The pick of the Linux litter

To find out which Linux-based products are most popular with network professionals, we solicited online comments from our readers during a six-week period.

Readers responded not with accolades for products shipped by traditional enterprise network giants, such as IBM and Novell, which have only recently joined the Linux fold. Instead, they pointed to products developed by companies and open source zealots that have historically not been enterprise players but have from early on hung their hats solidly on the Linux hook.

Readers say they use these particular products because they are inexpensive, easy to deploy, customizable and work well in their large networks.

Topping our list of useful products is a Linux-based Internet server appliance from Cobalt Networks called Qube 2, as well as its higher-end cousin the RAQ 4r, which is targeted at the ISP market. (Sun announced plans last month to buy Cobalt in a $2 billion stock swap to help bolster its growing server appliance business.)

Users raved about the ease of installation and the versatility of Qube 2 appliance, which costs only $1,799 when shipped with 64M bytes dynamic random-access memory, a 20.4G-byte hard drive, a PCI slot and dual Ethernet slots. You can get less hardware intensive versions of Qube 2 for as low as $999. This product can support up to 150 users and be used as an Internet mail server, a firewall and a cross-platform file server. Additionally, the product ships with Web publishing tools for creating and hosting a Web site and software for creating private discussion groups online.

Users gushed about the Qube 2's "ridiculously easy" 15-minute configuration time, its reliability (some users said they don't have to reboot for six months at a time), and its low power consumption. On the downside, users pointed to the inability to upgrade the processor and its tendency to slow down under a large user load as potential weaknesses.

Another product repeatedly nominated by Network World readers is Win4Lin, produced by NeTraverse of Austin, Texas. Most readers nominated this product in its first iteration, but Win4Lin 2.0 is currently in public beta testing.

Win4Lin, which costs $35 per copy, is an application that enables Linux users to run the MS-DOS and Windows operating systems concurrently on either their desktop or server machines without requiring additional hardware. This product does not require a dual boot process as Win4Lin can run in a window on your desktop or as a separate display attached to your existing machine. Users say the chief benefit of this product is that it runs Windows inside Linux as fast as native Windows, but is much more stable. They point to the sometimes difficult installation process and the lack of support for 3-D applications as weaknesses in the product.

Two freeware stalwarts -- the Apache Web server and the Samba Unix and Windows integration software -- also made the list of most useful enterprise products that can run on Linux servers. Readers pointed to Apache's market-leading position, its easy installation and maintenance features, and its proven reliability as major strengths. But they pointed to its lack of a graphical user interface (only really necessary if there are Unix "newbies" in the shop, say our readers) and weak documentation as possible downsides to the product.

As for Samba -- which provides seamless file and print services to Windows clients sitting on a Linux network -- readers say you just can't get better integration for a Linux server into a Windows network for this price.

Apache and Samba are free from the Web or ship with many commercial Linux distributions.

Two network monitoring tools also made the list -- the Multi-Router Traffic Grapher (MRTG) and NetSaint -- both open source goodies. MRTG, which is not specific to Linux as it runs on all flavors of Unix and on Windows NT, is a tool to monitor the traffic load on network links. It generates HTML pages that provide a live, visual representation of this traffic.

MRTG comprises a Perl script that uses SNMP to read the traffic counters of up to 200 network links on your network and a fast C program that logs traffic data and creates graphs representing the traffic that are then embedded into Web pages. In addition to a detailed daily view, MRTG also creates visual representations of the traffic seen during the last seven days, the last four weeks and the last 12 months. This log is automatically consolidated so that it does not grow over time, but still contains the relevant data for the traffic seen over the last two years. Another plus for this utility is its significant user base, always an advantage when you are talking about open source code.

NetSaint lets you monitor network services such as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, Post Office Protocol 3, HTTP, Network News Transfer Protocol and ping as well as host resources such as processor load, disk and memory usage, running processes and log files. This software has a simple plug-in design that lets you develop your own service checks. Other features include notification via e-mail, pager or user-defined method when service or host problems occur, the ability to define corrective actions, a Web interface for viewing network status and an authorization scheme that lets you restrict what users can see and do from the Web interface. The only weakness mentioned by our readers was the text-based configuration of this utility could be a problem for some users.

This story, "The pick of the Linux litter" was originally published by Network World.

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