Ubuntu Server – Fit for Production or a Change in the SA Guard?

I’m curious what anyone who reads this blog thinks. My first reaction when someone mentions Ubuntu server is to grab the nearest trout and start slapping. Don’t get me wrong I like Ubuntu. It’s very nice on a workstation, and suitable for my wife, mother, aunt, etc …. But do you really think its good enough for prime time in the data center? According to a server-survey conducted by the Ubuntu marketing team almost 80% of users see Ubuntu as ready for mission critical use.

I was quite shocked when I first saw that. Then I dug a bit deeper. Turns out they announced surveys “variety of Ubuntu forums, websites and other channels”. They do note that “consequently, the results are focuses on Ubuntu users and not general Linux users”. I am not saying that I would _never_ run Ubuntu as a server. I just don’t think its proven itself yet. Perhaps in another LTS release or two I may consider it. I also know there is a chicken and egg paradox there. It of course won’t prove itself until people start putting it to the test.

I think this also brings up another interesting point. The survey noted that “95% of respondents considered hardware support as important to very important”. Included in the survey was a chart that listed Ubuntu users hardware preferences. Not surprisingly Tower/Desktop PC topped the list, but Dell servers, HP/Compaq x86 Servers, IBM x86 servers, and SUN x86_64 servers were also on the list. At the time of the report “Ubuntu Server Edition did not come pre-installed on machines from any major provider”. What happened to the desire for “Enterprise Support”?

I have long been greatly annoyed by “Enterprise Support”. More often than not it just gets in my way and to stay supported I have to do things in a less than optimal way. It would not hurt my feelings if the demand for “Enterprise Support” decreased and the demand for “knowledgeable individuals” increased. I would love to take the money spent on “Enterprise Support” and channel it back into training. Unfortunately I just don’t see that happening.

So what do you think? Do you think Ubuntu is ready for production? What does the lack of vendor support say about Ubuntu or the direction of “Enterprise Support” needs? Are you running Ubuntu in production (for anything serious, not your home server …)? Have any good or bad Ubuntu server stories to share?

19 Comments

  • Patrick Linux Opera 9.80 wrote:

    Personally I don’t see what makes using Ubuntu in the server area so different. To me Linux in general is all the same, aside from the few that don’t use RPM or DEB. Apache is Apache, PGSQL is PGSQL, etc. Honestly I would rather use FreeBSD however due to it not getting as much notice these days I still continue to use Linux. The *BSD’s offer real innovation whereas Linux is really just …. a kernel and software… I used to get excited about Linux but now it’s more of a hmm ok *another one* kinda feeling. Nothing new here is what I think nowadays. Solaris/OpenSolaris have ZFS, Crossbow, containers (can be solaris or EL), dtrace, smf, RBAC, etc. These are items that are built-in not thrown together shamelessly. Sorry if I seem to be bashing Linux but lately I’m not feeling the whole Linux vibe… Looks like we still have a lot of work to do.

  • Linux is Linux, but all distros are not created equal IMHO. All the Solaris tools are nice, zfs is cool but there have been a few data loss bugs recently, kinda scary for “end to end data integrity”. I’m not super keen on running the latests packages on my servers typically, security updates yes, fancy new features no.

  • Ray Van Dolson Linux Firefox 3.5.9 wrote:

    I have no doubt that Ubuntu LTS is a quality distribution, but my hesitation would stem from past _good_ experiences with our current Enterprise Linux vendor (Red Hat) that I’m not sure Ubuntu could replicate.

    We do occasionally have bugs that need addressed… and being that we’re a pretty savvy shop, it’s generally the issues that need escalation to an engineering team that end up being the ones we open service requests for.

    With Red Hat, I am confident that they have the programming/engineering resources to fix my problem. Often times I end up working with one of the key authors of a particular piece of software within Linux. This is an advantage Red Hat has as an employer of a good chunk of the Linux development talent out there…

    Anyways, at this point I know this is _not_ something Canonical can provide. They would be more dependant on upstream than being able to devote engineering resource to resolving an issue for me.

    This obviously is an issue that’s more important for some customer groups than others… but it’s one that factors into my decision making process for sure.

  • Henry Debian Firefox 3.5.6 wrote:

    I’m curious as to what your take is on using debian in production given your hesitance towards Ubuntu.

    I’ve been running debian at my company, which admittedly isn’t true enterprise as we only have ~200 users, for many years. Pretty much all of our infrastructure is debian testing and unstable. We run dozens of internal applications and services and have yet to run into any problems. These servers have been the most stable servers at the company.

    We don’t generally run Ubuntu on servers but we do run it on one server, our mail server. We use Zimbra for email\calendering and Ubuntu is actually one of the supported platforms. Since we’ve set up our mail server we’ve had issues with the Dell array it’s connected to but never the mail server itself or it’s operating system.

  • Legooolas Linux Google Chrome 5.0.366.2 wrote:

    I’ve been running a mix of CentOS and Ubuntu on servers at my current employer (~50 employees), and had almost exclusively much more pleasant experiences running Ubuntu than CentOS. Software is much more recent versions, and _so much more_ is packaged already for you that you rarely end up building anything yourself. Yes, there are extra repos for CentOS/RHEL packages, but adding extra external repos doesn’t feel that…safe?

    I’ve also run labs of (~100) machines from Debian unstable, and the rolling updates make keeping things patched for security or new packages that people want installed straightforward.

    I have been a Debian user for a number of years though, so my opinion is definitely biased by that.

    At least some of the needing “Enterprise Support” depends on what software you run; Run-of-the-mill file-serving, web things and that are all pretty straightforward on any distro, and hardware support doesn’t show up as a problem unless you have to run a particularly old vintage of a distro for a particular third-party (CentOS 4…) which doesn’t support newer SATA controllers…

  • @Henry – I prefer Debian. But Debian has been around a long time and has a track record for quality releases. As I said I’m not _against_ Ubuntu on a server. Deploying in a limited fashion as you appear to have would be a good test ground. I think I would like to see Ubuntu server gain more ground. I’m just interested in how many people really trust Ubuntu Server Edition at this point. Maybe I am just being crotchety about new things.

  • @Legooolas – I find it interesting that you perceive the Centos extra repositories to be “unsafe”. I kind of have that feeling about anything outside of the standard Ubuntu repositories (universe/multiverse/partner). But I have the “feeling” that EPEL is safe. No doubt you get newer packages with Ubuntu, some of that is nice, some of it I guess comes off to me as perhaps not having been throughly tested.

  • I really like Debian but needed more timely releases. For the past few years, Ubuntu has met the need very well. They’re very quick to release security updates and I’ve never had to roll back a security update due to a bug.

    I like having the benefits of Debian system but with a predictable release schedule (instead of “We’ll release it when it’s done”) I like setting up a server knowing that I won’t have to do a full upgrade for 3-5 years.

    Years ago, SuSE was my preferred distribution but they were taking weeks for security updates and it got frustrating with some of the larger security bugs.

  • Coreigh Linux Firefox 9.10 wrote:

    I have been using 8.03LTS since it was released without any problems. HOWEVER I use it on an internal network with only 50 users and I don’t use it as a DNS. So this isn’t much of a testimonial, but my point is; it will never be ready for prime time unless some of us “go out on a limb” and try to use it in the real world.

  • Legooolas Linux Google Chrome 5.0.366.2 wrote:

    @Nick EPEL feels moderately “safe”, but when you’re onto things like rpmforge to get anywhere near the packages you need it starts feeling much less so… (and making rpms myself or installing from source are possibilities, but since there are alternatives like Ubuntu I try to avoid that ๐Ÿ™‚

  • @Coreigh, we’ve been running familylink.com on various versions of Ubuntu for almost 2.5 years. So there’s a larger testimonial for ya ๐Ÿ™‚

    @Legooolas, I’m with you on avoiding custom packages and installing from source. One of the reasons we run various versions of Ubuntu is that our devs needed a more recent php version on our webservers, so we run a shorter release cycle version on those and LTS versions for all of our other backend servers. I’m too lazy to custom compile packages.

  • John_M Windows XP Firefox 3.6 wrote:

    I am running Ubuntu Server 8.04 on three Servers for almost two years without a hitch. I have a VM server which hosts two or three VM’s at a time, a DMS/Webserver, and a file server.

    Granted, I have a small network (>10 people, but can swell up to 20 if we have a gaming party), but the servers have held up. I patch from the Universe almost exclusively, to avoid issues.

  • I’m sure it’s good enough for server /roles/ but perhaps not running in the same role for 5 years. The whole point behind RHEL and SLES is that they can /guarantee/ support for that particular platform for a specific period of time measurable in years. When I’m deploying a server, and especially if I’m deploying a third party application onto it, platform stability matters, so RHEL/SLES keeping the same major versions of major software packages is a GOOD thing. Ubuntu, and to the same extent openSUSE, has short release cycles in order to maintain currency relative to the greater Linux ecosystem. Fixing a major problem with Ubuntu may require a version upgrade, where with RHEL/SLES it’s far more likely a problem will be backported into my release.

    Ubuntu/openSUSE are good if you need agility in what you’re supporting. RHEL/SLES are good if you need stability.

  • John_M Ubuntu Firefox 3.5.9 wrote:

    @sysadmin1138:

    While I bow to your experience with RHEL/SLES, I have not had to change/upgrade versions of Ubuntu to keep it current. If that had been
    case, then I probably would have switched to another distribution by now. One (the many) reason(s) I did not go with others was due to that same issue. while I am surprised at the lack of issues that I have had to deal with, I also do not operate in a true production environment with many users.

    @All: Thanks for sharing your knowledge. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I don’t think there’s anything particularly “unfit” about it in a server capacity, it’s just not my cup of tea. I don’t like the way that it initializes, I’m not that fond of apt-get, and when choosing between CentOS or Ubuntu, the choice will always (at least, in the foreseeable future) be CentOS.

    That’s not to say that LTS Ubuntu isn’t ok. It is. I’m running it on my work desktop. I’ve been running Ubuntu there since I switched from Slackware 10.1 or 10.2, and it’s fine. I installed Dapper Drake, followed the distro upgrade route until I got to Hardy Heron, and stopped there. I’ll probably upgrade to the next LTS when it’s stable.

    Of course, that’s my desktop. It’s not tragic if that goes down (which it has). There are just some significant management issues I personally haven’t worked through to get it where it should be. I’m certain that it can be done, but for every hour I invest into that, I lose an hour somewhere else, and I already have a working solution.

  • I personally feel that 10.04 is the release that’s finally made Ubuntu good enough for production use, and I’m planning to use it for production servers. Some of the older ubuntu version get random kernel panics on HP servers. Quite annoying, but then they are old. They are also not looked after by myself so whether this is because updates have not been applied, who knows? Basically, if it can be as stable as Debian, but with the newer packages, MySQL 5.1 for example, then it’s checking all the boxes.

  • BOK Mac OS X Firefox 3.6.4 wrote:

    Ready for PRD? Ehr… see my tweet at http://twitter.com/BOK/status/14389637593
    Ubuntu is not MY choice for PRD-servers, personally I would stick with CentOS.

  • @BOK that is exactly the type of thing that concerns me about Ubuntu. To be fair though you were running a non-LTS release. I would be interested to know if it handled upgrading between LTS releases any differently.

    Also, thats why with servers I really don’t like to upgrade between major release versions and favor re-install.

    Thanks for the note!

  • Martijn Windows other version Firefox 3.6.16 wrote:

    We’re running Ubuntu Server 10.04 LTS 64-bit on about a dozen production servers for webhosting. They’re all running on VMware ESXi hosts.

    It was a gamble when we started , but so far I’ve been impressed with the stability and functionality. Our previous choice of Debian stable was often simply too old for our needs. Ubuntu’s more modern packages mean we can stick to a limited number of repositories. Availability of Ubuntu packages by commercial software vendors has been good.

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