Deutsche Telekom, LexisNexis, Bloomberg and Best Buy use it. Over 70% of the cloud is powered by it. But there are other things to know.
What is Ubuntu?
In this article, you’ll learn about Ubuntu’s speed, efficiency, and remarkable scaling power. You’ll learn about Ubuntu hosting and how to determine if it’s right for you.
I’ll recommend some top-performing Ubuntu hosts, based on my career as a software engineer. Furthermore, I’ll explain what to look for when choosing a plan.
What is Ubuntu?
You’ve probably heard of Linux, which is a successful Unix-like computer operating system. It is the leading operating system on servers across the world.
In 2004, businessman and philanthropist Mark Shuttleworth took a team of developers from the successful Debian Linux distribution project and went about developing an easy-to-use desktop distribution, known to the world as Ubuntu.
“Ubuntu is an open source software operating system that runs from the desktop, to the cloud, to all your internet connected things” – Ubuntu
Ubuntu is a distribution of Linux (also known as a ‘distro’ in the parlance of Linux) – and is one of the hundreds of distros that exist. Distributed by a company named Canonical, it is an example of a commercial project based on the Linux kernel.
Rather than charge for the operating system, Canonical’s business depends upon providing commercial support for its products. It also helps companies and organizations design computer systems with an eye on efficiency and cost management.
The Ubuntu Philosophy
Underlying the Ubuntu philosophy is a deeply held cause that is partially economic and partially social in that it delivers free software for everybody to use on the same terms.
As opposed to other major Linux distributions, Ubuntu has one quality release for both end users and developers that is updated regularly.
Other distributions offer a free community version along with a higher quality commercial version, which is a sort of ‘freemium’ model.
Ubuntu is for Everyone
Ubuntu itself says that their name is a Southern African philosophy that roughly translates to “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.”
The idea is that Ubuntu is software available for all, easily obtainable by download via the Ubuntu site.
The question that many people may have is whether Ubuntu is the right choice for their work.
Ubuntu is a rich and powerful operating system that is well-supported by its community. It has been installed on a wide variety of hardware from personal computers, to laptops, to full-on enterprise mega-servers.
It is based on the Linux kernel, which is the core of the operating system. That means that drivers, patches and everything that goes into Linux also goes into Ubuntu.
Ubuntu, however, has its own distinct features and style.
Ubuntu features a rich graphical user interface (GUI), which makes it very user-friendly.
Similar to other popular GUIs like Windows, Android, Mac OS, and more, Ubuntu lays out options in a graphical manner, with icons and menus. These guide the user through the experience with the click of a mouse and type of a keyboard.
At the same time, all of the underlying commands and programs that are a part of Linux are still there.
Since Ubuntu was initially designed as a desktop operating system, it not only supports software that was designed for Linux but it supports a whole range of applications including communications, media software, and productivity applications.
Power, Speed, and Hyperscale: Ubuntu Servers
Ubuntu Linux is so well known as a desktop system that people forget it’s a leading Linux server as well.
Factors behind the success of Ubuntu’s Linux server include:
It’s updated twice a year, with frequent patches in between.
Long-Term Support (LTS) releases are supported for five years.
Ubuntu works well with the popular OpenStack cloud environment.
Commercial support is available through Ubuntu Advantage.
High-quality management tools are available.
Works with all hardware and software.
It’s a leader in hyperscale, and comes with leading workloads built in, including Apache Hadoop and Inktank Ceph.
What Linux Supports
Like all Linux distributions, Ubuntu supports popular open-source server software, including WordPress, the Nginx and Apache web servers, and the MySQL and PostgreSQL databases.
Developers can use all common programming languages, such as PHP, Python, Ruby, and Java.
Ubuntu hosting is generally less expensive than hosting on Windows or commercial versions of Linux.
Ubuntu vs. Other Popular Linux Distributions for Servers
The command line interface is important to running a server, and Linux has Windows completely outclassed in this department.
Ubuntu lets you use any of the popular command shells and run scripts under them.
What are Snaps and Snapcraft?
Installing software efficiently and making sure it’s secure are major concerns when managing servers. The Snap package environment makes it … well, a snap.
Snaps are software packages that contain a complete software environment, so they eliminate most software configuration problems. Just install them with one command, and they’re ready to run.
Snapcraft makes it easy to auto-build and publish re-useable software for any Linux system.
APT, which Ubuntu inherited from Debian, still works fine for distribution and updates, but Snap’s advantages make it likely to replace APT over time.
A History of Snaps
Snaps originated on Ubuntu, starting with version 16.04, but several Linux distributions now support them. The same snap runs on all supported forms of Linux, without any changes. That means a bigger audience for snaps, and therefore more high-quality ones.
You can specify which interfaces they’re allowed to use, giving them access to user files, the Internet, external devices, and so on as you like.
A Snap package is immutable, making it hard for malware to subvert it. Uninstalling it is just a matter of removing it.
The Snap Store has lots of snap-packaged applications.
This video offers a quick explanation of how Snaps differ from previous ways of delivering software on Linux.
A similar philosophy is behind Docker containers. Like snaps, containers isolate an application and include everything it needs.
Containers are more about streamlining the development and deployment process; Snaps are more about sandboxing software for easy installation and better security. Both have their uses, and you can mix them on the same system.
Running an Open Source Cloud with Ubuntu
If you like the idea of running an open-source cloud, you can do it with Ubuntu. It has full support for OpenStack, a free, open source platform for cloud infrastructure. It was one of the first operating systems to support it, starting in 2011.
It includes modules for all the usual cloud infrastructure functions, such as:
It’s used on everything from private clouds to world-famous commercial sites. Canonical offers support or full management for OpenStack on Ubuntu.
Ubuntu’s Speed and Efficiency
Ubuntu is a very fast operating system, helping to optimize the user experience and delivering exceptional performance when it runs on a server. Running Ubuntu in a hosted environment is one of the most efficient platforms to run on and it delivers tremendous value because of this efficiency.
Ubuntu is compatible with numerous devices beyond laptops and desktops, too, including cameras, MP3 players, and printers.
Built-in Security Tools
Ubuntu comes with a whole suite of built-in tools including utilities like virus protection and a built-in firewall.
Those factors along with regular security updates that are freely available, make it highly regarded for its inherent security.
Does Ubuntu Offer Free Trials?
Ubuntu even makes it easy to try if you’re interested. You can download it for free, install it on an external drive, CD, DVD or USB stick and run it at will without affecting your existing operating system on your personal machine.
What Type of Support is Available to Ubuntu Users?
Such a powerful operating system is great when it is free but unfortunately many people have come to expect that when something is free you ‘get what you pay for’ especially when it comes to support.
That’s not the case with Ubuntu because both support and professional training are available from and within reach from Canonical if you need it. In addition to that, the Ubuntu community is active and responsive to general needs.
Is Ubuntu a Good Option for Hosting Resellers?
The biggest job of a hosting reseller is keeping control of all the customer websites.
Several tools are available to make managing multiple Ubuntu sites easier. We’ve already talked about Snap, which simplifies software installation and avoids security problems.
Landscape: Canonical’s Tool for Managing Ubuntu Servers
It lets you configure access to machines, install and update software, and monitor systems.
This video explains Landscape by sharing how one company uses it to manage 10,000 Ubuntu machines.
It can perform Ubuntu upgrades on all the systems under its control. It requires paid licensing if you’re managing more than ten systems, but the license comes with Ubuntu Advantage support.
Zentyal: Open Source Management of Ubuntu Servers
If you prefer to stick with free, open source software, Zentyal lets you manage services through a graphic user interface.
Its modular design lets you add the functions you choose, such as network configuration, user management, and firewall configuration.
Easy Hosting Control Panel: Free and Open Source
Easy Hosting Control Panel (EHCP) lets you manage domains, run backups, install software, manage SSL, and more under Ubuntu.
It’s free and open source, and a professional version is available.
Which Linux Distribution Does Your Web Host Use?
Many hosts default to Linux operating systems, but you should check to see which specific distribution they use.
Check your hosting plan to confirm whether it supports Linux-based operating systems and applications. Each distribution of Linux has its own distinctive features, but unless you have specialized needs, you can’t go far wrong with Ubuntu.
My Top Picks: The Bests Hosts for Ubuntu
When looking for Linux web hosting providers, which options are good? Read on for our top choices.
Namecheap is best known as a domain registrar, but it offers an impressive array of web hosting plans as well. All its VPS plans give a choice of Linux distributions with root access, including two versions of Ubuntu.
They all run on RAID-10 SSD storage. Licenses for cPanel and Softaculous cost extra. Managed plans aren’t available with Ubuntu.
What are the Pros and Cons of Ubuntu?
Here’s a brief rundown of the pros and cons of using Ubuntu.
Widely used, reliable, open-source Linux-based operating system
Paid support available
Frequent updates and long-term support releases
Tools for managing large numbers of systems
Ubuntu contains a fair amount of bloat (compared to more streamlined Linux distributions) due to its emphasis on being user-friendly.
Requires some degree of technical proficiency/fearlessness when it comes to figuring things out.
Ubuntu is a distribution of the Linux operating system (OS).
What is Linux?
Linux is an OS based on UNIX.
UNIX gained popularity in the 1970s and 80s. It is a multitasking, multiuser OS that has a reputation for rock-solid stability. Unix has a very modular design, with each element designed to perform specific functions exceedingly well.
UNIX’s multiuser nature means that each user is strictly segregated from other users and from the core system, making it very difficult for viruses or malware to infect the entire system, or for an errant application to bring down the OS.
Linus Torvalds created the Linux kernel, or core of the OS, in 1991 after being disillusioned by the licensing of MINIX, a UNIX-like OS he was using at the University of Helsinki. Like UNIX, Linux is a multitasking, multiuser OS that has likewise earned a reputation for stability.
What is a Linux distribution (distro)?
Because the Linux kernel is free, open source software, companies and individuals are free to use it to create their own versions, or distros, of the Linux OS. These different distros are designed to meet different needs and often have different philosophies.
How was Ubuntu created?
In 2004, South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth created Canonical Ltd, a software company with the goal of developing and marketing Ubuntu, which debuted in October of that year.
Ubuntu was based on the popular Debian distro and Canonical recruited a number of Debian developers to help create Ubuntu.
Mr. Shuttleworth himself had worked as a Debian developer in the 1990s, no doubt proving to be a motivating factor in basing Ubuntu on Debian.
What is the aim of Ubuntu?
Ubuntu, more so than many other distros, is aimed at the consumer market. This includes desktops, tablets and smartphones.
What role does Canonical play in Ubuntu development?
Unlike some distros, which are entirely sponsored and developed by a community of volunteers, Canonical plays a significant role in guiding Ubuntu’s growth and development.
It oversees bi-yearly releases of the OS, as well as works with hardware partners to make sure Ubuntu can be ordered pre-installed on hardware from over 3,000 retailers worldwide.
Canonical also works with commercial software companies, such as VMware, to ensure their applications run on Ubuntu.
The company also offers paid technical support to individuals and companies who rely on Ubuntu.
Is Ubuntu still free and open source with so much commercial involvement?
Absolutely. One of the problems that has often plagued other Linux distros, including Debian, is a lack of timely updates and releases. Since all the work is entirely community-based, it can be difficult to set and maintain deadlines for new features and releases.
With Ubuntu, in contrast, Canonical employs a number of full-time developers who supplement the work that is done by the open source community, ensuring that Ubuntu is able to release two new versions each year.
As stated above, Canonical also does a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes to help further Ubuntu’s adoption. The end result is an open source OS that has the backing, support and financial resources of a company that is dedicated to supporting Ubuntu and other open source software.
What software is bundled with Ubuntu?
Ubuntu comes with a plethora of pre-loaded software, much of which will be familiar if you are coming from Mac or Windows.
Firefox is the default web browser, although you can install Chromium (the basis for Google’s Chrome) via the Ubuntu Software Centre.
Office needs are met by LibreOffice, an open source office suite that is compatible with Microsoft Office.
Thunderbird is installed by default for email, while Skype is included for chat and video conferencing.
Ubuntu also has excellent camera importing support, as well as photo organization and editing tools, such as Shotwell and GIMP.
Videos and movies can be played in VLC. Canonical has partnered with Valve to bring Steam to the platform, making thousands of gaming titles available to Ubuntu users.
What other hardware is Ubuntu developed for?
Ubuntu is also developed for tablets and smartphones. It has existed for the desktop the longest, with support for smartphones and tablets added later.
Canonical’s goals have always been to work with OEMs to deliver Ubuntu pre-installed.
While there are over 3,000 retailers worldwide that sell Ubuntu computers, the company is still working to duplicate that ecosystem with smartphones and tablets, although some phones that previously ran Android can run Ubuntu.
What is the advantage of Ubuntu on the tablet or smartphone?
Canonical touts Ubuntu’s speed and platform unity as two main advantages over competing OSs.
Core applications run at native speeds, performing well even on low-end hardware. Since Ubuntu will run on computers, tablets and smartphones the experience across all platforms is unified, rather than using one OS for your computer and another for your smartphone.
Is Ubuntu right for me?
The answer to that question depends on a couple of factors, notably what your priorities are and your level of expertise.
If you want a computer, phone or tablet that is familiar, works as expected and has access to the latest commercial software on the market, you are better off staying with Mac OS X, Windows, iOS and Android.
If, on the other hand, you would rather use open source software, don’t mind a bit of a learning curve and don’t want to be dependent on a single company for your computing needs, then Ubuntu may be for you.
Keep in mind, however, that Ubuntu’s smartphone and tablet support is still limited.
About Gary McGath
Gary McGath spent years as a software developer before turning to writing. In addition to writing many articles on technology, he's the author of two crowdfunded e-books. His tech passions include data security and digital preservation.
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Who's Best for Ubuntu?
We think A2 Hosting is a solid choice for Ubuntu-based VPS and dedicated servers.