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Windows Server 2003 vs. Red Hat Enterprise Linux - Features & Benefits

written by: jeff•edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 5/18/2011

Is Windows Server 2003 less expensive overall than Red Hat Enterprise Linux server? What are the various features and benefits of both? Can both operating systems deliver on all the major operating system functions? Is there an equivalent system admin talent base? Who's hot; who's not?

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    Windows Server 2003 Benefits and Features

    We use Windows Server 2003 as a basis for comparison, with Windows Server 2008 slated to gradually replace 2003. Not all features are compared, but this article gives an excellent comparison of the major benefits and features of both operating systems.

    Windows Server 2003 Benefits and Features

    Windows Server 2003 is well-established in the IT enterprise industry, still holding the majority of the enterprise server market share.

    As recently as October 2007, an IDG report shows that Linux actually lost market share (or at least declined in market share growth) compared to Windows over the previous three years (2005 - 2007 time frame). The article also points out that the comparison might not necessarily be an "apples to apples" comparison.

    Windows Server 2003 has a well-designed graphical user interface (GUI). The entire operating system is built with the GUI as part of the 'selling point' of the operating system.

    Windows Server 2003, as with all version thus far, has maintained ability also to run a command shell, thus affording command-line access to most of the typical GUI-driven o/s features. Start, Run, CMD will take you to the command-line interface; from there, it is the typical DOS command structure: "dir" to obtain a directory listing, “copy" to copy files, and so forth. From both the GUI and the command-line, administrators may develop scripts to automate tasks.

    Windows has the built-in Task Scheduler which allows administrators to schedule jobs to run at specifies times or intervals.

    Security is very granular, with both User-based (using Active Directory administrative GUI interfaces) and file-based security.

    User-based security - users can be associated with security 'groups,' by which an administrator may grant (add the user to the group) or deny (remove the user from the group) permissions.

    Users may be restricted by level of authority - i.e., "Power Users," "Operators," "Domain Administrators," or standard, non-privileged users ("Domain Users") - or by specific groups of which they are members.

    File-based security (including folder-based security) can be set on a per-user or per-group basis.

    Windows also is feature-rich regarding software built for the o/s. Microsoft Exchange is the primary offering for email - an enterprise-level email software package with full message auditing and tracking as needed.

    Microsoft's IIS web server is the defacto built-in Web server software. It is mature, feature rich and easy to manage.

    A subset of IIS (or standalone if desired) is Microsoft FTP server. It is a more or less standard FTP server, easy to setup and maintain.

    Windows also has the ability to run UNIX services for Windows, which effectively allows (among other things) mapping of NFS shares from the Windows side to the Linux side.

    Windows Server 2003 does not have a native telnet server built-in. The typical method to attain console access to a Windows server is to use the Windows-based Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) GUI.

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    Red Had Enterprise Linux Benefits and Features

    Linux is basically free. Red Hat is a commercial version of Linux and the company makes money on annual o/s support subscriptions. Each server has a per-year cost. Premium support (i.e. 24x7) is an added cost.

    Linux administrators abound now - with Linux being one of the primary o/s technologies now taught in most IT education programs. Therefore, there is no shortage of talent for maintaining Red Hat Linux Enterprise servers.

    Linux is basically an incarantion of UNIX and, as such, has been in use, in some form or fashion, for as long, or longer, than Windows.

    Red Hat Enterprise Linux is comparable in features to Windows Server 2003, containing the always tried and true "cron" (a.k.a. 'crontab') job scheduling feature.

    Linux was built more strongly on the command-line interface ability vs. the GUI layer and thus has a very solid contingent of command-line capabilities.

    Korn Shell and Bourne Shell are two of the more popular command line shells.

    NFS (Network File System) server ability allows mounting folders from the Linux side, to be shared as file shares with other operating systems, such as Windows Server 2003. NFS client ability allows remotely accessing shares that are mounted out from other operating systems for access on the Linux side.

    Perl and PHP are the scripting methods of choice. A plethora of resources on the Internet provide a wealth of scripting samples and libraries; thus the administrator has an arsenal of tools at his disposal to accomplish typical system and network administration tasks.

    Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server offers the standard Unix-based user and group provisioning capabilities, along with user- and group-based file security. File and folder security can be set on a per-user or per-group basis.

    For Red Hat Enterprise Linux servers, postfix and sendmail are the two enterprise email offerings, with sendmail being the long-standing defacto standard.

    Third-party tools such as Vintella allow Linux to utilize Active Directory as the basis for authenticating to the network and to the Linux server; thus the setting and changing of user passwords can be accomplished in the Active Directory realm, alleviating yet another administrative burden from the Linux administrator.

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    Red Hat Enterprise Linux servers interact seamlessly with Sun's Java.

    FTP client and server are both stock items with Linux, and are solid long-standing products.

    Linux has a native telnet server built in, for which administrators can configure SSH (effectively secure-shell or secure telnet) or they can allow basic telnet (unsecured) sessions inbound to the server.

    Red Hat Enterprise Linux server now has built-in firewall capabilities to allow or disallow specific protocols, ports or IP addresses. Prior to version 3 of RHEL, complex o/s tweaking or third-party firewall products were required to accomplish more complex firewall-centric tasks.

    RHEL's base web server is Apache which, like Microsoft's IIS, has become a mature, feature-rich web server offering, easily manageable and highly customizable via its related configuration files.

    Cost Comparison

    There were no explicit cost values available for easy comparison (for an idea, review the article on TCO under 'References'). Costing is now such a complex procedure, sometimes based on number of "cores" within the processor (i.e. one company might charge A$ for an o/s license on a single-core Intel processor, but (4 x A$) for the same o/s license on a quad-core Xeon processor; whereas another vendor may charge a "per node fee;" i.e., no matter how many processors or cores, you pay A$ for each "node" or "server."

    The general understanding is that, in effect, Linux is basically free, as long as you do not require enterprise-level support. If you have an adept technical staff with solid Linux expertise, you possibly can save some money by utilizing the various free versions of Linux or by only placing service calls on a "per call" basis; which is more expensive per each call, but overall less expensive than a yearly Red Hat Enterprise Linux support subscription; as long as the number of support calls is less than the cost to buy a yearly Red Hat Enterprise Linux support subscription).

    Conclusions

    As you can see, both Windows Server 2003 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux are mature, feature-rich operating systems, with comparable benefits – overall stable products, with potential to be cost- competitive; and comparable features – functional interfaces, practical manageability, readily customizable and with a plethora of tools and applications available.

    Although Red Hat Enterprise Linux servers have come a long way in maturity, Microsoft's Windows servers still command the lion's share of the enterprise server market; but, with cost being more of a factor, due to the recent worldwide economic downturn, expect more Windows shops to compare cost and features of Red Hat and Windows Server 2003 (and 2008).

    Microsoft, though, is aware that, especially in this economy, it can easily and quickly lose more market share to Linux, so expect Microsoft also to be more aggressive in attempting to match equivalent Linux licensing and support costs, in order to retain its established base and market position.

    References

    A comparison of TCO and Manageability Features – Red Hat vs. Windows Server

    http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver/compare/windows-server-vs-red-hat-linux.mspx