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Building a Stout, Versatile Linux Small Business Server
Selecting Best of Breed
October 17, 2008
Linux oldtimers have known for years that it's not necessary to go into hock for expensive, proprietary networking gear, because Linux comes with a powerhouse networking stack. It also comes with a host of first-rate network services such as intrusion detection, firewalling, proxies; file, print, Web, and email services; excellent groupware and messaging; genuine secure remote access and administration; secure wireless; diagnostic, monitoring, and repair tools; backups and restores; and most everything else needed to run the small-to-big enterprise. In this new series we're going to learn how to run a business network on Linux using best-of-breed applications. Best-of-breed, happily, is a difficult and debatable proposition because there are so many good choices, so we'll just have to roll up our sleeves and do our best.
In this series our workhorses will be Ubuntu Server Edition and Voyage Linux. Ubuntu Server Edition is a good, sensible fluff-free bundle that makes a great LAN server. In addition to the usual mail/file/print/Web/etc. servers, it includes automated and unattended network installations of new PCs, one-click Active Directory integration for the poor souls who must have that, and a commercial support option.
Voyage is a very stripped-down Debian Linux; the stock installation is 68 megabytes. Unlike most embedded Linuxes, Voyage comes with the excellent apt-get package manager. Most tiny Linuxes sacrifice the package manager, so they are difficult to upgrade or add new software. With Voyage you have the entire world of Debian available to you, so customizing your own gear is easy. It's great for firewalls and routers, and specialized servers that need a small footprint.
I see some fine *BSD fans raising their hands, and they are correct- FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD also have all these things. In some cases they're even better than their Linux cousins, so as the series progresses I'll include some pointers to these as well.
Avoiding Traps and Pitfalls
TCP/IP networking is supposed to be platform-agnostic; in other words, you should be able to plug any client into a network and have access to all network resources. Of course in the real world it's a bit more difficult than that, as so many vendors invest more resources into locking customers in by devious and unsavory means, rather than giving them good reasons to stay. While I love to crab at Microsoft's non-standard implementations of networking standards, don't forget that Apple didn't even include a TCP/IP stack in MacOS. If you wanted TCP/IP you had to purchase third-party software like Thursby's Dave. Sure, MacOS had AppleTalk , which made networking with other Macs as easy as plugging them in. As long as all the Macs on the local AppleTalk network were running the same MacOS version, that is, or hadn't been made obsolete by an OS upgrade that left not-very-older hardware behind.
Linux is your insurance against lock-in and forced obsolescence, which are just two of the many reasons I like it so much. If you need real interoperability, and not the fake kind that exists only in press releases, then you want FOSS (Free/Open Source Software).