July 12, 2006

Freedom Partners leaves Microsoft for Nitix

Author: Tina Gasperson

Freedom Partners is a network of car dealerships in Vermont. Freedom IT director Chip Kaupp doesn't know one Linux distribution from another, but he doesn't need to. Freedom Partners' Web sites and its company intranet run on the Nitix server appliance. Nitix is a custom variation of Linux that includes Web, email, printing, security, and backup utilities, which is administered through a browser-based GUI. It comes in an easy-to-install package, or preinstalled on its own server hardware.

"We used to run on Microsoft 2000 Exchange Server," Kaupp says. "We wanted to host our own email and do some file and print sharing." In the late 1990s that was cutting edge technology, but the automotive industry has moved to the Internet in a big way, according to Kaupp. "The companies are moving everything to the Web, and the Internet is becoming the lifeblood of our business."

One problem with the old environment that made Kaupp consider moving to another operating system was Microsoft's lack of customizability. Every employee needed an online workstation to keep abreast of inventory levels, check upcoming shipments, and communicate by email. But Kaupp was having a problem controlling inappropriate Web surfing. "With Microsoft, you had to build a list of places people couldn't go," Kaupp says, and coming up with that list was a hit and miss prospect at best.

There was another challenge. Vermont is a largely rural state, and the dealerships in the Freedom network are miles apart. The network's Jeep showroom alone is 35 miles away from the rest of the dealerships. With a T-1-based WAN, Freedom was paying more than $1,000 a month just to keep that dealership connected to the others.

"We wanted to have VPNs available for our owners and managers," Kaupp says. "I talked to the VAR from whom I was buying equipment, and he recommended Linux," in the form of a Nitix server. It seemed to provide the answers Kaupp was looking for. With Nitix, Kaupp found he was able to block employees' access to inappropriate Web sites by allowing access only to sites on the "approved" list. Also, by implementing a point-to-point VPN, Kaupp was able to replace the T-1 service and save Freedom several hundred dollars a month.

In addition to the added security and cost savings, Kaupp likes the simplicity that Nitix affords him. "I can't even put a monitor on this server," he says. "The really nice thing is that the operating system is so small that it's all installed on a chip. You could trip over the power cord and turn it back on and it comes right up. My Microsoft server, to reboot it and get everything started takes 15 to 20 minutes."

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