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I need a server, and I'm used to windows at home and in the office, but it seems that Unix / Linux is an option, but I don't really know what it is. I don't know which one to get, how do I choose? What kinds of questions do I need to ask my host (if applicable)? my system administrators? my programmers? is there anything else I should know?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Ask your programmers what language you need to be using, this is the most important part. Not all languages work on Unix and Windows.

Take the language information to your Host, and ask them what environment it's supported in. You, also, need to ask your host whether the Sever will be Managed or Unmanaged. Managed means if you have any server problems the Host will fix them for you, if you put in a ticket with support (my $dayjob). Unmanaged means you're on your own. In the Managed scenario, you will get some kind of web interface control panel, such as cPanel or Plesk.

If you're unmanaged, you should have actual employed system administrators, ask them what they want. Or you need to be able to be a system administrator yourself.

If both windows, and *nix turn out to be suitable for your needs, go with the cheaper of the 2, if they both cost the same, find out what the admins (including the ones at the host) know better, or which department (windows or *nix) has more admins.

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The most important question to ask:

Do you have experience with Linux servers?

If the answer is NO across the board, then go with Windows server. In this case maintenance costs will outweigh licensing costs.

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I am not a specialist but isn't maintaining Windows server different then Windows desktop? I would imagine that even deep knowledge of the latter may not help with former. – Maciej Piechotka Dec 22 '10 at 1:56
and in the case of a managed server your own experience matters little. – xenoterracide Dec 22 '10 at 10:43
@Maciej. Maybe I did not phrase it correctly. My point is, go with whatever your subcontractors are most experienced with. If you determine that they have adequate Linux experience, then Linux is a consideration. Otherwise you are paying them to learn Linux ( and make all the mistakes doing this ) on your dime. – Alexander Pogrebnyak Dec 23 '10 at 16:39

Questions I would ask myself:

  1. Server is too generic a term. What do you intend to do on that machine?
  2. If you are going to run applications on it and let people remote desktop into it and use them then are these Windows applications? Are these compatible with existing Windows clients?
  3. If you are using it to for a file server or NIS or web server etc. then Linux is good and can be stripped down to the essentials - no GUI etc.
  4. Would your needs grow over time? An unscientific claim based on my experiences and opinions is that *nixes are more scalable, can be clustered, virtualized etc better.
  5. DB Server? Use *nix. Period.
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