[opensource] Selecting a Linux server distro?

Timothy Normand Miller millerti at cse.ohio-state.edu
Sun Jan 18 22:05:12 EST 2009

Hey, all.

I have a question about Linux server distros.  I have a quad core box  
here at my house that I use to do heavy computing, file serving, and a  
few other things that are best to run on a stationary system.  Right  
now, I'm running Gentoo, but while it's good for customizing a  
stripped-down system, keeping it up to date is turning out to be more  
of a pain than I had anticipated.  So I'm looking for a new OS to  
install.  Aaron suggested that I might get some good advice by asking  
on the list.

I'm looking at Ubuntu Server to start with.  Interesting differences  
from the desktop are that (I think) it doesn't start X11 by default,  
so you don't have that resource consumption when you don't need it,  
the userspace preemption timer is 100Hz instead of 250 or 1000, the  
use the deadline I/O scheduler instead of CFQ, and in-kernel  
preemption is turned off.  I can see how these things may be useful  
for maintaining higher throughput under some circumstances.

Interestingly, RHEL doesn't do all the same.  For instance, they use  
CFQ instead of deadline.  Most of my workloads are not disk bound, but  
one of them has a data set that is 11 gigs.  I have 8 gigs of RAM.  I  
mmap the file into memory, so as I'm processing, pages that are not in  
memory get faulted in as needed, evicting others.  Maintaining a small  
memory footprint of system services and low I/O latency are important  
for this job.  I also want to minimize CPU overhead of system services.

I like using Ubuntu on the desktop.  I especially like apt-get and how  
it automatically manages dependencies, and downloads packages from the  
net.  While I'm pretty sure that Fedora and CentOS do something  
equivalent with yum, I've found that RHEL appears to be crippled in  
this regard.

I know nothing about SuSE, Mandriva, or anything else, but I'm not  
entirely opposed.  I'm also not entirely opposed to running a BSD,  
although I'm even more unfamiliar with those.

Can anyone help me with this decision?  I'd like to be able to  
basically just install and go, configure things like SAMBA with a  
minimal amount of effort, install packages with apt-get, and upgrade  
rarely but effortlessly.  I almost never sit at the console, although  
a graphical console (1280x1024 on the monitor gives me 160x64 text) is  
nice when I have to.  I want to have to start X11 on only the most  
rare occasions.  Mostly, I just login with ssh and use gnu screen for  
multiple virtual terminals.  Sometimes, I'll run an X11 app on the  
server, with the X protocol directed over the ssh link to wherever I'm  
working from.


Timothy Normand Miller
millerti at cse.ohio-state.edu

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