By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2004-06-28 Print this article Print

A big selling point for server appliances is ease of management— these systems make it possible for businesses to deploy core server applications such as e-mail and firewalls quickly and manage them centrally from a browser rather than dealing with multiple configurations and disparate management interfaces.

These benefits result from software in the appliance, not the appliance hardware, so its probably not unusual for some IT managers to wonder if they could just run the software on existing systems rather than investing in the appliance itself.

Server appliance vendor Net Integration Technologies Inc. has heard this request: Last month, the company released a stand-alone version of the Nitix operating system, which was previously available only in appliances such as the Net Integrator Mark I.
Click here to read eWEEK Labs review of the Mark I. Using the lightweight, simple-to-install Nitix, eWEEK Labs quickly turned older PCs into surprisingly capable, simple-to-manage workgroup or small-business servers.

Of course, software that turns PCs into appliances isnt new; its been around for at least as long as appliances themselves. However, most of the current options are open-source products such as Trustix, and, while they are very capable, they arent as simple to deploy or manage as Nitix is.

Although Nitixs autonomic computing isnt exactly the same as what some analysts and companies mean when they talk about autonomic computing, Nitix clearly has self-healing and self-adjusting features. These work well, but they also limit Linux experts ability to tinker with the system: Most custom changes will be detected as flaws, and the system will revert back to its standard state.

Pricing for Nitix starts at $589, with client licenses priced at $35, or $59 with Outlook integration.

The editors of eWEEK and PC Magazine selected Nitix as a finalist for the Best of CeBIT Awards. Click here to see the winners. To install Nitix on a system, we simply booted to the CD. Once the boot was completed, we had the option of changing the IP address and just going to the IP address in our browser to manage the server. The product includes a compatibility CD for testing to see if a system will have problems running Nitix.

Once initial installation is complete, all management is done from the Web browser. One small touch we really liked is that, by default, Nitix includes a privately signed SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate that makes accessing the interface secure right from the get-go. This is a good default setup, and it was simple to change the certificate to one of our own.

From there, everything was pretty straightforward. Nitix includes Web servers, FTP, a firewall and all standard file server networks. It has good VPN capabilities, with support for PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol), IP Security and office-to-office tunneling between Nitix servers.

Nitix includes handy backup options and supports RAID, but the product failed to identify the correct number of drives in some of our test systems. (In a few cases, it identified two drives in systems that had only one.)

We especially liked Nitixs e-mail capabilities, which let us choose from IMAP, POP (Post Office Protocol) and secure POP and provided a surprisingly good browser-based Web mail client. The product includes anti-spam features and built-in anti-virus capabilities that can scan both mail and files added to the file server.

Along with the standard mail options, Nitix includes a plug-in for Microsoft Corp.s Outlook called ExchangeIt. With ExchangeIt, users comfortable with Outlook can connect to Nitix for mail and still have all the collaboration and scheduling features theyd expect from Outlook and Exchange. Although ExchangeIt worked well, setup wasnt exactly plug-and-play and would require substantial IT work for anything larger than a small office.

The Nitix user directory can be stored as an LDAP directory, which makes it easier to integrate with other products. However, there was no way in the main management interface to import users from an existing LDAP directory.

The reporting features in Nitix are good, and we liked the system status information that appears on the main management page. However, we would like to have alerting options that would contact administrators if problems or specific events occur in the system.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza is at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms Enterprise Applications Center at http://enterpriseapps.eweek.com for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.

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Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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