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Cutting corners in an OS upgrade

I'm looking for guidance with a pending server OS upgrade (currently on NT). I have a network of less than 10 users, and recently upgraded all connected PCs to WinXP Pro. Our server is used primarily as a file server, and we do not currently have our own e-mail server. My question is, do the benefits of a server OS (such as Win2K with Exchange) warrant the setup and maintenance time for a network this size? I am the SysAdmin, but am primarily in a project manager role and have not set up a network since NT truly was "new" technology (which may impact your response). How difficult would a migration to Linux on the server be and would it matter that we run WinXP Pro on the desktop?
I think the key issue to keep in mind that whether you migrate from an older Windows server OS to a new Windows server OS or from Windows to Linux there is always a learning curve. However, if you have a light needs network maybe the answer is you should perhaps "cut a corner" and think about things from the value of your time. You may be much farther ahead just to hire a vendor to install Windows or Linux as your server OS (my vote is obviously for Linux). Or maybe you might want to consider a preconfigured network appliance; my favorite is EmergeCore's IT In A Box. This is a great solution as it include the services you want to run for a small LAN and the EmergeCore solution (which runs Linux) it gives you a very rich easy to use management interface and it takes the learning curve out of configuring services individually by offering a standardized interface. Also, it shouldn't matter if you run Linux or Windows as your desktop operating system.

The IT In A Box offers you the following features which I suspect pretty adequately cover your needs:

  • File and Print sharing
  • Firewall
  • E-mail
  • Networking (including DHCP, DNS, Wireless Access point, NAT)
  • SPAM Blocker and Virus
  • Web Server
  • VPN
  • Networking monitoring
  • Domain User control (simple alternative to Active Directory)
  • And Many more features...
The reason I know this is this is the solution I use for my LAN and it's a breeze to administer. Also, it's a huge time saver and the price is very good in relation to licensing all that software on Windows or in comparison to downloading the Linux packages and configuring them individually as an inexperienced user. The final advantage is that I have the peace of mind of knowing I am using my preferred server OS but can inexpensively leverage the expertise of EmergeCore's staff.

The only limitation is that you have to adhere to the boundaries of a pre-configured solution in this scenario but solutions like this are the kind of thing that allow you to save administration time and focus on your core business, whatever that may be.

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