How to make Debian work for our business

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How to make Debian work for our business

Postby asimonelli » 2005-08-27 15:31

We are a financially struggling Manufacturing company with an IT dept of only two people and about 70 workstations running Windows 95/98 (yes Windows 95 :shock: ). There are some programs that are Windows compatible only so we can only replace about half of them with GNU/Linux. We also have a few NT servers and two Red Hat servers. The Red Hat servers are functioning as a Postfix MTA and Squid Proxy servers.

Because of our lack of finances and tiny IT dept, we are looking for a desktop and server replacements that are easy to use and administer and don't cost very much.

I do have some experience with Debian Sarge and love it but it seems like it takes a lot of work to get your system set up the way you want it and has a lot of administrating. (Plus I'm worried about a slow release cycle like the previous version).

We obviously don't have the time or other resources to give since there is only two of us, but we would like to make the move to using Debian GNU/Linux as our mainstream OS.

My question is if there is a way to easily set up and administer multiple Debian Desktops and Servers (some sort of streamlining)? Should I be looking elsewhere like Mepis or Ubuntu (I sure hope not because I love Debian)?
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Postby uteck » 2005-08-28 08:29

Since you are still using win95, having a slow release cycle should not scare you. In a production environment stability is better then features, otherwise you would have upgraded long ago.

Since Ubuntu is based on Debian it is very close, and it would make installing easier since it installs X and Gnome (or KDE if you use Kububtu) to start with. Or you could use Knoppix and install it to the hard drive and have a complete system fast. With the DVD version you will have just about every package you could need installed.
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Postby dawgie » 2005-08-28 10:51

Ubuntu is very easy to install and configure, since the package selection is already done. It is easy to get a Sarge system by installing the install the older (Warty) Ubuntu release. Once the install is complete, change your apt sources to Sarge, update and upgrade.

You might also want to try a regular Sarge install, Mepis, LIbranet and Progeny. Find out what suits your taste. They are all very good.

Also keep nagging your program vendor about replacing the "windows only" programs.
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Postby asimonelli » 2005-08-28 13:47

uteck wrote:Since you are still using win95, having a slow release cycle should not scare you. In a production environment stability is better then features, otherwise you would have upgraded long ago.


You're completely right, boy I feel dumb saying that now. I was thinking more along the lines of missing out on updates of great GNU/Linux apps such as OpenOffice 2, Mozilla-Firefox 2, etc.

The problem with Ubuntu is that it runs a Gnome desktop and we feel the KDE desktop is a much easier to transition from Windows (remember these people have been using Win95/98 for ten years now). Kubuntu still has a lot of bugs, at least from what I've seen, and Mepis installs way too much by default. I don't need an MP3 player and CD burning software, IM chat, etc. and I think it will take longer to un-install all of those programs than installing Debian. However, it does have nice utilities for network interfaces and other things though I don't mind editing text files to get things going.

I was wondering if there is a method or package to keep Debian systems synchronized with each other, or some type of remote administration? Is Webmin the best option? Would it be safe to install on everyone's desktop?

P.S. The Windows-dependant software that we use is PowerWay 2000 Suite (paperless document and data management) used to keep our ISO certification and Goldmine 6.0 (Business Contact Manager), both with no GNU/Linux alternatives.

dawgie wrote:Ubuntu is very easy to install and configure, since the package selection is already done. It is easy to get a Sarge system by installing the install the older (Warty) Ubuntu release. Once the install is complete, change your apt sources to Sarge, update and upgrade.


If I decide to use this method anyway despite Gnome, changing my apt sources to Sarge repositories and upgrading results in a pure Debian Sarge install? Why can't Debian do that in the first place by creating a virtual package or something for a business workstation for either Gnome or KDE rather than the current "Desktop" setup that installs both desktops and every single app you can think of (way too much disk space and applications) but not things like Firefox or OpenOffice?
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Postby Jeroen » 2005-08-28 19:37

You can install just kde by means of 'aptitude install kde' (just as you can install gnome by aptitude install gnume).

Indeed, tasksel with the "desktop" task is not extremely useful and only so if you've got plenty of diskspace and it doesn't matter anyway. Note that it doesn't actually really *hurt* to have gnome installed.

Regarding administring a whole bunch of machines, I don't think webmin is such a great solution, but there are tools designed for this type of system replication, both ones that simply replicate your package selection, and ones that take full system images etc. For the former, look into fai, a system designed for maintaining large clusters of machines, both installs and maintainance afterwards by means of getting additional scripts to run. For other maintainance, because you can use ssh remote login, you should be able to maintain them remotely. Myself I use this plus some home-grown way of imaging /etc, /usr, /bin, /sbin, and parts of /var to maintain a small cluster of machines, I don't know how to best maintain large sets of configurations. I'd say there must be some package for it, but I'm not really aware of it, except, maybe, FAI.

good luck
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Postby asimonelli » 2005-08-29 12:57

Thank you for your posts. The FAI package looks very interesting and I believe will work for us. We're planning on just starting with a small group of PCs and then working our way into replacing at least have the PCs.

Right now, the ones that use MS Office, the Internet and 5250 emulation with our AS/400 will be the first to be converted. I also need to work on converting the MS Access databases to something like MySQL databases.

It will just be easier if I know every PC was installed and configured the same way and it will certainly make administrating and debugging a lot easier. Thank you again everyone.
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