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Wikimedia Ubuntu migration FAQ

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki

There's been some recent news coverage about Wikimedia's ongoing migration of servers to Ubuntu Linux. While much of the coverage is fairly straightforward and fact-based, there are some common questions and misconceptions I've seen in comments.

Was this in response to (insert recent event)?
No. We started standardizing on Ubuntu in 2006, and have been migrating various subsystems over time.
Why did you stop using Red Hat Enterprise Linux!?!?
We never used Red Hat Enterprise Linux -- we originally had an ad-hoc mix of old Red Hat 9 and Fedora 2, 3, and 4 systems, which we were interested in replacing with a more standardized infrastructure to simplify our internal server setup and administration.
Why not stick with Fedora?
We like the predictable release schedule and the idea of infrastructure packages being up to date, but...
Security updates cut off very quickly for stable systems, so we didn't like leaving old installations in place, but...
New releases feel too bleeding edge, so we didn't like upgrading existing installations either.
To top it off, while RPM isn't too awful, yum is slow and annoying as a package manager and we just don't like it.
Do you know fedora apt-get and fedora smart ?
Yes, we used it back in the day and it was still a bit awkward.
Why not Red Hat Enterprise Linux/CentOS?
The insanely slow release cycle is a bit of a turn-off; we need to make sure we have our RAID drivers and reasonably up-to-date LAMP and image-rerendering infrastructure software.
As with Fedora, yum as the package manager is a big turn-off.
It also seems silly to go with something where we'd have to play distro-clone games when using it without a support contract. (Hey, at least it's not IceWeasel!)
Why not Debian?
Many of our admins had more of a Debian background and preferred its file layout, but...
Debian has an unpredictable and insanely slow release cycle for stable, while being too shifty and bleeding-edge on testing/unstable.
But with RHEL/CentOS/Debian couldn't you just install package backports for updated software you need?
We could, and we do so on Ubuntu when we need to use patched, customized, or newer versions than are available. But it's nice to not have to backport a hundred library dependencies to get an updated librsvg renderer.
Why not (insert any other distro here)?
Sorry, your favorite distro wasn't cool enough to even get seriously mentioned for consideration.
Why Ubuntu in particular?
It's got the things we like about Fedora (predictable release schedule with reasonably up to date infrastructure packages) with a longer security update schedule, plus the things we like about Debian (nicer package manager and general Debian-style file layout which some of our admins prefer).
But why is Ubuntu so earth-shatteringly good that this is news?
In many ways, it was more important that we standardized on something than that we standardized on Ubuntu specifically. But as stated above, there are definitely things we like about it!
Was the availability of commercial support an important factor?
Commercial support availability was not a significant factor.
Longer security update availability was a factor -- the long-term support releases were just being announced around the time we chose to standardize on Ubuntu.
Note that even the non-LTS releases get security updates longer than Fedora (18 vs 12 months, which is significant in the context of a 6-month release cycle).
Do you have a support contract with Canonical? Do you pay for it?
Canonical has recently provided us with a support contract free of charge because they think we're cool. We have not actually used it so far; these sorts of support contracts are usually more symbolic than practical for us, since we tend to escalate issues directly to engineers as is. ;)
Wikimedia must be a big rich corporation with your fancy website; you should pay Canonical to support Open Source instead of freeloading!
We're actually a small non-profit that relies on donations to operate. A large part of what we do is Free/Open Source software development, including our own MediaWiki and improvements to Squid and other software we use.
Ubuntu is a desktop distro, isn't it stupid to put it on a server?
Ubuntu is based on Debian, which according to rumor is a great server distro. We find it works pretty well in a server configuration.
I had a bad experience with Ubuntu two years ago, which proves it is terrible and you are idiots for using it.
When I was six, another kid kicked a soccer ball right into my nose during a game, and I cried all the way home. It would, however, be a logical fallacy for me to conclude from this that soccer is a terrible game which no one should play.
Wanting both frequent updates and stability/support is just wishing for a pony!
Well, we're riding our ponies to the tune of several billion page views per month. Where's your pony? Oh, you didn't get one?
Aren't many of these things subjective preferences? I would make a different choice for my site!
Yep! Your soft preferences and hard requirements may differ, and we don't mind if you use something different.