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Nov
9

Superb Mini Server 2.0.0 Review – A Portable Server

by Koen Vervloesem

A server distribution based on Slackware, Superb Mini Server is unusual in having a live CD, enabling you to set up an ad hoc server quickly

If you want to run all sorts of server software for your home or small business network, superb Mini server (sMs) offers a convenient way to do this. It’s a server distribution based on Slackware 14 with a DNS, DHCP and PXE server, file servers (Samba, AFP and FTP), print (CUPS) and fax (HylaFAX) servers, and even a mail server including a spam filter (SpamAssassin) and anti-virus scanner (ClamAV). All of this runs on a 3.2.29 Linux kernel.

The live CD lets you try out SMS easily, which is unusual for a server distribution. You can choose to run all services for testing or run SMS without starting all the services automatically. The login console shows you a handy overview of the locations of shared directories for various services, as well as the necessary accounts and passwords. Running services from the live CD is a great way to set up an ad hoc server for a quick project. Even more so because the system requirements are really modest: any Pentium-class 500MHz computer with 256MB RAM will do.

SMS Slackware
Even a modest computer is able to run SMS

You can also install SMS to your hard disk from the live CD, but the developers recommend the installation CD for this. The installation CD first asks you to partition your hard drive manually with cfdisk, after which you start the traditional text-based Slackware installer with the command setup’. If you choose the full installation, 2.5GB of packages are installed on your hard drive. SMS then also installs KDE 3.5.10 as a graphical desktop environment. The only configuration step you have to take is running the xconf command to automatically configure Xorg, after which you’re able to start a KDE session with startx. This gives you access to some graphical configuration programs, but using the Webmin interface which runs by default on port 10000 is more advisable.

Webmin gives you the possibility to configure many of the services from a user-friendly web interface. You can even upgrade the Slackware system or Webmin itself using this web interface, show the running processes, run a specific command or schedule cron jobs, and reboot or shut down the server. Also interesting is TorrentFlux, a web-based interface to download torrents. This is ideal to start torrent downloads on your server, so you can power off your more power- hungry PC. However, all those web interfaces don’t prevent you from doing command-line stuff. You can even add and remove packages using Slackware’s pkgtools, although the developers don’t recommend it.

SMS Slackware
SMS can be configured completely in your web browser

SMS is interesting if you don’t have experience setting up a Linux server, but it has some minor downsides. For instance, we’re so used to hybrid ISO files that we generally just transfer a bit-for-bit copy from the ISO file to a USB stick with dd to run or install a distribution from a USB stick, but this didn’t work in the case of SMS. We first had to partition and format the USB stick, mount the ISO file with fuseiso, copy the contents to the USB stick and then run the script boot/bootinst.sh or usbboot.sh to update the MBR.

Worse is that after the installation SMS is unfortunately wide open for anyone. You should immediately change all default passwords, add a password for the MySQL root user, change the LDAP passwords and select the networks that are allowed to have access to the Webmin page. You should consult the project’s wiki for the necessary tasks. Although SMS is a handy one-stop shop for server software, this doesn’t exempt you from the obligation to look into the configuration. A badly configured server can pose a serious security risk. Fortunately, you don’t have to dive into configuration files, but you can configure many tasks using Webmin.

Verdict

3/5

Superb Mini Server is a great way to set up a server with various services for a quick project, using the easy-to-use web interface from the Webmin project. However, to really live up to its potential, SMS should be made more secure by default, because in the hands of non-experts it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

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