Samba 3: Linux File Serving for the Active Directory Generation

Open source file/print services suite Samba 3 beta 3 is generating interest as the clock ticks away for NT 4 and as IT departments continue to scrutinize every line in their budgets. Discover what the network manager needs to know before making the jump to Samba.

 By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
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Do you want cheap Windows file/print services for your network? If your answer is a resounding "Yes!" your best way to this goal is to use the Samba file/print server on Linux.

Samba 2.x is faster than Windows NT or W2K Server, a lot cheaper, and, in its most recent versions, can be used in a NT Domain style network not only as a simple domain server or a Backup Domain Server (BDC) but also as a Primary Domain controller (PDC). The key word here, though, is "Domain," and with Microsoft planning to retire out Windows NT 4 server and its Domain-based networking on December 31, 2004, it's high time for NT and Samba Domain administrators to think about switching over to Active Directory (AD).

For NT mangers, Microsoft finally has a decent upgrade path built from Windows Server 2003 and Active Directory Migration Tool 2.0. And now, thanks to the arrival in beta release of the feature-complete Samba 3, Samba administrators do as well.

Don't get me wrong — it's not ready for prime time yet, but with this beta, Samba shows that if the day ever comes that NT domains are antiquated, Samba will be ready to contribute, fast, inexpensive AD-compatible servers.

But Why Bother with AD?

Or you could just choose to do what John Terpstra of the Samba Team suggested at the SambaXP Conference in Germany last April — migrate to a Samba 3-only solution for your Windows style file/print requirements and abandon both the NT Domain and W2K/Server 2003 AD paths.

Why would you want to do make such a radical move? The biggest reason is — to be frank — cost. By going it alone with Samba 3 for your file/print needs, you avoid the initial costs of buying Microsoft server operating systems and the continuing costs of Microsoft's Licensing 6.

It also frees you from being stuck with Microsoft's upgrade plans even when you don't want to upgrade. Since Samba is open source, you can never be cut completely off from support, as will be the case with NT users come 2005.

If you were to make this move, you could choose just how far to remove your network from Domains or AD. For example, under Samba 3, you can still use Winbind to connect with NT or 200x servers for authentication, or you could run authentication using a combination of smbpasswd, the Samba password program, and a MySQL-based DBMS.

Tempting as this path may be for administrators who love open source, using an exclusively Samba 3 approach really requires administrators and programmers who also understand open source extremely well. Although Samba as a file/print server is very mature, Samba as a drop-in file/print/user/group/administration package is relatively new.

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This article was originally published on Aug 28, 2003
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