Advice on using FreeBSD to make a file server out of our Dell Poweredge 2600 Server (RAID 5)

Our company has a Dell Poweredge 2600 running Windows 2000 Server.  We were thinking about upgrading, and because of cost issues are considering installing FreeBSD 7 (or other free enterprise-class server product) on this box and using Samba to make it a file server.

I was hoping you experts could give us some guidance as we consider this project.  My biggest concerns are:

1) Will we be able to find all the hardware drivers we need in FreeBSD for this Poweredge 2600?

2) Will we be able to set up/partition a RAID 5 disk array with FreeBSD or some other tool?

3) Can FreeBSD be a PPTP/L2TP VPN server?

4) Does any foresee any complications using Samba as a file server in a Windows 2003 AD domain?

I know these are a lot of questions, and if any one of them is too complex to cover in this question, I would be happy to open up additional questions on EE.  Thanks.
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KTN-ITAsked:
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coandaConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Debian doesn't show up on hardware manufacturers pre-install options for the same reason that FreeBSD doesn't, the Debian and FreeBSD developers don't offer support for those OSs. The cost of what you see typically for SuSE and Red Hat are support contracts from Novell and Red Hat. Dell isn't going to install an OS on the computer that you buy if they're not going to make a buck doing it, and the only way that they can profit from that is to become an authorized reseller of SuSE/Red Hat support packages and make a percentage of their sales.

I have to admit that it's likely that whatever you can do in apt you can do using yum, but I've become very accustomed to using apt-get. Definitely one thing that is a whole lot easier with apt is adding software repositories, if you stumble across some piece of software that you want you can quickly find out if they have a .deb repository and if they do you add it to your "/etc/apt/sources.list" file and run an "apt-get update", after that you just "apt-get install package-name" to install and from then on you can manage your upgrades for that software package by adding a cron job to "apt-get upgrade" nightly/weekly. I don't know if you've ever tried adding a software repository to SLES but when I did it wasn't as easy as the process that I described above.

By far the best package management (in my experience) is Gentoo's emerge/portage for one reason:
$ sudo emerge --sync && sudo emerge -avuDN world
but I'll let you figure out why for yourself if you're actually interested in Gentoo.

I only have a little experience with FreeBSD's pkg_add but from what I've seen it is also portage based which makes it as nice to use as Gentoo's emerge. One of the benefits being that you can configure system wide make settings and use flags that are used to compile and install new programs.
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SouthronConnect With a Mentor Commented:
> 1) Will we be able to find all the hardware drivers we need in FreeBSD for this Poweredge 2600?

I would recommend trying out CentOS which is a free open source enterprise Linux based on the Red Hat Linux distribution.  Dell has a lot of support for Red Hat and since CentOS aims to be 100% binary compatible with the upstream vendor (Red Hat), you may have an easier time with obtaining useful drivers from Dell.

<http://centos.org/>

> 2) Will we be able to set up/partition a RAID 5 disk array with FreeBSD or some other tool?

I recommend setting up the RAID from within the hardware interface (RAID controller card bios). Then yes, you can format and manage the resulting volumes with other tools during and after OS installation.

> 3) Can FreeBSD be a PPTP/L2TP VPN server?

Again, you'll probably find more information and more tools for managing this if you go with something like CentOS or Ubuntu Server.  For example the following link is a "How To" for a VPN server on CentOS.

<http://www.howtoforge.com/forums/showthread.php?p=128470>

> 4) Does any foresee any complications using Samba as a file server in a Windows 2003 AD domain?

The big challenge there is the AD integration, but again, the information can be found to help make that happen.

<http://www.linuxmail.info/active-directory-integration-samba-centos-5/>

Please let me know if this information has been helpful.
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KTN-ITAuthor Commented:
Yes.  That is very helpful.  Actually, I had narrowed down choices to CentOS and FreeBSD, both of which I've heard very good things about.

You make a very good point about Dell's ties with Red Hat.  That would indeed make it a lot simpler to find drivers and support if we went with CentOS.

I'd like to see if I can get any input from FreeBSD proponents.
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coandaCommented:
1) I've never installed FreeBSD on a Poweredge 2600 but I have installed it on an old dying laptop and was able to install all of the important drivers for it so I have to believe that you wouldn't have any problems there.

2) Since you're asking if the OS can do RAID I'm assuming that your server doesn't have a RAID controller, FreeBSD is one of the few that is capable of doing a software RAID 5 right out of the box.

3) I've never done it but I'd be surprised if it wasn't possible (a quick google search shows that people are doing this). You could try checking the FreeBSD portage to see if the packages that you want are in there, or just the documentation for whatever L2TP/PPTP server software that you have in mind.

4) There should be no problems with this but as Southron mentioned connecting to an AD domain can be a challenge your first time, but there is a lot of information out there on how to do it.

<http://web.irtnog.org/doc/how-to/freebsd-winbind>

But if you're thinking about going with a Linux based setup I'd consider Debian, I've been trying to bring all of my RPM based installations over to Debian/Ubuntu because there is a much better community which means you can almost always find answers to your problems on the forums. Or, if you have a lot of time and don't mind a challenge check out Gentoo.
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KTN-ITAuthor Commented:
Thanks coanda.

The server does have a RAID controller, I've just never configured it before.

It was interesting to hear that you are moving away from Red Hat-based installations.  I would have thought there was quite a large support community out there for Red Hat.

The only people I know personally preferred Red Hat or FreeBSD.  I've also read some good things about recent versions of Fedora Core.

Thanks for your input.  It's helpful to me as I weigh these decisions.
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coandaCommented:
I'm currently running Fedora Core 8 and SuSE 10.1 on a few of my servers and they run fine, but for me it comes down to two things; the utilities that each distribution offers, and the support forums. With both of those I've had better experiences with Debian, Ubuntu, and Gentoo. But it could just be that I don't enjoy package management with yum and yast nearly as much as with apt and emerge.
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KTN-ITAuthor Commented:
coanda,

When I go to the various computer manufacturers to order servers, I am more apt to find a selection of distributions like Red Hat and Suse (as options for a pre-installed OS) than Debian-based distros.

I hadn't before considered Debian-based distros to be enterprise (server) class.

As I haven't had any experience with package management yet, you don't need to go into detail, but can you explain a little further why you like apt/emerge better than yum?

Finally, how has been your experience with FreeBSD's ports or "pkg_add"?
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KTN-ITAuthor Commented:
Thanks for your help!
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