Special-purpose Linux servers provide security, storage and more for department and branch offices, without costing big bucks.
I’m cheap. Given a choice between buying an elaborate, full-featured server requiring expensive technicians and administrators, versus turning an out-of-date PC into a single-purpose Linux server, I’m going to go with the Linux server every time.
It’s not that Linux isn’t expensive. It sometimes is. But if a department or a branch office just needs one or two specific server jobs, there are plenty of obsolete PCs and easy-to-set-up, special-purpose Linux servers that can fill the bill for little or no cost.
Linux answers these needs because companies like Novell, rPath, and network security vendor Vyatta offer dedicated Linux appliances for specific jobs. These Linux distributions, instead of giving you everything, give you just enough to fill a particular need.
Many Linux appliances are free to use. If your needs are particularly simple, or you have in-house expertise, you may not need to spend one penny to get them set up and then to maintain them. If it turns out you do need more help, the ones I selected for this article also offer technical support at reasonable rates.
Another major plus for all these Linux appliances is that they can run on almost any of the Windows XP desktops that you’re considering retiring as unsuitable for upgrading to Windows 7. If your older PCs have 2 GB of RAM and a 2GHz processor, you have all the hardware you need for a Linux server. And, if your users’ requirements are modest, you may well be able to get away with even older PCs with only a gigabyte of RAM and a 1GHz CPU.
If your company happens to have Linux programming expertise, Novell, through its SUSE Appliance Program and rPath via its On-Demand Platform Provisioning can enable you to set up a server that meets your exact specifications.
Here are a sampling of some of the best of these limited – but darn useful in their place – Linux distributions.
Openfiler has one goal: no-fuss storage. It supports Network File System (NFS up to version 3), Common Internet File System (CIFS, a.k.a. Windows-style file server), FTP (file transfer protocol), Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV), and iSCSI, both as initiator and a target. It also supports software and hardware RAID, Logical Volume Manager (LVM), and Fibre Channel.
For administrators, Openfiler also includes synchronous and asynchronous data replication and per volume group, user, and guest space and file management. You can also use Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), NT 4 domain controller mode, and Active Directory (AD) native and mixed modes.
Of course, if you know what you’re doing, any Linux distribution can deliver that laundry list of features. What OpenFiler delivers is an easy-to-use stand-alone, full-featured file server with an easy-to-use Web interface, which can also be incorporated into most corporate networks.
E-Mail Security: Messaging Architects’ M+Guardian Base Distribution: Novell SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server).
M+Guardian is far more than just another spam filter. The program can also be set to block malware both coming into and leaving your office. But it’s more than that. M+Guardian is a complete e-mail policy-based security solution. In addition to filtering out spam and viruses, it can also help your company meet compliance requirements by blocking user e-mail based on identities and corporate roles. So, for example, you can set it to block some users from sending out file attachments and to keep others from using language that might land your company in legal hot water.
You can customize policies at the organization, group, or user level. This is managed by the built-in directory, which is based on Novell’s eDirectory. This directory can, in turn, easily be used with LDAP. Unfortunately, even though Microsoft and Novell have been working on eDirectory and Active Directory (AD) interoperability, getting the two to work together can still be a problem. That said, M+Guardian’s polices are easy enough to set up that even if your enterprise network is AD-based, you still might find it worth your time to use M+Guardian for your remote offices.
While Vyatta is happy to sell you hardware that can replace Cisco routers and firewalls, your branch office may do just fine with Vyatta Core. This dedicated network Linux distribution comes with Network Address Translation (NAT), Virtual Private Network (VPN), and a stateful firewall for both IPv4 and IPv6. It can also act as a router for both TCP/IP protocols. Vyatta Core also includes Cisco-Netflow/Flow compliant logging and Wifi support. Frankly, with its support for Routing Information Protocol, version 2 (RIPv2), Open Shorest Path First version 3 (OSPFv3), and Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), if your site has a savvy network administrator, Vyatta Core may deliver all the network connectivity and protection your branch office needs.
I’m sure you’ve got the idea by now. There are hundreds of easy-to-setup Linux appliances that can turn your existing out-of-date hardware into servers that make IT and users’ lives much easier in branch and remote offices. If containing costs while delivering consistent server and network services to all your users is near the top of your priority list, then the ever-growing family of Linux appliances deserves your attention.
Related Information From Dell.com: Experience the Advantages of Linux