What server operating system should you run on your dedicated servers? For business managers, project planners, and even for experienced technical personnel, this is not a simple question to answer. The Unix and Microsoft Windows families of server operating systems are both well-regarded in the server administration community, and both present a daunting level of complexity to a decision-maker trying to achieve an optimum balance of security, performance, and cost. But if you know what services and software you want to run on your dedicated servers and what server support resources are available to your organization, you can determine the best choice by asking the following questions:
While properly configured Windows servers and Unix servers can be equally effective, many types or “flavors” of Unix have the advantage of being open-source, while Windows is a proprietary commercial product. This means that many Unix operating systems are free to acquire and install, while Windows requires the payment of software license fees. In addition, many enterprise-class Windows-compatible software products come with high price tags for licenses and features, while plenty of Unix-compatible software products can be downloaded at no initial cost.
Take note, however: Unix engineers are fond of pointing out that “free” software is free in the sense of “free puppy”, rather than “free beer”. While Unix-based operating systems and software are almost always cheaper up front, there may be related expenses later on, in the form of support consultant fees, or personnel hours dedicated to configuration and maintenance.
Many software products and services are compatible with both Unix and Windows server operating systems. If you plan to run a website on your dedicated server, both platforms offer well-proven software for hosting web pages. However, many third-party commercial products, and nearly all Microsoft products, will run only on Windows servers. Likewise, many open-source software packages will only run on Unix operating systems. Know what software or service you will be hosting on your dedicated server, and talk to vendors or technical personnel to find out if there are compatibility restrictions on your choice of a server operating system.
Whether your dedicated servers run Windows or Unix, you will need technical resources to install software, perform routine maintenance, and ensure that your data is protected from unauthorized access. Completely different skill sets are required for the Windows and Unix operating systems, so it is important to know in advance what kind of technical resources are available to you. Does your organization have server administrators with Windows server expertise on staff, or are they more comfortable with Unix servers? If your hosting company is providing support services for your dedicated servers, does their support team support both operating systems? The right knowledge base of support expertise is essential to maintaining security and reliability of your dedicated servers.
Armed with a thorough assessment of both your technical specifications and your support resources, you can move forward with the server operating system best suited to your organizational requirements. Understanding the trade-offs involved in the choice of operating systems can save you from drowning in complexity and technical jargon, and help you to choose a server operating system that will ensure an optimal return on investment for your business.