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EmergeCore's IT in a Box

Linux servers made easy

EmergeCore's president and CEO, Dave Brown, learned that in the ISP business, reliability and value were keys to success for his customers. That's why he chose Linux as the operating system to power his IT in a Box IT-100. The IT-100 is a "Swiss Army Knife" of Linux servers and services. The small-footprint server appliance functions as a firewall and router for your office LAN with an integrated four-port 10/100 Ethernet hub and wireless gateway. Additionally, the IT-100 offers a full suite of Linux-powered services, including Web and e-mail.

Easy Administration

As you read in LinuxWorld Magazine every month, more and more people are turning to Linux to provide business solutions - but there's one small problem. They must go through a learning curve that is intimidating for many familiar with using other operating systems and software. Fear no longer, the IT-100 makes implementing a Linux server and other services very easy. EmergeCore's biggest value is that they have done the heavy lifting for you with respect to assembling a complete Linux infrastructure package including file sharing, Web server, mail server, firewall, and wireless gateway to name but a few. They then pair that with a central Web interface that even a naïve user could use to configure the server. Initially you configure the device via the included crossover cable connected to your PC or laptop's network card. Once configured the device can be managed from the local area network from any Web browser.

Feature Rich

Naming all the features available on the small IT-100 is a substantial task as the unit is more than a simple network server. Besides the Web server, e-mail, firewall, and wireless gateway the IT-100 offers many additional features. Some of the most notable are:
  • E-mail features: IT in a Box mail server offers both POP and IMAP mail with virus-scanning abilities. The virus definitions for the e-mail server can be downloaded manually or set to download during a regular intervals daily, weekly, or monthly. Also, besides the ability to scan mail for viruses, the IT-100 also allows for the enablement of server-side spam filtering through SpamCop.
  • Web features: IT in a Box does offer the ability to host Web sites, and for a small business with relatively light traffic it's probably a good choice. Domains can be configured to point right to IT in a Box whether you have a top-level domain or want to use a dynamic DNS service like TZO.com. IT in a Box can help you provide a public face via a Web site with no problem. Besides serving Web pages, IT in a Box can function as a proxy server to seamlessly cache and filter Web content to your LAN. And the add-ons don't stop there: the Web site builder tools come with a wizard that allows you to set up a Web presence through a template and wizard system.
  • Miscellaneous features: Besides the features I have already mentioned, IT-100 also offers features that some advanced users may find useful. The ability to set up a VPN to the IT-100 allows remote access through a secure tunnel. Back-up and restore faculties are provided to restore the box to default settings or to back up all data on the box to an attached USB device.

Excellent Value

It's important to realize the true value of the IT-100. Not just in terms of the affordable price, but also the actual long-term savings you will realize from such a system.
  • Labor: There is a short learning curve for self-administration, or companies can hire one of EmergeCore's partners to install the device. Either solution is more cost effective than keeping a full-time IT person. The simplicity of the IT-100 allows tasks to be accomplished quickly, keeping bills for IT services low.
  • Consolidated device: One factor to consider when buying IT infrastructure is that multi-use devices can have a number of benefits. First, a device such as IT in a Box will take up much less room than having multiple devices, and it will consume less power.
  • Uptime: I have been testing the IT in a Box IT-100 for over a month with zero downtime. I have been able to configure the device in minutes when I wanted to add a forwarded port or e-mail account, and I am able to do so through a menu-driven interface. The only time I have taken the device down was to load system updates, which is a simple procedure that requires a reboot. Otherwise, I've been able to use the IT-100 without failure despite heavy Internet traffic.
If your time is valuable, your business relies on access to the Internet, and you don't require a complex setup, I believe you would be hard pressed to find a cheaper solution when you factor in the time associated with set-up and administration.

Areas for Improvement

For the most part I found little to complain about with respect to the IT-100; however, I ran into trouble acquiring a signal from my cable modem. If the cable modem dropped signal my only way to get the IT-100 back online was via a reboot. Also, I noticed that despite the presence of a parallel port there was no print server available on the IT-100. This seems to be one of the key functions I would like to see added to the box. Otherwise it's hard to complain about the package, it works well out of the box and configuration is a breeze.

This isn't so much an area for improvement as a word of caution: if you are looking for a highly customizable solution, this isn't the solution for you. While you can configure most any aspect of the IT-100 with ease, it's definitely not a customizable solution like you might find with a Linux distribution and an Intel server.

Summary

The IT-100 is an ideal solution for a small office with anywhere from 2 to 75 users. Besides being easy to use, the IT-100 is very inexpensive - you could run all your IT services from a central box for $1,395. On top of that, this is the beginning of an expanding product line that in the future will include more storage and most likely other enhancements to the base unit. I've seen very few products that offer all the advantages of Linux with an extremely easy and intuitive interface, but once I test drove the IT in a Box IT-100, I knew that any small business user could benefit from Linux with a minimal amount of hassle.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Vice President of Community at Cloud.com. the maker of the open source cloud computing management software, CloudStack He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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