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Third Tier 2015 Sneak Preview
Posted by Third Tier on 18 December 2014 02:10 PM

We held a webinar where we talked about what we’ll be up to in 2015. Here’s the concluding slide. 8 programs and 11 staff. We recorded the session; you can download it and have a listen. We talked about our current programs: Helpdesk, MicroStaffing, SMBKitchen and Brain Explosion. Then we talked about our new programs: Super Secret News, Look a Whale, Tech Your Books and Be the Cloud. We also announced a monthly webinar series. All of the new things start up in 2015.


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MVP Awards at Third Tier
Posted by amy on 04 January 2013 09:50 AM

Third Tier is made up of some amazing people that give a lot to the community. They do so out of their passion for IT and compassion for others. Each person is awarded for a year for the work that they did on behalf of the IT community in the previous year. Nominations are made by other MVPs, peers and Microsoft employees. After the nomination each MVP is asked to submit a list of all of the community work they did in the past year. As you can imagine this is not an easy task. By virtue of being MVP material, the community things you do are just part of your being and generally not something that you keep a dally of.

I wanted to congratulate all of Third Tier’s MVP, whether they were awarded this quarter or another. So congratulations to: Dave, Steve, Cliff, Lee, Edwin and Jeremy. It is quite an accomplishment to be named one of the worlds elite by one of the worlds top software companies. I also wanted to share the letter that MVPs receive. This one happens to be about me, but every MVP gets one just like it. MVPs tend to be a humble lot so you’ve probably not seen this letter before.


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SMB Most Influential Nominees Are:
Posted by amy on 19 December 2012 09:33 AM

SMBTN and SMBNation are again running collecting nominations and votes for the most influential IT professionals in the SMB market space. Last year Third Tier had several winners in our midst and Eriq made the cover of SMBNation magazine.

The most influential award is a nice one because it is a chance to recognize those people that helped you along the way in your career. Whether that has been immediate, long term, in-person, blog, mailing list or forum it doesn’t matter. There are some people in this world that repeatedly demonstrate their sincere assistance. I generally call them leaders. SMBTN and SMBNation call them influencers.

The rules are that you are allows to vote once a day for 30 days. After which a committee will review the list, verify and award. If you’d like to vote for Third Tier staff members, here are some handy links.

Amy Babinchak

Cliff Galiher

Dave Shackelford

Jeremy Anderson

Steven Banks


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Clear OS – An Alternative to SBS?
Posted by jeremy on 09 October 2012 12:40 PM

Part three of a six part series looking at ClearOS, one of the major commercial alternatives to Small Business Server.  In this post I look at the operation aspects of the server, primarily focusing on domain join and file sharing.  Be sure to read part one for an overview of ClearOS and part two for an introduction to the installation process.

Part Three: General Operation

I have set up and installed a ClearOS server to see if I would be willing to use it to replace a Windows server environment.  Previously in part two I detailed the installation process.  Now I want to dive into the actual operation of the server.  I am working with a Windows Vista Client on this network.  I actually chose Vista for a specific reason.  It is the “red-headed step child “of the Windows Client OS’s .  If Vista works, anything will work.  The first thing I did was log into the machine with a local account and check my IP address and network connectivity.  I have an IP address from the ClearOS server, DNS points to the ClearOS server, NSlookup resolves clearos.linux.local (my server and domain name) .  Everything here is looking good.  I attempted to join it to the domain as I would if there was a Windows domain controller on the network.  System – Properties, Domain, Change: linux.  I entered my Winadmin Credentials, waited for a second, and received the positive news: Welcome to the LINUX domain.

I rebooted the Vista machine and at the login prompt I entered LINUX\Winadmin and my password and I logged in.  Domain Join worked, worked properly, and was painless.  There was no difference here than vs. joining a Windows domain.

I had a domain admin account, I can log in to my client machine.  The next testing step is to create some users and file shares.  Creating a user is done under the System tab of the ClearOs web interface.  There is nothing new or unusual about this setup.  You choose users, add, and add the user.

Enter the user’s information, and at the bottom of the page you have the option to add them to security groups if you have already created any.  If you choose to install the Messaging application Zarafa, the options are here to set up the SMTP address, set the mail quota, and add aliases.  I did not include a screen shot as it’s a really long form, but it’s a simple web page form, with everything you need for adding a user on one page.

As expected, limited and domain admin accounts work as they should on the Vista client.  The Domain Admin account can install software and make system configuration changes.  A limited user account can not.  There is no difference here compared to a Windows domain.  You are able to make limited domain users ‘local admins’ and assign them the right to log in via remote desktop.

The next thing I wanted to do was to create a share, and make sure that my users can access it.  This is where I hit a wall.  I clicked around for a bit on the different tabs, Server, File, no where can I create a share.  Network, nope, it’s not there.  I needed to find out how to create a share.  I realized that this is an OS where nothing is installed, unless I choose to install it.  To the MarketPlace!   It turns out that I missed installing the application FlexShare when I did my initial install from the MarketPlace.

Flexshares are flexible share resources that allow an administrator to quickly and easily define data sharing, collaboration and access areas via web, file, FTP and/or e-mail (as attachments).

I quickly installed Flexshares and then went to create my share.

Ok, so I have an HR share, I allowed access to the HR group, it’s enabled.  Being impatient that I am, I jumped back to my Vista box, logged in as an HR user, and I could not browse the share.

The actual next step is to enable the Share as a Windows File Share:

Going back to my Vista machine, I still can’t see the HR share, nor can I browse to it.  I go back to the Flex Share, choose edit, and look at it:

Notice the Top Status is: “Disabled”.  In the first screen shot, it is “enabled”

Once you set this back to Enabled, you can successfully browse the share from the Vista client.  This seems to be a minor bug, or it could also be user error, as I was not able to recreate it consistently.  This might just be something to be aware of when creating your shares.  Another major consideration with the default implementation of Flex Shares in ClearOS is that using FlexShares, there is no way to dictate where your share is located in the file system.  You can make changes in the system configuration files from a shell session, but this is not available in the web interface and changing it in the configuration files is not intuitive or simple.  By default, FlexShares stores all data on the root partition.  This is important to consider when you are sizing your server.

The next question is how to map these drives on a consistent basis.  ClearOS provides for Login Scripts to be run.  In the administration interface, browse to the Server, Windows Networking, mode.  Make sure the logon script is enabled. By default, the file is called login.cmd, you can change it as necessary if you want to run a different name, or a VB Script.  From a client workstation, you can open the share \\servername\Netlogon and upload the batch file to map drives.  This is a hidden share, so you need to navigate to it directly.  You can also set a Drive Letter Mapping for users home directories in this location as well.

There of course are no group policies to lock down the workstation, or to install software, or even to configure the firewall.  Advanced configuration could be done with a login script; however, completely managing client workstations from a script could become cumbersome.  The basic functionality of file and printer set up can be done with ease.

Domain join and file sharing work better than I could ever have hoped out of the box.  The native support for home directories and logon scripts is a big positive aspect when choosing to use ClearOS.  I tested several of my day to day tasks on domain joined machines and all of them worked.  I was able to remotely manage the machine, log on via RDP and limit user access.  Logon Scripts work, and I was able to use a VB script based on user group membership to map drives successfully.  Clear OS is a complete file sharing solution.  User and group set up is fast, easy and straight forward.  It truly does ‘just work’.  As a file server alone, that requires centralized administration, I would have no problem recommending ClearOS.

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Clear OS – An Alternative to SBS?
Posted by jeremy on 08 October 2012 11:25 AM

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.

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Jeremy Anderson is now a Microsoft MVP
Posted by amy on 01 October 2012 03:52 PM

Third Tier is pleased to announce that Jeremy Anderson has been awarded the Microsoft MVP.

Microsoft awards a small group of outstanding community leaders each year from the vast pool of IT talent around the world. Jeremy’s work posting to this blog, answering questions in forums, assisting with his local usergroup, his technet wiki and other speaking engagements led his peers to nominate him and Microsoft to sit up and take notice.

Jeremy joins a fine group of MVP’s at Third Tier and around the world. Because of this designation he will have opportunities to train at a deeper level and influence future product features at Microsoft.

Congratulations Jeremy!


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We’re Third Tier. We provide advanced Third Tier support for IT Professionals.
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