The Server OS – Does it matter?Roddy Bergeron
Do operating systems even matter anymore? Despite the fact that most servers can be configured to provide adequate performance with most mainstream operating systems (OSes), the answer is… yes. When you want to lift performance beyond ‘adequate’ and deliver superior performance that will provide better service and improved customer satisfaction, it’s important to consider impact that various hardware capabilities and configurations can have on different operating systems.
How many operating systems will you be running?
The first, and most obvious, question to be answered is just how many operating systems will be running on your hardware.
If you’re just hosting a single instance of an operating system (an increasingly rare circumstance), then the hardware specifications can be tailored to the requirements of the OS and the application(s) it’s running. In practical terms, it means that the maximum memory can be limited to the amount required by the software, and the storage architecture can be tailored to meet its (or their) requirements. That’s not necessarily the case when a server will be hosting a hypervisor and multiple instances of an operating system.
Linux or Windows?
It’s possible this won’t be a question you have to answer because your application choice will pull the operating system behind it. In that case, your choices come down to the hardware specifications that will meet the OS’s needs. Most servers run a version of Linux or Windows and as a rule of thumb, Windows servers will need more resources than Linux servers.
Linux’s configurability gives it an advantage over Windows for dedicated application hosting, as functions and applications that are not required can be removed by an administrator. This reduces the storage and processing load on the server. You can even get a jump on a process by choosing the Linux distribution that most closely matches application requirements before any modifications are made.
Yet despite Windows servers’ heavier resource requirements, there are plenty of reasons why it might be your server OS of choice, including app selection, developer support, technical support and more. Just be aware that you’ll need to carefully configure your hardware to ensure it meets – or exceeds – the memory, storage and compute requirements dictated by your software configuration and intended use.
The relative impacts of Windows and Linux on servers spill over to the virtual machine realm too. It’s a similar story: before any applications enter the picture, Windows will require more compute and storage resources than Linux. Linux’s smaller storage footprint gives administrators greater scope for boosting performance by specifying solid-state rather than disc storage, and its RAM requirements lower too. But again, these more modest hardware requirements aren’t the full story and you’ll need to evaluate and build with your specific requirements in mind.