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Review: Small-Business Server Bake-Off

Net Integration's Nitix Linux small-business server packs every bit of the feature punch of Microsoft's Small Business Server 2003 R2, but at less than half the price, according to a CRN Test Center review.

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In a Test Center bake-off of the newest small-business server offerings, Nitix bested Linux players Xandros and Novell and ended up in dead-heat tie with the software giant on functionality.

The powerful Nitix feature set topped Microsoft in installation and disaster recovery, but Microsoft captured the top spot in intranet and remote-access functionality.

That said, the Nitix product is priced at $599 for five users compared with $1,299 for five users for Microsoft Small Business Server. Nitix opens the door for solution providers to target cost-conscious small-business customers.

Xandros finished just behind Nitix and Microsoft, besting all comers in the groupware category, where it holds a decided advantage because of its AJAX-based Web client, according to Test Center engineers.

Xandros, priced at $499 for five users, also posted strong scores in disaster recovery with its support for client systems.

The Novell Open WorkGroup Suite, launched on May 9, finished well behind Xandros. Even though Novell is positioning the product as a small-business offering, Test Center engineers found that it shows its roots as a workgroup solution as opposed to an all-in-one offering for a small business.

Its lack of backup and nonintegrated installation make it more suitable as part of an overall workgroup solution, engineers found. The Open WorkGroup Suite, priced at $80 per user per year, is the replacement for the Novell Linux Small Business Suite.

To properly select a server for a small business, one has to understand the typical requirements associated with bringing an advanced IT solution into that environment.

A viable solution must provide ease of installation, groupware, intranet functionality, backup and remote access.

Microsoft has set the standard with SBS 2003. Here's a look at how the others stack up.


Winner: Nitix
2nd: Microsoft
4th: Novell

Installing any one of these products proves to be quite easy, as long as one sticks to the list of supported hardware. That is an area where Microsoft excels—SBS 2003 readily supports most of the hardware on the market and makes it easy to add new hardware via the product's device manager and plug-and-play wizards. Microsoft also automates most of the software component installation, installing products such as Exchange, SQL Server, IIS, SharePoint and so on with the initial install.

Novell takes a different tack with Open WorkGroup Suite, which is broken down into separate components that each require their own installation. Although the elements all seamlessly interact, the product is clearly made up of several stand-alone technologies.

Among the contenders, Nitix boasts the easiest server installation. The product's installer is fully automated and successfully bundles in all of the integrated software. Once the basic install is accomplished, users complete the configuration via a Web browser on a client PC.

Xandros follows suit, as the product's installer is wizard-driven and requires minimal information to complete. As with the other Linux products, using supported hardware is the key to making installation easy. GROUPWARE

Winner: Xandros
2nd: Microsoft
3rd: Nitix, Novell (Tie)

All of the products covered here have a bundled groupware application. Microsoft includes its Exchange Server 2003 and fully integrates the server into the network operating system. Microsoft supports group scheduling, e-mail, task management and Web mail.

Novell relies on GroupWise, which offers all of the key features needed by a typical small business, including group scheduling, e-mail and task management. However, administration of the product can be complex.

Nitix went a different route, bundling ExchangeIT Groupware, which offers Microsoft Exchange compatibility. ExchangeIT is tightly woven into the operating system, easing client deployment, management and backup. ExchangeIT proves easy to use and will quickly become a favorite.

Xandros won this contest by going the third-party route for its integrated groupware offering, choosing Scalix as the bundled groupware offering. Scalix offers compatibility with Microsoft products and is designed to be simple to use and manage. The product offers an excellent Web mail interface built with AJAX and full support for Microsoft Outlook. Xandros has done a good job of integrating Scalix into Xandros server.


Winner: Microsoft
2nd: Nitix
3rd: Xandros
4th: Novell

Bringing information to the in-house employee can prove to be almost as important as serving the external customer. Microsoft has recognized that need and won this bake-off by bundling SharePoint into SBS 2003. SharePoint allows users to share documents, create bulletins and disseminate internal communications, all via Internet Explorer. What's more, SharePoint offers integration hooks into Microsoft Office, which makes the product's capabilities that much more accessible.

Nitix, Novell and Xandros don't offer that level of workflow integration. That said, each of the products still has their strengths and the framework to build a similar capability. Take Nitix, for instance. By combining the integrated Web server with the capabilities of ExchangeIT and the product's support for Web mail and Web scheduling, integrators could offer something along the lines of SharePoint.

With Novell, users will have to rely on the capabilities offered by GroupWise to handle most collaboration tasks. Luckily, the product is up to the challenge. Xandros' inclusion of Scalix brings a powerful AJAX-based client applet to most any Web browser. In theory, Scalix offers much of the capability offered by SharePoint or even a typical intranet presence. BACKUP

Winner: Nitix
2nd: Xandros
3rd: Microsoft
4th: Novell

Backing up data is critical for today's small businesses. For backups to be successful, the technology must be foolproof and reliable.

This is one area where Microsoft is still lacking. The integrated backup included with SBS 2003 proves to be just adequate at best. Microsoft relies on a combination of the company's shadow-copy technology and a file-by-file backup methodology to protect data.

Recovering from a disaster can be a harrowing experience. First, VARs must reinstall the basic SBS 2003 operating system, configure their backup device and then go through a lengthy restore.

Nitix has the backup problem licked with its SystemER disaster-recovery module. SystemER allows users to restore a complete Nitix environment in a mater of minutes. What's more, the company offers an automated backup process that can back up the system every 15 minutes, with no hands-on intervention necessary.

Novell has eschewed including an integrated backup into its Open WorkGroup Suite. Those considering using the product for small businesses should consider an add-on backup application to properly protect their data.

Xandros relies on the third-party BRUBackup Server. BRU offers open file support, remote backup device support and full automation. What's more, Xandros includes six licenses for the product.


Winner: Microsoft
2nd: Nitix
3rd: Novell
4th: Xandros

For the traveling worker, remote access is key. Microsoft has included RWW (Remote Web Workplace) with SBS 2003, which enables remote users to not only access their e-mail and calendars, but also control their desktop systems. Microsoft's offering proves to be the next best thing to being there.

Not to be left out of the game, Nitix has also covered remote-access capabilities. Although they don't boast the same level of integration as Microsoft, solution providers have available all of the necessary pieces to build a remote-access solution. The same can be said for Novell and Xandros.


Test Center engineers found that Nitix is a viable, cost-conscious alternative to SBS 2003. What's more, Net Integration focuses on VARs and integrators, excluding retailers in its go-to-market strategy. That is attractive for VARs, given Microsoft's embrace of retailers such as Best Buy For Business.

In a market where VARs are looking for margin-rich alternatives, Nitix is the clear choice.


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