March 24, 2017

Is one Linux distribution better than others for running Docker containers? Probably not. In fact, in many ways, Docker is making all distributions look much more similar than different.

Traditionally, when you were deploying an application on Linux, you had to think about a lot of different factors when deciding which distribution to use.

Do you need solid enterprise support? Pick Red Hat or SUSE. Do you want a gazillion app packages to choose from? Ubuntu is a good option. Do you need a system that can support lots of hardware profiles? Debian will fit the bill.

You also had to think about how well the distribution you chose would allow you to monitor, secure and migrate your application.

Docker’s Killing the Linux Distribution

With Docker, however, these considerations are much less important. When you run an application inside a container, the application always will run in the same basic way, no matter which flavor of Linux is hosting it.

You also can run any container image on any type of Linux, and deploy it by following the same steps. That makes package managers and the size of package repositories unimportant.

Plus, most Docker security tools, monitoring tools and orchestrators are pretty agnostic about the operating system that hosts them. Kubernetes is Kubernetes, whether your server is powered by Ubuntu, Red Hat or the distribution you built in your basement. Your monitoring and security tools most likely will run inside containers themselves, which makes the host flavor pretty irrelevant.

So, if you migrate your application to Docker, most of the questions you previously had to ask yourself when deciding which type of Linux to run no longer are important.

Where Distribution Differences Still Matter

This does not mean distributions are completely the same when it comes to hosting Docker. There still are differences to ponder, including:

  • How lightweight the distribution is. If you only need to run Docker on your server, you probably can get away with a distribution that is bare-bones. It will save server resources.
  • How many commercial support options you have. Even if all of your apps are running on Docker, you’ll still want to make sure you have the support services you need to keep the host server up-to-date and stable.
  • How easy it is to set up Docker. Installing Docker on most mainstream Linux distributions is very simple because they provide Docker packages. On more obscure distributions, you may need to install Docker manually. Another option is to use a Linux distribution that comes with Docker preinstalled.

Conclusion

It’s a safe bet that Linux geeks will continue debating which distribution is best for years to come. If there’s one thing Linux geeks like, it’s debate.

But when it comes to choosing a Linux distribution for hosting Docker containers, there is relatively little to talk about. Docker will always be Docker, and the steps required to run a Docker container will always be the same, no matter which type of Linux you host it on. (Yes, I know you can host Docker on Windows now, too, but that’s fodder for a separate article.) And that’s part of what makes Docker so convenient.

Christopher Tozzi

Christopher Tozzi has covered technology and business news for nearly a decade, specializing in open source, containers, big data, networking and security. He is currently Senior Editor and DevOps Analyst with Fixate.io and Sweetcode.io.