Clear OS – An Alternative to SBS?

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The final part series looking at ClearOS, one of the major commercial alternatives to Small Business Server.  In this post I present my conclusions.  Be sure to read part one for an overview of ClearOS and part two for an introduction to the installation process. Part three looks at the domain and file sharing. Part Four covers messaging solutions. Part five covers backup and recovery.

Part Six: Conclusions and what else you need to know.

ClearOS, what do I think about ClearOS and would I recommend it to someone to install as a file and messaging solution.  I like it.  I like the product.  I like what it brings forth as a solution.  It provides an easy to setup, centralized administration environment for a small business.  It scales, you could use the server to support a network of hundreds of users if you so desired.  There is a large inventory of applications that you can install from the Marketplace to make this a true all in one solution.  These applications include web filtering, gateway anti-virus, and a firewall product as well as the file sharing and messaging that I reviewed.  The web administration interface is great way to administer the server.  This is one area that Windows has been lacking in for years.  Everything that I need to do on the server can be done from a central console that is accessible from a web browser.  If the change I need to make cannot be done from the WebUi, SSH allows me quick access to the console of the server.  Included in the centralized administration of users, groups, and computers, password polices can be defined and enforced on the clients.  ClearOs is the easiest setup and implementation of OpenLdap I have seen, it does just work.  Samba file share works as well across all versions of Windows.  Zarafa is a compelling Exchange alternative, and its integration with the LDAP directory provides true single sign on for users.

The largest hole I see in the ClearOS solution is in its backup and recovery.  By default there is only a configuration backup from the WebUi, and no way to schedule it or send it to an external disk. This is a huge issue for small business that need a set and forget backup solution.  Linux does not have a volume shadow copy service like Windows, so backing up open files can be difficult.  Monitoring the server health is not intuitive, and where there are applications such as disk usage, it does not alert you if the disk is getting close to full.  There are logfile monitoring tools but they only aggregate what is there.  While the offering is complete, providing all that you need in a server for small business, the applications could use some further refinement.  For example the ability to add a Public Folder store in Zarafa from the WebUi, or creating a way to move FlexShares to a different disk if you need to.

The ultimate decision to install ClearOS is going to break down to three options; cost, feature set, and familiarity with Linux.  If cost is an absolute hard line factor, ClearOS is cheaper than Microsoft solutions. Purchasing the bare minimum support contract makes it extremely cheap.  If all you need is a centralized directory server and a messaging platform, ClearOs has the features you need, and many more.  Familiarity with Linux is required to deploy Clear OS. You don’t need to be an expert, but the ability to SSH into the console and navigate the file system needs to be in your skill set.  While there is no supported migration path from a Windows domain, it could be done by purchasing an ActiveDirectoy connector in the marketplace.  Overall, ClearOS is a compelling option for a single server, on premises, solution.


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