Linux alternative to Windows Server

Linux alternative to Windows Server

This will be an on-going post of my research, tests and experiences of setting up and using a linux distribution with the aim to replace a Small Business Server 2003 (SBS2003) in a SME environment. Expect it to be very unfinished

Background

The company has 20 XP Pro clients on desks, no roaming required and two networked printers. Laptop usage is via VPN through a 3rd party hardware Firewall. The server is a Dell Poweredge running SBS2003 R2, Exchange 2003, Veritas BackupEXEC and Symantec AV. Email is downloaded locally to each client with no remote access. Simple file and printer sharing.

Part 1.1 – Research

So far, ClearOS (formerly Clark Connect). Based on RHEL, seems a good bet, also Ubuntu LTS Server Edition. ClearOS has a SBS style wizard to setting it up, effectively glueing together all the independant programs. Ubuntu doesn’t have the wizard but is a popular distro and will have plenty of support resources on it’s forum. Thirdly a Ubuntu based distro called eBox packages up an LTS install but with a management interface to control the various aspects of the server, this is a similar model to ClearOS. I am going to try eBox out first.

Part 1.2 – Installing eBox

You can install eBox in two different ways, I chose the latter:

  1. Install Ubuntu ServerĀ  LTS first, then install eBox from the repositorities
  2. Download eBox Installer, which in effect installs Ubuntu LTS then runs through a similar text based install routine for eBox.

The test machine is a P4 with 1GB and 80GB HD, perfectly fine for this test. Burn the ISO and start the machine, run through the installer, it will ask for some details along the way. Eventually you get to the eBox installer routine, which essentially asks you to decide on the role of the machine on the network, you have two choices, standalone and gateway. I have tried standalone for the purposes of this test, based on the company having a military grade firewall in place. I then selected all the package (or module) areas available for install, rather than selecting individual packages. You can always disable certain features later from the eBox interface.

Part 1.3 – First view of eBox

Once Installed you will be presented with a Blackbox desktop and a Firefox browser with the login prompt for eBox, enter the password you created during the installer process. You are then taken to the system overview/dashboard type page. You now need to configure the network and PDC role for this machine. For those coming in from the SBS2003 environment, there are no friendly wizards to this and you are essentially setting up individual modules.

Part 1.4 – Installing Printers in eBox

Installing the Canon printers was tricky at first. eBox contains an interface to configure printers but I like CUPS too much, more of a ‘right tool for the job’ scenario. So to get to the CUPS admin page, go to https://localhost:631. The heavy duty large format Canon iR3245N multi-function photocopiers took a bit of persuading to install, for full instructions see my eBox / Ubuntu Canon iR3245N Linux CUPS Printer Driver Install HOW-TO.

Part 1.5 – Setting up folder shares in eBox

This part was relatively easy. Set the location of the share, whether existing or eBox can create it for you.

Part 1.6 – Attach WinXP clients to eBox

This was also fairly straightforward after a bit of fiddling, basically configure eBox as the PDC, then add the user via the eBox interface. Go to the WinXP machine and login to the domain using the username and password. There are far more detailed instructions on the eBox website.

Part 1.7 – eBox Conclusion

After a bit of use I am of the feeling that eBox is a great tool but needs more of a focus if Linux is to steal a share of the SME server market. Personally it needs more of a guide to Windows Admins so they can get setup and running quickly, perhaps not in the form of SBS2003 style wizards but maybe a workflow process, do this step then this one etc. With things like setting up printers, if there is a tool that is mature and essentially the primary method for controlling printers (i.e. CUPS) then I would rather use that than another interface. In fairness it probably took me about 2 days to get to a stage where I could share out printers and folders and add WinXP clients.

Part 2.1 – Webmin

Webmin is essentially a set of perl scripts used to interact with the various config files in much the same way as eBox does. The primary difference I can see between Webmin and eBox is that Webmin actually allows you to edit the config file directly from it’s interface. This has two advantages:

  1. No digging around the file system
  2. The correct config file is presented to you

This quickly gave a feeling that if something was ever wrong configuration wise, popping the hood and correcting something would be fairly straightforward.

I have got as far as installing Webmin but not into the nitty gritty of setting it up. For this I recommend you read through the most comprehensive start to finish HOW-TO on using Webmin ever, written by Kevin Elwood and available from his website, http://woodel.com/. After spending a day reading through it correctly setting up Webmin to act in a similar fashion to a Windows Server does come across as fairly daunting.

Part 3.1 – Karoshi

Karoshi is a server operating system originally designed for schools but could be well suited to small businesses. It provides a simple graphical interface for easy installation and maintenance of your network.It originally didn’t feature on my radar for a Linux based Windows Server replacement and I only discovered it from a thread on a forum from 2005. Luckily the project is still alive and is being used in live production environments in schools. The 32bit version 6 is based on PCLinux distro whilst the 64bit version 7 uses Ubuntu at it’s core.

Part 3.2 – Installing Karoshi

I downloaded version 6 of their install CD and installed in VirtualBox. This version is for 32bit machines. Unfortunately my test machine is a high end gaming laptop, which has an Nvidia GFX card and this wasn’t picked up by the installer as I was dropped straight to the CLI after install. Their support suggested I try the 64bit version 7 download.

Oliver Partridge

Building websites since 2000, I have a wealth of experience in eMarketing, SEO, e-mail marketing and social media marketing. Google+ and Twitter

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