has your credit card or social security number ever been on these leaks?
It is a challenge to find exact statistics on this and I would not place a lot of stock on this old report. However, some estimates in the past reported 60,000 viruses/malware for Windows, compared to 40 for Linux. If that ratio is the same today, that is about 1 out of every 1500 malicious software targeting Linux systems.
This is a hotly debated topic, but many people claim that Linux does not anti-virus software. An actual virus on a Linux system is so rare that most of the time your issue will be a bug in the software or user error. Each of the services mentioned previously adds another vulnerability.
Think about another door or a window available for an attacker. The more doors and windows you have, the easier it is for an attacker. One trick is to install as few services as possible. Then you open a firewall port here or there when needed. Just make sure you are using the highest level of security on those points of entry.
You can use very complex passwords, but especially with Linux, you can easily set up public and private keys with SSH. With SSH, you can use 2048-bit SSH keys, which is like a 2,048 character strong password that is transmitted. You would store this long secure password to be unlocked only on your system with a more memorable password. You can then lock it down by whitelisting or allowing only certain sources to connect. In a matter of minutes of work on your end, it would take a hacker a hundred years or more to get anywhere close to gaining access to your system.
If your password is 123456 or password, its time to fix that. You need SSH (secure shell).
Why does Linux dominate the server market: better security.