Linux Fits in Well, but Adds Costs

SAN MATEO (05/08/2000) - In this analysis, I examined the business impact of integrating Smallco's network of PCs connected to a Red Hat Inc. Linux 6.2 server into Bigcorp, an existing enterprise environment. Smallco is a startup company with a simple infrastructure.

I found it important to look at the cost issues involved. Were expensive third-party tools needed to make things work? Would the IT staff at Bigcorp need to make changes to the company's existing infrastructure?

Without the proper training, tools, and plan, the bottom-line impact of integrating an outside network into the enterprise can be huge. The long-term costs of making these systems work together are very important and should be examined closely.

I was pleased to find that no expensive third-party tools were needed to integrate Red Hat Linux with the enterprise network, nor did the IT staff at Bigcorp have to make changes to the infrastructure to accommodate Linux. Free tools were available for easily integrating Red Hat Linux into the existing LDAP/Novell NetWare/Lotus Domino environment of Bigcorp. Because Red Hat can fully utilize the LDAP server, no major changes were required by the Bigcorp IT staff. These factors led me to award Red Hat Linux an interoperability score of Very Good.

In spite of this good news, however, there was a significant impact on IT resources. The support staff at Bigcorp needed to be trained and needed to spend extra time working on the Red Hat server. Although user account data could easily be synchronized using the LDAP server, changes to other services in Red Hat, such as the Samba file-sharing system, required hands-on work.

Smallco had set up a low-cost network of PCs connected to a Linux server for file sharing. The challenge was to get this new set of users and PCs running on the Bigcorp network quickly and efficiently.

Due to budget constraints, Smallco's employees needed to use their existing server as their primary file server for the time being. But they also needed access to Bigcorp's NetWare server for some files and needed to be set up in Bigcorp's Domino mail server.

Smallco's network was set up by tech-savvy employees so they could easily share files and run centralized backups. However, they did not have a dedicated IT staff. Smallco had set up a spare PC with Red Hat Linux running Samba to allow Windows clients to share files. All of the Windows PCs attached to the user home directory on the server to store their important files.

E-mail services for Smallco were handled through its ISP. Those accounts were phased out in the integration, and their PCs were set up to access the Bigcorp Domino mail server. I found this easy to accomplish with Domino's support for the POP3 and IMAP4 mail protocols. I simply altered the settings on Smallco's desktops to point to the Bigcorp mail server.

No major changes to Smallco's network infrastructure were necessary. Its existing Internet connection and internal network were maintained. The biggest change to Smallco's IT resources was the integration with Bigcorp's LDAP server.

To get Smallco's Linux server to communicate with Bigcorp's LDAP, I went to www.linux.org and downloaded the LDAP how-to article written by Luiz Malere.

Walking through this procedure, I set up and configured the Linux version of the iPlanet Netscape Directory Server 4.11.

Because the Netscape server products are available for a wide range of platforms, choosing the LDAP server was easy. The server I installed on the Red Hat box is the same that Bigcorp has running on Solaris as its primary LDAP server.

Once I had installed the Netscape server, I set up a replication agreement between the Red Hat server and Bigcorp's LDAP server. Users and groups were automatically populated between the two servers, taking care of the LDAP integration without further action. By standardizing on Netscape Directory Server, I significantly reduced the time needed to set up new users on the Red Hat Linux system.

This work took care of getting users and groups set up across platforms and locations. However, I still need to take the additional step of giving those users access to the Samba shared folders, called shares, on the Red Hat server.

Linux is getting pretty close to optimal in ease of use and ease of administration, but some tasks still required the tweaking of configuration files and settings. Samba shares and passwords, for instance, could not be integrated into the existing network maintenance tasks and needed to be handled on a case-by-case basis by the IT staff. Fortunately, tools such as the Samba Web Administration Tool can help reduce the burden on overworked network administrators.

From a hard-cost perspective, the price of integrating a Linux system into an existing enterprise infrastructure is moderate. However, there are other factors to consider, such as the training of IT staff and the additional administrative work necessary to create new users and file shares on the network.

Although Linux is a "free" operating system, the actual price tag for a company will be similar to that of other platforms. Hardware upgrade costs, training for administrators and end-users, and fee-based technical support are all much more significant than the minor initial purchase price for any network operating system. It's important to keep the overall costs in mind when deciding to add a system to your network or bring one in from other departments.

Overall, I found that setting up a Red Hat Linux 6.2 server in an existing enterprise environment was a task that most IT administrators can handle. But taking the time to learn about the new platform and how it can affect existing workflow for IT staff and users alike can make a huge difference in the success of a project such as this.

Kevin Railsback is the associate technical director of the InfoWorld Test Center. You can reach him at kevin_railsback@infoworld.com.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Red Hat Linux 6.2 interoperability

Business Case: The costs of integrating an existing Red Hat Linux 6.2 server into an established environment are much less than setting up and transferring users to a new system. Although with Linux some administration tasks will be more time-consuming for IT staff, the easy integration with the Netscape LDAP server made Linux interoperability a painless task.

Technology Case: With its wide range of standards-based tools, support for LDAP, and easy-to-use Samba file-and-printer sharing, Red Hat Linux is a great starting platform for small companies. Getting that server integrated into a larger environment can be done with a minimum of infrastructure and procedural changes.

Pros:

+ Easy integration with Netscape Directory Server+ Samba file-sharing makes server appear as a Windows server+ Runs on commodity hardwareCons:

- Training needed for IT staff new to the platform- Samba administration requires separate interfaceRed Hat Inc., Durham, North Carolina; (800) 454-5502; www.redhat.com.

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