SME Server: The Linux solution for growing businesses
If you’re running a small business and you’re in the market for server, you might want to consider SME Server, a Linux distribution customised specifically for the small and medium sized business environment. You can find SME Server, which is is based on CentOS, a distribution known for its stability, at www.contribs.org.
The community’s forums and wiki are very active and there are lots of HowTos available. Additional repositories are also available for many extra packages that could not be included in the download because of the limitations of a single CD ISO file. The price is also right because it only costs the price of your bandwidth to download the 700MB file. One should however, feel free to contribute to Contribs.org, especially if you obtain payment for offering its services to others.
SME Server is for anyone who has a small to medium sized company: SME Server is designed to be an “install and forget” server. It becomes the hidden box that simply does it all. It features automatic security updates, backups, user and group management. It can host the office email, run a Windows domain and offer file- and print-server services with Samba (Windows file-sharing). File-sharing can also be offered by an ftp or http (web) service. DNS management and website/intranet hosting as well as dynamic DNS client support is included. SME Server can offer a Windows VPN (PPTP) service or, if you prefer, OpenVPN. Content filtering and virus-scanning is provided by web- and smtp-proxies. All these services are simply and easily configured via a web interface.
SME Server is configurable as a gateway, file-server or both. If you need a bigger setup, then you could use a set of SME Servers variously as a firewall and router, and as a domain controller (PDC), and as a domain member file-server. But, from a security “best practice” point of view, you should avoid offering network services on a firewall machine.
Why SME Server?
Perhaps you’re thinking: “So what, I can do that with [your favourite distro here].” What makes SME server special is that its features are well integrated and that after the installation there is no need for end users to see the command line again. You can install it and forget about it. You can deploy it at client offices without worrying about having to telephonically help an end-user through the intricacies of tab-completion and the bash history. SME Server quietly and efficiently gets on with its work.
Being a Linux operating system, one gets a lot of bang for their buck: A couple of years ago, I replaced a Windows 2003 Small Business Server running on a Pentium 4 that had a 1GB of RAM (RAM was expensive then, remember) with an old Celeron 1.1 Ghz with 192 MB of RAM for an office of about 20 users. The SME Server running on the old hardware outperformed the bigger server in every way. It had a boot time under of under two minutes, versus almost 10 minutes. Stability, easy backups and immunity to viruses were just some of the other benefits. That was a late 6-series SME Server. I’ve played with it off and on since then and continued to be impressed by it. The current release is 7.4, and improvements and additional flexibility are available as part of the installation: A screenshot tour of the installation is found here. Screenshots of the web-interface are included in the Administration Manual.
The SME Server website at www.contribs.org is well worth spending some time on, visit the documentation section and read the FAQ to orientate yourself to the way SME Server runs, and to discover some useful HowTos including Asterisk VOIP server, vTiger CRM and eGroupware. Here’s a link to a more detailed feature list for SME Server.
The only disadvantage of using SME Server that I have come across is that one cannot simply install standard RH or CentOS binaries due to changes to the system configuration as compared to standard CentOS. However, this is a small disadvantage and would rarely have an impact on users.
The only alternative to SME Server that I know of is a recent project called “e-box” which is based on Ubuntu. It has a slicker looking web-interface that utilises ajax extensively to avoid full page refreshes. You can find it at www.ebox-platform.com. Perhaps we’ll have an article on that soon too. Or one could always “roll your own”, by installing Samba, MTA, LDAP, FTP, Apache, etc on one’s favourite distro, but using SME Server is so much simpler.
Andrew McIver works for a large ICT company in Midrand. He’s used Linux since Fedora Core 1, and currently switches between Kubuntu and openSUSE11.1.
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Introduction photo credit: iStockPhoto.com