Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Unified network administration using eBox

Kunal Deo is a veteran open source developer. Currently he is leading two open source projects: WinOpen64 and KUN Wiki. He is also a KDE developer. He has contributed to many open source projects, including KDE-Solaris and Openmoko. He has written numerous articles on open source, Solaris and Linux- related technologies for various technical magazines around the globe. In his free time he loves playing games on his Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

eBox installer

Linux is an excellent choice for a server operating system, no matter what the size of business.

However, it is still not very easy to administrate. Recently many distributions have launched their own interface to configure these server components (like Apache and Samba), but really failed at delivering an easy-to-use interface to configure it.

That alone turns off many SMB (small and medium business) folks. eBox is trying to fix this particular issue. eBox (or eBox Platform, to give it its full name) can play multiple roles.

It can act as a network gateway, an infrastructure manager, a unified threat manager, an office server, a unified communication server or a combination of any of these.

eBox is delivering these functions using already popular open source software with a solid administration interface.


As of the current release of eBox (1.2), eBox ships with the following profiles…

eBox Office: File server, print server and groupware server. eBox Office includes ebox-samba, ebox-printers, ebox-egroupware, ebox-antivirus, ebox-ebackup, ebox-software and ebox-monitor.

eBox Communication: Mail server, chat server and VOIP server. eBox Communication includes ebox-mail, ebox-jabber, ebox-asterisk, ebox-mailfilter, ebox-antivirus, ebox-ebackup, ebox-software and ebox-monitor.

eBox Security: Proxy server, intrusion detection system, firewall system and VPN server. eBox Security includes ebox-firewall, ebox-ids, ebox-squid, ebox-openvpn, ebox-mailfilter, ebox-antivirus, ebox-ebackup, ebox-software and ebox-monitor.

eBox Gateway: Proxy server and firewall system. eBox Gateway includes ebox-network, ebox-squid, ebox-firewall, ebox-trafficshaping, ebox-l7-protocols, ebox-ebackup, ebox-software and ebox-monitor.

eBox Infrastructure: DHCP server, DNS server, web server, and NTP server. eBox Infrastructure includes ebox-network, ebox-dhcp, ebox-dns, ebox-openvpn, ebox-webserver, ebox-ntp, ebox-ebackup, ebox-software and ebox-monitor.

01     Running the eBox installer
This tutorial assumes that the machine you will be installing eBox on will be a dedicated network server with a blank hard drive.

We will be skipping the steps in which the default values are acceptable. Burn the eBox installer ISO to a blank CD and boot your computer from it. You will be greeted with the eBox installer screen.

02    Setting up keyboard layout and installing the base system
Keyboard detection takes a long time and is not necessary if you already know the keyboard layout for your computer – select No on the keyboard layout detection screen.

From the next screen, select the relevant keyboard for your computer. Proceed through the installer until you have installed the base system and created a user account.

03    Starting the eBox modules installer
Now that you have installed the basic system, it is time to install eBox on it. Upon restarting the system you will be prompted to insert the eBox installation disc.

Hit Enter after inserting the disc. From the next screen, choose ‘simple – Select packages by task’. Tasks are also know as profiles.

04     Selecting a profile
From this screen you can select one or more eBox profiles. For this installation, select office and hit OK. The installer will start installing the eBox packages based on the selected profile.

05    Setting up a password for eBox web interface
Enter the password to be used with the eBox web interface. You will need to confirm the password in the next screen.


06    External interface configuration
If you have an Ethernet card on the server connected to the internet, you can select it here to enable a strict firewall system for a more secure server setup.

You should not select the interface which is connected to your local area network.

07     Mail configuration
You can use a fully qualified host name as the virtual mail domain. The virtual mail domain name uses the format of .com.

08    Completing the installation
Lastly, you will be greeted with the web access URL for the eBox server. Note it down and select OK.  eBox server will boot into text mode.

You are installing the eBox server. It is important to note that eBox does not come with an X-based GUI interface (such as KDE or GNOME).

eBox server is primarily used as a headless server.  All the configuration happens through the eBox web interface from a remote machine.

Configuring eBox
In this section we will look at configuring various parts of eBox server

09     Configuring system
We can configure eBox system using the System option available in the Core section of the sidebar.
System can be used to configure the following options…

General: Used to configure password, language and the administrative interface network port.

Disk Usage: This provides a GUI-based interface for the utility ‘df’. It displays a graphical chart summarising the disk usage of the server.

Backup: This provides a convenient way to back up the configuration or the whole system. You can also use Restore Backup from the File option to restore from a remote computer. All existing backups will appear in the Backups list table.

Halt/Reboot: You can use this option to either shut down or reboot your server. Keep in mind that once shut down, you will need to physically start the system.


10     Configuring services
We can configure eBox services using the Services option available from the Core section of the sidebar. Services displays a table with the list of services installed on the system.

The Configuration column can be used to edit the configuration of a particular service. You can also use ‘Add new’ to add a new service to the system.

11     Monitoring eBox server
eBox provides a comprehensive tool to monitor the system performance. Monitor is available in the Core section of the sidebar.

You can monitor system load, each CPU core usage, file system usage and physical memory usage. Monitoring data is available for last hour, last day, last month and last year.

12     Local backup configuration
eBox maintains a local backup of its configuration and data. You can use the Local Backup Configuration option to configure the backup location.

The Local Backup option is available in the Core section of the sidebar.

13     Software management
eBox provides an easy-to-use Software Management tool that can be accessed from the Core section of the sidebar.

Software Management provides the following options…

eBox Components: Shows a table listing the eBox component name, installed and available version. You can also use the delete option from the Actions column to delete components wherever applicable.

System Updates: From here you can view and update the installed components.

Automatic Software Updates: From here you can configure the automatic installation of security updates – highly recommended to prevent known security issues.

14     Configuring web server
The web server can be configured using the Web Server option, available in the Infrastructure section of the sidebar. You can configure the Listening Port and Virtual Hosts from this screen.

15     Configuring users and  groups
Use the Users option in the Office section of the sidebar. The Users option provides the following options…

Add User: This is used to add a new user to the system.

Edit User: This is used to edit existing users on the system.
You can use the Groups option in the Office section of the Sidebar.
The Groups option provides the following options…

Add Group: This is used to add a new group to the system.

Edit Group: This is used to edit existing groups.

16     Configuring User Corner
User Corner provides a web-based interface that allows users to change their own data without the help of the network administrator. You can specify a custom port for User Corner for additional security.

17     Configuring file sharing
The eBox system can act as a Windows file-sharing server. It can also act as a Primary Domain Controller (PDC).

To configure these options, use File Sharing from the Office section. File Sharing options are divided into following three tabs…


General Settings: Here you can enable PDC, domain name, NetBIOS name, quota limit, roaming profiles, and drive letter.

PDC: Here you can configure minimum password length, maximum password age, and enforce password history.

Shares: Here you can configure shared directories. It is important to note that the shared directories created will actually be placed inside the following directory: /home/samba/shares.

Final Thoughts
eBox Platform is an excellent alternative to Windows Server 2008 SMB edition.

Its open source nature and low total cost of ownership (TCO) make eBox an attractive choice.

eBox greatly simplifies the complex Linux server software, making it an excellent choice for newbies as well.

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