Zentyal provides modular, easily installed collections of server packages, for tasks such as a small office file and print server, gateway services, and a unified threat manager. It’s also a particularly good candidate for allowing users to painlessly get FOSS into a Windows network.
MS dropped collaborative tools from its small business server package a couple of years ago to try and shepherd customers onto its paid cloud services, but many previous MS customers are now looking to free software alternatives. Simon Faulkner of DP Net tells us that Zentyal is really taking off among their small business customers as “an Open Source drop-in replacement for MS Exchange,” with calendaring software, a mail server and contact manager compatible with Outlook clients, and now a drop-in replacement for Active Directory.
Zentyal 3.5 (Community Edition) will hit the servers on 17 June 2014, with support for ActiveSync and running on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. But 3.4, with its High Availability additions, Outlook Anywhere support and hundreds of improvements across 34 services, is just great. It’s also an easy install via ISO or on top of an existing Ubuntu 13.10 server, so we’ll take you through that now and show you some of the features in Zentyal along the way.
PC Zentyal ISO
Step 01 Hardware requirements
Before we get started, you need something to actually install on – but Zentyal’s requirements are modest, with even a recycled laptop powerful enough for many small office’s needs (and the battery providing a handy UPS).
Step 02 Dedicated server
There are two ways to install a Zentyal server. You can grab an ISO image of the latest Zentyal Server release and install on any spare hardware you have lying around, or install onto an existing Ubuntu server.
Step 03 Virtually there
Installing to a VM is also an option, if that’s the way that you’re set up – but most small offices are looking for a simple one-box solution. The ISO install starts off in the more familiar Ubuntu installer, so we’ll take you through the other alternative…
Step 04 Add to Ubuntu
Don’t just grab the Zentyal packages you find in Ubuntu’s repository. Although they’ll work, you won’t have the latest versions, nor the meta- package that allows you to apt-get install zentyal.
Step 05 The Unix way
You’ll notice that a lot of the dependencies Zentyal drags onto your server are glue code – scripts and libraries that do useful jobs. This is the Unix way, building from small, dedicated programs that do one thing well.
Step 06 Secure browse
You may have to set up MySQL passwords and other dependencies, then the install proper starts. You’ll be able to admin Zentyal from your browser across the local network. Choose the default port for HTTPS, 443.
Step 07 Trusted password
You’re probably used to Firefox’s reaction to self-signed certificates. Just confirm the exception, then log in with the password created during the Zentyal or Ubuntu install, or anyone else from the sudo group.
Step 08 Wizard roles
‘Server roles’ are grouped collections of modules. Here you can see some of the Infrastructure modules that are listed, which include DHCP, DNS, Apache, Certification Authority, NTP and FTP server.
We selected Gateway as the server role, so the ten modules involved were highlighted in green. Selected modules can be deselected by clicking on them (a good idea, since you can always add them again later), as well as additional modules chosen.
Step 10 Iconic friends
Having added Mail Filter, Web Mail, and Web Server to the standard Gateway role packages and clicked Install, we have found ourselves at a review screen. The icons and functional package names are a little more friendly than some other Linux installers.
Step 11 Good networker
Once packages are installed, the first task is network config. In our case we’re using an old netbook as a Gateway for a pop-up office, linked to the outside world via a MiFi (3G) device, so the wlan is the external interface.
Step 12 In the mail (domain)
The default virtual mail domain is set up now, but later you can add as many virtual domains as you like to the mail server, and aliases to the domain. You’ll also be able to set default email account creation for new users.
Step 13 Called to account
You may be resistant to the promises of free Cloud services, but for many typical small office users, while not a substitute for your own config backups, they could be classified as useful extras.
Step 14 A happy panda
Now you’re done, and you see the happy panda of the Installation Successful screen, click ‘Go to the dashboard’. If the server hangs with an Nginx timeout at this point, as it did for us, a reboot of the machine should get you sorted.
Step 15 Dashboard control
Log in to https://localhost/ with that username and password from earlier and you should be confronted with Zentyal’s dashboard: the heart of the system that lets you admin the server and its services through your browser from anywhere on the local network, or – once you’ve set up OpenVPN and a remote alias – from anywhere in the world. It is on the dashboard that you will find various options to start, stop, configure or monitor all of those modules you installed, as well as to update or install new modules. Relatively easy to admin for those more used to Windows than *nix.
Step 16 Widgets
As you install more services (modules), you can drag and drop extra widgets onto the dashboard. Many will appear automatically; some, such as a Process List (the output of ps), are wisely held back until called for.
Step 17 Windows WORKGROUPs
If you’re installing to replace Active Directory, you’ll be able to do this from the module in the dashboard. You can then even connect from Windows Remote Admin Tool – but we can’t think why you’d need to!
Step 18 Certifiable
Zentyal provides a VPN module, but before you can set it up you’ll need to create a Certification Authority (CA) and a Certificate. Once done, VPN certificate is fairly simple and if you want non-default options – such as TAP – just edit config afterwards.
Step 19 VPN
There are plenty of other options on the VPN server part of the dashboard – it’s an interface to OpenVPN, with which you may already be familiar. Clients are available for your favourite platform, for seamless network access from remote locations.
Step 20 Cloudy service
Log in at https://remote.zentyal.com with the Zentyal account you created during install and you get access to DynDNS, managing aliases, and backups of your config. This is made automatically each time it changes.
Step 21 Dynamic DNS
For many small offices, dynamic DNS and hosting behind a .zentyal.me subdomain will be easier than managing their own DNS and domain. For the rest of us it’s a useful free extra.
Step 22 Keep your config
Remote and automated backups of your Zentyal config are a bonus feature – but keep control of your own data: don’t forget to take your own backups and keep them offsite with your data backups for disaster recovery.
Step 23 Unix inside
While cloud features and a user-friendly interface are very nice for most users, it’s also reassuring to know everything underneath is done the standard *nix way – and that webmail, for example, is also sitting in /var/mail.
Step 24 Penguin spreads wings
While we give Ubuntu credit where it’s due, other distros are available. Mandriva – which was the usable Red Hat before Ubuntu became the user-friendly Debian – is adopting Zentyal for its next release, should you prefer to install a Mandriva-based server.