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Which OS to run a small hosting company on my co-located server?

Posted on 2007-11-27
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Last Modified: 2010-05-18
Hello, I have been given a Dell Poweredge 1750 (1U rack format) to run a small web hosting company.  I already have the co-location contract in place, just not sure which OS to run on it.

Most of the webs on the box will be non-profit organizations, and I will be giving them the website and email for free.  I do have a few long time clients I will also be hosting their informational based websites and giving them email (charging them to cover the cost of the co-location).  

I'm not in this to make any reason money, just pay for the co-location.

I'm trying to figure out which OS I should put on this box.  I have a licensed copy of SBS2003r2 that came with the machine (OEM + CofA sticker).  I also have an unused license for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.1.

I've been going back and forth decided which one to install and why.  I'm a Windows guy and have used SBS2003 for several clients and seem to like it the best.  I would love to be able to use Exchange for myself, my family, and for a few clients.  The rest will just be using POP email.

I also have a Blackberry, as does my wife, and would love to integrate that as well.  That's why I'm leaning towards Windows.

I've seen a few experts say don't use SBS2003 for web hosting.  I'm unsure how the 5 clients I have with SBS2003 work.  I won't be using the system for file sharing or anything, just websites and email basically.

Hopefully someone can shed some light onto this for me, I have 2 weeks to choose an OS, install it, and ship the server to the datacenter.

Thanks for all your help!
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Question by:mickeyfickymix
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by:-DJL-
ID: 20362326
I think you have already answered your question really.  You're a Windows guy and you want to use Exchange.  IIS on Windows 2003 is a solid web hosting platform, lots of very big sites out there running on it.

The only problem with running a single SBS server is that Active Directory/Exchange/IIS will be running on the same machine.  This isn't the most secure setup, which is probably why you have been told SBS isn't a great hosting platform (not really a function of SBS, just that you have one server).  However if you configure things carefully and are behind a decent firewall it should be fine.

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by:mickeyfickymix
ID: 20362352
thanks for the comment DJL, yes I love Windows, but am open to the idea of Red Hat.  I just want to make sure that A. things are secure and B. I'm not in violation of my license.

I'm curious as to the 5 CALS that come with my SBS2003, and what those really mean.
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-DJL- earned 250 total points
ID: 20362394
CALS are for users authenticated against Active Directory.  Anon users connected to IIS do not need to have a CAL.

Thinking about it - for commerical hosting I believe you need a Service Provider License Agreement

http://www.microsoft.com/serviceproviders/licensing/default.mspx

That might make Red Hat more attractive.
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by:Andrej Pirman
ID: 20362452
Mickey,
SBS is not to be chosen because of the following:
- you may only run one single domain on SBS Exchange server
- also, Exchange server, located outside of your LAN, won't do much, since you will be limited to OWA to access mail and Outlook features, or mostly unreliable Outlook-to-Exchange via VPN
- Active directory is not what you are looking for in hosting environment
- limited to 1 public IP
- limited to 1 SSL certificate

On the other hand, SBS may run fine if you look just at IIS and ASP pages on top of it. You may install PHP and MySQL too, and you have licenced MSSQL bundled. You don't have MSSQL Management console, but you may install an instance of MSSQL server for your hosting needs and administer it via your own (or some other) ASP script.
And yes, you may run more than 1 domain in IIS and DNS.

5 CAL is limiting your concurent connections to SBS server, which are terminal services, remote desktops, exchange connections etc...but NOT internet connections. Which means, you are not violating licence agreement with 100 concurent users on internet pages you host.

Regarding RHEL, it would be perfect choice for secure, stable and professional hosting platform. You might install something like Webmin or some control panel, like Plesk or cPanel, which will help you manage your web pages with ease. Just fulfill al requirements, install properly all services, and off you go with hosting.
Just be sure none of your customers will ever need ASP/VB programming language, MSSQL database server or .NET.
Linux is also far more secure by default, which means, after you install it properly (and if you have bought it, you have support, rite?), you do not need to spend so much time to close all security holes and tighten services security, as on Windows paltform.
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by:-DJL-
ID: 20362499
- you may only run one single domain on SBS Exchange server
- limited to 1 public IP
- limited to 1 SSL certificate

All incorrect

- also, Exchange server, located outside of your LAN, won't do much, since you will be limited to OWA to access mail and Outlook features, or mostly unreliable Outlook-to-Exchange via VPN

You can use OWA, Mobile Active Sync and Outlook via RPC over HTTP
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by:Jeffrey Kane - TechSoEasy
Jeffrey Kane - TechSoEasy earned 250 total points
ID: 20363126
-DJL- is exactly right that Labsy is completely wrong with the facts.  In fact he's even wrong about 5 CALs meaning "concurrent connections" to SBS since SBS CALs are not based on concurrent connections, but rather a CAL is required for each USER that would authenticate to Active Directory.  Discussing this point would actually take us off into a tangent which won't help you here... but let me say that you don't want to be running Active Directory on a Web Hosting Server to begin with, and just to clarify another mis-informed statement... Terminal Services cannot run on SBS 2003.

So even if Labsy is wrong factually, he's right that SBS is absolutely NOT what you want to use for this.  One of his other points is also wrong, but important to understand... you certainly could have 100 concurrent users on Internet pages you host, but only if the web site is your own.  The licensing doesn't allow you to host multiple publicly facing web sites for other organizations on SBS.  In fact, if you want to use a Windows Server to host sites for other organizations, you need to have a Service Provider License Agreement, since all standard Windows Server Licenses don't permit such use.

Basic info on SPLA:  http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/programs/spla/default.mspx

So, if you don't want to go that route... then the RHEL may work for you.  To be quite honest though... even though you may have been "given" this new server, using it for providing hosting may not be the best way for you to offer that service.  I have been providing hosting services for my clients (all of which run SBS in their offices, by the way) for many years now, and I only use dedicated servers in a major NOC for them... I've had servers at EV1-Servers, which is now merged with www.theplanet.com and I couldn't be happier with this arrangement.  I have both RHEL and Windows Servers with them.  The RHEL servers all run CPanel/Web Host Manager as the GUI server management system (www.cpanel.net).  

I'm not sure what you are paying for the Colo facility, but dedicated servers at a place like ThePlanet run about $129.00/month and include all the licensing plus 24/7 support --- which is invaluable to ensuring that things keep running correctly.

So... my recommendation is that you don't use that server at all.

Jeff
TechSoEasy
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by:Andrej Pirman
ID: 20363704
Thank both, TechSoEasy and DJL for correcting my statements. When I read my post again, I see that I really wrote some confusing facts, based on my *wrong* information, that SBS can only run 1 publically available IP, and other facts were my logical conclusions of that fact.
So, I learned something, too.
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Author Comment

by:mickeyfickymix
ID: 20366932
Jeff, thanks for the help.  Actually because of the partial non-profit useage i will only be paying 35 a month for a space in a rack (they were very generous).  $129 is way outta budget for me.  It looks like Microsoft isn't the way to go seeing as I dont want to violate any licenses.

I will expore Red Hat more and yes I do have a few months left with my support contract with them.

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