Can be deployed on any 32-bit or 64-bit Intel or AMD platform, with support also for IBM POWER systems, zSeries mainframes and other platforms; SMP, NUMA and clustering support is provided as standard
The leading commercial Linux distribution, RHEL 4 is available for both servers and desktop use; application bundles vary depending on the version involved, with the usual Apache Web server, Samba file and print and SQL database applications in the server bundles and OpenOffice on the desktop products
Relatively easy to install and manage, with lots of support available through Red Hat and third parties; some technical expertise is required to get the best out of server implementations, and desktop users may find other distributions easier to get to grips with
Desktops from €143 and entry-level servers from €279 (per system per year)
The latest version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL V4) is an open source solution with the source code freely available. However, you have to take out a subscription to obtain the executable code and to get access to Red Hat’s online support service (Red Hat Network). Subscriptions are based on the number of processors and users involved, with four distinct RHEL implementations (two for servers and two for desktop use), all based on the same core 2.6 Linux kernel.
The flagship enterprise server product is RHEL AS, which is licensed for any number of processors and any amount of memory. There’s full support for 64-bit processors, SMP and NUMA and a wide range of architectures with implementations, for example, on IBM POWER and mainframe systems as well as Intel platforms.
Lower down the scale, RHEL ES is designed for smaller entry-level servers and is licensed for dual processors and up to 16GB of memory. For desktop use, there’s RHEL WS for dual-processor workstations and Red Hat Desktop for general-purpose PCs with a single CPU licence.
A very mature and well supported solution, the server implementations of RHEL come with an Apache Web server and Samba file server. There’s also a journaled Ext3 file system as standard, plus a variety of tools including Red Hat’s own Logical Volume Manager (LVM) to help with network and storage management.
Installation is straightforward, with plenty of automation options and a special security-enhanced implementation for fine control over what users can and cannot do. The Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) is one of the best software deployment and update tools around, although the lack of a fully integrated management setup could be an issue in small businesses with limited expertise.
The RHEL product line uses the GNOME interface, while the two desktop distributions ship with the OpenOffice suite of productivity tools plus Novell’s Evolution email/calendaring client and Mozilla's Firefox browser.
Can be deployed on 32-bit and 64-bit Intel/AMD platforms; also available for IBM POWER and mainframe systems, with multi-processor and clustering support on all implementations; Bluetooth and wireless networking are now standard
Skewed towards desktop use, with KDE desktop and a good bundle of productivity tools including OpenOffice; can also be used on servers, with the usual bundle of applications for file/print sharing, Web, email and database servers
Straightforward to install thanks to the graphical YaST tool, which also simplifies day-to-day management; nice KDE desktop although some users prefer GNOME; good set of personal productivity tools
Free download or £38.95 for packaged product
The latest version of the SUSE platform, SUSE Linux 10, is available for free download; a paid-for version is also available with media, documentation and 90 days of installation support. Either way this (now Novell-owned) product is angled primarily at desktop use, although it’s not unusual to find the software on servers too. You also get the usual bundled applications, including an Apache Web server, Samba and both MySQL and PostgreSQL databases as standard, making SUSE Linux 10 a good all-round small business solution.
SUSE Linux 10 is based on a 2.6 kernel with a KDE desktop by preference, or GNOME if preferred. Processor support is similar to that of the Red Hat software, with implementations for 32-bit and 64-bit Intel/AMD platforms plus IBM Power and mainframe systems. Support for SMP multi-processing is also included, as is -- of special interest to notebook users -- power saving, Bluetooth and wireless networking facilities.
SUSE has long been one of the most straightforward Linux distributions to install and configure thanks to its graphical YaST (Yet another Setup Tool), which has to be a key selling point for new users. This utility also simplifies day-to-day management with additional plug-ins for third party software in the latest version, making for a comprehensive offering.
For companies wanting a higher level of support, separate SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Novell Linux Desktop solutions are also available. Currently based on the earlier SUSE Linux 9 release, these use a 2.6 kernel and are kept up to date with service packs to apply bug-fixes, security patches and so on. The enterprise products also offer the same platform support and, for server use, extensive scalability and clustering options including the Oracle Cluster File System 2. These products will soon reach end of life and will be replaced by SuSE Linux 10-based equivalents.
Support for 32-bit and 64-bit Intel/AMD processors plus PowerPC; automatic detection of most hardware options including wireless networking
Different implementations for desktop and desktop/server deployment, with the usual choice of bundled applications in each case; well supported with regular updates and a good choice of third-party services
A straightforward product to install and use, Mandriva Linux 2006 is a good small business distribution that can be used both to host server applications and as a desktop platform
Free download; commercial packages start at €44.90
Mandriva Linux 2006 is the first completely new product to come from the French producer since it changed its name from Mandrakelinux. It also incorporates technology acquired from Brazilian developer Conectiva and desktop specialist Lycoris -- all now part of Mandriva.
Based on a 2.6 kernel, Mandriva Linux supports industry-standard Intel and AMD processors with 32-bit and 64-bit implementations, plus SMP support and optional clustering facilities. A PowerPC implementation is also available.
The Mandriva software is available for free download from various FTP sites or can be purchased along with discounted membership of the Mandriva Club, which provides access to updates, support and other services. The paid-for version also includes a variety of third-party applications not in the free download, such as Real Player and the Skype Internet telephony utility.
There are three editions of Mandriva Linux 2006, starting with a Discovery/LX package aimed mostly at home users and hobbyists. This is limited to a KDE desktop with a Lycoris colour scheme and accessories, and doesn’t include any server applications. However, basic server tools are bundled with the PowerPack version for advanced users and business deployment. This edition also offers a choice of either KDE or GNOME on the desktop and includes the latest OpenOffice release and a Firefox browser. Finally, for all-out business servers, the PowerPack+ version has all the usual tools plus several thousand other applications as standard.
Installation is easy, with custom setup wizards and automatic detection of most hardware devices -- including wireless networking. Indeed, Mandriva Linux 2006 is the first distribution to be certified for the Intel Centrino platform. It’s also a very easy distribution to get to grips with. Desktop users in particular will appreciate the new KAT search tool; there are also user-friendly utilities to help install updates and manage third-party packages.
An entry-level Linux-optimised server for small to medium-sized businesses looking for a high-performance platform for mission-critical applications; dual processor capable, based on the 64-bit IBM POWER5 processor
Well specified, with 64-bit processor support plus extensive memory and disk configuration options and high-availability features; the POWER5 processor also supports hardware-based virtualisation
Hardware is offered pre-configured and ready to install to suit a range of business applications; choice of either Red Hat Enterprise Linux or the Novell/SUSE distribution with optional installation and support services also available
From £2,500 (ex. VAT)
The IBM OpenPower 710 Express is a Linux-optimised rack-mount server designed to be used by small to medium sized businesses. That said, it’s a lot more highly specified than many other entry-level products with a choice pre-configured models to suit a range of applications from general purpose file and print sharing to the hosting of Web, email and database servers.
A 2U rack-mount chassis is used to house the OpenPower 710 Express hardware, able to accommodate dual 64-bit IBM POWER5 processors accompanied by 2-32GB of memory and four hot-swappable internal disks with a total storage capacity of 1.2TB. A dual-ported Ultra320 SCSI controller is also built in as standard, along with dual Gigabit Ethernet ports for LAN connectivity and three 64-bit PCI-X slots for other plug-in adapters, such as RAID controllers.
Certified for use with either Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS or SUSE Enterprise Linux, the OpenPower 710 Express hardware has been specified to get the best out of the open-source OS and applications software. In particular, optional virtualisation features available through the POWER5 architecture make it possible to balance loads across servers and run multiple virtual machines, each with their own OS, on a single host system.
The OpenPower 710 Express is a highly configurable and powerful Linux platform. However, larger OpenPower models with up to four processors are also available for more demanding applications.
A highly scalable solution with a choice of blades fitted with Intel and AMD processors, including the latest dual-core products
Can be used for general-purpose file and print sharing and application hosting, but is particularly well suited to server consolidation, HPC (High Performance Computing) and high availability projects
Rapid deployment of new servers is a key feature, together with blade-level redundancy for high availability; centralised management helps simplify deployment with low power requirements compared to the conventional rack-mount approach
from around £4,000 for a minimally populated HP BladeSystem enclosure
HP certifies virtually all of its industry-standard servers for use with Linux, but has recently emphasised the use of its BladeSystem hardware as an open source platform.
Known as Linux on HP BladeSystem, the HP solution covers the complete range of p-class BladeSystem products. From the BL20p, with dual Intel Xeon CPUs, to the 4-way BL45p which can be specified with the latest dual-core AMD Opteron processors, or the BL60p with dual Itanium-2 processors on board. Up to 64GB of memory per blade can also be configured along with a range of flexible storage and networking options.
Enclosures to fit 8-16 blades and their associated network interfaces into a standard rack cabinet are available, along with extensive deployment and management tools.
HP BladeSystem hardware is certified for both Red Hat and SUSE Linux distributions, a recent innovation being a joint development with Red Hat to provide everything required to run and manage Linux on the HP BladeSystem hardware.
Dell offers an extensive range of Intel-based PowerEdge standalone, rack-mount and blade servers; certified for use with Red Hat and SUSE Linux distributions, software can be pre-configured with a range of Linux support services also available
IBM has a wide range of server platforms for Linux deployment, from industry-standard Intel- and AMD-based solutions (standalone, rack-mount and blade servers) through to IBM POWER and zSeries mainframe systems
Sun supports native deployment of Linux applications on its proprietary Solaris 10 OS running on both its own UltraSPARC and industry-standard processors; also sells industry-standard Linux server platforms (mainly AMD-based)
Scalable performance depending on model selected; smallest Model 200 can handle 50 domains, up to 500 users and 1 million messages per day; largest Model 800 can handle 5,000 domains, up to 22,000 active email users and 15 million messages per day
Anti-spam and antivirus filtering of email traffic; can be used with any SMTP email server and also provides anti-spyware and anti-phishing protection
Web-based interface effectively hides the Linux OS and application software involved, simplifying deployment and day-to-day management
From £1,399 (Model 200)
The Barracuda Spam Firewall is a typical small business email security appliance, based on industry-standard server hardware running a security-hardened Linux OS.
Setup and management is all done via a browser, with a wizard for the initial configuration. This allows the Spam Firewall to be deployed alongside any kind of email server including Linux-based SMTP systems and both Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange, for which special client plug-ins are available.
The spam filtering is based on open-source Spam Assassin solution which, like the proprietary antivirus scanner also included, is very easy to manage. The default settings will suit most customers, and you get so-called 'Bayesian learning technology' enabling the software to fine-tune itself as it goes. There’s also scope for customisation, including the ability to modify the spam scoring system, edit server blacklists and whitelists and specify filter keywords of your own. Attachment scanning is another option, along with the usual facilities to block, quarantine and modify suspect messages.
Anti-spyware and anti-phishing facilities have recently also been added to the Barracuda appliance, which can filter both incoming and outgoing email traffic.
Automatic updates come as standard, and there are several different Spam Firewall models to suit a range of network sizes. All are rack-mountable, with the smallest (the Model 200) designed to handle networks of up to 500 users with the capacity to process a million messages per day. The largest, the Model 800, is for much larger enterprises and service providers, and is powerful enough to handle 15 million messages per day.
Designed to service networks of up to 100 users with Gigabit Ethernet for local LAN attachment and ISDN for WAN backup
Can be used as a general-purpose file and print sharing server as well as a local email server and Web cache; the main use is as an Internet security appliance with built-in firewall and VPN server, antivirus, anti-spam and content filtering tools, plus intrusion detection and prevention features
Linux-based but with setup and management via an intuitive browser interface; some expertise is needed, but no in-depth Linux knowledge required
Equiinet is a long-established vendor of Linux-based appliances, with a range of products designed to provide everything a small business might need for secure shared access to the Internet. The NetPilot Plus is one of its most popular solutions, the hardware being deployed as a gateway between a local network of up to 100 users and the Internet.
Housed in a custom desktop box that can be rack-mounted if required, initial setup and day-to-day management are all done via a remote browser with no need for any special Linux knowledge. A degree of technical knowledge is required, but the browser interface makes it possible for a novice to configure and monitor the firewall provided plus the IPsec-based VPN gateway, which can be used for both site-to-site and mobile client access.
A Web caching server is another built-in option, along with an SMTP mail server that can be used standalone or as a gateway to other servers (including Microsoft Exchange). File and print sharing facilities are also provided (using Samba), although the emphasis is firmly on security: you get Sophos antivirus scanning of both Web and email traffic, anti-spam and content filtering plus intrusion detection tools.
A year’s worth of updates are included in the price, the NetPilot Plus integrating together the functionality of a general-purpose network server and a variety of otherwise-independent security devices.
Linux-based and can be deployed on hardware of your own choosing to suit the size of network; also available on custom appliance hardware -- again, with a choice of platform to match requirements
Comprehensive set of features, similar to those available on a standard general-purpose server, including file and print sharing, a local Web server and Internet caching, plus SMTP email and a database server; also includes a firewall and VPN server plus antivirus, anti-spam and other security tools
Browser-based management interface plus 'autonomic' self-configuration and self-healing features to minimise administration required; some networking knowledge needed, but no specific Linux expertise
From £950 for a 5-user hardware appliance
Nitix is Linux-based server software that ships with integrated file and print sharing, collaboration, security and other application services ready installed and configured in an easy-to-deploy appliance format. It can be purchased ready for installation on industry-standard PC hardware, or pre-installed on a custom Net Integrator appliance device.
Although Linux based, the usual browser-based interface is used for management with so-called 'autonomic' capabilities whereby many of the options can configure and update themselves. Some are even self-healing and able to restart themselves when problems arise.
In terms of applications, Nitix will normally be used to build an Internet gateway, so a firewall and VPN server are core components. Besides these, Samba is used to provide Windows and Apple file sharing with optional domain server functionality. You also get an HTTP Web server, SMTP mail server and a MySQL database engine.
The mail server is particularly well specified, with a browser-based email client as well as POP3/IMAP4 support. Groupware facilities are also available both via the Web client and to users of Microsoft Outlook. Built-in security is another benefit, with anti-spam and content filtering as standard along with optional antivirus scanning.
Can be deployed on most Linux distributions and also available for Unix and Windows platforms
The Apache Web server provides basic HTTP server functionality; extra features are supplied via modules either included with the software or supplied as third-party add-ons
A tick-box option in most Linux distributions, the basic Apache Web server is traditionally managed via text-based configuration files and scripts; some distros include more user-friendly graphical tools, but these tend to be limited in functionality and technical skills are required to manage the more complex options
Open-source software freely available under a GPL licence and bundled with most Linux distributions
The Apache Software Foundation is responsible for a variety of open-source projects, but most people use the name Apache to refer to its HTTP Web server. Bundled with all the leading Linux distributions, Apache is, arguably, the most popular Web server on the Internet; it's available for Windows and proprietary Unix platforms as well as Linux.
The core software isn’t that difficult to install and set up. Indeed, select Apache when installing the leading Linux distributions and you’ll have a working Web server as soon as the installation process is finished. However, in most cases all you end up with is basic HTTP functionality with optional modules that need to be configured to add support for CGI scripting, SSL encryption and so on. Other add-ons may also be required, and there's a wide range of third-party tools designed to work with the Apache server.
Each of these add-ons will have its own management overhead, and can be quite complex to configure. Similarly, you’ll need good technical skills for performance monitoring and tuning of an Apache Web site. Note, too, that Apache is only a Web server: additional tools are required to create and manage a Web site's content and to upload it (this applies to other Web servers, including Microsoft IIS).
Can be used with most Linux distributions and is also available for proprietary Unix and other operating systems
SMB/CIFS file and printer sharing for Linux systems; also provides support for file system browsing and user authentication on mixed Linux/Windows networks
Not particularly easy to configure by itself, but a range of open-source management tools are available to simplify setup and day-to-day management; most of the leading Linux distributions now also have tools to help with Samba management
Open-source software freely available under a GPL licence and bundled with most Linux distributions
Although both use TCP/IP for networking, Linux and Windows systems are unable to share network files and printers. That’s because most Linux distributions use NFS (Network File System) for file sharing and LPR/LPD or CUPS for printing, whereas Windows uses SMB (Server Message Block), also referred to as CIFS (Common Internet File System), for both.
To share files and printers on a mixed Linux/Windows network, therefore, additional software is required. Samba is just such an application, adding an SMB/CIFS server to enable Linux systems to look and act like Windows hosts and an SMB/CIFS client to allow Linux desktop users to open shared files and print on Windows networks.
Other utilities are available to do the same thing, but Samba is the most popular, freely distributed, open-source implementation, commonly bundled with most Linux distributions.
As well as implementing the file and print sharing protocols, Samba also adds facilities to support network browsing and user authentication, including the ability for Linux servers to act as Windows domain controllers.
The Samba software is relatively easy to install, with most of the leading Linux server distributions offering it as a tick-box option when the OS is first loaded. Management is by text-based configuration files, which can be awkward, but there are lots of graphical configuration utilities for Samba -- again, often bundled with the various Linux distributions.
Can be installed on most 32-bit Linux distributions or Windows
A free implementation of the popular Oracle Database 10g Release 2 application, but limited to 4GB of user data with performance capped by only using one processor and up to 1GB of memory
Straightforward to install, with a Web-based interface for management; applications can be developed using standard tools, including Oracle’s HTML DB, and ported to full implementations of the Oracle database without any re-coding required;. Oracle Database 10g XE itself can also be upgraded to other 10g editions
Oracle is a committed Linux supporter and over the last few years has ported all of its products to the open source platform, including the highly scalable Oracle Database 10g software. Recently, too, it has released a version that can be downloaded, used and distributed for free, known as Oracle Database 10g Express Edition (XE).
Built on the same code base as the full 10g product, the XE software is aimed primarily at developers looking to build and test applications without having to buy into the full Oracle product. However, it could also be of interest to small companies looking to host databases within the 4GB limit imposed by the XE product, and by third parties wanting to bundle a database with their own software.
XE is a fully functional implementation of the Oracle Database 10g, with support for all the usual development environments including JDBC, ODBC, Oracle HTML DB, PHP, SQL and Oracle Data Provider for .NET. As such any databases or applications created with the XE software can be ported to other versions without recoding.
You’re limited to using just one processor on SMP hosts and a maximum of 1GB of memory. Plus it’s not open source, and the only support is from an online forum managed by Oracle. However, Oracle Database 10g XE can be installed on most 32-bit Linux distributions, and a Windows version is also available. The download is a mere 150KB and installation very straightforward, using a Web browser interface for setup and administration.
Can be deployed on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 running on x86 server hosts
An open-source SMTP mail server with support for POP3/IMAP clients, including Microsoft Outlook, plus a custom Web client; Outlook and Web users also get access to a range of collaboration features, including shared address books and calendars; also supports handheld clients
Easy to install and manage, and users can continue to use their Windows Outlook client with only minimal changes required
From €299 for Open-Xchange Server 5 Small Business Suite, for 5 users with 1 year of support
Although it’s possible to build your own email and collaboration server using the open source components included with Linux, small businesses typically lack the time and expertise to do so. Open-Xchange Server 5 does all that hard work for you, leveraging open source technology to deliver the equivalent of a Microsoft Exchange server running on a Linux host.
Originally a SUSE product but now an open-source development, Open-Xchange Server 5 is, at heart an SMTP mail server with support for IMAP/POP3 clients such as Microsoft Outlook, Eudora, Novell Evolution and so on. It also has its own Web-based mail client which, as well as sending and receiving mail, can be used to access a range of groupware features such as shared address books and calendars held on the server. There's also a plug-in for Outlook that enables users to carry on using the Microsoft client with, similarly, full access to the groupware features.
On the downside, it’s not free. However, for around half the cost of an Exchange server, small businesses can access the same functionality, using regular Windows client software, with everything hosted on a Linux system.
Downloads available for use with most implementations of Linux, as well as Windows and Mac OS
Standard HTTP browser functionality that can be extended via plug-ins; key features include individual tabbed windows for different Web sites, an integrated RSS reader, a pop-up blocker and extensive security and customisation controls
An intuitive interface makes Firefox easy to get to grips with; you can also import favourites and other settings when switching from Internet Explorer
Freely available open-source software
Mozilla Firefox is an open-source Web browser that can be downloaded for free and used on Linux, Apple Mac and Windows platforms. The same look and feel is implemented on each platform and the software offers many of the features found in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), and can import IE favourites and other settings. In addition, however, Firefox has numerous unique features of its own, and these can be further enhanced using third-party plug-ins.
One of Firefox's key features is tabbed browsing, whereby a new site can be opened in its own window rather than having to start a completely new instance of the browser. Firefox was also one of the first browsers with a built in pop-up blocker and an integrated RSS reader. Google and other search tools are accessible from the Firefox toolbar, along with extensive security and customisation features.
A wide range of plug-ins are available for the Firefox browser, including Java, Flash, RealPlayer and Adobe Acrobat.
Can be installed and run on most Linux distributions, as well as Sun's Solaris and Windows
Integrated suite of office productivity tools; includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation graphics, drawing program and a database with its own custom front-end management tool; can open and save to most Microsoft Office formats, as well as its native XML-based OpenDocument format
Similar look and feel to Microsoft Office; assumes interface characteristics of host desktop
Open-source software freely available under a GPL licence and bundled with the leading Linux distributions
The equivalent of Microsoft’s proprietary Office product or Lotus SmartSuite, OpenOffice is a freely distributed suite of open-source productivity tools with a very similar look and feel. Document-level compatibility is an option, too. It can be downloaded for free, is bundled with the leading Linux distributions and has recently been enhanced with significant performance and functionality improvements in version 2.0.
Writer is the OpenOffice equivalent of Microsoft Word, with Calc for spreadsheet work and Impress for presentations. You also get a graphics/drawing program called Draw and -- new in the latest 2.0 release -- a database front-end called Base that can be used with the built-in database engine provided or third-party SQL databases.
All the OpenOffice components have a common interface, share a spelling checker and, in release 2.0, use a common XML-based file format called OpenDocument. Documents can also be saved in Microsoft Office-compatible formats and existing Office documents opened and shared with Windows users.
OpenOffice is available for Solaris, Windows and Apple Mac systems as well as Linux. The software adapts to the look and feel of the host platform while offering the same functionality and support for the same OpenDocument format. Other office suites available based on OpenOffice technology, including StarOffice from Sun.
Supports 32-bit and 64-bit Intel/AMD processors and PowerPC-based Apple systems
Free Linux distribution with a GNOME desktop (KDE optionally available) preconfigured with a range of desktop tools including Web browser (Firefox), email client (Novell Evolution) and office productivity suite (OpenOffice.org 2.0)
One of the easiest Linux distributions to install and use; single disk distribution with preinstalled applications and optional live CD version
Open-source software freely available under a GPL licence
Billed as 'Linux for human beings', Ubuntu is, arguably, the most popular distribution of the open-source operating system. Moreover, while other developers have opted for commercial implementations and update subscriptions Ubuntu is available free of charge, no matter whether you choose to download the software from the Web or order it on CD-ROM. There’s even a free live CD version to enable the software to be booted and run without installing it to the hard disk first.
Support is available from a global network of professional support partners: some charge for their services, although others provide assistance for free. The Ubuntu project is also committed to making its software available in as many local languages as possible and bundling leading desktop applications that are ready for use as soon as the OS is installed.
Another difference with the Ubuntu software is that it comes on just one disk rather than the handful required with other leading implementations. Even so, you get the core Linux OS, which is loosely based on the Debian distribution, plus a clutch of useful preconfigured applications including the Firefox Web browser, Evolution email client and OpenOffice.org 2.0 productivity suite.
GNOME is the default desktop, with an optional KDE implementation available. Despite being primarily aimed at desktop users, there is also a server implementation of Ubuntu.
Open source equivalent of Outlook email, address book and calendaring client; support is available for Microsoft Exchange; bundled with several Linux distributions (Novell sponsors development and provides customer support on SUSE platforms)