[kwlug-disc] Best Server Distribution??

john at netdirect.ca john at netdirect.ca
Tue Feb 2 11:49:29 EST 2010

kwlug-disc-bounces at kwlug.org wrote on 02/02/2010 10:10:44 AM:
> In spirit of the recent post on what would be the best desktop 
> distribution, I would like to ask the same question for servers, but
> first a little background. I appolise, but this is going to be long 
> I am the 'IT guy' for an elevator manufacturer in Kitchener. I use 
> the IT term loosely as I have no formal training, I am 100% 'home-
> grown'. I solve problems the hard way (lots of head scratchin' and 
> bangin') and if that does not work, I am on the phone to Microsoft. 
> I have been ITing for 10 yrs and I hold Microsoft wholely 
> responsible for my hairloss and premature greying. LOL!!!
> We are currently running Microsoft's SBS 2003 server suite and we 
> are looking to upgrade. I naturally looked to Microsoft for my next 
> headache... I mean solution. After all, once you become a sheep, 
> what else can you do??? This is where the problem begins, upgrading 
> to Big Mic's newest offering is going to cost the company close to 
> $50k in hardware and software (We have 40 desktops, 2 remote offices
> and 40 mobile/PDA users.). Ouch??? Are they kidding, who can afford 
> that??? What am I to do, the bosses are not going to be happy with 
> that request. So, I started looking for alternatives.
> I found many stories of users with Linux machines that just work. No
> problems, no worries and best of all, no costs. The years of 
> Microsoft abuse has left me very skeptical. Is this possible? Can 
> servers just work? Is it possible to have a 'lights out' server 
> room? For the most part, I am a Linux blank slate. I spent a bit of 
> time with QNX about 15yrs ago and I am an original DOS guy. I am no 
> stranger to the command line, however I am quite rusty for sure. So,
> where does that leave me???
> I have grand plans and I am looking for direction on how to get 
> there. What distro do I use? I have been given the OK to take some 
> training courses and have looked at Red Hat and Ubuntu. If I trained
> in Red Hat and later used Ubuntu (or something else) would the 
> training be a waste? I understand that there will be a steep 
> learning curve and that I will need to purchase support, but I 
> figure that in the end I will be better off.
> Here are some details;
> - Continue to run WinXP as the desktop OS for the users
> - Need Microsoft SQL Server
> - Need (I think) Microsoft Server for other Server applications 
> (AutoCAD, Alarm System, Terminal Server for remote offices, Desktop 
> Antivirus server)
> - DHCP, DNS, PDC, File, Email, Security, Backup, Print and Fax 
> servers to be some flavour of Linux
> Thank-you to all for any support you can give.
> Best regards,
> Bill Hazelwood

This is the same issue as with the last thread that you refer to. It will 
depend largely on what you want to do and what subtle and not so subtle 
differences do you prefer.

I have been putting in Linux servers into companies like yours for 15 
years. They work great with little or no down time and we can add features 
to systems very easily without costly licensing.

Your systems, on the surface anyway, appear to be well married to 
Microsoft. Applications that support MS-SQL usually only work with MS-SQL. 
Terminal server requires AD, Exchange requires AD, all the Microsoft 
servers are inbred heavily requiring one another. This is exactly how 
Microsoft intended it to be so that it would be hard for a company like 
yours to change.

Without knowing more detail about the software and how your users use it 
it's hard to make any more recommendations than these:

1. You can replace your file/print server with Linux which may be able to 
save you CAL fees.
2. You can replace MS Office with Open Office to reduce the huge cost of 
MS Office licensing.
3. There are options for replacing Exchange. From simple ones like just 
email to complete solutions that provide for Blackberry support.
4. You may be able to swap MS-SQL with Oracle or another database (only 
MS-SQL won't run on Linux.)
5. Firewalls, web servers, DNS, DHCP, AV deployment, etc can all be done 
with Linux systems.

Linux systems support Windows clients too so you don't have to change the 
desktops much. There may be some change in application software. 

The benefit will be reduced licensing, reduced problems, and more 
flexibility. Once you start using Open Source there are a huge number of 
options available.

We have several customers like your company that run mostly or entirely on 
Linux and open source software, some even use Linux desktops.

As for distro, my best recommendation is to choose the one that is 
supported by your hardware and key software vendors. Normally the problems 
that one encounters are either known issues that are resolvable, that's 
not the reason for support, the reason is for the problems that are 
intermittent or hard to solve. If there is any room for a vendor to point 
somewhere else for a problem (e.g. we don't support that distro) they 
will, leaving you with a problem.

Typically Red Hat and Suse are supported very well by vendors. For simple 
systems, support often doesn't matter and so the choice of distro is wide 
open. We also often use CentOS or OpenSuse for simpler systems.

I hope it helps.

John Van Ostrand
Net Direct Inc.
564 Weber St. N. Unit 12
Waterloo, ON N2L 5C6
john at netdirect.ca
Ph: 866-883-1172
Linux Solutions / IBM Hardware
Fx: 519-883-8533

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