YunoHost might be the spiritual successor to Microsoft Small Business Server.

Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) was the product everyone needed in the early 2000’s and earlier. It was their “Business in a box” offering that provided every service a small business (under 50 users) could want. Email, Calendar, File Sharing, Directory Services, DNS, DHCP, Webhosting. It was truly the go-to deployment for most companies.

I administered 3 different versions of SBS, and did a fresh deployment of 1 before Microsoft killed it off for their new hybrid-cloud solution of Microsoft Server Essentials paired with Office 365.

To be clear, SBS was not a perfect product, but in my experience, was a fine, affordable, one-time expense solution that worked for a great number of companies in my area.

So, the SBS pitch thesis went something like this, “I can give you the ability to login anywhere in your office, have professional email using your .com name, share files between computers, and all of this for a low entry cost of (WhateverTheBoxCosts) Dollars.

Easy to sell, you either want the stuff, or you don’t.

The Microsoft Essentials Pitch now goes something like “I can give you the ability to log in anywhere in your office, and share files between your computers for a low entry cost of (WhateverTheBoxCosts) Dollars, and if you want professional email and cloud storage and it’s between 8 and 15 dollars per month, per user, forever.

Less appealing right? You have a significant upfront cost, and then now I have also baked in overhead forever, that only swells as your company grows.

Enter YunoHost

YunoHost describes itself as “a server operating system aiming to make self-hosting accessible to as many people as possible, without taking away from the quality and reliability of the software.”

In practice, at least for my use case, YunoHost was an incredibly easy to deploy, rock solid Email, cloud storage, and web hosting platform. In fact you’re reading on a YunoHost box right now!

Deployment is very easy, they have well written guides for deploying on hobbyist platforms like Raspberry Pi, Certain ARM boards or business class Debian linux servers.

Installing on a Debian VPS can be as easy as 1 command, and then filling in forms as prompted.

curl | bash

That’s it, really. This platform is dead simple to deploy and would be easy to manage as any other Debian based appliance. This is the new business in a box. It supports SSO via LDAP, IMAP mail, two web mail clients, DokuWiki, NextCloud, XMPP based chat services, WordPress.

This is a platform I would like to see more clients use, here’s the pitch.

“I can give you the ability to log in using 1 set of credentials (directory services), regardless of what computer or device you’re at. You can have as many professional email addresses and users as you have storage for, cloud storage under the same limitation, group messaging, and total control of your data, all for the price of the hardware it runs on.”

Compelling, right?

A Mullet Deployment

Windows in the front, Linux in the back.

I’ve been working on a pretty interesting environment and I thought you guys might like to hear about it, I would also love to hear what you have to think in the comments! I’m contracting with a non-profit charity organization that is just getting started. Currently there are three users including the founder, they each have their own personal laptops 2 of them running Windows 7 and one of them running Windows 8.1 . They have the pretty standard office needs and they contacted me from a referral to see what I could do for them on their budget (which is tight).

After meeting with the founder already we hit our first snag, she’s very cloudphobic, borderline fanatical about the fact that she want’s to control all of the organizations data in house. That struck me as odd, but hey, every office is different right? Our only other challenges are that the budget really does not allow for nice hardware, and they are still pending for 501c status. What that translates to is we are going to have a hard time getting equipment.

From the discovery meeting I learned that this organization requires:

  • Active Directory
  • Network storage
  • Business class email and calendar
  • VPN access
  • Web server
  • WordPress website

I also learned that our challenges are:

  • We do not have 501c status yet (this could take months) which means we do not benefit from companies non-profit pricing schedules, and it will be harder to receive donated equipment.
  • The founder requires that everything is stored locally, she wants nothing in the cloud.

We couldn’t use Microsoft Server 2012 Essentials because of the email requirement and we certainly could not afford full Server 2012 and Exchange. I ended up going with Zentyal 3.3 which is a linux based small business server that gives *close enough* products that I thought would be a good fit considering all of our needs versus all of our challenges. (Added bonus, it’s free!) I purchased a HP ProLiant G7 N54L MicroServer an additional 500gb HDD and 4 GB of RAM. Which put us around $500 total for costs of server hardware. For networking I just went with the router/built it switch that the ISP provided.

Surprisingly It all went pretty well.

Everything was very simple to set up, it reminded me of Small Business 2008 is a lot of ways, the Zentyal GUI just walks you through it all and the entire build out took me maybe 4 hours of billable time. The only custom thing I had to do was install wordpress, which is a simple thing to do on linux, but this required me to change the management interface to listen on port 444 instead of 443. The entire build cost the client just under $3000.00 included the website I built out for them.

So what’s the catch?

Zentyal is not all there, yet. The domain acts like a Server 2000 domain, which is not necessarily a bad thing but if you get into a situation where you need to scale up, or add a windows server it could become a problem. OpenChange is still being proven and I’m genuinely un-sure of how it will perform over the long haul, Outlook 2010 seemed to think it was an exchange server so I have high hopes! Samba4 is not a Windows file server which could limit our ability to use Windows native network applications (Access, Quickbooks, Etc.). There is also the obvious red flags, the primary web server is also the primary domain controller, and mail server. All of the eggs are in one basket with no redundancy, maybe as funding increases and they receive their 501c we can revisit this project.

How would you have handled it?

I would love to hear about some other approaches from other geeks. What would you have changed? Would you have taken this project at all?