SME Server: Simple. Mature. Enterprise.

SME Server is a no-nonsense approach to providing advanced network services to a large user base.

SME is not a three-letter acronym (TLA) for Simple Mature Enterprise but it could be. SME actually is a TLA for Small and Medium Enterprises. SME Server is a pre-configured, CentOS-based and free (GPLv2) enterprise-ready server. The web interface is complete and intuitive. The SME Server project offers a free alternative to expensive proprietary software. Is there a downside to SME Server? Yes, there is. You don’t have it yet.

SME Server (SME) is a working tool. It’s the Proxmox in the ready-to-serve market. It has everything but virtualization installed. You can run SME as a KVM virtual machine (VM) if you’d like to try before you commit or, if you have the computing resources in your virtualization infrastructure, you can keep it virtual.

The Basics

SME features the typical pre-built Linux distro scenario: Download, Burn, Boot. Grab the ISO image from the Download page. You have the options of downloading from a mirror or using a torrent.

Burn the ISO to a CD-R or use the ISO to boot a VM and click through the CentOS-like installation. On first boot, you’ll finish the configuration of your system. This part of the setup is standard CentOS fare, not SME.

Getting to Know SME

You can interact with your new system via the command line but why would you when you have a complete web-based management console to use. The answer is that the SME Server web interface is no Webmin. In fact, the Server Manager falls so short of complete that either you’ll want to install Webmin or you’ll need to embrace the command line.

But, the Server Manager exists and you should know how to access it. To that end, connecting to the Server Manager from a remote workstation involves opening a browser and entering https://your_server_name/server-manager into the address field. If your local hosts file or DNS isn’t setup for IP address to name resolution, then enter your IP address instead of the server name: https://ip_address/server-manager.

Login with the username, admin and your system’s root password that you setup during installation. Once you’re logged in, you’ll see the following screen shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The SME Server Web Interface Main Page
Figure 1: The SME Server Web Interface Main Page

You’ll note on the initial page that the SME folks unabashedly request donations for their efforts. Once you’ve finished donating to the project out of guilt, turn your attention to the management navigation column along the left side of the page. The first location you’ll want to visit is the Software Installer link under the Configuration heading. This area allows you to keep your system updated without resorting to the anachronistic yum command.

A single click brings all of the updated packages to your new SME system and installs them without issue. When you’ve completed that, the page now reflects your diligence. You can change how often the system checks for updates and edit the repository list from which those updates are drawn.

SME Server Features

  • Easy Administration
  • File/Print Services
  • Email Service with Antivirus, Antispam and Webmail
  • LAMP
  • LDAP
  • OpenSSH Service
  • Shared Internet Connection
  • RAID and Backup
  • Automated Updates
  • Multiple Languages
  • Firewall
  • Active Community
  • Dozens of Contributed Add-ons

Perhaps the next bit of business is to take a tour of the things you can do in the web interface. Starting at the top, you can create users, groups, quotas, pseudonyms and Information bays. An Information bay seems to be a way to create microsites for your system. The system creates these microsites under /home/e-smith/files/ibays and under each named ibay, the system creates three directories: cgi-bin, files and html.

You can perform administrative tasks under the Administration heading. Under Security, you can setup remote access, add local networks, setup port forwarding and enable HTTP and SMTP proxy status.

The Configuration section contains the Software Installer, Date and Time settings, Workgroup information (Samba), Directory setup (LDAP), Printer configuration, hostnames, domains, email and antivirus.

Under Miscellaneous, you’ll find support and licensing information and a fill-in-the-blank form to minimally setup a website.

What’s Wrong with SME

SME’s web interface is a bit lame but the power of SME isn’t in its web interface; it’s in the unique collection of working and pre-installed applications for those who want to quickly setup an office server with minimal effort. It fills that void. The applications all work and all work together. SME is an ambitious project that deserves a little more care and feeding to grow into what could be a Linux-based business server. It could do with a pre-installation of Webmin for management and some plugins for those bits that are left out by Webmin.

SME is a capable server. It saves the pains of trying to figure out what needs to go into such a system. Resolving dependencies and figuring out which applications will play nice with others is worth something for those of you who want something that works out-of-the-box. This does. It’s a simple solution. It’s a mature offering. And, it’s enterprise-ready. Enjoy.

Next week, it’s back to virtualization by looking at KVM installation and setup. If you haven’t been able to make it work before, don’t miss it.

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