Linux is a pretty flexible operating system. Although it has got a lot of credibility over the years as a stable server platform, it is also an excellent desktop platform. Databases, mail servers as well as many appliances can be installed. Choosing the right hardware and applications is important as many different solutions are often available to resolve a same issue. Using the more conventional solutions is often advisable as updates and support will tend to be available.
Linux supports most hardware on the market, with the increasing popularity of the operating system, more manufacturers are bundling their hardware with Linux drivers. Still, the vast majority of drivers available are coded by Linux users so the more popular your hardware is, the more likely you are to find a driver for it. It is a common idea that recently released hardware will tend to have less Linux compatibility since most users will code their drivers on their spare time.
File System and partitioning
Most distributions today have an option to automatically configure file system. However, you should know how to configure the file system because server platforms work better with customized file partitioning.
First, there are two major tools to configure system partitions: Disk Druid and FDISK (this is the Linux FDISK not the DOS/Win version). Disk Druid is probably the easier tool to use but FDISK offers performance and power.
Using these tools, you know have to partition the drives and assign the proper file system to each partition.
System partitioning will follow different patterns depending on the system you are implementing. It is common sense to plan this accurately in order to get maximum performance. In a way, Linux partitioning is easier than windows because it doesn’t rely on letters (A: C: etc). Instead, partitions have names. This allows for better expandability. In theory, you could only have two partitions: the root partition (represented by a “/”) and the Swap partition. Linux loves Swap space and so it performs better on its own partition. Here is an explanation of the different types of partitions:
- /boot: Minimum 16m, place for the kernels
- Swap: Minimum 128m, place for virtual memory. This should be increased up to the double of ram you have. This is especially important if you are building a database server as those are hungry for swap space. Graphic artist workstations will also appreciate a nice wide Swap partition.
- / : (root) Minimum 250m, place for the basic core of Linux. It includes libraries, system utilities, some programs and the configuration files.
- /Var : Minimum 250m, place for the files that change a lot (logs, mail server components and print server spool files are examples). This should be increased if you are using a server that handles a lot of entries. Mail servers or computers with a lot of security auditing are examples here.
- /usr : Minimum 500m (should be more than 500m), more or less the equivalent of Program Files, programs and applications come here. An application server should have a lot of space here.
- /home : Minimum 500m (should be more than 500m), again, more or less the equivalent of “My Documents” this is the place where the users have their files and specific configurations. File servers should be putting a lot of space here since most users tend to fill up their home folders.
These partitions should be using one of the following file systems:
- Ext2: this is the most common file system for Linux. It offers stability, file permission and speed although it is very sensible to power failures or improper shutdowns. The reason is that it caches data before writing it to disk. In the event of a blackout, the data in the cache might get corrupted. This forces the system to run FSCK on the next boot to detect corruption.
- Linux Swap: As its name says, this is the preferred file system for the swap partition.
- ReiserFS: This is a “newer” Linux file system. It is a journaling file system which basically means that every new entry to the drive gets a corresponding entry in a log (journal) file. In the event of a power failure, the file system can rebuild the missing entries instead of going into extensive integrity checking.
- Ext3: This is supposed to be the next Linux Journaling file system. It is currently still under development and may never be adopted since ReiserFS is growing in popularity.
Popular Applications and Services
The following are key applications and services used in the Linux world. You should understand what they are used for.
- Apache: This is the number one web server for Linux.
- BIND: (Berkeley Internet Name Domain) is the most used DNS server on the internet. It is built on a strong architecture, it is secure and reliable.
- Ipchains: This is used as a firewall, router, gateway, etc. It supports IP masquerading, port filtering and transparent proxy.
- KDE: This is a graphical user interface based on the Xwindows system like Gnome.
- Postfix: A Sendmail alternative with many other options (see also Qmail)
- Qmail: A Sendmail alternative with many other options (see also postfix)
- SAMBA: SAMBA is a SMB client/server application (just as any windows server) that provides smb file and print services. In other words it enables a Linux server to become a file server for a Microsoft based network.
- Sendmail: This is a mail transfer agent. Despite what it is called, it doesn’t just send mail. It is a very complete mail tool that can handle most mail server operations.
- Squid: This is used as a proxy server. Its main function is to cache frequently accessed and to control access to web content.
- Xwindows or Xfree86: This is a graphical user interface just like Gnome and KDE
As you might have seen from the previous sections, most software for Linux is freely available on the internet. Most distributions will be also available in stores near you and will usually carry more goodies than the downloadable versions (often including tech support).
Advantages of Choosing Linux
One of the most noticeable features of Linux is it’s free nature. With the high cost of licenses associated with commercial operating systems, a small priced OS is often more than welcomed by many management staff. However, the most important feature of Linux is its open nature. The fact that the code is available to everybody makes sure that any bug can be resolved by anyone with the proper skills. Note that Linux has also a reputation for having excellent performance and reliability.
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