Small Business IT - My Quora Space

Lars Poulsen - 2020-10-25

I have a new Quora space called Small Business IT, intended for discussion of an IT network setup that is fairly common in small businesses and advanced home networks, but which ought to be almost universal.

The setup is one that has Windows on the desktops, and one or more Linux servers on the back end. A few MAC laptops can also be thrown in.

Why this, and not Windows Server on the backend?

I have been using Unix systems of various kinds since I first arrived in California in 1980. Back then, there was no Windows, and desktop computers could not do much at all. What we had on the desktop were VT100 terminals (or cheaper and uglier imitations). The back-end were VAX-VMS or Unix multi-user systems. So I learned hw to do things on these systems and became comfortable with managing them. Unix systems had support for the Internet, so if you were on the Unix systems, you were on the path to the future.

Eventually, there were IBM PCs, and then Macs. Some time later, these became Internet capable. And eventually, Linux became available on the PCs. It seemed a minor miracle that most features of the Unix systems could now exist on inexpensive PCs. And everything we had learned on the Unix systems was valid on these new systems, too.

Microsoft would like you to run a server version of Windows on the back-end, but if you were a for-profit business, they wanted you to pay for licenses to connect the desktop systems to the server. With the Linux back-end there were no fees other than the original license cost for the desktop windows software ... and tht was bundled into the price for the PC when you bought it.

Features of this system layout

With a Linux backend for the Windows desktop systems, the shared filesystem for the group lives on the Linux box, which runs the SAMBA file server, and a handful of "network disk drives" show up on the Windows desktop. Because they really live on the Linux server, it is easy to arrange for backup on the Linux side.

The "intranet" (local webserver) also runs on the Linux server, and each user or user group can have their own "home page" where they can publish things of interest to the group.

And you can run a mail server on the Linux side, which can provide a searchable archive of years of email messages, possibly imported from an email service run by the Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Network Security

For most small businesses, it is not advisable to place any services on the internal Linux server that can be reached from the outside. The public website of the company should be hosted by one of the many inexpensive hosting companies.

If you *do* need to host public services on your inside network, I strongly recommend that you use a separate Linux system as your "edge router" and create a dynamic firewall on it. But not having any is surely the safer way to do it, and your get firmly nudged in this direction by the normal practice of your ISP giving you at most one IP address, while the machines inside use "non-routable IP addresses" doled out by the DHCP server on the edge router.


All of these issues will be discussed in the new Quora space Small Business IT. Click here to reach it.

If this topic is of interest to you, join as a follower, and if you have something to contribute, send an email to and ask to be promoted to a contributor.

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