An Introduction to Linux as a Server

Although it’s relatively obvious at first sight what a Linux Desktop is, because we’re all familiar with Windows and the two are not that dissimilar, the term Server often has people diving for cover. It’s the box in the corner of the office that nobody touches, or even the box in the computer room that nobody sees. Because very few people interact with it, it’s not an every day occurrence and hence, as a rule not well understood.

Desktop and Server Linux, what’s the difference?

Essentially there is no real difference, apart from tuning and the choice of software installed from the CD by default. To put it into motor vehicle terms, it’s akin to having an ‘Economy/Sport’ button on your dashboard .. basically the same car, but you can flick a switch to tune it differently depending on how you want to drive it.

The most immediate difference you will see is that the server version tends not to install the Graphical User Interface by default but instead leaves you with a command line interface, the textual installer looks something like this;

Beyond that, whereas Desktop Linux is tuned to run with one user at a time, providing as quick a response as it can to user interaction, Server Linux aims to be more efficient at handling non-interactive processes where response time is far less critical but the ability to handle heavy loads over long periods of time the prime concern. Things that are affected tend to be system parameters, memory allocations and Kernel schedulers, often things you don’t see or even know about, but things that can make quite a bit of difference once you start to stress your computer.

What is a Server good for?

Typically anything you might want to do using a Windows server, you are likely to be able to do with a Linux server, it just you won’t pay as much (if anything) for the software, it’ll take less time to install, once install it’ll probably run faster, and once it’s running it will be far less likely to crash.

Typical uses for a Linux server might be;

As a web server or office intranet server
As a CMS or CRM server
As a file server serving files to Windows and /or Linux users
As a Voice over IP telephony server / PABX
As a ‘terminal server’ for remote users
As a mail or domain name server
As an application server for online applications
As a database server
As an infrastructure node in a Cloud Computing configuration


Obviously the list is almost infinite, bear in mind also that ONE Linux server can provide ALL of the above functions, you don’t need a difference box for each one. If you’re now asking yourself, “so why do I need that Windows Server that I just paid £4000 for?”, the answer generally speaking is “you don’t”. And the follow up, “can’t I just put Linux Server onto a £500 PC and use that instead?”, 9 times of out 10, the answer is “yup!”.

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