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RedHat ES 3.0 vs. SuSE Server 8.0: Battle for the Enterprise : Page 3

Even at the enterprise server level, there are wide differences between Linux distributions, not only in price, but in ease of installation, included features and software, and particularly in ease of administration. See how the two most popular Linux enterprise server distributions match up.

SuSE Server 8.0
I was excited about trying SuSE Server. First, SuSE provides support for file systems other than Ext3. Ext3 is a decent file system, but it doesn't scale well. In addition, Ext3 does not eliminate the need for fsck. It just delays the inevitable. SuSE allows for several file system choices although I will only discuss one of them here—XFS. XFS is the venerable SGI Irix file system, open sourced and ported to Linux. It is stable, fast, and scalable, and also provides mature support for ACL (Access Control Lists).

SuSE Server ships with Cyrus IMAPd—and Cyrus is the bane of many system administrators' lives. Although it is arguably the best IMAP server out there, it is not easy to install and not easy to configure; however, with SuSE Server you get a wonderful Web interface for managing Cyrus. This one feature alone made me consider standardizing on SuSE and moving as far away from Red Hat as I could get. SuSE Installation
Having installed SuSE Professional on a number of occasions I am fairly comfortable with getting SuSE up and running. As expected, the server installation GUI and configuration was very simple, and made it easy to manipulate the graphical installer without a mouse. The installer uses standard <alt>-<key> bindings to any menu option, making it a bit easier to deal with than Red Hat.

After starting the install, I walked away. When you install Red Hat you can walk away from an install for about 10 minutes and when you come back the install will have ejected the first CD and will be waiting for you to install the next one.

Figure 1. SuSE PostFix Configuration: This figure shows the Web-based interface for configuring mail after installing SuSE Linux Server (image copyright SuSE, used by permission).
SuSE, on the other hand, is a completely different story. The first time I installed SuSE I had to switch between CDs at least 30 times. At first I thought there must be something wrong, but after switching to the details screen I noticed that SuSE was installing one or two packages from each CD, and then switching to another CD. However, during this review process, I installed SuSE four separate times, two Standard and two Basic installations, and I was unable to repeat these weird initial results.

The only other installation problem was that SuSE Server did not correctly install Grub; I had to boot manually (entering hand-typed parameters) on the first reboot. This may have been a hardware fluke, so I didn't pay much attention to it: I've had to use Grub from the command line many times in the past. Again, I could not reproduce this problem in subsequent installs. The reality is that installing Linux is pretty straightforward (unless you're installing Gentoo or Debian). Every major distribution is easy to get up and running. However, it's after the install completes that SuSE begins to show its true colors.

Figure 2. SuSE Proxy Configuration: Another example of SuSE's convenient Web-based interface for configuring proxies (image copyright SuSE, used by permission).
SuSE Features
SuSE Server has remote administration capabilities (not just from a text console, but from an attractive Web-based interface) for all major server features (see Figure 1). This includes but is not limited to:
  • DHCP
  • Postfix (replacement for Sendmail)
  • DNS
  • IMAP
  • Samba
  • System Statistics (Uses MRTG)
  • User management
  • Proxy Server
This is what a commercial Linux is about—added value. SuSE appears to have a firm grasp on this notion. I typically don't like to provide free PR for companies, but I was honestly impressed with the SuSE offering and was quite surprised with the completeness of the product.

I tested some of these interfaces. The proxy server was configured with a basic configuration by default (see Figure 2). The only thing I had to do was tell my FireFox browser to use the proxy server, which worked like a charm. The Cyrus IMAPd configuration presented no problems. Just add a domain and then add a user to the domain and you're all set. If I had known that SuSE had put this much effort into making the lives of administrators easier I would have switched a long time ago. With the pending release of SuSE Server 9 and SuSE's new backing by Novell, I believe that Red Hat is going to have to rethink their current strategy. SuSE just blows the doors off the Red Hat implementation.

Joshua D. Drake is President of Command Prompt, Inc. a dedicated PostgreSQL support and custom programming company. He is also the co-author of "Practical PostgreSQL" from O'Reilly and Associates.
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