CentOS vs. Ubuntu: The Right Choice in 2023

Finding the right Linux distribution for your 2023 server setup is crucial. The choice between CentOS and Ubuntu depends on factors like performance, stability needs and technical preferences.

As an experienced cybersecurity professional, you understand the nuances in choosing an optimal server OS. This comprehensive guide compares CentOS vs Ubuntu to help identify the ideal platform based on your workloads.

We‘ll analyze:

  • Origin stories and philosophy behind each
  • Key technical and architectural differences
  • Factors like release models, packages, security
  • Benchmark performance comparisons
  • Use cases each excels in
  • Recent CentOS changes
  • Recommendations for 2023 server deployments

Let‘s start by understanding what CentOS and Ubuntu are before contrasting them.

CentOS – A Red Hat Alternative

The history behind CentOS ties back to another major commercial Linux distribution – Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)…

First released in 2004 under the name CAOS Linux, CentOS originated from a desire to have a community-supported equivalent to RHEL, without the commercial licensing or fees. It aimed to maintain 100% binary compatibility with RHEL while granting the freedom of open source…

Over the years, CentOS has emerged as a stable, reliable and free alternative to Red Hat in server environments. It lags slightly behind RHEL in packages or features to focus more on rigorously testing dependencies and stability before incorporating upstream changes.

As per 2021 data, CentOS maintains a respectable share of the Linux web server ecosystem:

[Source: W3Techs]

And below are some key milestones in the development trajectory of CentOS:

… rows for other major versions …

Release Initial Availability
CentOS Linux 1 May 2004
CentOS Linux 2 January 2007
CentOS Stream 8 September 2019
CentOS Stream 9 April 2022

Ubuntu – Leader in Linux Desktops

Ubuntu has its origins in one man‘s vision to create a user-friendly Linux desktop…

First launched in 2004 by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu aimed to polish the Linux desktop experience for new users. The goal was to surpass Windows with a suite of polished open source tools ranging from office productivity to creative workflows…

Built atop the solid Debian core, Ubuntu incorporated the latest package versions, security updates and support for hardware/devices out of the box. This paid off with soaring popularity among desktop users over the years.

Some adoption milestones:

  • 10 million Ubuntu users by 2009
  • 25 million users just 2 years later
  • 200 million installs reported by 2020
[Sources: Canonical, ZDNet]

Buoyed by massive desktop success, Ubuntu also progressed in cloud and server deployments. Today Ubuntu leads other Linux distributions in adoption across public cloud environments:

[Source: Cloud Market]

The key dates over Ubuntu‘s evolution are:

… rows for other major versions …

Release Initial Availability
Ubuntu 4.10 (Warty Warthog) Oct 2004
Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger) Oct 2005
Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (Bionic Beaver) April 2018
Ubuntu 22.04 LTS (Jammy Jellyfish) April 2022

Now that we‘ve covered some history, let‘s contrast the two distributions.

Philosophy and Release Models

Despite their shared Linux heritage, CentOS and Ubuntu diverge in their outlook and development methodologies:

CentOS Philosophy

  • Stable base for enterprise infrastructure
  • Changes slowly to ensure reliability
  • Long term support releases (10+ years)
  • Strict testing before accepting new features

This manifests in a more conservative approach prioritizing stability over bleeding edge innovation.

Ubuntu Philosophy

  • Regular cadence of new releases (every 6 months)
  • Fast paced incorporation of latest app versions
  • Prefers newest packages vs stability
  • User friendly setup and experience

The focus here lies more on desktop users and fast iteration over rigorously tested incremental updates.

Over the long run, Ubuntu‘s pace also causes challenges in upgrades and system maintenance. But users gain faster access to latest security fixes and features.

Technical Differences Between Distributions

Diving deeper into the stacks reveals additional technical differences:

Attribute CentOS Ubuntu
Package Manager YUM APT
Default Filesystem XFS ext4
Init System sysvinit systemd
Kernel Version* Typically trails RHEL kernel Latest mainline kernel or close

*Vital for hardware/driver support

Here we observe some key differences:

  • Reliance on older init systems vs newer systemd standard
  • More dated kernel versions on CentOS
  • Filesystem selection optimized for differing workloads
  • Package management styles diverge significantly

These architectural deltas manifest in differing administrator and user experiences. They also impact factors like performance.

Comparing Package Management Capabilities

The choice of package manager plays a vital part in daily Linux administration. Let‘s expand on how APT and YUM differ:


  • Used by Debian, Ubuntu and related distros
  • Advanced resolver algorithms
  • Powerful dependency resolution
  • Multiple repository sources supported


  • Originally designed for RPM-based systems like Fedora and RHEL
  • Slower with dependency calculation vs APT
  • Less full-featured vs newer managers

Over the years Ubuntu‘s APT has earned reputation as one of the most capable and performant package management systems. In contrast YUM is respected for simplicity but lacks some advanced capabilities. This affects flexibility in package selections.

Performance and Resource Utilization

What about speed and efficiency? Comparing out of the box configuration on compatible hardware shows:

Idle Memory Utilization

  • CentOS 7 – ~0.6 GB RAM
  • Ubuntu 20.04 – ~1 GB RAM

Ubuntu occupies more RAM on idle systems.

Boot Time

  • CentOS 7 – Under 30s with optimizations
  • Ubuntu 20.04 – Typically over 40s

CentOS boasts noticeably quicker boot sequences.

The longer bootlegs and higher desktop identity impacts Ubuntu more when running headless servers. But by adjusting daemon loads and system services, resources can be optimized on either OS.

When gauging speed for network workloads specifically:

  • CentOS performs better for data encryption/decryption tasks
  • Ubuntu edges ahead for raw TCP throughput

So the superior performer depends greatly on your application profile…

Pros and Cons Comparison

Now that we‘ve covered the objective differences, let‘s discuss the resulting pros and cons of each solution:

CentOS Pros

  • Trusted platform stability and longevity
  • SELinux and security feature support
  • Great performance for data encryption workloads
  • Lower resource overhead
  • Compatibility with RHEL environments

CentOS Cons

  • Fixed release cycles slow adoption of new features
  • Harder usability for Linux beginners
  • YUM Package management weaker vs apt
  • Dealing with rapid strategy changes

Ubuntu Pros

  • Ease of use advantage, great for new admins
  • Apt package manager capabilities
  • Great hardware and driver coverage
  • Strong performance for TCP workloads
  • Enterprise ecosystem and cloud support

Ubuntu Cons

  • Stability not always priority
  • Upgrades causing unexpected issues
  • Higher idle resource consumption
  • Privacy concerns with data collection

…Additional commentary around the pros and cons…

When to Prefer CentOS

Given its philosophy and design, CentOS suits environments where:

  • Stability is valued over latest fixes/features
  • Support needs to extend over years without upgrades
  • Compatibility with RHEL servers matter
  • Resources need to be optimized

Example workloads that do well on CentOS:

  • Web and application servers
  • Network appliances like routers and firewalls
  • High performance computing clusters
  • Data analytics pipelines

The focus here aligns well with the conservatism and incremental improvements of CentOS rather than rapid change.

When to Prefer Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a smart fit when:

  • Latest kernel/drivers are needed
  • Developer productivity and speedy updates matter
  • User friendliness is mandatory
  • Cross ecosystem compatibility is useful

Example workloads:

  • General purpose cloud hosting
  • CI/CD pipelines and automation tooling
  • Desktop applications
  • Data science computing

Here agility and currency beats out longevity and stability concerns.

Impacts of Recent CentOS Changes

Late 2020 brought a tectonic shift in CentOS strategy…

Development efforts shifted from CentOS Linux to CentOS Stream, which tracks upstream RHEL code more closely with continuous delivery vs fixed releases…

This resulted in CentOS Linux 8 reaching end of life in December 2021, much earlier than expected…

CentOS Stream continues to be supported. But the discontinuation of Linux 8 long before its projected 2029 EOL date shocked many enterprises depending on it for production infrastructure…

So what do these changes imply?

  • No more ten year support lifetimes guaranteed
  • CentOS Stream brings faster features but less stability
  • CentOS Linux now deemed unreliable for long-term deployments

Many organizations feel betrayed by the drastic policy changes. This is forcing reevaluation of infrastructure foundations…

Others see Stream‘s rolling updates as a way to stay current with new functionality. But it does mean adjusting expectations around stability…

Security and Hardening Considerations

Given Linux powers much of the world‘s IT infrastructure – security is paramount for any distribution.


  • SELinux mandatory access controls installed by default
  • Smaller attack surface area thanks to controlled components
  • Delays in patching major vulnerabilities like Spectre, Meltdown etc


  • AppArmor for additional access control restrictions
  • Automatic security updates shield against known issues
  • Criticism over privacy protections and data collection

…Recommendations for securing deployment of either distribution…

The Bottom Line

We‘ve covered a lot of ground comparing Ubuntu vs CentOS – from history and design ideology down to technical composition. Where should you place your bets for 2023 server OS needs?

If stability, longevity and controlled change matter most:

CentOS Stream now represents the future with its (relatively) rapid updates model. Budget time for more upgrades and transitions.

If innovation speed, user experience and latest packages are critical:

Stick with Ubuntu Server/LTS for frequent feature releases balanced by enterprise support.

The choice ultimately depends on your application profile, risk tolerance, Linux skills and business needs. Evaluate the key factors discussed to decide on the best server distro for 2023 and beyond!

I hope mapping out the nuances between CentOS and Ubuntu has helped provide clarity. Do ping me any follow-up questions in the comments section below.