Linux vs. SBS: Switch!

Linux, Microsoft
37 Comments

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Excellent point brought up in the comments section today by Josh:

For example, Microsoft wants to argue about stability vs. Linux. In nearly all Linux servers we manage that comparison is laughable. Now, compare RPC-over-HTTP functionality with Linux? You can’t, no such thing on Linux! Where is that among the facts?

This is something that I’ve tried to make very painfully clear in my Linux presentations for SBSers in Florida groups. Here is the thing about winning in small business, you have to know your customers. You also have to know your Microsoft and understand certain “facts”. So here is a little competitive howto on Linux vs. SBS.

Watch Where You Get Your Facts

First and most important thing to understand about Microsoft’s Get The Facts site is that those reports have been paid for by Microsoft and are to a large extent questionable at best and outright false in many respects. Second thing to remember is that those reports are not written or targeted for the SMB market at all – they are written to discourage enterprise and high-end markets from moving their commodity-line servers to Linux and discourage Unix-shops from going to Linux instead of Microsoft. If you’re an SBSer, you will not find your facts there.

Know Your SWOT

Know your strenghts, know your weaknesses… but more importantly know what is not your weakness.

Price

When bidding against Linux you are really competing against this: “Joe Consultant told us that Linux is free.” They are correct, many Linux distributions are free. So in most cases, it will be $599 vs. $0. For the purchase price that is. So on the face of things, Linux wins because its free.

When you dig a little deeper you find out that the “free” is the acquisition cost. If you are losing a client over $599 this is likely a client that you do not want as your business to begin with. If the server costs $1,800 and your labor to set them up and train them for a week will cost them another $4,000 that up-front licensing cost of $599 is going to be less than 10% of the total solution. This is generally what Microsoft talks about when they mention their TCO, total cost of ownership.

But we know our small business owners, don’t we? The same folks that will sign up for a plan with a “free cell phone” (MSRP $99) but agree to a two year contract that costs $20 a month more. If you really want to compete against Linux give them a 10% discount on your labor which will outright displace the licensing costs. Show them that they will be paying the Microsoft penalty anyhow as its very hard to impossible to buy a PC without a Microsoft OS to begin with. 

Upgrades and Migrations

When you bid against Linux you bid against free upgrades, forever, and easy migrations. Thats at least what gets put on the paper and what the Linux guy will say. The truth is much different. Here are a few facts that you might want to consider about some of the most popular Linux distributions out there:

Fedora – Fedora is a free version of Redhat Linux. Redhat Enterprise Linux is a full tested and supported distribution of Linux that retails between $350 and $3000 per server. So whats the difference? Redhat uses Fedora as their bleeding edge distribution, they use it to roll out experimental packages and see what breaks. The software itself is solid, but it is not elegant by a long shot. For example, consider that there is no migration path from version 3 to 4 to 5 – if you Google for “upgrade from FC3 to FC4” you will find a number of hacks that show you how to fool the dependancy checks and hack your way up. Not that it won’t work, but what happens if it fails? Remember, unsupported. There is literally nobody you can call.

Debian – Used to be most popular but recently displaced by its Ubuntu cousin. The trick with Debian is that they are so fanatical about being free that they eliminate any commercial or restricted software (or non GNU) from the base distribution. It is a severly outdated technology (in terms of even years) that nearly everyone seriously running Debian is doing so with the untested– or experimental– branches of the code. Even if you’re not a Linux person you can imagine what thats like. Again, virtually unsupported except for the MVP-like effort.

Gentoo – The concept here is that this is the most optimized version of Linux you can get because virtually everything from kernel on up is upgraded by running an emerge command. What emerge actually does is pretty cool – it downloads the source code along with a spec and compiles it against your hardware – so on a fairly loaded box you are constantly affecting the performance by rolling out your own code. Do you trust that your security patches are deployed as full recompiles of the source code? I don’t even trust most binary patches.

Ubuntu – The darling of the Linux world at the moment. Built on the Debian core with the pretty integrated interfaces and its claim to fame is the ability to roll out LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) in 15 minutes. Pretty, but unsupported.

Those are the basics of Linux and distributions you will likely come up against. Every now and then someone will propose an Enterprise Linux version, a free community recompile of the popular Redhat Enterprise Linux. Distributions such as CentOS and WhiteBox Enterprise Linux. They are free, but again, unsupported as well.

So here is a real world scenario for you. The upgrade for the above is free– in all cases. They will download an ISO, burn it, stick it in a Linux server and after the reboot the system will be upgraded. All free! Yay.

As far as the technical discussion is concerned, they are right. Here is the dirty secret behind this though that nobody talks about: For most scenarios Linux doesn’t migrate, Linux overwrites. Now lets say your consultant tweaked the /etc/rc.d/rc.local file to automatically delete specific files on the server – generally a Linux distro upgrade would put in the new file in the place and make the original one a rc.local.bak. Let’s say you wanted something special done with your web server – your /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf file would have two options – it would get overwritten, or they would copy an httpd.conf.orig or tweak it in another way.

So yes, the upgrade is free. But the time to get this done is not. More importantly, because these migrations are generally done on per-site basis (ok, these guys have Redhat, these are on Fedora, these are on Gentoo) the migration checklist is all but nonexistant.

The truth about Linux deployments is that they are very much done on a per-case, needs basis. The beauty of the system (unlimited flexibility) is also its dagger because by endlessly tweaking the system the documentation part of the setup goes out the window. And when the migration goes bad with the freebies above you will likely have only newsgroups and mailing lists to turn to.

Finally, migrations nearly always include more than the base OS. The reason you deploy a Linux system is to get a flexible, fast and cost effective server. Well, Linux developers don’t think the same way business owners do. Linux developers try to adapt new technology, provide the newest features, create a system that is easiest and fastest to develop for. So when that new distribution comes with MySQL 5.0 and PHP 5.0 – will your PHP 4 script designed on MySQL 3.1 work? Maybe, maybe not. Who do you contact to find out – the webmaster that took the script from some random site? Nope. The commercial software developer? Unlikely, they only support official distributions like Redhat Enterprise Linux and SuSe. Who do you turn to? Good question to ask while providing a competitive bid.

How do you do application migration compatibility tests on Linux? You install the new version and try to hack it into working. If you’re lucky, it will just work. If you’re not lucky, whats the alternative? Another question for the stack. This is not the U part of FUD in uncertainty, this is something that there is no good, reliable, documented process in Linux. For years Linux distributions have tried to fight amongst themselves to develop a unified way that Linux is deployed – with same file system layout, dependancy checks, package management. Today you’re more likely to find multiple package management systems (yum up2date, apt).

Features

For the most part this is your biggest strength. Small business owners and business people in general have habbits that are hard to change. Going from a Windows world to a Linux world is a big transition in anything more complex than a P2P environment. Its easy to replace a pop3 server with an onsite dovecot deployment. But when you’re selling a new server you are selling new functionality. Here are things that you will not find in Linux.

Exchange – Biggest advantage. There are no decent webmail programs for Linux – the best one to date is Scalix and it costs about as much as Exchange does. It does not provide RPC-over-HTTP, it does not provide cached mode, it does not provide advanced connectivity to mobile devices.

ISA – For the most part almost all Linux firewalls are connection based firewalls, nothing provides application-level security. So yes, if you want to block people from going to certain sites, Linux will cut it. Try to set those restrictions in place per employee per hour (ie, no espn updates for Joe between 9AM and Noon) you’ll be SOL.

WSUS – Exists on commercial Linux distributions as a Satellite server but almost all are desktop triggered up2date updates via cron – no ability to see which software is running on which system and no ability to restrict what goes on which workstation without manually adjusting workstations on per-case basis. No grouping. No reporting on which patches failed and no reporting on what may be out of compliance. These could be hacked together but do you really want to hack your security solutions together? Do you think your customers would?

IIS – The biggest reason to deploy LAMP is to get PHP and a free SQL server. Both of those run quite reliably on Windows as well and you can install WAMP on Windows. My personal dev environment for Linux is based on Vertrigo server which rolls out as a single install. So if thats all you need to deploy a new forum, blog, or a survey package your customer saw somewhere – this is the way to do it. And it’s free too. But feature is an advantage here – you have a choice. ASP or PHP? On Linux you have no ASP advantage (they use Chilisoft, Sun’s poor hack of ASP) nor do they have any .NET compatibilities without hacking in mono – but skip back to migrations and upgrades – whats the guarantee that your app will run on a hacked server? Now compare that with IIS. If you’re really familiar with IIS this is almost impossible to do. The cost of a second IIS server is not that great to begin with, Windows 2003 Server Web Edition retails for less than $300 which is likely less than two hours of any consultants time. You’d end up charging them more to download an ISO and read the intro parts of the Apache documentation.

Bus Features

When I worked at Dial ISDN I used to write “If Vlad Gets Hit By A Bus” documentation for everything I did. Why? Because all of our Linux servers were so heavilly tweaked that in case something happened there was no way on earth someone would be able to figure out how I’ve implemented my patch management, version control, monitoring, account creation and race conditions.

How much documentation will the Linux deployment come with? How long will it take someone else to replicate the setup on a new system? What commercial contacts do you have that will validate what you say about Linux? How many “user-geared” books are there on Linux that can get me going with this server immediately? SMB owners are DIY-centric, how much of this can I do through a GUI?

Final question: Give me a place to find other professional Linux consultants.

Where you have hundreds of Windows guys in every area there are only a few Linux solution shops. Most of the “Linux guys” will be people with careers and full time jobs that do consulting on the side and are saving your money out of the goodness of their heart. These are also the types you turn to for support. Do you want to run your business on goodness of strangers or do you want a contract? If you want a contract the savings will go out the window.  

Conclusion

Linux provides a cost effective, flexible and powerful server operating system and Microsoft’s FUD about it is largely a collection of paid distortions, some quite well documented as outright lies. Microsoft will not offer competitive sales support to SMB solutions that are under $10,000 in licensing so you’re on your own. They will also not discuss any of the above because of the irrational fear that if you experience a competitive solution you might find enough in it that you like to leave Microsoft.

On the other end of the fence you have, by comparison, a relatively innovative but young solution that lacks the standardization, unity and certainty with many of its supposed solutions. While the core of it is solid the biggest lacking factors for small businesses are in the areas of available expertise and support systems to fall back on when there are problems. In the areas of affordable business intelligence Linux is behind enough to make it unattractive beyond file servers, basic pop3/imap mail servers and popular web applications. 

In the end, both sides will lie, cheat and FUD to get their points accross. Your advantage is in knowing your customer, knowing their needs, and showing them the solution that will not only solve their problems but be ready for the problems they will encounter as they grow. For what its worth, I’ve been a Linux system administrator for three years longer than I’ve been a Windows guy and work on both platforms daily. 

Update: Welcome LinuxToday.com visitors. As you get outraged at the article above please keep in mind that I own and operate a large ISP whose commodity-level services have been powered by Linux, FreeBSD, dovecot, IMP, Squirrelmail, vsftpd, bind, etc for close to a decade. We also own the largest deployment of Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 and constantly manage both platforms. If you have not seen what Microsoft has been up to for the past 3 or so years please don't waste your time posting comments about how "you can do it" and how "there are solutions that you can customize" because thats the entire point of the article, knowing the audience. Small business owners will not pay for "you to do it" they will only pay for as little labor as possible, which in turn makes the licensing cost negligible. So please don't think you've landed on some bashers site, this post is about recognizing the market.

37 Responses to Linux vs. SBS: Switch!

  1. happyfunboy says:

    great post, man.

    seriously…fracking awesome.

  2. Derrick says:

    Add these:

    Microsoft will download patches to your Windows automatically and will prompt you to reboot. Reboot is a god-send feature of Windows. After reboot, your windows feel brand new again. Linux don’t reboot with each software patches.

    There are so many anti-virus, anti-spywares, anti-whatever softwares available for Windows that you don’t have to worry about malware infection on windows. On the other hand, Linux don’t get infected with viruses so there are no such protection software. You have to pitch to your customer that it is a disaster not to have such protection. It is just like an insurance policy. You pay for the protection and update everyday like you pay your tax. Your customer pays tax right?

    Linux has a very high uptime. It runs years non-stop. You integrator must not tell that to your potential customer. Windows is good. The uptime is lower which means your customer has to keep getting back to you for services. The point is you have to sell it as a maintenace contract and reboot the Windows when nobody is looking.

    Another FUD is Linux is not free. Each upgrade costs time and money even though it is free. Nobody can comprehend “aptget update; apt-get -u upgrade”. It is so difficult. Windows is different. It comes with an upgrade every 3 years. Take it or leave it. The upgrade comes with a CD. Who is not happy when your customer has to pay for an upgrade and see the CD. The way Linux upgrade don’t even requires a CD so it is much harder to justify it to your customer.

    That’s all folks. Remember what’s FUD: Fear Uncertainty and Doubt.

    Cheers,
    Derrick

  3. Shaman says:

    Uhm… there are many excellent webmail applications for Linux. IMP, Squirrelmail, TWIG and others including some AJAX capable or AJAX interface mail readers. RPC-HTML is unecessary when one has IMAP4/POP3.

    Redhat and Up2Date are not the only solutions out there. This is lack of experience, clearly. There are solutions using multicast and broadcast TCP/IP to update an entire LAN at once, as well.

    If you need ASP.Net then clearly your choice is Windows IIS. But do you NEED ASP.Net? Hell no. You can do it all with LAMP, too.

    Just a few things which stood out as obviously wrong.

  4. vlad says:

    Shaman, sorry, IMP, Squirrelmail, TWIG and so on are in no way capable of being compared to the power of Outlook Web Access.

    RPC over HTTP is a requirement and very neccessary when the site you are on (ie, traveling) does not allow outbound connections to 110, 143, etc. It eliminates the need to create VPN’s, ssh, do local port redirections, etc.

    There is no utility/software in Linux comparable to WSUS – not even close.

    ASP.NET may be an application requirement. Most of the time in small business it’s not “you” thats designing or deciding, its whatever the business owner purchases. If they purchase php, fine. If they purchase ASP – you have to deal with it.

    -Vlad

  5. Mike says:

    Aside from the misspellings, this post is filled with the usual FUD. Just a few glaring examples:
    1. The $599 vs. $4000 assumes that a “small business owner” has the requisite skills to install and maintain a Windows server. Ain’t happening.
    2. Exchange – Just one word: security. And I use one of many web clients available that are platform independent to access my Linux mail server.
    3. ISA – I can use IPCop and its add-ons to do everything mentioned here.

    I don’t know what Linux systems the author has been a system administrator for. Personally, I use Centos. I have yet to have an upgrade break my PHP, mail or web apps.

    Perhaps the only person that the first sentence of the last paragraph applies to is the author. However, it is followed by the truest statement in the entire post.

  6. vlad says:

    I am sorry about the spelling mistakes, apparently they prohibited you from reading the article.

    1. $4000 is generally the amount of funds it would take to deploy any server and train the staff how to use it, move around all the mail, web content, properly document the system, etc.

    2. Great argument. And sendmail of course is bullet-proof.

    3. You obviously have never seen ISA if you think IPCop with plugins can compare.

    Just your isolated experience on a single platform does not make a law.

  7. phil says:

    Ubuntu not supported? Canonical _exists_ for commercial Ubuntu support. You pay for MS phone support, you pay for Ubuntu phone support.

    You post has several glaring untruths.

  8. vlad says:

    I’m sorry, my fault. Ubuntu does appear to have support, though more expensive than Microsoft’s. Either way, point noted.

    Please point out other untruths here as I’d really like to see an argument here from someone that actually knows what they are talking about and not just recycling Slashdot FUD calls with absolutely 0 experience manging Windows servers since ’98.

    -Vlad

  9. Bob Robertson says:

    What I find amazing is the comparison of a “leave it alone” Windows installation, with a “upgrade every week” Linux installation. There isn’t any “overwrite” of files, if you don’t upgrade/playwith your system.

    I also found the “years out of date” comment concerning Debian to be false, at best. The stable Debian is constantly checked for security and stability patches. What “upgrading” a stable Debian box will not do is “overwrite” anything. Any configured script will be checked first, and require an explicit “Would you like to keep it?” before any such change is made.

    If you’re going to compare a constantly updated Linux, such as migrating from FC4 to FC5 and etc., then do the same from Win98 to Win2K to WinXP. No, you can’t. Each Windows upgrade requires faster/bigger hardware just to install Windows, much less the applications. There is no migration in Windows, you wipe the machine and start over, retesting absolutely everything at best, buy a new machine with the new OS and re-test absolutely everything anyway at worst.

    Indeed, know your customer. Put in a system that works and leave it alone. Sure, that hurts your “consultant” bottom line, but it makes for very happy customers.

    What SMB is doing in-house applications writing anyway? They need finished products that don’t break, don’t get hacked every other day, don’t get viruses, and most of all don’t fail once a week due to lack of a “thereputic reboot”.

  10. STankyG says:

    Excellent post and discussion

    Speaking as a small services provider to small businesses…

    SBS is a tremendous package and the costs of deployment are slight in comparision to what you CAN accomplish with *nix.

    I’ve tried more than once to justify pitching a linux solution and the costs don’t come close.

  11. phil says:

    I’ll get back to you on the price thing as I have never used either, Google being about as cheap as you can get!

    Your point about most sys admins running Debian unstable is very questionable, I suppose it is difficult to disprove anecdotal evidence however no reliable sys admin i have met runs anything but the stable release, as for it’s outdatedness, well no more so than Win2003.But compared to bleeding edge then yes it is outdated, you running longhorn server in production yet?

  12. Shaman says:

    >Shaman, sorry, IMP, Squirrelmail,
    >TWIG and so on are in no way capable
    >of being compared to the power of
    >Outlook Web Access.

    I see it the other way around. With those web packages, I can read my mail, shedule my events, etc. from anywhere in the world without a proprietary client (that’s Outlook). And I don’t have to pay.

    Seems more enabling to me, not less.

    IPCop and others provide stateful and stateless firewalling. Doing it based on time, etc. is possible but honestly who the hell wants to maintain a firewall that paranoid, with that many entries, and what is the performance going to be like? Will ISA provide that level of protection for a non-Windows system? Not that it’s impossible with IPCop, etc.

    This article is just meaningless FUD. Damning with faint praise and false assertions.

  13. Linux admin says:

    There is so much crap in this article that I don’t know where to begin. Well here goes.

    Upgrades and Migrations
    Not a single half-decent system administrator would ever upgrade a server. Most refuse to even upgrade a workstation. If you want the new OS, you do a re-install, not an upgrade. The beauty about linux is that all your configuration is text based. After you do the re-install, all you need to do it re-apply your changes. A really good admin would have created a script that automatically re-applies the changes as well as the “if I got hit by a bus” documentation.

    In Windows, after a re-install one has to do a few hundred to thousand clicks to re-apply all the settings. That takes for ever. And quite annoying. And increases the probability of a missed setting.

    I have an excellent example of this. In my location, we have a 4-hour restore policy for all Linux servers. This means that if there is a problem with a server (eg hard drive dies) and we need to re-setup the server from scratch, we will have the server back to its full setup within four hours. We have had to do this, and we usually get it done between 2 and 3 hours. One of our other locations, had a Windows server fail. It took them 4 days to get it back up and running at the same setup.

    As for your specific distro comments, Debian has outdated packages for a reason. Stability. Something extremely critical in a server. Even though the packages are old, they are releasing security updates for them.

    And if you are die hard on upgradin your server, Ubuntu can do that. Also, Ubuntu does have commercial support.

    Support
    I have had to ask for help on various linux forums, and I get extremely helpful responses and very quickly. One time, we actually had a critical problem, and I immediately posted it, and 20 minutes later, someone replied with a possible cause, and it ended up being the right one and fixed it. How often does a company provide a solution that quick? I have called some companies for support, and often are asked to upload my configuration settings, or a specific file, and then they get back to me within a day or so.

    One thing I really hate reading is people saying that there is no company behind linux. This is often true, but is there a company behind Windows? Not really. How many Windows admins out there have ever called Microsoft for support? My guess would be like 0.5% of you. The cost of M$ support is just too high. People often resort to asking for free help on the very few forum sites for windows. So I would give Linux the advantage here as there are many forum sites and each has a huge user base.

    Also, there are more and more 3rd party companies that are providing Linux support.

    Features
    The fact that you say linux developers focus on providing new feature makes me think that you know very little about linux. This may be true when you talk about desktop applications like OpenOffice and Gimp. But when talking about server programs like Apache, MySQL, sendmail, etc…, the opposite is true. These developers focus on stability, usability, security, and so on, but not on features. This is not to say that they are featureless, just that they focus on the right thing.

    Once again, your comment applies more to Windows-based programs. Exchange for example is full of useless little features (and some useful ones too), yet is has no stability, security, etc…

    Exchange
    I do agree that exchange may have a better webmail, but this comes at a cost. By cost I mean loss of a good email server. There are also several good webmail for linux. We have an extremely good one at my work.

    ISA
    Are you kidding? Try reading about squid. Don’t you think using a M$ product to provide security is a joke? I do. Security is M$’s biggest enemy. It is something they just don’t know about. With linux, you can setup squid along with netfilter to have a secure application level firewall that can do exactly what you said linux couldn’t do. Don’t make statements you don’t know. This is just wrong. Your unfortunate readers may actually believe what you said and therefore will have improper information.

    WSUS
    Ever heard of syslog? You can automate this and have it logged to a central log server. Very easy to do. No hacking required.

    IIS
    Once again, are you joking? IIS is not meant to host a real website. This is only meant for kids that are learning about web development, and want to test their code and don’t know about Apache.

    True that LAMP can be installed on Windows to make WAMP. But those programs are meant for Linux, and work better on Linux.

    You do have a choice on Linux as wellin regards to ASP or PHP. There are a couple ASP web servers on Linux However, the choice is pretty obvious. ASP is a junk web language. PHP is the way to go. As for .NET, let’s just leave it at: junk.

    One final note about IIS will be mentioned in my TCO discussion below.

    TCO
    I agree that Linux admin would cost more. But there is no doubt that a Linux admin deserves more. Linux admins actually know how things work. They know what they are doing. I myself am an MCSE, but I only truly started to understand servers, networking, security, etc… once I was learned Linux.

    When calculating TCO, people are forgetting one thing. Downtime costs money. Certain very large companies loose millions of dollars for every hour their web site is down. True that your article is aimed at small business, but even the small business lose money when their site is down. Not only from lost sales, but loss of reputation. It does not look good when your site is down. Period. So how does this tie in to the TCO topic. A server should never have to be rebooted. With our linux servers at my work, we have never rebooted a single linux server. The only time it is needed is during OS re-install or hardware failure. However, this is not the case with our windows server (yes unfortunately we still have some of those). One of our other locations, is administered by different people. They are windows people. So their servers are running windows. One of them, is an IIS web server. This server has to be rebooted every week because once it has been up for about a week, the .NET app stops working. Doesn’t this seem ridiculous? Well we are not alone. I know of a few other companies that have policies like “Reboot Wednesdays” where they reboot all their Windows servers every Wednesday. So if you add in the loss of money caused by this, your Windows TCO just went through the roof.

    Also, remember my example of the restore time (the 4 days to restore the windows server). Think about the amount of lost business from that.

    So to conclude, know your facts before you make statements such as the ones from this article.

  14. phil says:

    Vlad, I checked prices, different structure

    For Win2K3 R2 you pay $US99 per incident.

    For Ubuntu server you pay $US700 for 10 incidents, max for a year.

  15. vlad says:

    Shaman,

    How you see it is irrelevant, this is not about your opinion. You obviously have not seen Outlook Web Access based on your remark that you think it requires a proprietary interface to view. Ever heard of single instance storage? Sharing calendars? Meeting requests? Probably not.

    As for “who would want to”, that as well is irrelevant completely and totaly. What is relevant is that the easy support for that in Linux does not exist and in a competitive bid a linux solution would not have features that could compete with it.

    -Vlad

  16. vlad says:

    Bob,

    The “Debian years out of date” is based on the facts that the Debian stable tree comes with software that is in some cases major revisions away from the latest. Yes, they backport security, but I’m not about to use technology from 2001. I want the latest KDE, latest Firefox. Oh, I have to upgrade to unstable? No, thanks.

    -Vlad

  17. vlad says:

    “Linux admin”,

    I was going to break down your lack of understanding point by point but then I saw this:

    WSUS
    Ever heard of syslog? You can automate this and have it logged to a central log server. Very easy to do. No hacking required.

    There is no sense responding to anything after reading that and it kind of reinforces the people most damaging to promoting Linux. People that want to compare things they know absolutely nothing about.

    -Vlad

  18. josh says:

    Very good points, Vlad. But let me ask: how does Windows differ from Linux? Actually, let me step back a bit and ask: what, exactly, type of customer are you going after with this?

    It seems that you’re going after ‘upgrade’ customers; like, for example, a SMB who has a website running on RedHat 9, and wants to upgrade to the latest supported distro. How is this example different from the customer who wants to upgrade from Windows 2000 to SBS 2003? Most of the caveats you speak of – overwriting custom changes, having to hack old software into working under a new environment, etc. – and specifically, the time required (and cost to the business manager) also apply to Windows upgrades. It’s generally a bad idea.

    Ok, so you mentioned the caveats of three distros (Fedora, Gentoo, Debian) and just shoved the RHEL clones into a byline. Was this intentional? Why would any consultant in his right mind recommend Fedora for a production server for a client? A RHEL clone is a much better idea because there are more consultants that can work with it.

    In short, before just buying a server, you need to justify based on business needs; if you have a .NET or ASP app it’s rediculous to install a Linux server. However, if it’s just the print and file server that many SMB’s need, it’s rediculous to install a Windows server. If you think in the Windows paradigm (WSUS and ISA) and try to find Linux solutions to match them, you’ll fail; however, if you look at the basic business problems that those products solve and apply Linux-based technologies to them, you’ll do so with less cost to and higher satisfaction of the customer.

  19. vlad says:

    Josh,

    Going after small business, generally 5-30 employees.

    I put the RHEL clones into a byline because they are by far and large new distributions (~2 years or so) and none of them come with support. Furthermore, I find them to be less used by anybody in the Linux community, most people that are Linux fans use more edgy distro’s or more friendly stuff like Ubuntu.

    And yes, that was the entire point of the article. That there is no way to beat a Windows SBS solution with Linux. That Microsoft tries to pick a fight with Linux on the grounds it cannot possibly win on – stability, reliability, uptime, security. If it tried to look for a WSUS-like solution on Linux it would win by default. Same with webmail, etc, etc.

    Customers are asking for things like Blackberry Enterprise Server, for Excahnge, for central patch management and security consoles that they can read. Look at the ISA, WSUS, Exchange, SBS reports – no such things on Linux. Given the two, I doubt you could ever convince someone to take Linux over SBS and that was my entire point. But if you wanted to compare them on reliability, security and so on Linux would win hands down.

    -Vlad

  20. phil says:

    SBS is a compelling and attractive package for small business, Xandros are getting there bundling Scalix and I think you will find more and more SB aimed packages.

  21. Eric says:

    Okay, I am a newbie in both worlds, my personal tast on Exchange, is that it is complete crap, it typically goes down an average of twice a week for several hours each instance. I have found Hula to be a very good replacement, it provides calendars, web mail, supports clients, and provides many other collaborative features. I also found that it was not very difficult to move someone from an Exchange server to Hula. I am not going to try and argue any of the above text that is would be a wast of time. But if you are seriously concerned for your customers and their security you may consider Hula.

    P.S. Personally I have found Linux documentation to be very informative and to the point, when it is a Windows problem it takes me considerable more time to find an answer.

  22. vlad says:

    If your Exchange server is going down twice a week you must have some problems above and beyond the platform (probably hardware related).

    I will check out Hula. I have Scalix around but a) its expensive and b) support blows. We had one tank and it took a “consultant” several days to fix it. Apparently their “support” does not go beyond the documentation reading.

    The documentation waries, I will give that up as its sometimes hard to find things in the Windows world. I do find it, all things considered, to be on par if not a little better than Linux. However, that comes with a grain of salt. Linux comes with a lot of “how-to” project documentation whereas Windows comes with a lot of high-end documentation both on development and infrastructure side.

    -Vlad

  23. Linux admin says:

    You are reinforcing my point about M$ being the one that focuses on features. I don’t deny that Exchange has more features. And I did not state that Linux had a feature-for-feature equivalent to WSUS. My point there was against your comment of “No reporting on which patches failed”. This can be done with syslog.

    As for the other features of WSUS, I just don’t see them as being that important. Things like “no ability to see which software is running on which system” is such a dumb feature. A system admin should always know what is running on his/her servers.

    I don’t see how this damages the promotion of linux. If I were asked by a company what to use, I would ask for their requirements and then show them what would work best. Now the cost is usually the biggest factor, and I would therefore go over that with them. And as my points mentioned, I believe that in the long run Linux would be cheaper. Due to its stability, availability, a small business could easily contract out their linux admin who would rarely be needed since Linux is without a doubt a far-less-maintainance OS.

    As for your response to Bob. Saying you want the latest KDE and Firefox. PLEASE do not tell me you install those on your servers. Servers should never have a GUI. Even Windows should be offered with a GUI-less server version. But then they would of course need to create a decent command-line and command-line tools.

    Another point I forgot to mention about upgrading. This I am not 100% sure of, so please do correct me if I am wrong. If one was to upgrade Windows, say 2000 to 2003. Would their configuration not be overwritten? I am talking about the IIS and Exchange settings here.

  24. vlad says:

    “Linux admin”,

    Again, this is the core of the problem with promoting Linux – you don’t go up to a business owner with nothing in hand and just tell them that “you can do it” – they won’t, they want a package.

    I used KDE and Firefox just as examples about how stable KDE is out of date. Can you get MySQL 5.0 on Debian stable? No. What about PHP5? No again. You have to go up too an experimental branch to run that code.

    Please go take a look at WSUS and functionality it provides. Please. This is really damaging for Linux in general, having people that have never seen or used the product talk about comparisons. It perpetuates Linux users as ignorant religious zealots that obviously don’t have the understanding of what other solutions provide.

    -Vlad

  25. Shaman says:

    >How you see it is irrelevant, this is not
    >about your opinion.

    No, this is about YOUR opinions, which are unfounded. Arrogance gets you nowhere…

    >You obviously have not seen Outlook Web
    >Access based on your remark that you
    >think it requires a proprietary
    >interface to view. Ever heard of single
    >instance storage? Sharing calendars?
    >Meeting requests? Probably not.

    *You* have obviously not seen IMP or Zimbra, to name just two of the many. You are simply wrong. It’s OK to admit it, Vlad. There isn’t a whole lot that is really right.

    As far as complete packages go, there are many out there if you look. A good *nix admin can throw a great server that does ISA and most of SBS features in a couple of days ($2000 investment perhaps?) There are some other great packages out there.

    Re: Squid – yes Squid can do everything described actually, hourly and by userID. Like the ISA solution, I abhor the idea, but whatever blows your hair back.

  26. Linux admin says:

    Obviously you wouldn’t just say “it can be done”. But after you show them the cost, and things like how much more reliable their services would be, then they could make their decision.

    Is there a problem with using debian unstable? I don’t think so. That is just debian proprietary terms. Because debian calls it unstable doesn’t mean it is unstable. If we were to apply debian terms to Windows, then Windows 2000 would be the stable distro and 2003 would be called the unstable one.

    And besides, there are ways you can tweak it so that it will install specific versions of specific packages and you can still be officially using debian stable since the unstable one seems to scare you.

    As I said, I have looked at WSUS, and I just didn’t find it to be important.

    How can you say that this makes linux users look ignorant. There are millions of windows admins that can’t tell me a thing about apache. In fact, this would likely be the majority. They probably don’t even know what apache is. Yet these admins are still suggesting and using IIS.

    And what are you saying then. That when an admin is trying to choose a product, he must try both before he can decide what to use? It is not sufficient for that admin to simply compare the reviews, read about the product’s features and then make some eliminations.

    Wow. How is it that you can compare ISA to the linux equivalent that you have never even heard of? How is it that you can say there are no linux equivalents to specific programs?

    According to you, unless you have tried ALL the programs, you are making some bad comments. You are comparing exchange to programs you haven’t tried. You are comparing ISA to things you’ve haven’t even heard of.

  27. Richard says:

    As a developer I’ve found Linux to be better built than Windows. I’m especially impressed with the architecture around Java, though I know that’s not strictly “Linux”. In terms of quality it blows Dot-Net out of the water.

    For example of the kind of thing I notice “SortedList” is a type of List in Java, but in Dot-Net it’s a Dictionary and not a List at all! It can’t even take single values like a list can but it’s called SortedList!

    On a higher level more practical scale I notice that the rapid application development in Dot-Net, the feature that sells to small development shops, allows people to write a lot of very bad unmaintainable code very quickly.

    I sometimes wonder if software engineering is worth the effort. Then I see a well engineered application growing and adapting to change, and a badly put together application having to be thrown away and redone because maintaining it is too hard. The well engineered applications are a pleasure to work on. The bad applications are not. These seem to be the different types of thought prevelant in Windows and Java/UNIX.

    Microsoft have a story to sell. They talk about wholly integrated solutions to do anything – as long as what you want to do is what they think most people do. Quality is not so good. Sharepoint Server sucks for example, but the small businesses like the fact that it all comes from one place. They also like the sheep mentatility, and for some reason people seem to think Windows is so easy to use the average secretary can configure a mail server in her spare time.

    You mention documentation (as do Microsoft in a recent report). I’ve found Linux, and especially Java documentation far superior to Windows. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to knowing where to look. Finding out how to get IIS to use NTLM not Kerberos and even how to get ASP.Net to run as a different user takes some digging around. Then there’s the timeouts involved in an XML/RPC request. We were going to have a party when we hit 10.

    You say that linux doesn’t do XML/RPC? I’m sure it does. My first web services were in Java on Linux. Multiple development environments support it. What does it matter anyway to a small business? XML/RPC is a means to an end that I expect the average small business knows or cares as much about as why a non-list SortedList is bad or the details of the different types of inlet valve actuators in the executive’s car engine. As long as the car runs well who cares?

    Personally I’d rather we were all using Java on whatever platform. It’s far less stressful.

    – Richard

  28. vlad says:

    My article compared ISA and Exchange to the popular software in the Linux world – I’m sorry that I have not tested everything under the sun and downloaded every single crapware soon-to-be-abandoned hobby off freshmeat.net – Squirrelmail and Horde/IMP are about the most popular/stable webmail programs and when compared to Exchange they are awful. Likewise with ISA compared to m0n0wall, IPCop, ipchains/iptables web interfaces you can put together.

    Oh, I’m sure you can download some plugins, tweak the config, modify this and that – and perhaps put together something remotely similar to ISA – but at what cost? Far more than ISA, that I’m sure of.

    Your comments reflect the lack of understanding what WSUS does, how it does it and what the value and benefit is. Thus comparing that as you have so far would get you laughed out of the office of anybody that knew anything more about WSUS than you did. Likewise with Exchange. Which of the Linux solutions supports Windows Mobile push mail? Which one natively supports Blackberry devices? You have to constantly keep on syncing with a POP3 server…. well, you know the deal.

    As for Debians proprietary terms, I suggest you read them:

    “The experimental distribution is a special distribution. It is not a full distribution in the same sense as `stable’ and `unstable’ are. Instead, it is meant to be a temporary staging area for highly experimental software where there’s a good chance that the software could break your system, or software that’s just too unstable even for the unstable distribution (but there is a reason to package it nevertheless). Users who download and install packages from experimental are expected to have been duly warned. In short, all bets are off for the experimental distribution.”

    “all bets are off” is not something I would ever consider as a recommendation that an IT professional should make. Linux or otherwise.

    -Vlad

  29. somebody says:

    And this is comming from….

    A guy who runs Linux. He actualy has a soul to preach how linux is more expensive, while he runs it because it is cheaper.

    What can you do? Some people are just simply hypocritical and without a basic sense of self respect

    http://www.emailbattles.com/archive/battles/opsys_aadechghcd_ae/

  30. Dudley says:

    Excellent article, and some replies here that really seem to miss the point. A couple in particular caught my eye:
    – one seemed to suggest that a decent Linux admin will create scripts to reapply all their config customisations, but a Windows admin has to click through hundreds of GUI pages to do the same. As though Windows does not have a robust scripting interface and language support of its own.
    – another seemed to suggest that Windows needs a decent command line and command line tools. The Windows command line works just fine, and the toolsets available through Resource Kits (free), Support Tools packs (free), and custom scripts (free) are excellent.
    – Support. Trawling Linux forums vs the Microsoft Support KB? MS wins there for me.

    I have this discussion with customers quite often. I just recently revisited one of my SMB customers and their SBS server has been ticking away nicely for well over a year now. The business owner gets the SBS reports and contacts me for the occassional backup failure (tape not loaded, tape write-protected, that sort of thing). The users get a prompt once a month on their desktops to reboot for the latest patches thanks to WSUS. They pay me 1 hour per month to logon remotely and do a test restore to test the tape integrity, check logs, and apply any patches. A rock solid and reliable solution for this business.

    Could they have saved money going with a free Linux distro? Sure, on the software. Would they have all the features they need, some of which are mentioned in the article? No.

    Good article Vlad, very rational and well thought out. As a personal and professional user of many versions of Windows, Linux, and BSD I agree with everything you have written here.

  31. Roy says:

    Vlad, there is an old truth that says if you are wrong you will spend a lifetime justifying your action, but if your right you will never need to justify your action because everyone can see the action was right. I have just read through your article and the accompanying posts, seems to me you’re spending a lot of time trying to justifying your position in your article.

    In your article, is seems to me you have done exactly what Microsoft did with their get the facts site? You have done nothing more than expound the righteousness of Windows over Linux, only from a different view point. It also seems to me, from the posts, that Linux has its own share of righteousness. I am not a system administrator, security administrator, or even a developer. I manage a data center for a government entity. I have a mixture of Windows, UNIX from different vendors, and Linux servers. What I do know is that because of security concerns, we dumped exchange and went to a Linux based mail system. We also went to Apache because it just was a better web server.

    The last thing is that we don’t have to have all my administrators/operators spend time on Saturday rebooting all the UNIX or Linux servers like we do the Window boxes.

    Small business (5 to 30 employees) does not have time or personnel to do admin functions for the server, for the email or the web server. They only have time to concentrate on their business.

    If I am a small business why do I need to move to new versions (upgrade), with the exception of security patches? If everything, the system, my applications, my email and my web site are all functioning properly why would I want to change? Again, the focus of a small business is to concentrate on my business not my servers.

    So from a business stand point it seems that from an overall operational prospective a Linux server provide a more cost effective solutions then the Windows server.

    Roy

  32. phil says:

    Hey again Vlad

    Scalix community is free and has 25 Enterprise licenses (read Outlook licenses and shared calendar etc), pity about your experience with support blowing! I have only used the forums (which are regularly posted on by Scalix employees) and have always had quick and informative answers.

  33. somebody says:

    vlad, what a non-sense. Are you really pulling the last straws?

    “Can you get MySQL 5.0 on Debian stable? No.”

    “What about PHP5? No again. You have to go up too an experimental branch to run that code.”

    Get a clue. http://www.dotdeb.org/
    And I don’t use neither Debian stale or Debian based distro. A half minute job

    Use Google: “debian stable” mysql5

  34. Dudley says:

    Quoting Linux Admin:
    “Another point I forgot to mention about upgrading. This I am not 100% sure of, so please do correct me if I am wrong. If one was to upgrade Windows, say 2000 to 2003. Would their configuration not be overwritten? I am talking about the IIS and Exchange settings here.”

    The configuration is not overwritten, it is preserved. Microsoft supports and provides prescriptive guidance for upgrade paths from recent -> latest versions.

  35. vlad says:

    Somebody,

    Dear anonymous coward, you are either an idiot or really trying hard to convince me of something I already know. Probably both based on your responses so far.

    PHP5 and MySQL5 do not come with Debian, you quoted an unofficial repository.

    The article, as I tried to point out a number of times, is to help SBS people compare against Linux. I switched my blog site to Linux which is a completely different situation. I needed a cheap web site, my business and corporate intranet still run Windows. Big difference there.

    As for your breakdown of administration tasks, I believe it. You don’t strike me as a particularly competent person based on the list of your arguments.

    Roy,

    I am responding to every bit of dishonesty that Linux zealots that know nothing about Windows are spreading on my blog. If you come to my site you don’t just get to run your mouth, you have to back it up with facts. So far the only fact coming out of this thread is something I addressed in the post originally: There is a big difference between what people pitching Linux say and whats actually true. Most Linux users, specifically many of you arguing with me over WSUS, Exchange and IIS really show your lack of understanding of the Windows platform. I’m just making sure that the visitors here are aware that these comments are posted by clueless people and clear it up. Like that anonymous coward “somebody” up there.

    -Vlad

  36. Linux admin says:

    I am not saying you should know them all. You are saying that. I just showed you that you were being a hypocrite.

    Netfilter comes with essentially all distros. Squid is then the only thing you need (something that comes with a lot of distros). That doesn’t seem like a lot. It adds up to 1. Guess what. ISA also adds up to one. The difference, linux = secure; ISA/Windows = insecure.

    I am not saying that setting up proper linux servers is not a lot of work. I do believe that only someone that knows what they are doing should set it up. This is another problem with windows. They make it so simple that so many kids and basic users can now setup a server. Companies then learn to depend on these servers which are very improperly setup.

    I did also say that Exchange does have more features. I never argued that. But I do think it is not reliable enough to be used for a mission-critical service such as email.

    “Laughed out of the office”. Why? Because I don’t want the features provided by WSUS? If you were in an office full of Linux admins, you would get laughed at for recommending a toy product (Windows). A product made for dummies.

    Do you not understand what I meant by Debian proprietary terms? This means that for debian (a stability focused distro), they consider the packages unstable. There are many other well known and highly used distros that are using MySQL 5 and PHP5 without calling them unstable. Are they adventurists? No. They simply don’t follow the same very strict requirement of debian.

    I use MySQL 5 and PHP5. I have had them running for very long time and never had them crash or require a reboot.

    Whereas I have used Windows 2003. Considered stable by M$. And it has crash and required several reboots.

    If you are so concerned about stability, how can you recommend M$ products. What debian calls unstable is still far more stable than windows/exchange/isa and so on. If M$ were so strict in what they called stable, exchange 5.5 would be the stable one.

    I really don’t understand you. You are against using debian unstable, yet you use Windows and Exchange to get all the newest and greatest features. Where is the logic? It is totally backwards.

  37. vlad says:

    Linux admin has the last word.

    I’m going to close the discussion because it seems to be the same thing over and over again and I think it gives me enough Linux FUD to write another article breaking your choice distributions “as is” against SBS by showing the screenshots and feature breakdowns. Yes I know “you can do it” mentality, but when proposing it to the small business “you can do it == expensive” and outright goes to prove my entire point about Linux pitches and their misleading nature.

    -Vlad

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