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I work for a small organization ( 15 employees). We are currently looking to setup a in-office server for file sharing, networked backup, calendaring, contact sharing, and remote server management capability.We operate in a mostly Windows environment, with a couple of Macs.

I have been looking at Apple Snow Leopard Server, MS Small Business Server and Ubuntu Server. Apple's server is nice, but seems to have limitation in terms of how well it plays with Windows in terms of networked backup, imaging & calendaring.

MS would play well in our environment, but it feels like I need to take a training class just to be able to run it properly and I am not a big fan of its CAL license structure and pricing.

Ubuntu server seems really nice and it seems to work well with both Windows and Mac environment.I have tinkered with a Linux environment for a while and like it so far.

Does anyone have any suggestion in terms of hardware/software structure we should be looking at and important issues to keep in mind before implementing.

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Thank you all for the answers. Based on the recommendations I received here, I have decided to go with MS Small Business Server. It seems fit for the environment that we operate in and probably easier to handover to any new tech. employee in the future as well. Thanks again. I truly appreciate all of your wonderful answers.It helped quite a bit to make the final decision. –  Stealth Feb 17 '10 at 15:37

9 Answers 9

As much as I hate to say it, but if all the desktops are windows, I'd say you need windows SBS. Very easy and straightforward to install and set up for a SOHO.

If you ave the time, and especially the knowledge, sure, you can install Linux (why Ubuntu when there's Debian and CentOS available escapes me, but it's your choice). It will do everything you need, and probably better than windows, but you will still lack the total inter-application integration that ms products provide.

So this is really up to you - you want ease and less complexity - go for SBS, you want to play around, and possibly eventually get the server to perform better than a windows box - go for Linux.

yeah, and I've no idea about Macs, so I'm not mentioning them at all :)

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Ubuntu is popular, and Ubuntu has decent community support, most likely why he's considering it. Debian is good but tends to be stricter than most of the youngun's like with their policy on "freedom" software, and CentOS I suspect isn't quite as popular and seen more as an enterprise-targeted OS, while this user sounds like he or she is working in a small office setting. Just guessing, though :-) –  Bart Silverstrim Feb 16 '10 at 18:18
    
:-) You guessed it right. –  Stealth Feb 16 '10 at 18:31
    
Let's not forget Ubuntu LTS. It made me switch over from Debian. –  pauska Feb 17 '10 at 0:11

Depends on what you are most comfortable administrating, really. You run a mostly Windows environment, so my first suggestion is to go with Windows, and your primary "ugh" factor with Windows is the cost. Big downside, but that's the cost of using Windows in a mostly Windows environment.

If you like and are comfortable with Linux, go with that. The main drawback is that while most of what you labeled are relatively simple and almost painless to do with it, some of it could be a pain, like contact syncing. You may have to dive into LDAP and such in order to accomplish it, and Linux extracts a pound of flesh for the learning curve where with Windows you'll need to pay in cash. On the upside, you get a wonderful education on how things work while becoming intimately intertwined with the business so it may be a source of job security :-)

Linux does offer a lot of flexibility, and there's almost surely a way to get it to do whatever you want it to do and more and it's free (monetarily) while expensive in learning curve for some technologies.

For what you named I think the biggest headache for me would be the calendaring and contact sharing. There's a groupware solution that may work for you on Linux...so...I'd say go Linux, and if you can't get it to work transition to Windows.

Server specs...minimum 4 gig RAM, a couple drives for RAID (small business...with some budget I'd get hardware RAID mirroring), drive size depends entirely on your needs (you didn't say what the business is and how much data you're pushing), good gigabit network card and switch. Depending on your expected load on the system you may want to look at either RAID 1 (mirror) or RAID 10. Avoid RAID 5 with high capacity drives. That's asking for issues. Backing up can be either to a decent tape drive or, again depending on budget and file sizes you're expecting, external hard disks of high capacity. Tapes last longer but drives are pretty fast and the interface for Firewire/USB/SATA/etc. aren't going away anytime soon, while some of our older tape technologies aren't the easiest to recover from once for some reason the drives are replaced or updated. For a small business using large capacity hard disks as a backup medium isn't ridiculous, given pricing on external terabyte hard disks. Depends on what your backup cycle is expected to be and how long you want to keep old data.

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Thanks Bart for the Server specs details. –  Stealth Feb 17 '10 at 15:39

This is a very subjective question. You'll get many different answers on this, from different points of view and no single one is 'right'. It all depends on your goals, knowledge and budget.

In my opinion, Windows Small Business Server is going to be the easiest to set up and integrate into your environment. If you think Windows Server is hard to set up, just wait till you see the "gotchas" with an Ubuntu or Apple server. If you have the money just bite the bullet and go with this option. Windows Server + Exchange will get you the features you are looking for with the least amount of headaches. It isn't cheap, but it is the easiest to set up.

If you are looking to save money, you can install Ubuntu server. There are replacements for just about any of the services you are looking at, but they all require tweaking and don't 'just work'. Expect to spend a lot of time configuring it, but once it is set up it should be rock solid. I run a lot of Ubuntu servers, but not for a Windows network.

If you want to both spend a lot of money, and have problems integrating it with your Windows environment, use Snow Lepoard Server. duck

Also, you may want to consider going the SaaS route. Google Apps or Hosted Exchange would get you all of the same services without the overhead of running a server. You avoid the large up-front and ongoing maintenance of an in-house solution. Evaluate the hardware and licensing costs for Windows and match it up with the per/month cost of a hosted solution.

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I would run whatever you are most comfortable with. Personally, I would stick with Windows SBS as it will do everything you are looking to do. Yes there is the cost of doing it this way, but it is also easier to find someone to replace you. (You do want vacation dont you?). If you think running SBS is going to involve training guess what? So is any Linux or Apple server. At the very least they will require some reading and some how-to's posted online.

If you are looking to run a Linux server look at a variety of distro's. We use CentOS but it is mostly a personal preference.

As for server hardware, I would say a large RAID 10 array, 8GB of RAM, and dual processors. Backing up to the server is great, but what happens when that fails? I would recommend you check out Jungledisk / Amazon S3 for a remote destination backup.

You don't mention e-mail in your requirements, so I am guessing that is hosted else ware? If not you might want to look into Google Apps for contact sharing and calendar sharing.

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Recently I read this article in LinuxMagazine.com, which describes a special linux distro (ClearOS) exactly for this role. I did not try it yet, but the article was very well written, and may give you an option to consider.

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This is a very subjective question, my very subjective answer is below:

  • If you have a bunch of Macs, deploy a Mac file server
    (Unless you're willing to jump through Samba or AFP daemon hoops and are fully prepared to deal with any problems that arise in production).
  • If you have a bunch of Windows machines, deploy a Windows file server
    (Unless you're willing to jump through Samba hoops and are fully prepared to deal with any problems that arise in production).
  • If you have a bunch of *NIX machines it doesn't matter so much, but I would suggest a *NIX file server for consistency.

Basically go with the predominantly-deployed technology in your organization. Windows/OS X/*NIX will all play nicely together given enough coercion, but you don't want to be coercing your production environment.


Edit/add - You also asked about hardware and other issues :)

Hardware-wise I can offer a little more guidance:

  • "Enough" RAM (2-4 gigs is probably "enough" for a file server)
  • "Enough" disk (varies depending on your organization. Disk is cheap, so I'd start at 1TB)
    • "the right" disk (SATA is probably fine, RAID (1/5/6) is a must)
  • Backup Provisions (Local tape, removable HDs, network backup -- something)
    • Don't overlook this part! - Really. You'll regret it if you do...
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Definitely going to look into the backup options. Thanks for the heads up! –  Stealth Feb 17 '10 at 15:40

I really like unix way and linux in particular(in fact, I user Ubuntu on my PC to manage the network). But if you have a small all-windows network, then Windows server is your best choice. The price is not that bad either - you will probably spend more in terms of time figuring out how to setup SAMBA(which is definitely not the most enjoyable OSS to work with)

Also consider the following:

  • You might want to put some other software on that server, like antivirus management server. Most likely it will be made for Windows.

  • If you decide to leave the company, they will have a hard time trying to find someone who can manage SAMBA based setup.

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"They will have a hard time trying to find someone who can replace you" -- now is that a bad reason to do it or a good reason? –  Paul Feb 16 '10 at 19:10
    
LOL! I wonder too! –  Vitaliy Feb 16 '10 at 22:26
    
If the admin leaves the company, it's generally not their problem if the successor can manage Samba, and if they're leaving on good terms, he or she can document the configuration and assist in finding a replacement that knows how to use Linux rather than buzzwords for system administration, or come back on a consultation basis...if theyr'e leaving on bad terms then it doesn't matter. –  Bart Silverstrim Feb 16 '10 at 23:02

Windows. It matches best with your environment and it appears to be where your skills are.

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Go for ubuntu server. As you are small office, it will suit you . Even if you grow you dont have to worry about spending more money on server

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