Most companies expect DevOps engineers to possess highly technical skills, as well as knowledge of development and operations practices. It is no surprise, then, that DevOps engineers choose Linux as their working environment. Linux is a stable platform that enables fast growth at scale. However, it often requires the integration and management of tools. That’s the role of a Linux distribution.
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There are a lot of Linux distributions for DevOps engineers. From commercial Linux distributions like Red Hat to community-supported Debian. With so many available choices, you might wonder—which Linux distribution is best for DevOps? This article reviews the most popular Linux distributions for two main DevOps use cases.
2 Reasons Why DevOps Teams Need a Linux Environment?
- A unified operating system environment
There are two main Linux use cases for DevOps engineers. The first involves DevOps workstation operating systems. In this case, engineers prefer Linux distributions that simplify development and enable them to run management tools. In addition, workstation distributions should virtualize other operating system environments for testing purposes.
- A production server deployment platform
Another major Linux use case for DevOps is a production server deployment platform. In this case, engineers want a stable, secure and well supported Linux distribution. Additionally, the distribution has to support different deployment environments like virtual machines, containers or bare metal.
There are many other reasons for setting up a Linux environment for DevOps like uploading files to web servers, building a private cloud or custom networking hardware. However, these use cases are not so common.
3 Linux Distribution for a DevOps Workstation
The list below includes some good options for Linux distributions for a DevOps workstation.
Ubuntu is an open-source Linux distribution based on Debian. Ubuntu is the most widely used Linux distribution, used by over 38% of all Linux users. Since Ubuntu is very popular, you can easily find dedicated DevOps documentation and tools. In addition, Ubuntu offers both community and commercial support.
Ubuntu is great for DevOps because of the built-in add-ons and robust packing system. You do not need to install additional tools. Ubuntu also offers a user-friendly interface called Unity.
Community Enterprise Operating System (CentOS) is a free Linux-based operating system distribution. CentOS offers a free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) Linux distribution. DevOps engineers usually use CentOS with server workloads, but it can also function as a DevOps workstation operating system.
CentOS is a reliable alternative for DevOps teams that use RHEL servers and software but prefer not to install RHEL on their workstation.
Fedora is a Linux distribution created by the Fedora Project community and sponsored by Red Hat. Fedora is not an exact clone of RHEL, but there is a great deal of compatibility between Fedora and RHEL due to a couple of factors. First, Red Hat supports Fedora’s development. Second, Red Hat uses Fedora to develop and test new RHEL technologies.
Fedora is a good fit for open-source DevOps tools since it ships only with open source components. The Fedora forum is a friendly community for sharing problems and finding fixes.
5 Linux Server Distributions for DevOps
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)
RHEL is a server operating system for DevOps workloads. RHEL provides enterprise-grade support for popular DevOps tools and environments like Docker, Kubernetes, and OpenShift. Companies usually prefer to use enterprise-grade systems in production environments. As a result, most DevOps engineers will need to use RHEL during their careers.
RHEL is a paid platform, which can be a drawback for some people. However, if you are looking to host enterprise workloads, RHEL would be a great choice.
- Ubuntu Server
Ubuntu is also a good choice for DevOps teams that host enterprise server workloads. Ubuntu server is relatively new in the server market. However, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, successfully competes against established names like Debian thanks to the support for technologies like Kubernetes and OpenStack. Ubuntu also supports less popular deployment technologies, such as Canonical's LXD container platform.
Debian is an enterprise server operating system with a Linux kernel. Debian prioritizes stability and security over integrating new software packages and tools. The stable environment of Debian makes it perfect for servers. In addition, Debian offers a larger software library then Ubuntu and supports more hardware architectures. It can even support the IBM System/390 mainframe hardware.
OpenSUSE is a Linux distribution designed for DevOps engineers interested in running their own server. DevOps teams can get a server up and running with an easy-to-use 'Text Mode' installer rather than install a desktop environment.
OpenSUSE automatically downloads the essential packages and installs the required software. The YaST Control Center enables you to configure network settings, like server static IP. In addition, you can download and install essential server software such as postfix by using the built-in Zypper package manager.
- Arch Linux
Arch Linux is a free and open-source distribution for x86—64-based server architectures. Arch is a rolling release that constantly gets updates and new features. Arch also has a very simple, step-by-step installation process.
The problem begins when you face a blank post-installation screen and must install all the basic requirements. You have to choose components, and build a customized operating system from scratch. DevOps engineers can learn a lot while getting their environment ready. Experienced engineers prefer Arch Linux because it is highly customizable and it enables to build a personal system.
There is no one best Linux distribution for DevOps, but there are platforms that are more suitable to your preferences and needs.
RedHat Linux distributions are expected to dominate enterprise companies in the near future. CentOS plays an equally important role in non-production environments. For DevOps engineers interested in getting started with Linux, the ideal choice would be Ubuntu, because of their user-friendly interface.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand the differences between popular Linux distributions, and find a solution that meets your standards. If you need more information, you can check out this beginner’s guide, or let this site choose for you.
Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Imperva, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership.