All in one for small business

All in one for small business

According to IBM a small business is an organisation of 100 or fewer people, if the blurb on its Small Business Suite for Linux box is to be believed.

It’s funny how perspective can change the meaning of words — take the word ”small” for example — it means something that’s not big, right? Well according to IBM it’s an organisation of 100 or fewer people, if the blurb on its Small Business Suite for Linux box is to be believed. In New Zealand, an organisation with 100 staff is a healthy, medium-sized business or a well-stocked branch office, but perspective aside, I’d have to say that however you slice-and-dice it, the IBM Small Business Suite for Linux is a lot of bang for your buck.

Designed to sit on top of an existing Linux server, the Small Business Suite for Linux is compatible with Red Hat, Caldera, SuSE and TurboLinux distributions, installs easily and contains a veritable treasure trove of server goodies.

For starters there’s IBM’s WebSphere Application Server standard edition, a robust e-business application deployment environment. Then add Domino Application Server for email, web access, calendaring, group scheduling, bulletin boards and newsgroups. To further sweeten the mix, let’s include DB2 Workgroup Edition, (in case you don’t know, it’s an extremely robust relational database — for those of you who have been in the Borneo jungle for the past 30 years …).

To round out the e-commerce focus of the Small Business Suite for Linux let’s include WebSphere Studio Entry Edition, an entry-level web development environment. And then, just to make the administrator’s life a little easier, let’s include the IBM Suites Installer, a software tool to assist in the distributed installation and configuration of suite components and other applications.

Other tools in the suite include Domino Designer for building Notes or Domino applications, WebArt Designer — a graphic design tool and Web Animator, for creating those annoying animations that we all love to hate.

To quote those dreadful infomercials, let’s ask: “And how much would you expect to pay for this?” Try a fraction over $1200 plus GST — that’s why I think it’s a lot of bang for your buck. The bad news is — you don’t get any steak knives. IBM says that the Small Business Suite for Linux saves 85% of the cost to purchase the components individually.

Of course, on top of the server licence cost there is the cost per user but at just under $300 a head it’s hardly exorbitant. Pay $384 a user and IBM will also give you a SmartSuite for Windows licence — again a well-priced option if you are not already firmly wedded to Microsoft Office. SmartSuite is much underrated in my opinion and at that price it is a genuinely competitive option.

According to IBM the target market for the Small Business Suite for Linux is businesses with fewer than 100 staff that want an e-business based on a Linux server, and given the tools that it ships with, it’s right on the money.

Some of the components such as Homepage Builder are Linux-based while others such as WebSphere Studio, Domino Designer and the Lotus Notes client are for the Windows platform. This is a sensible mix, given that most companies looking to use Linux tend to start with the server room, rather than leaping straight into a Linux everywhere including the desktop environment.

Personally I suspect that the release of KDE 3.0 for the Linux desktop, coupled with the wide availability of OpenOffice 1.0 and StarOffice 6.0, will help proliferate Linux on the desktop faster than Microsoft will find comfortable — or desirable for that matter. But I digress.

To help businesses get a jump-start when deploying the Small Business Suite, the Domino Application server and WebSphere server come with a large number of templates and pre-configured samples. These include the Document Library, Site Creator and Teamroom for Domino, sample websites and there’s even sample Java code for creating Java Server pages. The WebSphere application server provides pre-configured samples for login, log-out, personalised employee centre and quote, poll and survey functions. And because WebSphere is built on top of the Apache web server, you don’t have any of those pesky IIS security hassles to worry about.

The licence for the Small Business Suite allows you to deploy the server applications on different machines, so you might put the Domino app server on one box and have the WebSphere app server on another one. All very real-world and shows that IBM gave some thought to how it would structure not just the software components in the suite but how it would licence them.

Installation of the Small Business Suite is actually a cakewalk — assuming you have basic Linux administration skills. I know this to be true because I tried it and my skills are definitely on the basic side. Once installed you can get your IT staff busy developing applications and then the IBM Suites installer lets you easily save and deploy them.

Overall I would rate the IBM Small Business Suite for Linux as a must-see option if you need even one of the server applications in an environment such as a branch office where you have fewer than 100 users. I predict that as Linux continues to proliferate we’ll see the Small Business Suite appearing more and more frequently as the first package that’s installed right after the Linux server has been set up.

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