Unlike a regular desktop distro, Zentyal is designed as an one-stop server for small office and enterprises users.
The distro has all the components you need to run a gateway server, an office server and a communication server. It’s got the Apache web server, OpenLDAP directory server, Bind DNS server, Jabbered2 IM Server, Zarafa groupware, Asterisk VoIP and DansGuardian for content-control management and a lot more.
The USP of the distro are its host of custom management tools to monitor and control the various components of the server. Although configuring network management services isn’t for the faint of heart, Zentyal goes the extra mile to help you configure the different servers and services without mucking about with configuration files.
Zentyal’s installer, like the distribution itself, is based on Ubuntu Server. The installation process is fairly straightforward and only prompts you for basic requirements like your location, keyboard layout, etc.
However, pay attention to the network-related settings that will help Zentyal hook up with your network. When prompted to select a network card, select the one that’s connected to the Internet and not your internal network. Also carefully enter the login credentials of the administrator user.
That’s about all the information Zentyal needs for installation. If you are wondering why there isn’t a partitioning step, it’s because Zentyal is designed to take over the entire disk.
Alternatively, you can also install the Zentyal components on top of an Ubuntu Server installation by adding and pulling packages from Zentyal’s repository.
When the distro boots for the first time, it will install some core packages by downloading them from the Internet, so make sure you are online when you boot the distro.
When it’s ready, you’re logged in Zentyal’s sparse desktop which has a browser window open that points to Zentyal’s web-based administration console. Log into the administration section with the credentials of the user you created during installation. On the initial launch, Zentyal will start a configuration wizard to help you setup the server.
From here you can install individual server packages, or modules in Zentyal’s parlance, or select predefined groups such as Gateway, Infrastructure, Office, and Communications. You can skip this step and install the packages later.
You can administer and monitor the Zentyal installation from its Dashboard. You can watch various server components, such as the CPU load, monitor bandwidth usage, and the status of all the installed modules. From here you can also install any available updates to the underlying core Zentyal distribution. The navigation bar on the left of the Dashboard will list the various installed modules, as you add them.
When you select a module or group of modules for installation, Zentyal will show you a list of additional dependency modules that need to be installed. Once the installation process has been completed, Zentyal will configure the new modules prompting you for the essential information required to configure the new modules.
For example, if you install the module for running an Active Directory server, Zentyal will ask you if you want to run the server in standalone mode or get directory information by connecting to an external directory server.
Another impressive feature is that before making any changes to the system, Zentyal gives you a full summary of changes. It will tell you what actions it’s going to perform (“generate SSL Certificates”) and the reasons for doing so (“Zentyal will self-sign SSL certificates for FTP service”) along with the complete path to the system files it’s going to modify.
If you get stuck, Zentyal has extensive DIY support options. It has a dedicated documentation website and also hosts a forum where users share tips and tricks based on the setup of their own networks.
Since Zentyal is based on Ubuntu Server, it will run on any hardware certified by the upstream distribution. However, unlike Ubuntu Server LTS releases which are produced once every 2 years, Zentyal puts out a stable release every September. All Zentyal releases are based on the latest Long term support release available at the time.
Also, besides the freely available Community Edition we’ve looked at in this review, Zentyal also offers two commercial editions – one for small businesses and the other for large enterprises. The major difference between the Community edition and the commercial editions is the lack of the Disaster Recovery backup service and technical support in the free edition.
Zentyal is a good business distro that’s easy to deploy, set up and manage. If you’re setting up a server for your network, I’d highly recommend you to check out its community edition. The distro is light enough to run inside a virtual machine, and once you are satisfied you can expose it to your network.
Image Credit: Richard Bowen
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