September 15, 2004

All-in-one Linux servers empower the little guy

Author: Tina Gasperson

If you were a musician who decided to start an Internet business, but you didn't know a thing about running a Web server, what would you do? Some people might farm it out, but for Tom Kramer, who found all his cash flow sailing toward his colocation vendor, the cost was prohibitive. His only option was to learn how to do it himself, on Linux.That doesn't have to be a daunting task anymore, in part because of the maturation of all-in-one Linux server products.

Kramer runs 440music.com, a Web site he created to help independent artists highlight their work. It is also a showcase for his other business, Tecnet Internet Maintenance Service. He said he sends potential clients to 440music.com to give them ideas about "what they can do with the Internet."

A guitarist from Chicago, Kramer had big dreams for his music back in the late '80s and early '90s. "I traveled about six and a half years," he said. "I'd stay in a town for four or five months trying to get my music exposed." He found himself playing in nightclubs around the Midwest, as well as picking up a traditional gig now and then working with family members' businesses.

Later, he settled back in Chicago and began running nightly jam sessions that were fun, but didn't produce the kind of money or recognition from record labels that Kramer had hoped for. "I always felt that if I could have gotten together with a record label I could have made it. I could have filled stadiums," he said.

He decided to give up and go for a career in an industry that would provide a more reliable income. Still, Kramer never forgot about the plight of independent artists like himself who just wanted to be discovered. As he learned more about the World Wide Web, he knew he could provide an Internet site that would provide needed exposure, without the expense and time commitment of traveling the country trying to pick up unfruitful nightclub gigs.

At the time he was reselling colocated server space and paying about $400 a month for the privilege, which was just about all he was bringing in. Common sense said he needed to find a more economical way to manage the business. While he was out browsing a local computer shop one day, he stumbled across a returned NetMAX Network Server that was marked down from $79. "I saw this orange box and it said 'Web server.' It had this kind of GUI interface, and I said, 'I gotta try this.'"

Kramer said it took less than 30 minutes for him to set up a Web server on his home ADSL line with a static IP address. He put up a test site to see if it the NetMAX product was as easy as the instructions promised. As he realized he really could handle it, he started to change all his clients' colocated Web sites over and increased his bandwidth accordingly. That was back in 1999, and that's when 440music.com came online.

NetMAX's Network Server product runs on Red Hat Linux, but there are other all-in-one Linux server products out there being used by the "little guys." Nitix, for example, is a custom-built flavor of Linux produced by Net Integration Technologies, Inc. Nitix is specifically geared toward all-in-one server applications for small- to medium-sized businesses and organizations, like Maple Ridge Community Church in Lafayette, Ind.

Maple Ridge was outgrowing its office space and its computer power. Bill Ooms of Business System Solutions recommended a Nitix server to the church leaders. He helped them install and configure the server, and the staff is happy. They're hosting their own Web site, sharing calendars and schedules, and viewing email online with Nitix's Web mail feature.

As for Kramer, he's been a loyal NetMAX Network Server customer for five years now, even referring his clients and friends to the "server in a box."

"One of my clients, Lee Street Apartment Rentals, had been having trouble with his Microsoft server," Kramer said. "It was crashing on him all the time. I told him about the system I was using -- I gave him my old one. He started doing everything I was doing."

As for 440music, it appears that Kramer hasn't totally escaped the financial paucity of the musician's life. A blog entry dated August 25 reads, "On Aug 24 we were off line for 24 hours due to lack of money. If you want to make a donation to support Indie Music and 440music.com we will not refuse."

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