Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

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Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Thu Apr 18, 2013 1:47 pm

So, I should probably explain my current setup.

My current setup is a Dell Dimension 2100, with a 1.1 GHz Coppermine Celeron, 384 MiB RAM, and a generic PCI SATA card (with a RAID BIOS, but it ain't actually RAID, and I'm using Linux softraid). It's running Ubuntu Server 10.04, running a full LAMP stack for various web-based services (my blog and my Tiny Tiny RSS install being the main things), Transmission for torrents (I think I'd prefer sticking with Transmission, so I'd really want an OS that has that packaged for it), as well as being a Samba and NFS fileserver (I'd like to add AFP to that in the future, but the version of netatalk that's packaged for 10.04 is unable to support Time Machine backups, so I've seen no point in it yet). I run a few other minor things (like an irssi session) on it.

The new hardware is a Dell CS24-SC (a custom system that has flooded the market lately, immediate predecessor to the C1100, vaguely similar to a PowerEdge 1950-III, but with four 3.5" bays, and a different graphics/remote management chip, a LSI 1064E SATA/SAS "RAID" controller (it's really fauxraid)). Specs are dual Xeon L5420 (essentially a 50 watt 2.5 GHz Core 2 Quad), 16 GiB RAM.

Really, I'm not tied to Ubuntu or even Linux, although I'm definitely used to it. I could go for just about any *nix here. And, there's enough resources that if something really does need Linux itself, I could always spin up a VM (which, there are things that I'd like the ability to spin up a VM for, so decent virtualization support for whatever I use is important, but that's available pretty much everywhere, and I don't need the main OS to run in a VM, just some guests (Linux and maybe Windows)).

So, here's what I'm looking for:

Relatively low maintenance - set it and forget it is the ideal here. I've found that my Ubuntu server has pretty much done this well, although I've learned to handle updates of web apps manually, rather than through package management (partially because the versions in package management are ancient and insecure), and I don't like that I have to do that - I'd rather have all updates centralized.
ZFS would be nice, but certainly isn't a must-have. There's plenty of things that I like about it, but I realize that this means switching OSes (because Linux and ZFS ain't exactly low maintenance, and I'd rather not go for btrfs right now). And, Linux softraid+LVM can get some of the benefit (but not with anywhere near ZFS's flexibility).
Excellent documentation. Bad documentation sends me into apoplectic fits, and I find that a lot of Linux distros are guilty of this (I don't know how much outright WRONG documentation I've read for various Linux distros). I don't even mind if it's a bit hard to figure something out, as long as TFM tells me how to do it properly.
Good updating policies. My ideal OS would be one that keeps all packages up to date, in a way that avoids breaking things, in a rolling release model. But, that's not really possible. Ubuntu fails here, because the LTS releases don't get good backports, and the non-LTS releases require frequent major upgrades that are to be treated as somewhat dangerous.

I'm thinking that FreeBSD and Solaris/Illumos (but which side of the fork, and which distro if the Illumos side?) are probably where I need to look here, but I'm certainly open to continuing on Linux if that's what's best for me, too.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Thu Apr 18, 2013 2:08 pm

CentOS? It's my understanding they do a good job of emulating RHEL, which itself focuses on stability and security ueber alles. The stuff won't be the most modern (COS 6.4 uses Linux 2.6.32), but IIRC it's well-maintained with security patches & has SELinux. You should be able to upgrade minor releases (6.3 to 6.4, say) easily, but upgrading between major releases won't work & will require a reinstall.

I haven't used it much (I'm a Debian/Ubuntu/Mint weenie) so I can't tell you about the state of its documentation.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Thu Apr 18, 2013 3:33 pm

"Set and forget" and "Rolling Release" don't exactly go together. If you want a "set and forget" you should stick to a LTS release. Rolling releases bring changes to abi's and such and require frequent maintenance.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Thu Apr 18, 2013 3:57 pm

bthylafh wrote:CentOS? It's my understanding they do a good job of emulating RHEL, which itself focuses on stability and security ueber alles. The stuff won't be the most modern (COS 6.4 uses Linux 2.6.32), but IIRC it's well-maintained with security patches & has SELinux. You should be able to upgrade minor releases (6.3 to 6.4, say) easily, but upgrading between major releases won't work & will require a reinstall.

I haven't used it much (I'm a Debian/Ubuntu/Mint weenie) so I can't tell you about the state of its documentation.


CentOS is, bug for bug, RHEL, as long as you don't turn on the Extras repository. Scientific Linux deviates a little bit, but it's still mostly RHEL.

CentOS/RHEL 6 sort of use the 2.6.32 kernel. It's really a RH specific kernel with lots of backports from newer kernels, so it's not as stale as the number implies. The packages are older in CentOS/RHEL then other distros, but they get security updates regularly. RH also has a really good release engineering team.

Minor upgrades are easy. Just update like normal, and that's it. The normal way to upgrade a RHEL server is to replace it with a new server, so yeah, you'll need a backup and restoration plan to install the next major version. The good news is RHEL supports their OS for at least seven years, so you won't have to upgrade if you don't want to.

Documentation is pretty good. The official RedHat documents work for the clones as well, and CentOS/RHEL are very popular.

RHEL and the clones do things differently then Ubuntu or Debian, so there will be a little bit of a learning curve. Ubuntu kid of splits the middle between Debian and RHEL, in terms of the way things are structured.

bhtooefr wrote:Relatively low maintenance

Good updating policies. My ideal OS would be one that keeps all packages up to date, in a way that avoids breaking things, in a rolling release model. But, that's not really possible. Ubuntu fails here, because the LTS releases don't get good backports, and the non-LTS releases require frequent major upgrades that are to be treated as somewhat dangerous.

I'm thinking that FreeBSD and Solaris/Illumos (but which side of the fork, and which distro if the Illumos side?) are probably where I need to look here, but I'm certainly open to continuing on Linux if that's what's best for me, too.


Low maintenance kind of rules out FreeBSD. I really like FreeBSD, but you really need to have a dedicated support structure for it. Ports is awesome, but you're server will be spending time compiling stuff when new updates come out. There are the pkg tools which allow installation of precompiled packages, but the packages aren't guaranteed to be up to date.

Solaris/Illumos are alien worlds. They are very different then Linux or *BSD. They're great at what they do, but they're odd ducks.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Thu Apr 18, 2013 4:13 pm

Personally, I'd just go with Ubuntu 12.04 or Debian Stable and call it a day. But if you're willing to re-learn a bunch of stuff CentOS is probably a viable option.

Stability and having the latest versions of packages are (to a large extent) incompatible goals. IMO closest you're probably gonna get to a production-quality rolling release is using Debian Stable as your base, but selectively pulling in packages from Debian Testing.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Thu Apr 18, 2013 4:28 pm

bhtooefr wrote:ZFS would be nice, but certainly isn't a must-have. There's plenty of things that I like about it, but I realize that this means switching OSes (because Linux and ZFS ain't exactly low maintenance, and I'd rather not go for btrfs right now).


Well, let's go ahead and throw that misconception out the window. Besides getting your Linux install running on root zfs (which still isnt THAT bad), ZFS is really ready for prime time on Linux. I was very skeptical, but a few weeks ago when I read that the latest ZFS for Linux was ready for wide scale deployment I finally dropped OpenIndiana (OpenSolaris fork) and installed my personal favorite Linux distro - Arch - and had my 20 TB zpool imported with 3 commands (after adding the zfs repo to pacman.conf of course(pacman is Arch's apt-get)).

# pacman -S zfs
# systemctl enable zfs.service
# zpool import tank

DONE, 0 issues. Incredible. Something I've wanted for a very long time now. I'm so happy my NAS is Linux and I havn't looked back. ZFS performance seems and feels better under Linux, beleive it or not.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Thu Apr 18, 2013 11:09 pm

ZFS performance seems and feels better under Linux, beleive it or not.


Placebo effect I'm afraid.

http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=n ... px=MTM1NTA
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Fri Apr 19, 2013 5:50 am

thegtproject wrote:
bhtooefr wrote:ZFS would be nice, but certainly isn't a must-have. There's plenty of things that I like about it, but I realize that this means switching OSes (because Linux and ZFS ain't exactly low maintenance, and I'd rather not go for btrfs right now).


Well, let's go ahead and throw that misconception out the window. Besides getting your Linux install running on root zfs (which still isnt THAT bad), ZFS is really ready for prime time on Linux. I was very skeptical, but a few weeks ago when I read that the latest ZFS for Linux was ready for wide scale deployment I finally dropped OpenIndiana (OpenSolaris fork) and installed my personal favorite Linux distro - Arch - and had my 20 TB zpool imported with 3 commands (after adding the zfs repo to pacman.conf of course(pacman is Arch's apt-get)).

# pacman -S zfs
# systemctl enable zfs.service
# zpool import tank

DONE, 0 issues. Incredible. Something I've wanted for a very long time now. I'm so happy my NAS is Linux and I havn't looked back. ZFS performance seems and feels better under Linux, beleive it or not.


I would second this. Furthermore there's already a package for it for Ubuntu 10.04. You wouldn't have to change a thing. Other than making sure you install the linux headers and build-essential before installing ubuntu-zfs it's cake to set up. For home use I haven't had a single problem with it nor have I had to fiddle with it. You set it and you basically let it go.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Fri Apr 19, 2013 6:34 am

What about zfs root, though, in Linux?

I was under the impression that zfs in FUSE was easy enough, but booting off of zfs required building custom kernels. I guess I could have a small boot drive, and then a three-drive raidz, but I'd really rather not do it that way.

And, yes, I do realize that rolling releases and set-it-and-forget-it are at odds with one another. I did say that those were my ideals, though, not that it was actually possible. ;)

In any case, I do have access to decent Solaris support via IRC, and I have run OpenSolaris as a desktop OS before, and found it quite interesting (but its minority status made some things worse than even obscure Linux distros can get). That said, I think I've ruled that out - even the Solaris fans I know seem to have soured on using Illumos-based OSes due to the lack of updates, and Solaris 11's updates (except on an annual basis) are behind what's apparently a quite effective paywall.

I don't mind my server spending time compiling updates, as long as it's mostly automated - I'd prefer not to, but it's no big deal, this thing's hardware is massively overprovisioned for my workload, at least right now (my workload is just now expanding past the capabilities of a 1.1 GHz P3, I mainly got this hardware because it was a great deal, and I knew it'd be enough hardware for my needs for the next ~10 years, with not that much more power consumption). Looking through the FreeBSD handbook, it does look like I should stick to the RELEASE branch and not use STABLE or TESTING, but at least major version updates can be done (but looks like they're hell to do - like, recompile all ports installed on the system).

There's also Debian GNU/kFreeBSD, but I'm getting the impression that that's very much experimental, and shouldn't be seriously used.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Fri Apr 19, 2013 8:17 am

Deanjo wrote:
thegtproject wrote:ZFS performance seems and feels better under Linux, beleive it r not.


Placebo effect I'm afraid.

http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=n ... px=MTM1NTA


I certainly have my disagreements with this article based on my own observations. I'll perhaps run a few of my own benchmarks this weekend. I state this based on the fact that last weekend, my buddy wanted to rebuild his primary pool from a 3 disk raidz to a 6 disk raidz. to do that we copied his pool to my server and saturated my entire Gb LAN the entire transfer. I myself have been able to hold ~900 MB/s writes to my 6 disk pool, and these are lowly 5400 RPM drives.


I used to be Solaris fan, but then I took an arrow---- i mean.... then Oracle (satan) took over. And the slowly progressing of Illumos just isnt my style.

EDIT: I just realized that benchmark page was based on a quickly thrown together test, on a single SSD. We don't even know if the guy properly sector-aligned the zfs pool (still have to do this manually for now).

Also, OP, read this step-by-step and decide for yourself if installing zfs on root is too hard: https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/In ... nux_on_ZFS
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Fri Apr 19, 2013 9:02 am

bhtooefr wrote:I don't mind my server spending time compiling updates, as long as it's mostly automated - I'd prefer not to, but it's no big deal, this thing's hardware is massively overprovisioned for my workload, at least right now (my workload is just now expanding past the capabilities of a 1.1 GHz P3, I mainly got this hardware because it was a great deal, and I knew it'd be enough hardware for my needs for the next ~10 years, with not that much more power consumption). Looking through the FreeBSD handbook, it does look like I should stick to the RELEASE branch and not use STABLE or TESTING, but at least major version updates can be done (but looks like they're hell to do - like, recompile all ports installed on the system).


Ports will build all dependencies automatically, and it's pretty easy to use. I would suggest running "make config-recursive" before installing any new software from ports, so make will step through all of the configs for the dependencies rather then asking about the config when it gets to the package.

Just don't install more then you need. :) Command line stuff usually doesn't take that long to re-compile, but DEs, LibreOffice/OpenOffice.org, and Xorg do.

thegtproject wrote:I used to be Solaris fan, but then I took an arrow---- i mean.... then Oracle (satan) took over. And the slowly progressing of Illumos just isnt my style.


Oracle ceded the market to Linux when OpenSolaris was closed down.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Fri Apr 19, 2013 11:11 am

Flatland_Spider wrote:Oracle ceded the market to Linux when OpenSolaris was closed down.


Indeed man, which is a damn shame. Solaris was incredible. And for those reading, if you enjoy a good history read, read up on the company Sun and all their achievements- truly an amazing company and a damned shame they went down.

The least they could have done was make licensing compatible with dtrace and zfs, but we all know they have every intention on monetizing these technologies to the fullest extent.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Fri Apr 19, 2013 11:44 am

thegtproject wrote:Solaris was incredible. And for those reading, if you enjoy a good history read, read up on the company Sun and all their achievements- truly an amazing company and a damned shame they went down.

The least they could have done was make licensing compatible with dtrace and zfs, but we all know they have every intention on monetizing these technologies to the fullest extent.


Sun had an amazing track record, and it was sad to see them go.

It will be interesting to see if ZFS and Dtrace become interesting footnotes in software history. Btrfs is supposed to be Linux's answer to ZFS, and I'm not sure if people are still excited about Dtrace anymore. Dtrace was already pretty niche.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:29 pm

The latest Debian is probably what you want. I'm not sure but it seems you want mostly a file sever that runs Apache.

You could install Slackware and have the best of the lot but it's really for learning about *nix. If that's what you want slak is your distro. A bit user hostile and you did say you wanted good documentation so apart from the usual man pages there is always source to read.

ZFS is sorta fun but I would not go through serious changes just to run it unless learning about *nix is really important.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Fri Apr 19, 2013 7:57 pm

What virtualization software are you thinking about running?

For KVM, RHEL/CentOS/Scientific Linux and Fedora are best since it's Red Hat's virt baby. I would say it's best at running headless servers or desktops that are going to be accessed remotely. LXC support is coming along in Fedora, but it hasn't made it to RHEL and the clones yet.

Debian and Ubuntu are probably best for Xen.

Virtualbox works well with different distros, and it provides the best the desktop experience.

FreeBSD's virtualization support is lacking. Jails is the best option, and that's really a container technology.

Edit: It wasn't clear what I was talking about in the second sentence.
Last edited by Flatland_Spider on Sun Apr 21, 2013 9:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Fri Apr 19, 2013 8:15 pm

My Ubuntu server does a pretty good job running a kvm virtual machine, fwiw. kvm requires VT-x or its AMD equivalent, and OP's new rig should have that.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Sun Apr 21, 2013 10:06 am

I've only run KVM under Red Hat stuff, so I can't comment on how well it works in Ubuntu or Debian.

I did leave out the Ubuntu or Debian have been supporting LXC longer then Fedora has, so I would suspect the support is more advanced in those distros.

Then there is OpenVZ, which looks to be best integrated with Debian.
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Sun Apr 21, 2013 7:54 pm

I'm in the same situation (I saw your post in the tax refunds thread, almost bought the same Dell, then spent just a bit more on an IBM with double the hardware) and will be running MS Hyper-V server 2012 for all of my virtualization. I plan on running one or two CentOS systems, an Oracle Enterprise Linux system and a Windows Server 2012 system. I went with Hyper-V because it's light as just a hyper-visor, it integrates well with Windows Server, and I have a bit of experience with it.

I'm personally going full virtualzation because it allows for easier upgrading later down the road, and will allow me to run distinct servers for distinct tasks (Windows development, Linux development, Web Server, learning Oracle).
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Re: Debating what OS to go with for my "new" server

Postposted on Mon Apr 22, 2013 9:46 am

Ended up going with FreeBSD, I do have decent support via IRC, and the FreeBSD docs seem to be pretty decent. Compiling things from source is kinda annoying, but eh, I can deal with it, the box has a ton of left-over power.

ZFS was far more of a pain to set up than it was in the OpenSolaris boxes that I've run with ZFS, but I figured it all out, so... and I think it worked a little better than the guides for ZFS root on Ubuntu or Debian.

Otherwise, wasn't that hard to get everything going. Most everything is now migrated over, just a few things to finish up before I decommission the P3 box.
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