There are sometimes overwhelming options for an operating system with virtual private servers and here is some information that may be useful for you to choose, if you are unsure, and some of the pros/cons of the operating system.
CentOS – (homepage)
CentOS, short for Community ENTerprise Operating System (CentOS), is a fully Redhat / RPM compatible operating system but is community supported, not commercially supported like Redhat. This means the development team works together, takes input and patches from the Linux community and releases it.
The advantage of CentOS is that if you are transitioning from Redhat to CentOS or have a Redhat requirement, that CentOS will be 100% compatible with your requirement of a Redhat operating system.
I have ran CentOS for projects and I like it, if it’s a requirement, but since I was “raised” on Debian Linux I prefer it. However my personal opinion should not sway you from trying out CentOS.
There are a lot of blogs and websites dedicated to CentOS, the operating system is well documented, and the yum package manager is very easy to run, maintain and upgrade a virtual private server which is a big plus.
Debian – (homepage)
Debian, named after Debra and the creator of Debian Ian Murdock (Deb + Ian), is a popular and widely used distribution of Linux. Debian has over 29,000 maintained packages available for download by their users and this operating system can run on a variety of hardware. Also, Debian can run the Linux kernel and the FreeBSD kernel. Debian running the FreeBSD kernel is called GNU/kFreeBSD.
The advantage of Debian is that it’s stable, actively developed by enthusiasts and developers, has over 29,000 actively maintained packages available for download from the apt repositories, and the package maintainers prefer stability over “latest release” software which may have bugs and could compromise the stability of the Debian server.
A disadvantage is a lot of folks who want the “latest release” of software find it’s unavailable and they have to use third party apt repositories, such as from the developer themselves or from third party repositories like DotDeb. This is generally why Debian users move from Debian over to Ubuntu, which is 100% compatible with Debian but the repositories are more up to date for the folks who want latest releases of software.
Ubuntu – (homepage)
Ubuntu, or as I like to say “Debian’s cousin”, is based on Debian and uses the apt package/repository system but is more “cutting edge” and “up to date” than it’s Debian cousin.
Debian software will generally run on Ubuntu and vice versa.
The advantage, as I previously explained with Debian, is the software and repositories are updated, cutting edge, but could compromise stability if a package is not thoroughly tested by package maintainers or the developer of the package themselves.
I have not seen an issue from latest release software being buggy, but this is just a theory that could happen.
I run Ubuntu on my laptop and enjoy it tremendously as “latest release” packages will fix stability issues on desktop hardware which uses more software and packages than a virtual private server who may just run the minimal base operating system, a webserver, PHP programming language, etc.
The disadvantage? Ubuntu is just as solid as a desktop operating system as an operating system for servers and virtual private servers. I’ve never had an issue with packages, compatibility or stability with an Ubuntu operating system. Actually I have one Ubuntu based virtual private server with over 200 days of uptime.
I have only mentioned 3 operating systems, such as CentOS, Debian and Ubuntu, because I only have experience with those operating systems. However in all fairness, I am going to start using and testing other operating systems in a virtual private server environment to give all operating systems a chance and report back to you.