Linux in Government: Another Look at Linux in the MS Infrastructure

Considering the capabilities of Samba 3 and what they could mean for your workplace network.

In an article published in IT Week, Roger Howorth discussed lab results that indicated how the latest version of the open-source Samba file and print server software out-performed commercial Windows 2003 Server. The latest version of Samba, the software that helped put Linux on the technology map, has new features that make it compatible with Microsoft Active Directory. Linux thus can authenticate users from an existing Active Directory. As IT Week Labs reported:

The latest benchmark results show an improvement over version 2, which performed twice as fast as Windows 2000 Server when it was tested by IT Week Labs last year. Overall, it now performs 2.5 times faster than Windows Server 2003.

In terms of scalability, the gains of upgrading to Samba 3 are even more striking. Last year we found that Samba could handle four times as many clients as Windows 2000 before performance began to drop off. This year we would need to upgrade our test network in order to identify the point where Samba performance begins to fall in earnest.

Interestingly, IT managers who have deployed Linux with Samba have found that Samba requires less expensive and lower power servers than does the Windows software. Additionally, by using open-source software and Linux, managers can remove the expense of Windows server licenses.

The benchmark tests at IT Week Labs provide a tangible example of why Linux has gained so much server market share. As Howorth writes:

The IT Week Labs tests used Ziff-Davis NetBench file server benchmark with 48 client systems. We selected a low-specification but otherwise modern server for our tests. We used an HP ProLiant BL10 eClass Server fitted with a 900MHz Pentium III chip, a single 40GB ATA hard disk and 512MB of RAM. We did not tune any of the software to improve performance.

Each NetBench client makes a constant stream of file requests to the server under test, whereas in real-world environments many users would remain idle for long periods. Consequently our test environment simulates the workload of some 500 client PCs in a typical production environment.

What Is Samba?

Samba is an open-source implementation of the filesystem deployed by Microsoft. The bundle of standards and protocols behind Microsoft's filesystem originally was called SMB, or the Server Message Block Protocol. Over the years, Microsoft has made SMB the most prevalent filesharing protocol on the planet by shipping it with every Microsoft Windows system, whether desktop or server.

In government networks, Windows and Novell provide the primary server platforms used at every level, from small municipalities to federal agencies. Consequently, anyone considering an alternative desktop must consider how it will work with Microsoft's SMB protocol, which also is referred to as the Common Internet File System (CIFS). Do not let the latter name fool you; Microsoft changed the original name to make people believe SMB is an Internet standard.

SMB, or CIFS, allows Windows machines to share directories, files, printers and other computer resources within a network. The protocols and services included in SMB, which are called a following or a bundle, enable tasks such as introducing new hosts, name resolution, authentication and access control. Each service operates independently, but to the user it all looks like a single protocol.

SMB helps each desktop find and identify shared resources. It also controls access to those resources so unauthorized users cannot access them. Within this environment, Samba allows Linux desktops to look and act like Windows desktops.

SMB has been available for open-source operating systems such as Linux for several years, thanks to Samba. And as Linux began its move out of the datacenter and onto the corporate desktop, Samba helped Linux become part of the Microsoft network neighborhood. In fact, back in 1999, companies such as Cisco discovered that their engineers had replaced NT Servers with Linux machines running Samba. These companies were alerted to the presence of Linux and Samba by IT auditors who wondered why those servers did not need rebooting. As companies began discovering Linux in their organizations, word spread and a grass-roots movement gained management acceptability.

Some of the services included in Samba came from published standards. Many remained undocumented by Microsoft and have changed with each Windows version. In current lingo, people use CIFS when referring to the entire suite of services and SMB when discussing the filesharing protocol that allows one to see the network and its resources in the network neighborhood.



Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Client access licenses

Anonymous's picture

Don't forget you do not need Client Access Licenses (CALs) to access a Samba server even from Windows clients. While each CAL is relatively inexpensive, they do add up for a large network and the IT staff time of keeping track of how many you need is a big expense in itself.

Microsoft's Filesystem

Robert Mortimer's picture

SMB is a standard developed by IBM and recognised by a number of stadards bodies. Microsoft added some extra bits but it is not their standard its IBMs


Leon Brooks's picture

Microsoft's extensive reworking to turn SMB (Server Message Block, glorified LANman2) into CIFS (Common Internet File System) means that in practice, little if any of IBM' code or protocols are still used on an XP/2000 network. Being Microsoft and all, the protocol still sucks in odd and interesting ways, but it nevertheless is enormously more capable, secure and efficient than SMB.

Actually, CIFS == SMB

Anonymous's picture

This article does a great job of explaining that CIFS is a marketing term for SMB that was coined by M$.