Sunday, 24 January 2016
Posted by Gary Newell |  at 21:55 No comments
Many businesses have the need to integrate web hosting into the mix of services they offer. CMS professionals, web developers and designers, eCommerce consultants, and marketing agencies, often find that the best way to integrate web hosting with existing services is not to use an established hosting company’s reseller accounts but to develop a hosting platform over which they have complete control. It’s not as difficult as you might think — if you can handle Linux server administration and choose a good web hosting control panel, all you need is the server.
With the plethora of physical and cloud server hosting options available, the infrastructure itself isn’t a problem. But before installing a web control panel and starting to sell hosting, vendors have a decision to make: which operating system is the best option?
The answer to that question will almost always be Linux, but there are any number of Linux distributions to choose from. We can rule out desktop Linux operating systems immediately — although it’s perfectly possible to build a hosting platform on a desktop-focused distro like Linux Mint, that’s not what they are designed for. I’d also advise that, for most hosting scenarios, prospective web hosts put aside distributions with complex installation procedures — Gentoo and Arch Linux come to mind. Again, both are perfectly feasible options in the hands of experts, but they’re not ideal for fast installation and easy management.
That leaves us with Linux distributions specifically designed to be used on the server and easy to install. There are many options in this category, but for web hosting I’d suggest either CentOS or Ubuntu Server.
Ubuntu Server is the server-focused version of the hugely popular desktop distribution. Ubuntu is based on Debian, which means that it uses the APT package manager. If you choose Ubuntu, the most sensible option is to opt for a Long Term Support release of Ubuntu Server. On the server, LTS releases are supported for five years. That matters to hosts who value stability over novelty — you don’t want to have to upgrade the entire operating system frequently.
CentOS is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and uses the YUM package manager. Originally, CentOS was a free clone of RHEL created to provide a RHEL-compatible operating system without the Red Hat support price tag. In recent years, CentOS has been sponsored by Red Hat, the organizations work closely together, and most of CentOS’ lead developers work for Red Hat, but CentOS does not have official Red Hat support.
CentOS has a longer support schedule than Ubuntu. The current CentOS release is fully supported until 2020 with maintenance releases to 2024.
If you were to survey the web hosting industry, you’d find that almost all web hosting companies use CentOS. There are various reasons for the popularity of CentOS — its perceived stability; its compatibility with RHEL, which is heavily used in enterprise; and its long support cycles.
A consequence and cause of CentOS’s popularity among web hosting companies is that many software packages aimed at web hosts have exclusive or enhanced support on CentOS. That’s of most importance for companies that intend to use a web control panel like InterWorx or CPanel, both of which only have official support for CentOS.
Because of CentOS’s longer release cycles and focus on stability, it tends not to have the newest versions of software available. That’s not usually a concern for web hosts who prefer tried-and-tested stability — no one wants their web hosting taken down by a software bug. It is possible to add third-party repositories with more up-to-date packages, but if you want newer packages out of the box, Ubuntu Server is a reasonable choice.
Ultimately, both CentOS and Ubuntu Server would make a good choice for a company intending to deploy a dedicated server or small cluster of servers for web hosting, but the longer support cycles, the obsessive focus on stability, and the availability of software like control panels makes CentOS the superior choice. CentOS isn’t better than Ubuntu Server, but in the use-case we’re considering here, it’s most pragmatic choice.
About the Author
Gary Newell started the Everyday Linux User blog in 2010 and has written reviews on dozens of different Linux based operating systems. He has also written a number of tutorials.
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