By Katherine Noyes and Dietrich Schmitz
Linux may be reaching new heights every day in desktop and mobile computing, but if there's any domain in which its might has long been undisputed, it's servers.
To wit: Linux is now used to run about a third of all websites, W3Techs reports. Linux servers in general now represent 20.4 percent of all server revenue, according to IDC. Then, of course, there's supercomputing, in which it claims a full 94 percent of the world's Top 500.
There are numerous excellent Linux distributions available for use on servers, of course, and their relative merits are frequently debated here on Linux.com and beyond. What's less commonly seen, however, is a discussion of hardware.
Which of the many servers on the market are best for Linux? That, like so many such “best of” comparisons, lies largely in the eye of the beholder. Nevertheless, there have been a number of exciting new advances over the past year that bring a few particular vendors and machines to the fore. Here are the ones we think look best in 2013.
IBM has long been a major player in the Linux arena, of course, but its PowerLinux line offers a few especially compelling options for enterprise users. In particular, the IBM PowerLinux 7R1 Linux server and IBM PowerLinux 7R2 Linux server, both launched last spring, offer a combination of power, security, scalability and reliability that's hard to beat. Those advantages were compounded, in fact, when IBM enhanced both machines with Power7+ processors earlier this year, delivering benchmark improvements of as much as 56 percent. Both machines are optimized for analytics software used in cloud and Big Data applications.
Also consistently on the forefront of Linux server computing is Dell, whose 12G servers were recently certified for use with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. Powered by the Intel Xeon E5, the 12G line includes a range of PowerEdge servers designed for multiple needs and purposes. At the base end of the line, for instance, is the PowerEdge R320 Rack Server targeting core business applications.
HP has significantly increased its presence in the Linux server arena over this past year, including not just becoming a platinum member of the Linux Foundation late last year but also extending its Serviceguard business continuity and disaster recovery service – previously available only on its HP-UX Unix offerings -- to Linux. For enterprise hardware, HP certifies, resells, and globally supports both SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux on its HP Integrity servers based on the Intel Itanium processor 9100 series. Included in the line are entry-level, mid-range, high-end and BladeSystem hardware, all designed with mission-critical use in mind.
System76 is a familiar name to many in the world of desktop Linux computing, and it's particularly well-known for offering solid PC hardware with Linux preloaded. The company also offers a nice line of servers, however, targeting both pedestal and rackmount environments with single and dual Intel Xeon CPU configurations. Featuring up to 96 GB of memory, these machines include an array of enterprise-grade features including redundant power, cooling and hot swap drives. Particularly attractive is the Jackal Pro 2U, featuring up to 21 TB of redundant, high-performance, hot swap storage, enhanced error correction, humidity sensors and hardware-based RAID.
Then, too, there's Pogo Linux, another long-standing vendor of Linux hardware whose single-, dual- and quad-processor Iris rackmount servers are powered by the Intel Xeon E5-2600 product family and offer scalable performance along with considerable energy savings. An extensive list of machines is available, ranging from one with a single Intel Xeon and four hard drives to a high-end, eight-way Xeon compute powerhouse.
Also familiar to many desktop Linux users is ZaReason, which is well-known for using open specifications and for doing a lot of its own custom design and engineering. Included in ZaReason's server line is the ZR 4880, which supports 4x Intel 4/6/8-Core Hyper-threaded Xeon processors. With a 1U form factor, the machine can be packed with as much as 1,024 GB of memory.
Last but not least there's eRacks, whose eRacks/X4X4 is an Intel Xeon 7300-series machine with four CPUs in a 1U system. It features three hot-swap SATA II hard drives and supports both 32- and 64-bit operating systems. Also included is Ubuntu Linux Server and one year of Ubuntu Advantage Essential, but users can choose a different OS if they prefer.
Of course, the Linux server landscape may look quite different next year, as ARM-based hardware becomes more commonplace. Keep an eye on these pages for updates in the meantime.