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Collax Takes Appliance Approach to Push Linux into SMBs

Linux Made Simple

  • February 24, 2006
  • By Brian Proffitt

The term "software appliances" is starting to gain traction in the Linux arena of late, as vendors are looking for better ways to package the free operating system and deliver it to customers who may not have the skills or the desire to learn about Linux. In the early days of the Internet, a software appliance would have been called a "turnkey solution," so the idea is nothing new.

But that hasn't stopped a number of Linux vendors from pushing their software appliance wares into the market, a move that is seeing some early signs of success.

One such vendor is Collax, a Munich, Germany firm with strong ties to the pre-Novell SUSE Linux operation in that country. Collax, though, is no SUSE clone. In fact, they are taking Linux into a market that SUSE, Red Hat, and the other major commercial vendors haven't really bothered with: the small- to medium-sized business (SMB) channel.

To call Collax just another commercial Linux distro would be grossly inaccurate. In actuality, what they offer to customers is a pre-packaged software solution that will run only the applications that the end-user needs.

Instead of providing end-users with multiple versions of a given service--say, an e-mail server--the Collax Business Server product will just have one mail application onboard. This approach ties into the company's "Simply Linux" tagline, and is apparent throughout all of Collax's products: one application per service, all across the board.

The net result of this is a server that only has 230 applications available, as opposed to other distros that may have thousands of applications to choose from. Doing it this way "reduces the complexity of setting up and maintaining Linux," according to Olaf Jacobi, CEO.

The Collax developers have done more than just strip their offering down to their best picks. Each application is deeply integrated into the kernel and hardened, explained CTO Boris Nalbach. And for the interface, forget about KDE, GNOME, or even X. Everything is handled with a Web-based interface (see Figure 1).

The drive to make Collax a turnkey solution is readily apparent after talking to Jacobi and Nalbach at last week's Open Source Business Conference. Everything about this product is about ease-of-use. The Web interface features setup and configuration wizards to help with stand-alone setup as well as migration from an existing system. The Web functionality also allows for remote and cross-platform management. The product is scalable as well, both in terms of users and functionality.

Unlike Microsoft Small Business Server, which has a hard cap of 75 users, Collax can scale up indefinitely, so it can grow along with any successful company. There are also additonal modules that can be purchased, if desired, such as anti-virus, VPN servers, and most recently, the Open-Xchange messaging server. In fact, the company began offering Collax Open-Xchange Server flavor of its product on Jan. 31.

Not only are the products tightly controlled: both products keep things tightly locked down, only turning on services when requested by the end-user. Out of the box, only http and LDAP are running.

All of this is geared to server the thus-far elusive SMB space.

"The SMB market is interested but doesn't have the skills," Jacobi told LinuxPlanet.

Collax is already seeing some success in this channel in Europe, where they are tapping into existing distributors and value-added resellers (including some former Microsoft resellers) to push their product into the SMBs. In North America the company, which has an office in San Francisco, is currently in talks with various channel distributors and wants to kick off a pre-launch review some time in 2Q or 3Q this year.

The revenue model for the Collax products is subscription-only, starting at 395 for one year for up to 10 users. The price adjusts for more years subscribed and more users in a tier structure. Currently Collax is offering the Business Server free for five-user non-commercial use.

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