December 27, 2000, 1:09 PM — The era of open source computing has come to nearly dominate servers that power the Web, and open source infrastructure popularity now extends from intranets to enterprise network operations centers. While pioneers like Novell once dominated enterprise network infrastructure, flavors of Linux made into commercial distributions (known as distros) are making headway as cost-efficient engines for file-and-print, Web-based applications, and communications/networking infrastructure products against strong competition from Microsoft, Novell, Sun and IBM.
We took a close look at several commercial Linux distros targeted towards stand-alone, enterprise server installations to assess whether companies selling this packaged open source code are coupling it with the tools and services necessary for enterprise server use.
Several organizations declined to participate, either because they "weren't ready yet" or because they target small server, OEM or desktop environments with their distributions.
We received retail packaged distributions from Caldera, Red Hat Software, Stormix Technologies, SuSE and TurboLinux. We also tested two other packages that are popular for servers but don't offer specific server packaging. We obtained Debian and Slackware distributions from retail sources.
Of the distros tested, we have no qualms recommending either Caldera OpenLinux eServer 2.3 or Red Hat Deluxe 6.2 to an organization that has not yet used Linux in an enterprise server context. Both products are well aware of their environments, with a slight edge to Caldera eServer's configuration sensing capabilities. Caldera eServer further gained our confidence -- and the Network World Blue Ribbon award -- by offering a lot of installation time network alternatives for Samba and NetWare. The TurboLinux Server 6.0, however, gets kudos for offering symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) kernels that no other distro tested in this review did.
SuSE Linux 6.4 had weak support practices for its retail package, but otherwise is a worthy competitor. Newcomer Storm Linux 2000 Deluxe, like SuSE, has great new-user support but wasn't quite focused toward enterprise server use.
We did not include a performance metric in this review because all of the products are based on the Linux 2.2 kernel. It's important to note that the Linux 2.4 kernel will be arriving shortly. With it, most distro makers are planning releases of their products to match the upgraded kernel.