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Moving from NT to Samba
By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Want a cheap, fast alternative to moving to Server 2003 from NT? Try open-source Samba.

As you face the end of NT4 support,, you have another alternative to switching to Server 2003: Samba.

If you’re happy with your domain network, or you want to use one Server 2003 system to run AD (Active Directory), you can switch to Samba.

Samba is an open-source program that provides file and print services to SMB (Server Message Block) and CIFS (Common Internet File System) clients. In short, Samba can provide file and printer services for any version of Windows. Samba runs on essentially all Linux/Unix servers. Indeed, the vast majority of Linux servers, such as those from Novell/SuSE and Red Hat, come with Samba.

Why would you bother? There are several good reasons to move to Samba. The first is cost. Not only is Samba free, it can run on the legacy hardware you’re already using for NT.

Personally, I have production Samba servers running on systems as out of date as servers with 100MHz Pentium processors and 64MBs of RAM. Of course, you’ll be a lot better off with more powerful equipment, but my point is that you can run Samba successfully on equipment that couldn’t even boot Server 2003.

Samba is also fast. When I first tested Samba in 1999, it was already delivering files faster than NT. It’s only gotten better since then. In informal tests at my office, I’ve found untuned Samba 3 to be not quite as fast as untuned Server 2003 on the same server hardware.

That said, either one delivers files more than fast enough for most business uses. With performance tuning, I’ve found Samba 3 and Server 2003 ran neck-and-neck. Frankly, if you’re in a situation where server load—and not network bandwidth—is causing performance problems, your problem isn’t your operating system, it’s a need for better systems or hard drives.

If you want to do a simple drop and replacement for your customers’ SMB NT network and not change your network configuration, Samba 2.2 and higher work just fine. Earlier versions of Samba aren’t suitable for use as PDCs (Primary Domain Controllers). For more details, check out “How to Configure Samba 2.2 as a Primary Domain Controller.”

Next page: Moving to Server 2003/Samba networks.

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