Server migration: the easy stuff

5:15 pm freesoftware, marketing, work

In gathering material for my series on migrating to free software, one thing immediately jumps out at me.

If your server software uses industry standard protocols to communicate with your client software, then finding free replacement software is easy, painless and transparent for the user. Need a DNS service? Bind’ll do, thank you very much. SMTP? You’re spoiled for choice – there’s  Qmail, Postfix, sendmail among others. IMAP, POP3 – try Dovecot, or the UWash IMAP server.  SSH – OpenSSH. FTP – PureFTPd, VSFTPd, proftpd are all fine.  HTTP – Apache os one of many web servers available.

Pretty much anything with an RFC has free software implementations that are complete, and compare well with commercial competitors. Often, as is the case of Bind or Apache, they are the leaders in their space.

In other words, by using only standard client-server protocols, you have freedom to leave.

However, if your server software “integrates” tightly with your client software, in the style of Notes and Domino from Lotus/IBM, or Exchange Server and Outlook, or Sharepoint and Office, or if it has its own proprietary wire protocol, then you may have a pain point.

So the first lesson, I think, is consider how replacable server elements of your infrastructure are at the acquisition, if you want to avoid lock-in later on. As hard as projects like Samba and Zimbra chase the tail-lights of proprietary wire protocols, the easiest way to avoid them is to rely, where possible, of standard, open protocols.

And that’s what I’m looking for more than anything. How do people get around their pain points? Have people had an Exchange or Sharepoint hang-over?  Now that PostPath has gone away, are people looking to get rid of Exchange stuck with Zimbra? Has migrating from MS SQL to a free database server been a pain in the leg? What have people used to centralise authentication and share home directories across the network? Is Samba with LDAP a drop-in solution?

2 Responses

  1. Matthew Barnes Says:

    OpenChange promises to be a free, drop-in replacement for an Exchange server. Replace Exchange with OpenChange and Outlook doesn’t know the difference (theoretically). And OpenChange piggybacks on Samba 4 for things like Active Directory.

  2. Brad Hards Says:

    OpenChange ( is also looking at the client side (so you can use your Free software groupware tool like Kontact or Evolution) with an Exchange server.

    I think this is an important aspect – its really hard to rip out a fully working system (e.g. Outlook and Exchange) in one step. We need to be able to migrate both ends separately.

    [ObDislosure: I work on openchange]