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Linux in a Multivendor Environment
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The "obviously contrived" portion of the scenario for those of you already familiar with what a generic Linux box can do is that, with the exception of the AppleTalk file-sharing piece, all major Linux distributions (RedHat, Caldera, SuSe, Mandrake, Debian, PPCLinux, etc.) come with all of these services built in. Basically, all you would have to do is install Linux.

Yes, that's right -- the capability to serve up files via NFS, NetWare and Windows for Workgroups is installed "out of the box" in all of these systems. AppleTalk will require that you acquire a set of binaries (or compile some source-code).

Let's examine what each of these services is, and how it can fit into your server replacement strategy:

  • NFS - The Network File System, developed originally by Sun Microsystems, is the de-facto file sharing system used by Unix-like systems.
  • NetWare - The IPX/SPX protocols used for a large portion of file sharing systems by Windows systems around the world. NetWare was developed by Novell Corporation.
  • Samba - Samba is an open source implementation of the Windows for Workgroups SMB/CIFS file and printer sharing protocols. These are the protocols used by Windows 95/98/NT and Windows 2000. One of the most interesting modes of the Samba operation is its ability to act as a Windows NT domain controller which can relieve the need for any Windows servers on your network.
  • NetATalk - NetATalk is a complete implementation of Apple's AppleTalk protocols, which are known as EtherTalk Phase I and II.

What else could this "utility fielder" do?

Well, now that we've established that, using Linux, it's pretty easy to help your company contain its server costs, what else can we put on this machine to make life easier?

Probably the two easiest targets are electronic mail and fascimile processing.

Providing that your e-mail volume isn't too large (and that this server is not the primary e-mail server for your firm), you could set up your file server to be the workgroup e-mail server as well. Discussion of a sendmail installation is well beyond the scope of this article, but more information can be found at The definitive reference text on this program, entitled simply Sendmail, was written by Sendmail's author, Eric Allman, and is published by O'Reilly & Associates.

There are quite a few fax solutions available for Linux. Here too, they are often pre-installed with many vendors' distributions.

  • mgetty+sendfax
    The most common of these is a terminal line driver (known as a "getty") called "mgetty+sendfax." This package is usually used to manage dial-up modem lines, and has the added benefit of being able to work with almost any "Class 2" fax modem to send and receive faxes. This is a bare-bones package, but it writes industry-standard G3 format files (a variant of the TIFF file format) that can be read by most, if not all, Windows and Macintosh facsimile programs.
  • HylaFAX
    HylaFAX is a much older program (originally written in the early- to mid-1990s by Sam Leffler of Berkeley Unix fame at SGI) that consists of a client-server system to manage a large installation of fax modems. There are a large number of drivers for this package that range from a Java client that can be used to view faxes to various "fax gateway" programs that can allow Windows machines and Macintoshes to make use of the Linux/Unix-based fax system to both send and view faxes.


Of course, this article paints a very optimistic picture about how much functionality you could put onto one box. If your file server is very heavily used, it's probably not a good idea to put both the e-mail and fax services on this machine, unless, of course, you have a very well endowed machine (such as a 4-CPU system with several SCSI or IDE interfaces).

Also, attempting to convert your entire organization to run on a Linux-based server without adequate planning can both really stress you and and probably get you in trouble with your boss. I would strongly suggest writing a "Linux Business Plan" along the lines of Getting in the Door. This way you can further the cause of Linux world domination while appearing to be a good corporate "team player."

David HM Spector is President & CEO of Really Fast Systems, LLC, an infrastructure consulting and product development company based in New York

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