NethServer: A painless Linux server you will love

NethServer 7 Preview

NethServer is a CentOS-based, all-in-one, easy-to-use Linux distribution. If you’ve ever tried to run a small Linux server for a small company without much experience on your shoulders, well, you might have noticed you have to drop to the terminal quite frequently. User management? Backups? Point-and-click? You can forget all those goodies from Windows Server, or can you?

A Genius formula: CentOS with a Web UI

NethServer Dashboard

NethServer Dashboard

NethServer is based on CentOS, a battle-tested Linux operating system for server use based on the popular Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system. CentOS is a rock-solid system used for many purposes and one of the most common operating systems used for web hosting.

But CentOS can be difficult to manage: expect to use the command line exclusively, to configure and manage difficult things like firewalls, package managers or (the dread) SELinux and to spend much time learning what it takes to run things smoothly.

Meet NethServer: an integrated solution capable of running all these difficult tasks out of the box using a great web interface that you can easily access with your browser. Farewell SSH and ugly command lines.

Effortless configuration, huge potential

NethServer Disk Usage

NethServer Disk Usage

A huge point behind NethServer is to allow administrators to monitor and administrate the server effortlessly through the web interface.

NethServer web interface allows tweaking of many common, yet powerful settings such as:

  • Network configuration
  • Package management
  • Local/domain user management
  • Service management
  • Security settings

All of this, is available out-of the box. That is, if you don’t install any NethServer Apps.

Supercharge your NethServer with Apps!

NethServer Software center Apps

NethServer Software center Apps

Although the configuration of the web interface may look minimalistic, and its settings a bit limited, a huge part of NethServer capabilities is achieved thanks to its Apps. NethServer Apps are pre-configured packages that integrate with NethServer seamlessly and provide high-level functionalities such as:

All these apps are backed by popular open source solutions (e.g. Samba) and are installable with literally one click! But the true strength of such apps lies in their integration with the system.

As an example: there is a NextCloud app, if you decide to install it with a LDAP server (or AD for instance) already active, NethServer will automatically configure domain user login and you will be able to log in your newly-spawned NextCloud instance without even touching the command line.

NethServer: The perfect match for a small office

NethServer Email Addresses

NethServer Email Addresses

With its exceptional manageability, a wide range of preconfigured Apps and must-have features like centralized user management, NethServer is just the perfect match for a small office or a small business. By centralizing services such as:

  • User management
  • File sharing
  • Group collaboration (Groupware)
  • Email

an instance of NethServer can reduce the cost for hardware (and software) drastically. NethServer comes in two editions:

  • Community Edition
  • Enterprise Edition

The community edition is a completely free solution for a small office. The enterprise edition comes with more features and enables companies to take advantage of Nethesis (the company behind NethServer) support.

An amazing Active Directory compatible server

NethServer Users and Groups

NethServer Users and Groups

An almost-ubiquitous piece of technology in small offices and enterprises alike is Active Directory. Active Directory is a proprietary solution initially created by Microsoft that allows administrators to:

  • Centralize user management
  • Enforce network-wide permissions
  • Manage internal DNS
  • Enforce policies (GPO)
  • Manage certificates and trust relationships

Although Active Directory is a Microsoft exclusive, NethServer 7 can be used to set up a compatible Primary Domain Controller. By setting up the Domain Controller, the administrator will be able to perform common Active Directory-related task using a Windows workstation.

NethServer 7 can potentially replace a Windows server with Active Directory (albeit it won’t be as easy as it sounds) and provide AD features without an actual Microsoft AD server. The compatible server will act as a normal one, even allowing Group Policies to be created and enforced.

Powerful Groupware: Email, Calendar, Contacts and Collaboration

NethServer SoGo Email

NethServer SoGo Email

Thanks to the powerful SoGo suite, NethServer can provide so-called Groupware features such as:

  • Web Mail
  • Contacts
  • Contact synchronization
  • Calendars
  • Calendar synchronization
  • Team collaboration

Once the App is installed, users will be able to connect using their domain credentials (AD or LDAP) and will be able to send emails, manage contacts and work schedules using calendars.

Users will also be able to synchronize contacts and calendars with internal sources through subscriptions. E.g. a team leader may share a calendar with his team in order to create and manage work schedules.

Also, the NethServer instance can act as a mail relay or it can be set up as a full mail server (Postfix, Dovecot).

Meticulous networking features: Gateway, Proxy, VPN, Firewall and DPI

NethServer Firewall Rules

NethServer Firewall Rules

One of the most developed features in NethServer is networking. A NethServer instance is capable of acting as gateway for other machines, by doing so the administrator is able to monitor and regulate the traffic in the network.

NethServer Web Content Filter

NethServer Web Content Filter

To regulate the traffic a powerful firewall and a comprehensive web content filter are available to configure through the web interface. The most common use for theĀ web content filter is to block specific site categories (e.g. social networks) for employees during work hours.

When acting as a gateway, the server is able to perform Deep Packet Inspection showing which sites/services are passing through it without compromising users’ privacy.

The web content filter comes with predefined site categories but it can also be configured to block specific domains or use a custom list from a chosen source. These filters can also be bound to a specific time-frame, and multiple time frames can be defined for later use.

The firewall can allow or block packages, perform NAT-ing and port forwarding. The NethServer instance can also be configured to act as proxy.

Another great feature is the possibility to configure NethServer to act as a VPN server. The instance can be used to access the internal network securely using VPN technologies (such as OpenVPN).

But NethServer can do much more, the instance can be configured to create a VPN tunnel between two machines allowing for a permanent, secure bridge between two key locations (e.g. main office and branch office).

Last but not last, the server can be configured to act as a caching server. Imagine 10 machines downloading the same update, each one would have to download it from the Internet, this would effectively download 10 times the same thing. By configuring the caching server one of the machine would download the update and the other nine would download it from the local server. This feature cuts the bandwidth needed and in less time.

Jumpstart your NethServer with Virtual Machines

NethServer Web Virtual Machine Manager

NethServer Web Virtual Machine Manager

If everything else is still not enough for you and you need more power or control, let’s say an unsupported app you want, you’re in luck! NethServer can host Virtual Machines and enables the administrator to manage them through a convenient web interface.

You can wave goodbye to poorly performing virtual machines on VirtualBox on Windows setups, NethServer will use QEMU and KVM (if the hardware has the right support) to “speed up” your virtual machines.

The interface is powered by the WebVirtManager project. Thanks to this, the administrator is able to manage virtual machines, virtual networks and storage pools even on multiple hypervisors.

Conclusion

You’ve met NethServer an easy-to-use, all-in-one Linux distribution that is perfect for small offices. By using Open Source software, the cost of implementing the solution can be kept to a minimum and you have the security andĀ transparency an Open Source project has. NethServer offers a huge amount of settings and controls, and it also offers modularity through applications that can run on a single host allowing better management and cost reduction. All in all, this article highlights the most important features, but there are a myriad more to discover for those who decide to use this product.

Image courtesy of mark | marksei

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The IT guy with a little boredom look in his eyes, fond of computers since forever he now works as a freelancer in the IT and shares his experiences through this blog.

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