Open Source Options for Small Organizations

The tough economy is taking its toll on small businesses and organizations and many are still using old hardware and operating systems simply because they cannot keep up with the high cost of licensing, or the perpetual upgrade fees.

Believe it or not, some organizations are still using Windows NT 4 Servers and Windows 98 desktops. A few are still on Exchange Server 5.5 and a lot of print shops are tied to the Novell Netware and Solaris systems their vendors installed decades ago.

For the cash-strapped small organization, there are a few options provided by the open source community that they may not be aware of. What makes these options even better is that unlike the scary days of command-line only access for system management, most of these systems can be managed via a web browser.

Some of the distributions of note here are ClearOS from the Clear Foundation, Zentyal formerly known as eBox, Untangle, and Astaro, which will soon be a part of Sophos. We could also throw in FreeNAS for network storage and backup. Of course there are the ever solid OpenBSD, CentOS, OpenSUSE, Debian and Ubuntu server editions but these standalone offerings require a lot of time and money to install, setup and maintain, a luxury small organizations do not have.

ClearOS and Zentyal represent the Small Business Server of the open source community in the sense that they practically contain everything a business or organization needs to get a network going. They also come with quite some savings to boot since a typical SBS offering could range anywhere from $500 to $2000 per server minus the goodies you get for free like unlimited users and devices (read additional client access fees), and no terminal server fees for remote workers.

A typical small business server comes bundled with the following applications:

  • Networking
  • Server and PC Backup
  • Security
  • Advanced e-mail and calendar capabilities
  • Database and line-of-business support
  • Document and printer sharing
  • Remote Access

ClearOS offers the following server features which should be more than sufficient for the needs of a small organization or business:

  • Windows Networking with PDC Support
  • File and Print Services
  • Flexshares (a flexible and secure collaboration utility which integrates four of the most common methods of accessing files or content: HTTPS, CIFS, S/MIME, FTPS )
  • Groupware with Outlook Connector
  • Mail Server – POP, IMAP, SMTP, Webmail, Retrieval
  • Mail Filtering – Antispam, Antimalware, Greylisting, Quarantine
  • Mail Archiving
  • Database with MySQL
  • Web Server with PHP Support

What this flexibility means is that even a Windows-centric organization or business can use ClearOS or Zentyal as a domain controller with print and file sharing.

Zentyal can act as an Active Directory server, automatic failover backup server, a tool for centralized management, a Certification authority for managing SSL certificates, a DHCP and DNS server , and provides Groupware (exchange server replacement) and web server capabilities. For those who like to tinker, these systems are yours to do what you will – add, remove, recompile, improve or customize based on business needs.

The same could be said of Untangle and Astaro, but the specialties of those two are more on the security side of things. A small organization or business could deploy either Astaro or Untangle as a gateway device to protect the network from Internet risks. They offer superior content filtering and intrusion detection and prevention services that could go toe-to-toe with any enterprise-class software costing thousands of dollars, and they keep getting better.

On the client side of things, while an argument could be made that Linux is not Windows (duh!), there are a few Windows-user friendly distributions that could fit in nicely with the small organization or business. There is Linux Mint, derived from Ubuntu, Fedora is from Redhat, PCLinuxOS, OpenSUSE, CentOS, Mepis and Sabayon are a few of the many that can replace Windows XP, 7 for the license-weary organization or business. The beauty of these distributions is that once they are set up properly, they are wonderful. For one, there are tons of productivity software that come at little or no cost.

Of course, the sticking point is always support and that too is changing. There are service providers like Tech Prognosis that will gladly assist in setting your environment up and provide the necessary support which will definitely not include a virus or spyware removal (because Linux rarely has those issues) or paying to upgrade to the next version of the operating system.

In fact you can actually take most of these distributions for a spin on your current Windows environment through the LiveCD system. If you are in the Austin, TX area and need copies of any of the distributions mentioned, contact us and we will ship them to you.

Shameless Plug:

If you own a small business in the Austin area and have less than 20 employees, see how you can get started with open source for business without upfront or out-of-pocket cost here.