Section 4.5. Final Words

4.5. Final Words

Our SOHO server took longer to build than we expected. The Antec P180 case is the quietest case we have ever used, and has superb cooling. But those benefits come at the small price of some additional complexity during the build process. That's a trade-off we were more than happy to make. The system runs cooler than any comparable system we have built, and is nearly inaudible even in a quiet room.

If this is the first system you've built, expect to spend a full weekend building it. Even if you've built systems before, the SOHO server will probably be more than a one-evening project. Still, once it's complete, you've built something worth having.

4.5.1. Installing Software

Choosing the operating system for a SOHO server involves several trade-offs. We considered the following operating systems for our own SOHO server.

Microsoft Small Business Server

Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) is a turnkey server OS aimed squarely at small businesses. It is designed to be easy to install and administer, although many small businesses choose to pay a consultant to install it and sometimes to manage it. SBS Standard sells for about $400 for a one-server license with five Client Access Licenses (CALs). Additional CALs cost about $450 per five-pack, and are needed for additional users or machines. SBS Premium costs about $800 for a one-server license with 5 CALs. Additional CALs cost about $850 per five-pack. Both versions support file and print sharing, email, shared calendaring, and other basic features. SBS Premium adds limited versions of SQL Server and ISA Server.

Xandros Server

Xandros Server is, in effect, a Linux-based superset of Microsoft SBS Premium. A one-server license costs about $300, and no CALs are required for basic client access. (Some of the bundled third-party utilities, such as the Scalix groupware server, the BRU Backup Server, and the Helix Streaming Media Server include some number of bundled CALs, but require additional CALs for additional users.) Xandros Server is, if anything, easier to set up and maintain than SBS. (That's fortunate, because Xandros Server consultants are still relatively thin on the ground compared to SBS consultants.) We think Xandros Server is the best choice for SOHO administrators who need a "full-function" server OS.

Ubuntu Server

Ubuntu Server is free-as-in-beer and free-as-in-speech. It uses text-based installation and maintenance, so it's unlikely to be suitable for anyone who's not comfortable with command-line Linux. On the other hand, this is serious server software. It's stripped down to essentials, whence the absence of a default GUI, and it's far faster than any of the other products we considered. One wonderful feature of Ubuntu Server is its scripted setup of a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python) server. Setting up a LAMP server manually may take hours, even for an experienced Linux administrator. With Ubuntu Server, setting up a LAMP server is a single menu option. Frankly, we think Ubuntu Server is a pretty good choice for nearly any SOHO environment, provided you're already a moderately experienced command-line-savvy Linux administrator (or have access to a Linux guru for advice and assistance).

A desktop Linux distribution

If your functional requirements are modest, don't rule out using a standard desktop Linux distribution like Xandros 4 or Ubuntu/Kubuntu on your server. In theory, there are a lot of disadvantages to doing that, but in practice many of those objections disappear. For example, a desktop Linux distribution is usually slower than a purpose-built server distribution. So what? We'll never notice any tiny performance difference that may exist. A desktop distribution may not support software RAID. Again, we don't care, because we plan to run JBOD on our SOHO server. Desktop Linux distributions also have advantages relative to server distributions. The biggest advantage for most people is that the desktop distro uses a familiar graphic interface. Setting up a shared disk volume or printer is usually a matter of a few clicks.

We ruled out Microsoft SBS for our SOHO server based on cost, if nothing else. Based on how Microsoft calculates CAL requirements, we would have had to spend more than $800 for SBS Standard or $1,600 for SBS Premium. That was simply more than we could justify based on the features and benefits of SBS. We also distrust the business policies and security of Microsoft software, so we took SBS off our list immediately.

Ubuntu Server was the next candidate we eliminated. We simply don't know Linux well enough to maintain a command-line server, nor do we need the LAMP stack that is the real reason Ubuntu Server was created. For a small business that has an experienced Linux administrator, Ubuntu Server might be an excellent and economical choice. For us, it was a nonstarter.

We looked next at Xandros Server. This product is reasonably inexpensive, extremely full-featured, and by default uses a Windows-like graphical interface, shown in Figure 4-79. (There is the option to run it in text mode for higher performance.) Xandros sent us an evaluation copy, which we spent some time evaluating.

Figure 4-79. The Xandros Server administrator desktop

The core of Xandros Server is the Xandros Management Console, shown in Figure 4-80 only three minutes after we'd installed Xandros Server and before we'd installed and enabled any but the default functions. Anyone who has even a bit of experience managing Windows servers will immediately feel right at home in Xandros Server.

Figure 4-80. Xandros Management Console

We concluded that Xandros Server was fast, reliable, and very easy to manage. If we needed even one or two of the advanced features of this productsuch as the groupware server or the streaming media serveror if we needed to manage multiple servers, we'd choose Xandros Server in a heartbeat.

But all we really need our SOHO Server to do is share files, printers, and other resources. For those simple tasks, even the minimal $300 street price of Xandros Server was more than we wanted to pay. We decided to do what we really intended to do all alonginstall a desktop Linux distro and set it up as our server OS. The choice came down to Xandros 4 Home Edition Premium or Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, both of which we were already running on other systems.

We looked first at Ubuntu 6.06 LTS Linux, which Robert runs on his primary office desktop system. Unfortunately, although Ubuntu has good support for Windows Networking as a client, setting up a Windows Networking server turned out to be nontrivial.

We read the Samba documentation and various Ubuntu help pages until we were confident that we could set up network shares properly. After an hour or two of mucking about, we got it working, or so we thought. Unfortunately, we soon encountered some strange problems with Windows clients authenticating to the server, sporadically dropped connections, and so on.

We turned next to Xandros 4 Home Edition Premium, which Barbara runs on her primary office desktop. Xandros 4 Premium retails for $80, but is available from online merchants for $55 or so. Although it is licensed for use on only one business system, the license allows it to be installed on unlimited personally owned systems for personal use.

In contrast to our struggles to configure Ubuntu to work properly as a server, Xandros 4 is trivially easy to set up as a server. Sharing a disk volume or printer with other Linux and Windows users on the network requires only a few clicks, and Just Works. In fact, it's easier to set up Xandros to share resources in either direction than it is to set up Windows to do the same.

The desktop version of Xandros lacks the Management Console and third-party server applications bundled with Xandros Server, but for our purposes it was perfect. Inexpensive, reliable, and easy to use. We couldn't ask for more.

For updated component recommendations, commentary, and other new material, visit

Building the Perfect PC
Building the Perfect PC, Second Edition
ISBN: 0596526865
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 84

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