As your business grows, your network needs to grow with it. Many SMBs still rely on a peer-to-peer network consisting of a few computers cobbled together to share a printer or an Internet connection. But this arrangement is less than efficient because you have to administer each computer individually, and you can't stretch the network much beyond 10 computers.
If you want a more sophisticated setup that requires a local area network (LAN) built around a server. And that's where one of two things can happen costs soar due to server licensing and the need to hire someone to look after the growing IT burden, or you give up in disgust and revert to walking the corridors with floppies.
The solution to such woes could well be Novell Linux Small Business Suite version 9.0. "Novell Linux Small Business Suite has all you need to run a small business network," says Charlie Ungashick, director of product marketing at Novell. "It's a complete out-of-the-box suite that provides a secure, reliable networking foundation for collaboration and business applications."
Novell aims the suite at small businesses that have become too familiar with floppies, those struggling with peer-to-peer network woes and those wanting to cut the costs associated with their existing small business network.
According to Novell, its Linux Small Business Suite can save you more than 70 percent compared to Windows Small Business Server in terms of software costs alone.
"That doesn't take into account the fact that Microsoft customers are more prone to productivity loss due to downtime, dealing with security issues such as viruses, and lack of flexibility due to vendor lock-in," said Ungashick.
For new customers, the Novell Linux Small Business Suite comes in a five-user pack for $475, which includes licenses for three servers and one year of maintenance. Other configuration pricing works out like this:
- One server and ten desktops: $950
- Two servers and 30 desktops: $2,850
- Three servers and 100 desktops: $9,500
Novell offers this comparison: Over a three-year period, a 50-user Windows Small Business Server (Premium Edition) license along with a maintenance agreement and the additional charges for desktop and Microsoft Office licensing costs $30,000 whereas the Novell Linux Small Business Suite costs $7,000.
Both products have similar functionality. They each offer a Web server and integrated services for file, print, directory, collaboration, database, firewall and Virtual Private Network (VPN).
The Novell Linux Small Business Server suite is designed to support Windows, MacOS and Linux desktops and offers the following:
- Novell's SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 9 for file access and sharing, printing, firewall and VPN for remote access
- Novell GroupWise 6.5 for e-mail, calendaring, secure instant messaging and junk e-mail handling on either Windows or Linux desktop clients (this means the small business doesn't need to invest in another server for e-mail such as Exchange)
- Novell eDirectory 8.7.3 for directory management (this helps with such tasks as managing access privileges who can get into what files and who can't, etc)
- Novell iManager 2.0.2 for increased manageability of the entire network
- Support for up to 100 users and three servers
- Five free technical support incidents
When you open up the box, the initial impression is "Oh, my god." Thirteen CDs assail you, and to be frank, it's a little intimidating. But after that initial scare, it's pretty easy. You need to insert seven of the CDs in sequence, and the on-screen wizards walk you through it without much difficulty. As it turns out, you can install the entire suite including the directory, collaboration server and management system and have it up and running in under an hour.
You use the other disks for the client side of the equation GroupWise (e-mail and collaboration) and Novel Linux Desktop 9.
"The Novell Linux Small Businesses Suite provides extensive configuration wizards that make it easy to configure software that might be more complex to small business owners," says Ungashick.
The whole process is a lot simpler than the typical Linux experience. You no longer need to immerse yourself in technical details or hire consultants to figure out what it's all about.
According to a recent survey by Forrester Research, small businesses are spending money on IT systems at an increasing rate, closing in on half of total U.S. tech spending at 44 percent in 2004. Yet the technology headaches continue many of them based upon trying to cope with running a business without a network.
A recent IDC survey found that 62.6 percent of businesses with 100 employees or less do not have a local area network. Many of these firms are hanging onto floppy disks or peer-to-peer networks that don't forward the aims of the business. They lack critical features such as automated backup and restore, e-mail distribution, and most importantly, network security.
Essentially, Novell Linux Small Business Suite provides just about everything a small business needs to get started with Linux. It lets you capitalize on the cost savings, flexibility and manageability of Linux. With support for up to 100 clients, it delivers networking and application services with simplified implementation and maintenance.
Ray Boggs, an analyst at IDC, sums it up by laying out the three strongest attributes of the suite as follows:
- "It's based on Linux, in which a growing number of SMBs are interested."
- "Pricing is very competitive, especially for firms that are looking to grow."
- "The three-server maximum, which may seem a barrier to some firms, is actually very typical for small business environments."
Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.
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