Thursday, January 31, 2013

SME server - easy to use linux server

Thought I would write a short piece on my favourite Linux server software.

Thinking of moving away from Windows, or feel you could do with a small file server at home ?

I have been using SME Server aka for about 10 years now. It's history is long and varied and has passed through a number of hands, and plenty of turmoil, in that time.

The commercial version of it is used as the basis for Mitel Networks VOIP servers.

The fundamental tenet of the distro is that it should 'just work'.

The base system is CentOS - repackaged Red Hat Enterprise Linux. So you get a rock solid core.

The system is designed to be secure out of the box. You can change that as you require, but you can sleep easy knowing that even if you aren't a linux admin, your box is safe.

On top of this is an easy to use management system written in Perl (I know, I used to panic, but not any more - if you think PHP is great, read here and here). The beauty of it is that you can start by just using the built in web interface. So it is easy to set up users, shares, email etc.

Underneath this simple system is a very clever set of templates. So all the fundamental config files are regenerated without you having to touch a thing if you don't want to.

If you want do do more, the template system has an override system, so you can add your own templates, or fragments thereof, which will be incorporated into the config when you regenerate files.

All the important system settings are stored in an easy to use database system and you can modify or add to these easily from the command line if you so require.

There are numerous contributions from users for all sorts of things. I have run various different applications on mine - currently we use vTiger for work, I have one for SVN and trac, Joomla, eGroupware, Wordpress, ZenCart and so the list goes on.

It has 3 basic modes - Local server only, Local Gateway and server or Public gateway and server. You can also modify it to run on a VPS as well - this needs a small hack now, but will be incorporated in due course.

The downsides. There aren't many really.

It's weakest link is that is IS easy to use and attracts a lot of 'non' admins. That means that there are fewer competent people to code for it. As a result after the release of v8 based on CentOS 5.x last year, things had gone very quiet.

However, there has been a renewed interest recently, and the community is now trying to forge ahead and build v9 built on CentOS 6.

I for one would recommend it to anyone, but particularly if you are just starting with a linux.

I did, mainly because I was concerned about security as I didn't have that much knowledge and was concerned that if I built a box myself, it would be vulnerable. Why reinvent the wheel ???

In 10 years I have had only two successful hack attempts, and both of those were because the people whose servers were hacked had done some silly things - one had disabled the automatic enforcement of strong passwords and changed their passwords to easy ones....... and the other one had installed a php application, disabled some security,  and not kept it updated..... both against my advice :-)

Even now, I have no reason to go elsewhere. It does all I need, quietly and without fuss. The uptimes can be astonishing (the odd updates excepted).

So if you fancy a play, go and have a look on

And don't just download it, join in. There is a job for EVERYONE !  It only works with help from the community, be that coding, bug fixing, testing, writing or reading documents.

So go on, grab a copy and have a play ! It's childs play.....

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