Open Source Choices
Because open source solutions can be packaged in many different ways, the options may at first seem overwhelming. Your major decision will be whether to embark on a “roll your own” open source solution using in-house expertise or an outside consultant, or invest in a turnkey open source solution from a major distributor.
For example, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) ES for “entry-level and departmental” workloads starts at $349 per year. It comes with 30 days of phone support and one year of Web-based support. Higher-priced packages are available with more support. With an RHEL ES system, most office server functions are ready to go, including file, Web, mail, and print serving. Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux AS starts at $1,499 a year. It is oriented toward larger enterprise applications and adds database, CRM, and ERP functionality.
Novell’s competing turnkey open source server platform is SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 9. Like Red Hat’s entry-level offering, SLES begins at $349 per year and goes up from there, depending on the hardware configuration and support package selected.
Both Novell’s and Red Hat’s offerings are out-of-the-box packages that bundle and configure various individual open source applications to build a feature-complete server environment. In addition to their support, each vendor has also developed its own software management and configuration tools as “value added” features.
Alternatively, all of the open source software bundled in these turnkey solutions is freely available. Because their setup, configuration, and operation requires a solid level of expertise, rolling your own open source solution is often not as easy as simply downloading the software and clicking “Install.” But, with an experienced hand inside or outside your organization, most of this software can be set up quickly and without the ongoing costs of yearly subscriptions.
Let’s get specific. What open source applications are needed in a typical data center?
|Apache 2.0||Web server|
|PHP 4 or 5||Dynamic scripting language for Web applications|
|MySQL or PostgreSQL||Database server|
|Jakarta and Tomcat||Java ServerPages and Servlet support for Web applications|
|Sendmail or Postfix||Mail server|
|Samba||File server compatible with Windows shares|
|CUPS||Common Unix Printing System — Cross-platform print server|
|OpenLDAP||(LDAP: Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) — cross-platform user authentication|
|OpenSSL||Secures Web serving|
|Jabber||Instant messaging server|
Even a single server equipped with the above open source software can power many, if not most, office needs. But these represent only the tip of the iceberg. Many more-sophisticated configurations can be put together with open source software, including large server clusters and bridges between open source applications and the more popular commercial servers.
Whether your organization is large or small, integrating open source solutions into your server infrastructure does not require an all-out commitment right from the start. In general, open source software will “play nicely” with existing solutions, enabling you to test and integrate over time — or jump in with both feet — whichever is most appropriate.
To cut through the myriad and sometimes confusing options, the initial decision should be broken into three choices:
- Roll your own using freely available resources.
- Rely on an in-house expert or external consultant to get you started with one or more open source servers.
- Go all-in with a turnkey annual subscription solution, such as those from Red Hat and Novell.
To embark on No. 1, you’ll likely want to find a Linux distribution that is both comprehensive and oriented toward do-it-yourself solutions. Dozens of Linux distributions are available, but those best positioned for the server room include Debian, openSUSE (a cost-free spin-off of Novell’s SUSE Linux), and Red Hat Fedora (the cost-free spin-off of Red Hat Linux). These free open source distributions will include most of the server software you need (and almost anything else is available for download), but lack the value-added features of their commercial siblings, including vendor support and priority updates and patching.