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Mandriva Corporate Server 3.0 review

By Jem Matzan

Mandrakesoft released its Corporate Server 3.0 product in February. It's a significant upgrade to the older 2.1 edition. With a newer kernel and a competent GUI management utility for its services, Corporate Server 3.0 is a good, inexpensive choice for businesses that need a powerful and secure server operating system with as little overhead as possible.

If you're used to Mandriva's desktop distributions, Corporate Server 3.0's default configuration will be a bit of a change. While you can manually add KDE and GNOME packages during the installation process, only the IceWM and twm window managers are installed by default. Your default console is a Galaxy-themed, bare-bones IceWM with no desktop applications. All you've got is the Mandriva Control Center with its GUI administrative tools, including setup wizards for all of the servers you've installed. If you choose to install all of the predefined package sets, you'll have a helper wizard for DHCP, DNS, FTP, news, groupware, OpenLDAP, email, proxy, Samba, time, Web, NIS/autofs, and installation servers as well as PXE configuration for network booting. For most of these wizards you don't have to know much about the technologies to start and configure them, but you do have to know what they are and what they do.

Postfix 2.1.1 with cyrus-imap are the default mail packages, and Apache 2.0.48, Samba 3.0.6, ProFTPd 1.2.9, BIND 9.2.3, and OpenLDAP 2.1.25 are among the network applications. SpamAssassin and SquirrelMail are installed with the mail server package group, but there is no other mail transfer agent (MTA) option besides Postfix.

Problems

In addition to Mandrivalinux Control Center, the distribution includes Webmin for local or remote administration, but to use it locally you'll have to add a graphical Web browser from the manual package selection screen during installation. I was surprised to discover that Webmin was not properly configured for Apache, and that there were Webmin modules installed for many programs that I didn't have. After adjusting the module configuration I was able to get the Apache module working (the config expected /usr/bin/httpd and the actual executable was /usr/bin/httpd2), but I didn't spend much time messing with the DHCP module configuration, because DHCP wasn't installed. Not only was dhcpd not installed by default, but it wasn't even an option during the installation procedure. The only way to properly install a DHCP server was to use the DHCP wizard in the Control Center, which prompted me for the first install disc to retrieve the package.

Although Postfix was the only MTA installed, Webmin had modules for Sendmail and Qmail, which cluttered up the interface and provided some initial confusion as to which MTA I had installed.

The network gave me a lot of trouble, specifically with DHCP -- it didn't work "out of the box" as I had expected it to. Ordinarily my router acts as a DHCP server and assigns dynamic IP addresses to each connected machine, but all I could get in Corporate Server 3.0 was an IPv6 address -- no IPv4, and no connection to anything outside of the local machine. I tried two test systems -- an Intel D915GUX-based computer and an MSI K8T Neo2-FIR-based computer, and in addition to their onboard NICs I also tested with a "tried and true" D-Link external 10/100 card to ensure that it was not a hardware-specific problem. Corporate Server detected them all, but none were properly connected to the local intranet nor the public Internet. I tried reconfiguring my Internet settings with the GUI config tool, but it detected no connection. I tried to edit the /etc/modules.conf file in an attempt to troubleshoot the problem, but my changes were erased and replaced by an autogenerated file at some point after I rebooted.

Speaking of rebooting, there is no option in the IceWM menu to perform this task. You can log out back to the XDM screen, but you can't shutdown or restart. I used the terminal for these functions.

Interoperability and compatibility

The server operating system's hardware compatibility was good. However, I couldn't get Serial ATA hard drives to be recognized through the three onboard SATA controllers on both motherboards: Intel's ICH5RW, VIA's VT8237, and Promise's 20579. The installation stopped responding to input when it got to the hard drive detection with each of these controllers. The video and sound chips were detected and worked reasonably well, although I didn't test for hardware 3D acceleration or sound quality.

As far as software and connection standards are concerned, Mandriva Corporate Server 3.0 can provide authentication through OpenLDAP, and Windows clients can access file and printer sharing through Samba.

Support

As with Mandriva's Corporate Desktop product, Mandriva Corporate Server 3.0 is on a five-year support cycle. The included support is pretty lean: one year under the standard contract, but as always, upgraded and extended support options are available. The upgrade cycle is 12 to 18 months, which is comparable with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

The exact details of what each support tier offers confused me. If you're interested in Corporate Server 3.0 and want to learn more about its support plans, Mandriva has a page for it.

Summary and conclusions

I've always liked Mandriva's various distributions, but I've often had trouble getting them to work properly -- especially when they first come out and are in need of updates. The concept of Mandriva Corporate Server 3.0 is a good one -- it's lighter, faster to install and boot, and cheaper than comparable products from Red Hat and Novell. It's got nice GUI configuration tools that make it easy to manage.

However, while the concept may be good, the implementation fails; on two high-powered systems suitable for small business Web/email/DNS/DHCP/MySQL servers, I couldn't get Corporate Server 3.0 to work properly in a reasonable amount of time. It took less time for me to set up similar servers for Web, email, DNS, SSH, and MySQL using FreeBSD and Gentoo, which are both configured entirely by hand (unless you install and configure Webmin or some other graphical management tools). Considering the advantages that Mandriva Corporate Server 3.0 was supposed to provide, I found it disappointing.

The graphical configuration tools are a good idea -- especially Webmin -- but they should never interfere with hand-edited command line tweaks. It also takes too long to configure Webmin to make it fully functional, and even longer to eliminate unnecessary modules. I'd like to see Mandrivasoft pre-customize Webmin's modules to match the installed software in the next release.

I'm puzzled as to why dhcpd was not included in the base system or as an option. I did get it installed eventually, in a roundabout sort of way. In future releases, it might also pay to include courier-imap for those who prefer it over Cyrus, and Qmail and Exim for those who don't like Postfix.

With time and attention, you can get this operating system up and running. You can easily get corporate support and software updates, so Mandriva Corporate Server 3.0 has its advantages over community distributions. However, if you have a bigger budget, you may find more value and less hassle in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Purpose Server operating system
Manufacturer Mandrivasoft
Architectures x86, AMD64
License GNU General Public License, although some included software is under proprietary licenses
Market Small/medium business servers
Price (retail) $370 for the software plus the standard service plan, $830 for the software with the premium service plan
Previous version Mandrake Corporate Server 2.1
Product Web site Click here