How to install an alternative server operating system

If you run your own dedicated server, you have the freedom to choose which operating system you want to use. Although Windows and Ubuntu are popular server operating systems, they may not be suitable for your purposes. Learn how to install an alternative server operating system with IONOS.

What do I need to know before installing an alternative server operating system?

When setting up a dedicated server, you can choose your preferred operating system during the initial configuration. Usually, a Windows server version and one or more Linux server distributions are available. You can also change your operating system after setting up the server by accessing the administration interface and selecting from the available options included in your server plan.

To install another operating system, you need to take a small detour. Using an emulator, you can install an ISO file of your choice. After installation, the operating system will behave normally as if it’s installed directly on the hardware of the dedicated server.

Bear in mind that your chosen operating system isn’t officially supported by the server. In case of errors, the hosting company may not be able to support you. You should only change the operating system if you have sufficient know-how to secure the server and configure it correctly.


Don’t have your own server yet? By opting for a dedicated server from IONOS, you’ll get access to 100% dedicated hardware paired with features typical of cloud offerings.

How to install an operating system on an IONOS Dedicated Server step-by-step

To install an operating system that’s not directly supported on your IONOS Dedicated Server, follow the steps below. This tutorial assumes that your server already has a pre-installed Linux system. To proceed, you must have access to the IONOS Cloud Panel.

  1. First log into your Cloud Panel and launch the Rescue Mode of your Linux server.
  2. Now log in to your server via SSH. (You can theoretically also establish access to the server via VNC console; however, you won’t be able to copy and paste the following commands into the server’s command line).
  3. Create some space on your hard disk and install the QEMU emulator. It’s also best to install ca-certificates so you are able to use HTTPS for downloading the ISO file later. All steps are included in the following command:
apt-get -y purge chkrootkit duplicity memtester smartmontools tcpdump bonnie++ samba-common samba-libs reiserfsprogs linux-libc-dev && apt-get -y autoremove && apt-get update ; apt-get -y install ca-certificates qemu-system-x86 && apt-get -y clean
  1. To save the ISO file, you must create a directory in RAM. You can adjust the size yourself. To check how much RAM you’ve got available, use free -h. Then create the directory as follows:
mount -t tmpfs -o size=4G tmpfs /mnt
  1. Navigate to the created directory:
cd /mnt/
  1. Now download the ISO file from your desired operating system. To do this, enter the correct URL in the command:
  1. Create a virtual machine to launch the ISO file. To do this, specify the correct name of your ISO file in the following code. In this tutorial, we assume we’re using two drives. You may, however, need to adjust the number of drives. We also give the virtual machine 2 GB of memory. You can adjust this parameter as well.
qemu-system-x86_64 -boot d -display curses -cdrom YOUR_OS.iso -drive file=/dev/sda,format=raw -drive file=/dev/sdb,format=raw -m 2G
  1. Now install the new operating system. To do this, follow the instructions or a guide provided by the specific operating system.
  2. Afterwards, shut down the virtual machine. You can do this in QEMU, for example, by pressing [Alt] + [2] and entering system_powerdown in the console. If your system doesn’t support ACPI, the emulator can be terminated via q.
  3. Finally, terminate the SSH connection and switch back to the Cloud Panel. Restart the server but boot it in local mode. Now the dedicated server should start with the new operating system.

Attention: Depending on your operating system, you may need to have a GUI available for installation. To do this, modify step 7 as follows:

  • Connect to the server via SSH. Enter the correct IP address for this:
ssh -L localhost:5900:localhost:5900 root@[YOUR SERVER IP]
  • Navigate to the correct directory: cd /mnt.
  • Now create the virtual machine and add the -vnc parameter to it:
qemu-system-x86_64 -boot d -vnc :0 -cdrom YOUR_OS.iso -drive file=/dev/sda,format=raw -drive file=/dev/sdb,format=raw -m 2G
  • Finally, connect via VNC and continue with step 8, i.e., launch the installation of the operating system.
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