When it comes to the world of cloud and web applications, thin is in. By that we mean that thin, agile operating systems that can be easily deployed and managed are the ultimate target for rapid application deployment. Linux has long been the standard in web applications, because it has given the reliability of traditional Unix platforms. It also has become a standard due to community development making Linux originator Linus Torvalds a household name in technology.
We highlighted the recent announcements by Microsoft to offer a think version of Windows (http://24x7itconnection.com/2015/05/12/small-and-powerful-microsoft-introduces-windows-nano-server/) to provide .NET developers a more agile operating environment. The reason that Microsoft made this move was due in large part to the amount of growth in web-scale application development that is nearly all targeted to Linux derivatives.
(Tux, the Linux Mascot, who has his own Wikipedia entry where this image is from)
Many players, similar goals
The goal of thin Linux is to be quick to deploy, simple to manage, and provide ease of use for developers and operations teams alike. Luckily there are many options which are available, each offering their own flavor and specific pros and cons depending on your requirements. One of the key drivers to these Linux derivatives is that they are community focused, and built under the GPL or similar open source licensing model. This has been the foundation that made Linux the juggernaut that it is among the cloud and web server environments today.
Let’s take a look at a few interesting distributions that are making waves in the industry. It makes sense to narrow the focus a bit as we look at what options are out there, so the focus of these distros is to bring Linux to x86 and x64 architectures. There is a whole separate vein of Linux derivatives that cover ARM and other processor architectures.
From the folks at Canonical that brought you the leading full distro favorite Ubuntu, Snappy Linux (https://developer.ubuntu.com/en/snappy/) is designed as a modular, rapidly scalable and updatable platform for your applications. They’ve created deployments for all of the current public cloud alternatives and you can also easily run on your own infrastructure.
Not to be left out of the guest side of the infrastructure, VMware recently threw their hat in the game offering what they dubbed as Project Photon (http://blogs.vmware.com/cloudnative/introducing-photon/). This is a lightweight Linux derivative that is intended to make VMware part of both the hosting and guest instance platform for Enterprise and all users alike.
Tiny Core Linux
Earning the name of Tiny Core (http://tinycorelinux.net/), this literally tiny Linux alternative weighs in with a total file size of between 9 MB and 35 MB. When companies are looking for super thin guest environment that can be delivered in seconds over PXE or Torrent, this is the winner on speed of delivery. What Tiny Core does well in size though, is outweighed sometimes by feature set. For a Linux that can run entirely in RAM, Tiny Core Linux is truly a favorite among many.
Led by the team at Intel, the Clear Linux project (https://clearlinux.org/) is targeted to bring Linux and the VT-x virtualization further into the guest environment. There are many exciting features of Clear Linux, not least of which is their patch management methodology. Updates are a key feature of Clear Linux with two types of updates available (https://clearlinux.org/features/software-update) where either live updates are applied instantly to the running environment, or a snapshot and reboot capability is baked in to create a simple rollback method.
You can’t discuss Linux these days without having CoreOS (https://coreos.com/) be a part of the conversation. This is with good reason as the team at CoreOS are making some major headway in the industry through recent partnerships. Most notably was the leading of the charge to create the Open Container Format (https://www.opencontainers.org/) in partnership with Docker and many other industry leaders.
Lots to choose From
You can find a number of other lightweight Linux distributions here (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightweight_Linux_distribution) that may suit your needs. One thing that can never be said is that there are not enough options, that is for sure.
Whether you are in search of a stateless Linux, or a traditional Linux architecture in a thinner delivery format, there is a lightweight Linux out there for everyone.