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
Ubuntu Server Or CentOS?
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
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
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.