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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Personally, I have production Samba servers running on systems as out of date as servers with 100MHz Pentium processors and 64MBs of RAM.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.

Or, of course, you could simply use Samba in place of your NT domain system. The choice is up to you.

From the users’ perspective, though, it’s all moot. Whether as a complete replacement or as part of a Server 2003-based network, once set up properly, Samba works exactly like NT as far as they’re concerned.

Thus, given Samba’s improved security, cost and speed over pure-Microsoft approaches, I believe you should seriously consider Samba for any of your cost-conscious customers.

Finally, before starting on your journey to Samba, I’d like to strongly recommend that you get a copy of The Official Samba-3 HOWTO and Reference Guide. You also can read most of this material online at the Samba HOWTO collection. Both will go a long way toward making sure your NT-to-Samba upgrade goes smoothly.

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