Gentoo for All the Unusual Reasons

You might think of Gentoo as a bleeding-edge distribution for development workstations, but the simple packaging system can make it a good choice for any production system that needs to stay up to date.
Administering Multiple Machines

Consider these problems happening not only on a single desktop, but in the context of a production platform of dozens of servers or thousands of workstations. Frankly, there aren't many operating systems out there that give you much help here. There's an entire body of literature on the subject of infrastructure management. Sadly, a great deal of ad hoc deployment still occurs. Although many vendors have tools that help you build a series of systems the first time, the task of maintaining them over time is left to the individual site to handle. The newer version problem isn't about single machines, it's about entire networks of them.

So how does Gentoo stack up in production environments? Here's another surprise for you from the source-based distribution: Portage can be told to build binary packages. This allows you to have one machine over in the corner doing all the compilation work. Then, the packages can be shared and used by all your target machines, instead of them having to build the packages themselves. You might be tempted to say “isn't that what the other Linux distributions do?” The difference is selecting the right mix of packages is a site decision, and the newer version problem definitely is a site burden to deal with. Gentoo gives local systems teams the tools to deal with solving these version issues themselves.

By using a local build server you can concentrate horsepower and version management effectively, yet still have room for local customization. Staging environments are easy to set up. Then, once you're happy with the set of versions you've tested, you simply make a snapshot of those binary packages and share them out to your rank-and-file machines. Recent versions of Portage include built-in support for fetching binary packages you've created from local file servers, so all of this works right out of the box.


Create your own package or privately version-bump an existing one—the newer version problem comes up all the time. The more mainstream package management tools, although mature, require a much greater level of effort to accomplish these tasks. Conceptually, though, the tasks are trivial. Quite to my surprise, because they don't advertise this aspect, the design of Gentoo's tools makes it easy to do these tasks yourself.


The author would like to thank Stephen White from the University of Adelaide and Andrea Barisani from the University of Trieste for having helped develop the ideas here as they relate to production use of Gentoo. They also kindly reviewed the article, as did Pia Smith of Linux Australia, Jeff Waugh of GNOME, Craige McWhirter of the Sydney Linux Users Group and Wade Mealing of the Gentoo Server Project.

Andrew Cowie runs Operational Dynamics (, an operations and infrastructure engineering consultancy. He helps organizations get value from their technology by focusing on people and the processes around people, which probably is why he's so obsessed with finding easier ways to do things. You can reach him at or as AfC on


-- Andrew Frederick Cowie Operational Dynamics Consulting Pty Ltd


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interesting article

Anonymous's picture

An interesting article. I've been thinking of playing with Gentoo for a while. The idea of easily being able to build customized packages appeals to me, as it's seems to be like rocket science on Debian...

no so hard

damaki's picture

Just 2 commands for any standard source (./configure based) :
dpkg-build -rfakeroot

Nothing else...

I have seen debian boxes tota

Anonymous's picture

I have seen debian boxes totally corrupted by this kind of installation

Debian is particullary picky about extern packages, gentoo will build any package acording to your new choice if needed.

What if you do that for kdelibs ? gtk ? glibc ? the system will suffer, not on gentoo !

Another overlooked benefit is

Anonymous's picture

Another overlooked benefit is Security. Gentoo Hardened includes tons of excellent security features including SELinux, and you are not limited like other security-focused distributions. You can install basically any software on Linux, and the binary is automatically hardened; just check the configuration.

I use gentoo on every compute

Anonymous's picture

I use gentoo on every computer i got on my home, If you want an easy to install gentoo based distribution with graphical instalation you should check Vidalinux Desktop. Is based on gentoo but is using Redhats anaconda to install everything. http::// :-D


Anonymous's picture

good golly, did you see the minimum system requirements?
Minimum Supported Configuration:
AMD Athlon XP or Pentium 4 compatible processor, 1.0 Ghz; 10-GB hard disk; 256-MB RAM; 800x600 screen resolution

Recommended Configuration:
AMD Athlon XP or Pentium 4 compatible processor, 2.0 Ghz or faster; at least 20-GB hard disk; at least 512-MB RAM; 1024x768 screen resolution or better

where gentoo's minimum system requirements are:
Hardware Requirements
CPU i486 or later
Memory 64 MB
Diskspace 1.5 GB (excluding swap space)
Swap space At least 256 MB

does anaconda really take this much power?

I've been using Linux for ove

Anonymous's picture

I've been using Linux for over 10 years and Gentoo was the distro to pull me away from Win32 for daily use. It's takes a little work for the initial install and the larger compiles like kde. Once installed its great. Easy to use, maintain and update. Seems you have what you need in the version your looking for, including its dependances.

Great Distro. Next Debian & Slackware (Slack being my 1st Linux distro) then Mandrake and Suse. All Great.

The main thing is to Enjoy Linux no matter the distro!

hallo this sucks your link go

Anonymous's picture

hallo this sucks your link goes straight to M$

Nah he accidently added two c

Anonymous's picture

Nah he accidently added two colon's, which for some reason is redirecting to you know where.

Stephane's picture