Linux tends to be the operating system of choice for hosted servers thanks to its inherent stability and low license costs. Although there are hundreds of distros to choose from, the decision often comes down to CentOS vs Ubuntu, both of which are seen to be among the very best.
So how do you pick the one that is right for you? First it helps to understand a little about CentOS and Ubuntu.
CentOS is a direct clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, one of the most well-known distributions. The military grade security of Red Hat is trusted by businesses across the world for their operations. It's just one reason why 90% of Fortune Global 500 companies choose Red Hat.
As a result, CentOS is considered to be extremely stable and ideal for mission critical workloads.
Despite this enterprise-grade pedigree, CentOS is completely free to license and distribute. Unsurprisingly, it is a popular choice of operating system for web servers, especially cPanel based servers.
Ubuntu is an off-shoot of the Debian Linux project, and is available in three versions: server, desktop and embedded. Ubuntu Server is packed full of features, making it very easy to get up-and-running quickly.
According to estimates from the W3Techs Web Technology Surveys, Ubuntu is now the world’s most popular operating system for running web servers. Their tests suggest that 34% of all web servers now run on Ubuntu.
But which should you actually choose?
In order to identify which Linux distribution to choose, t's best to compare specific functions of each distro to help select the one that best suits your needs.
CentOS vs Ubuntu – Stability
As an operating system specifically designed for enterprise workloads, CentOS is a great choice for complex, resource-intensive applications. Every CentOS release is designed to last ten years in a production environment – which means that major updates are few and far between. The most recent release, version 7, came into circulation in 2014 and will continue to receive maintenance updates until 2024.
Ubuntu on the other hand is designed to be a more multi-purpose server operating system for use in a wide range of applications. Development is continuous, with interim releases every six months or so. According to the Ubuntu development roadmap, a long-term support (LTS) version is supported for a maximum of five years.
Both CentOS and Ubuntu are remarkably stable, but for heavy duty applications, and minimal server interventions, CentOS may be a smarter choice.
CentOS vs Ubuntu – Security
The CentOS release cycle is relatively slow because the development team prioritizes security and stability over cutting edge features. CentOS would not be a popular choice for enterprise-class deployments if that was not the case.
Ubuntu releases tend to be more feature-rich, adding new functionality with every update. Historically, adding features increases the potential for introducing new security risks – so it’s worth bearing that in mind when choosing a secure Linux distribution. But the Ubuntu development team does release frequent interim security updates to address any bugs that creep in.
Both operating systems are relatively stable and secure, but CentOS probably just edges out Ubuntu.
CentOS vs Ubuntu – Features and functionality
An enterprise-class operating system is intended to provide a rock-solid platform on which to build; functionality is added by installing other software installed on the server. As such, CentOS is a blank canvas that runs in the background behind your applications.
Ubuntu on the other hand is incredibly feature rich. Indeed, every update adds new functions to extend the operating system. Virtually everything you need to build an effective webserver is included with the operating system download.
Your choice of operating system will depend on what your hosted server is supposed to achieve. If you want a super-secure, robust platform to build on, pick CentOS. If you want a fully-functional, feature-rich server that works out-of-the-box, Ubuntu may a better match for your needs.
CentOS vs Ubuntu – Usability
Administering CentOS demands a relatively high level of technical skills – this is an enterprise-grade platform after all. There are tools available– particularly the cPanel control panel – which can simplify many common tasks, saving time and effort in the process.
Ubuntu Server is much more user-friendly, even if support for cPanel-like consoles is lacking (or non-existent). You can always quickly install a graphical user interface onto the operating system for less experienced system admins.
If you are in any doubt at all about your Linux skills, Ubuntu is likely to be a better fit. Ubuntu is very well documented and has an active user community online, making it quite easy to get answers to technical problems.
CentOS vs Ubuntu – Speed
Speed makes the difference between success and failure on the web – in any industry or function. According to Google engineers, your website will lose visitors if it is just 250 milliseconds slower than your competitor’s.
The good news is that there are almost no differences in speed when considering Ubuntu vs CentOS. The physical hardware on which your application runs will be more important in terms of speed than the operating system. If you need a faster website, move to a higher spec managed server package that offers faster/more processors and RAM.
CentOS vs Ubuntu – Making your choice
So, which should you pick, Ubuntu or CentOS?
According to the comparison of features we made above, CentOS broadly wins – but the correct choice depends on you, your business and your hosted server strategy. After all, Ubuntu can do everything CentOS does – perhaps even more.
If you want a server that conforms to the highest standards of enterprise computing, CentOS is a great match. But if you want a machine that is relatively easy to use, and ships with thousands of add-ons and features, Ubuntu may fit the bill.
No matter how well you understand the differences and benefits of both Linux distributions, the decision will ultimately be one of personal choice. You may find that the best way to decide is to download and test them both.
For more help and advice on choosing a server for your project – or to reassess your hosted server strategy – please don’t hesitate to chat with us. We’ll help you find the perfect server for you.