Server distributions for small businesses tested

Are You Being Served?

Conclusions

None of the test candidates have major weaknesses – in fact, we were pretty impressed with all of the server distributions. Where they mainly differ is in terms of the numbers and orientation of supported apps. Whereas Zentyal focuses on its role as a file and mail server in heterogeneous environments, UCS attempts to integrate commercial applications. Other candidates, such as NethServer or the Collax system, seek to impress as rock solid all-round solutions.

All of the servers tested offer popular network management services out of the box, including DHCP, DNS, and NTP servers along with a firewall. All of the candidates also offer a VPN server and NFS services. However, for deployment in heterogeneous environments with Windows clients and a domain structure, you need a Samba server – and not all of the candidates support the current 4.3 version. In some cases, beta versions are integrated.

As of Samba version 4.0, you can integrate appropriately prepared Linux server systems as Active Directory Domain Controllers (DCs) without any restrictions in heterogeneous Windows environments.

That said, this network topology is typically only worthwhile in large IT infrastructures because of the more complex management. The feature scope of Samba 3.x is normally absolutely fine to integrate Windows clients with an intranet that uses Linux servers, and because smaller IT environments typically only use the Samba server as a file and print server, all of the distributions tested here are fully capable of handling the job.

The test team had no complaints about update routines. All of the systems ensure that they are kept up to date at all times to eliminate any vulnerabilities. Access to the server logfiles is also pretty much uncomplicated; all of the candidates help admins troubleshoot any problems that occur.

All of the distributions are equally good choices for less experienced administrators and people moving from Windows servers. That said, the vendors are now seeing competition because of the growing feature set of today's NAS systems: The QNAP QTS operating system can easily hold sway with the Linux solutions tested here, with its collection of installation and configuration routines. The only weakness is the inability to extend the number of apps.

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