News Categories
Announcement (9) Amy Babinchak (64) Tips (1) SBS 2011 (6) Windows Essentials 2012 (4) Edwin Sarmiento (28) SQL Server (22) SQL Server 2012 (6) SQL Server Clustering (3) SQL Server Disaster Recovery (6) Windows Server 2008 Clustering (1) log shipping (1) Brian Higgins (3) Uncategorized (42) Hyper-V (67) Virtualization (13) Windows 8 (13) Cisco VPN Client (1) Windows Server 2012 (24) Friend of TT (4) Hangout (2) Office365 (4) DNS (8) Jeremy (7) Cliff Galiher (3) Active Directory (12) ClearOS (4) Linux (4) presentations (2) SQL PASS (6) Chris Matthews (4) Printers (2) SharePoint (8) SQL Server Administration (7) Windows PowerShell (3) recovery model (1) sql server databases (1) Dave Shackelford (7) SMB Nation (1) Steve (1) Boon Tee (5) Kevin Royalty (3) Lee Wilbur (2) Philip Elder (10) SMBKitchen Crew (31) Susan Bradley (15) AlwaysOn (1) AlwaysOn Availability Groups (4) readable secondaries (1) row versioning (1) undocumented (1) The Project (2) Webinar (3) Enterprise for SMB Project (9) Security (25) Remote Desktop Connection for Mac (1) Remote Desktop Services (8) Windows Server 2008 (1) Exchange (15) Powershell (6) Microsoft (15) Performance (7) data types (1) Server 2012 (1) monitoring (1) DevTeach (1) SQL Server High Availability and Disaster Recovery (5) Clusters (44) Hyper-V Server 2012 (2) Business Principles (26) Cost of Doing Business (13) DHCP (7) sbs (15) Windows Server (30) SMBKitchen (26) Windows Server 2008 R2 (4) StorageCraft (1) P2V (1) ShadowProtect (6) StorageCraft ShadowProtect (1) VHDs (1) Intel RAID (2) Intel Server System R2208GZ (1) Intel Server Systems (17) RAID (2) SAS (2) SATA (2) Server Hardware (12) Microsoft Licensing (2) OEM (2) System Builder Tips (4) Intel (5) Intel Channel Partner Program (4) Intel Product Support (10) Intel Server Boards (2) Intel Server Manager (2) Cloud (26) IT Solutions (2) On-Premises (20) SMB (9) WIndows Azure (2) StorageSpaces (1) Error (47) Error Fix (35) Intel Desktop Boards (2) Intel SSDs (2) SSD (2) Business Opportunity (17) Data Security (11) Identity Security (7) Information Security (14) Privacy (2) Intel Modular Server (6) Promise (2) Storage Systems (9) Live ID (2) Microsoft ID (4) User Profiles (2) Articles (2) Building Client Relationships (6) DBCC IND (2) DBCC PAGE (2) filtered indexes (2) SQL Server Index Internals (2) training (11) Adobe (3) Internet Street Smart (8) Intel Storage Systems (2) LSI Corp (2) LSI SAS6160 Switch (2) Storage Spaces (7) Firmware Update (2) Product Support (7) Hybrid Cloud Solutions (3) Server Core (2) MAXDOP (1) SharePoint 2013 (1) SharePoint best practices (1) SQL Server Authentication (1) Family (5) Alternatives (1) SBS 2011 Standard (4) Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community (2) Microsoft Surface (2) SBSC (2) Networking (4) Availability Groups (3) CANITPro (1) HA/DR (1) Step-By-Step: Creating a SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn Availability Group (1) webcast (1) VMWare (2) Conferences (2) Client Focus (2) Disaster Recovery (6) Error Workaround (8) Troubleshooting (4) Logitech (2) Product Review (7) Windows Features (4) XBox Music (2) SBS 2008 All Editions (4) MDOP (2) Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (2) Software Assurance (2) W2012E (6) Windows Server 2012 Essentials (6) Internet Explorer (3) USB 3.0 (2) USB Hard Drive (2) Bug Report (2) Microsoft Office 365 (5) sharepoint online (2) BitLocker (2) Windows (2) Microsoft Update (3) Swing Migration (2) Windows Update (4) Outlook (2) Group Policy (9) WS2012e (2) WSUS (3) Office (3) Microsoft Downloads (5) Microsoft Office (3) DRP (3) Virtual Machines (2) Virtual Server Hardware (2) online course (1) SQL Server learning (7) 2 Factor Authentication (2) 2FA (2) PASS Summit 2013 (4) SQLPASS (5) Contest (1) e-learning (1) Udemy (1) smbtechfest (1) backups (2) PASS Summit First Timers (3) IIS (2) RD Gateway (4) RD RemoteApp (2) RDWeb (4) Remote Desktop Connection (2) Remote Web Access (2) Remote Web Workplace (2) Cryptolocker (6) Backup (4) Restore (2) CryptoLocker (1) AuthAnvil (1) SBS 2003 (1) SBS Migration (1) Windows Server 2012 R2 (9) Documentation (1) IE 11 (4) testimonials (11) SQL Server 2008 (1) Best Practices (1) Support (1) Intel Xeon Processor (1) RemoteApp (1) Android (1) iOS (1) Hyper-V Replica (2) PowerShell (2) SBS (3) Break (1) Business Intelligence (1) Excel 2013 (1) Power Map (1) Power Query (1) PowerBI (1) MultiPoint (2) Surface (1) Net Neutrality (1) Opinion (2) ASP (9) HP (2) Scale-Out File Server (8) SOFS (10) Windows Phone (1) Updates (1) Intel NUC (1) Intuit (1) QuickBooks (1) Office364 (1) Intel Server Systems;Hyper-V (1) Firewall (1) Patching (1) Mobile (1) Mobility (1) sharepoint (1) Microsoft Security (1) Beta (1) Storage Replication (1) outlook (1) Hyper-V Setup (3) JBOD (1) Azure (1) PCI (1) PCI DSS (1) PII (1) POS (1) MicroStaff (2) Catherine Barr (2) Third Tier (1) BeTheCloud (1) BrainExplosion (1) LookAWhale (1) Manuel (1) Rayanne (3) SuperSecretNews (1) TechYourBooks (3) Managed Services (1) Training (1) E-mail (1)
RSS Feed
Clear OS – An Alternative to SBS?
Posted by jeremy on 11 October 2012 09:46 AM

Part five of a six part series looking at ClearOS, one of the major commercial alternatives to Small Business Server.  In this post I look backup and recovery.  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: Backup And Recovery

One important aspect of any server solution is the ability to restore the data in case of an accidental deletion, restore the server in case of a hardware failure, or recover from corruption.  Unfortunately, this is on aspect where ClearOS is truly lacking.  While there is a native backup utility in the marketplace, this only covers the configuration files.  Let’s take a quick look at how Linux works, and how it configures the operating system.  In Linux, ALL the system configuration information is stored in small, flat text files.  Everything you need can be restored by just replacing the text file.  So, for Clear OS to natively backup these files, all it needs to do is to locate the configuration files, and copy them to an external disk.  ClearOS installs the configuration backup by default and you can manually backup the systems settings.

If you want to backup data or mailboxes on the server, you are instructed to purchase the Remote Server Backup Utility.  This has a small, but recurring cost of $5 a year.  Storage must be purchased separately; 50 GB is $250GB per year.  Other size increments are available as well.

This being Linux, you do not need the ClearOS offsite storage to backup the data.  You just have to manually configure it from a shell.  Using cron jobs and rsync you can easily backup your data to an external USB disk or network drive, but you have to configure it all manually.  There are no Volume Shadow Copy options on Linux, so if a file is open, you will have to skip the file.

If you are using Zarafa, the ClearCenter Remote Server Backup will backup your mailboxes as well.  If you do not want to do it using the ClearCenter paid option, Zarafa has detailed documentation procedures on how to create a “dump” of the MySQL database where the mail is stored.

While I am appreciative of the options that ClearOs gives you, disaster recovery is not a topic for the faint of heart.  If you want a complete, local backup of your data and mailboxes you will be required to set up the configuration manually in the shell.  There are many third party applications and scripts that should get you going, and never forget, test, test, test your backup and restore procedure.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

Clear OS – An Alternative to SBS?
Posted by jeremy on 08 October 2012 12:20 PM

Part two 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 initial installation, setup, and configuration of the operating system.  Be sure to read part one for an overview of ClearOS.

Part Two: Installation

In part one we looked at the overall platform functions for ClearOS, and what it can offer a small business as a collaboration platform.  Let us take a look at its installation and configuration process to see what is required to get it up and running.

Linux, and ClearOS by extension can run on very minimal hardware, but of course, that’s all dependent on the configuration and applications that are running.  ClearOS recommends that if you have 50 users you should have 2GB of RAM, and their web page advises that messaging and firewall applications “following software modules are processor and memory intensive”.  Zarafa messaging recommends 4GB of RAM for 50GB of mail.  Therefore a server with 8 GB of RAM and a modern processor should meet the requirements of most small businesses.

Installation is straight forward, and if you are familiar with installing any server based operating system you are not going to be in uncharted territory.  When Windows Admins hear the words ‘Linux Server’ often their face goes pale at the thought of a complicated command line, this is no longer the case.  The installer is a nice, visually appealing GUI that you click through.  Boot from the installer media, choose your language, name your server, configure networking, and choose your disk layout.  For a test server deployment, the layout does not matter much to me, but in production this can be a big deal.  As a Windows admin, setting up my partitions is important to me.  The ClearOS installer does not offer a clear default choice that I should choose for a new setup.  For those or you that are used to working with Windows systems, you have implemented best practices where the operating system is on the C: drive, file shares are on the D: drive, etc…  You have done this so that the OS can be on a redundant Mirrored volume, while storage is on cheaper RAID 5 volumes.  You have done this to keep a clean file system.  You have done this for faster recovery in a disaster recovery solution. Linux has a completely different partition scheme.  There are three partitions created by default, the / root directory (think C: in Windows), the /Swap directory, and the /home directory.  The Installer does give you the option to modify these upfront, but if you are not anticipating it or if you have to add storage later this can be complicated to change.  The /home directory will be used when you create a user.  This is where the users data will reside.

After choosing my disk layout, the setup continues and installs all the packages and binaries and I am presented with a “Setup is Complete” message.  The server is rebooted and you are presented with the initial set up screen:

Verify that your network settings are proper, then connect to your server using a web browser.  The rest of your server configuration will be done through the web browser. Connecting to the server with a browser prompts you to complete a setup wizard.  You are afforded a vary large and compelling set of options that you can configure and install.  The first phase of the setup wizard is the network mode:  Private server, secured by and External Firewall, Public Server for when the server is installed in a hostile environment,  and Gateway Mode which  includes a firewall application that requires 2 NICs, and has monitoring and policies reminiscent of ISA server.

After configuring the network setup portion, you are prompted to install security updates and register your system.  If you have a ClearOS account and serial number, this is where you enter it.  If you need to create an account, the installer lets you do it there.  Creating an account from the installer automatically grants you a 30 day trial.

The next setup phase is titled Configuration.  The wizard prompts you for an Internet Domain Name, a hostname, and Internet Host Name.  The steps are straight forward to configure the settings, but at this point you need to have some familiarity with DNS domain names but there is nothing here that is confusing for an experienced Systems Administrator.  After configuring DNS and your systems’ Hostname you  are prompted to select your account synchronization method: Standalone, Master or Slave.  The installer advises you to “choose wisely”, you only have one chance, so get it right the first time.  For this deployment I chose Standalone.  Standalone configures the server so that it will be the “ONLY” server in the network, Master indicates that it is the “PDC” and slave configures it to pull directory replication from another ClearOS Server.

The server then launched into the Marketplace.  The Marketplace is where you choose to install the productivity applications that you want to make your server do things.  At this point you could skip to the end and not install anything else, but you would have a very bare bones server.  The MarketPlace is the killer feature for me so far in ClearOS.  A complete and organized list of the Applications that you can install on the server, a detailed description of what the application does, its cost and its EULA.  The MarketPlace makes it very easy to know what you need to choose, even if going into the server install you don’t know what you need.  I choose to install the Directory Server, Password Policies, Print Server, Windows Networking, and the messaging solution Zarafa.  This provides what I believe to be the primary functions of a complete server solution for a small business; access Control file and print sharing, and a messaging solution.

For many Windows admins out there, the concept of having to add a Directory Server AND Windows networking is an unfamiliar concept.  The Directory Server is just that, an OpenLDAP deployment.  This is where your directory, users and groups are stored.  A directory server provides information on users, groups and systems.  The Windows Networking portion provides authentication services, file and print services, and Windows Domain functionality.

The final phase of the setup has you configure the DHCP sever for your network.  You can also make changes to the running DNS server, and allow SSH access to your server.  After these final pieces are configured, the setup wizard completes and you have an up and running ClearOS domain controller.  You are returned to the Dashboard where you can get an overview of your system.

Overall the process of the installation is painless.  There was never any point where I felt like I didn’t understand what I was choosing, or why I was choosing it.  I am not a fan of the disk partitioning wizard at the beginning, and there will be further discussion on that in the domain and file sharing section.  I did encounter a hiccup where the Windows networking would not start.  I had to Google for an answer and discovered that I needed to SSH into the server and delete a lock file, and re-initialize the Windows Networking.  There seems to be a race condition between OpenLdap and SAMBA that can result in initialization issues.   This is not an unknown issue in the Windows world either, so I cannot bring major fault to ClearOS for this.  ClearOs has developed a smooth, process based, wizard driven installation that really shines when it comes to setting up the product for the first time.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

Help Desk Software by Kayako Fusion