A six part series looking at ClearOS, one of the major commercial alternatives to Small Business Server. This is part one in the series that provides an introduction and overview of the operating system.
Part One: Introduction.
With the current uncertainty of how the Windows Server 2012 Essentials will fill the niche left behind by the discontinuation of Windows Small Business Server there have been many discussions of alternate products and deployment options. The focus of these conversations has primarily been on deploying Windows Server Essentials or Server 2012 as an operating system. The other major discussion has focused on deploying an on premises mail server solution such as Exchange, or Kerio, or moving to a cloud based solution such as Office 365. I wanted to look at an alternative option to Microsoft products and see what other options were available. One of these options is Clear OS. Clear OS is a Linux distribution focused on providing a server solution for small business and education.
ClearOS Community is a cloud-connected Server, Network, and Gateway operating system designed for small and medium-sized organizations. You can think of it as a next generation small business server that you can install on hardware, in a virtual machine, or in the cloud. ClearOS comes with a Marketplace full of easy to install apps and the solution is a snap to configure thanks to the intuitive web-based interface.
I wanted to install Clear OS and get a sense of whether this was a product I would recommend and deploy as an alternative to Small Business server. I am going to evaluate the installation process, configuration, productivity software, messaging, and backup solutions.
One thing to consider when determining to deploy ClearOS is the cost. First, realize that there are two major different versions: ClearOS Community and ClearOS Professional. The Community version is free, while the paid version starts at $80. The biggest difference between the Community version and the Professional version is that Professional includes paid support options, and professional applications such as Google Docs Sync and the Zarafa messaging platform. While you can install these aps in the Community version, in the Professional version they are packaged for easy installation, and fully supported. Security updates and patches are deployed and tested in the Professional version.
There are four different versions of the Professional version: Light, Basic, Standard and Premium.
The differences in between these versions are the support levels, and applications that are included by default. For this article, I tested the Standard version. This includes support in its subscription, while the Light and Basic are per incident. This version is $480 per year. In addition, the mail server Zarafa carries a cost of Zarafa Professional Edition for ClearOS, $24 per user/year.
I contacted support twice during my trial period. I submitted my support request via the Clear Community portal and I had a response both times within two hours. Working on a free trial, I was glad for the speedy response. The second time, support acknowledged that what I was doing was cumbersome (enabling public folders) and that it should be enabled in the web configuration page. They stated that they were submitting this as a feature request.
You can lower your subscription to a Light or Basic version, support becomes Per-incident at this subscription level. If you are new to Linux, or this is your first ClearOS box, I can see that having support on demand as being valuable. After becoming more familiar with its operation, if you do not use some of the additional features, you might go to a cheaper subscription.
I wrote this review to see if there was alternative platforms that would be a viable solution after Microsoft discontinued the Small Business Server product. The intention was so that IT Professionals would have a clear view of the alternatives. Other than contacting tech support through normal channels, Clear OS was not involved in this review in any way. On paper, Clear OS presents a viable option to SBS Server. The features and packaging are a complete collaboration, file sharing, and messaging platform. The included options of firewall and gateway anti-virus bring an additional value add to the ClearOs platform. It is a cost effective solution where the subscription model allows for a low upfront investment. Tech support is prompt and the answers are on target. Continue on to part two to see about the installation process and hardware requirements.