April 6, 2005

Oregon consulting firm finds Linux great for clients -- and itself

Author: Tina Gasperson

The Steffen Group is a family owned and operated business that provides accounting services, technology consultation, and graphic design. With this eclectic mix of offerings, the family discovered the operating system that works best for them is based on Linux. They were so convinced, in fact, that they dropped all the other product lines in the consultation arm of the firm and now focus solely on providing their customers with the same Linux technology that has worked wonders for their own business.RefugeTech is the technology consulting arm of The Steffen Group. In 1999, James Steffen came into the family business after working in IT outsourcing for other companies. Originally, he consulted for clients doing Microsoft server installs. But two and a half years ago, Steffen stumbled across an all-in-one server product called Nitix and set it up on a trial basis for one of his clients.

The trial went so well that Steffen turned around and decided to migrate The Steffen Group to a single Nitix server running the entire backend for all three aspects of the company, which includes 10 workstations running various versions of Windows and two desktops using Fedora Core that work on software analysis and testing for PHP and mySQL implementations.

Steffen says he's happy with Nitix not only because it meets the diverse needs of his own company, but it's also an easy sell to clients. With built-in redundancy and hot swap hard disk capability that "got us off the old tape back up system" and on to automated hourly back ups, plus high speed access and response time that his graphic designers love, Steffen doesn't have much trouble convincing most of his customers that they will love it too.

That doesn't mean every moment has been smooth sailing, though. Steffen says they've had to learn to make do without a groupware solution. "We were running Small Business Server 2003 before Nitix, and we were just beginning to leverage the web client for Outlook.

"We were huge public folder users - the majority of our business was on Exchange public folders." With public folders, staff members share directories and files on the network, even across the Web. When The Steffen Group moved to Nitix, they were not able to use the Web client anymore.

Steffen says a fax server was the only other functionality lost in the transition, but the company uses digital fax technology, doing away with the need for traditional faxing capabilities.

Other challenges RefugeTech encountered were external.

"Quite a few of our late adopters, we had to farm out to other consultants," Steffen says. But he was willing to take the hit up front because he believes that the market for Nitix is going to continue to grow. "Our main clients had no problem rolling over," he says. "The people who have discovered and embraced this solution are the ones who have felt the pain of forced upgrades with Microsoft."

Not only are there large license fees associated with Microsoft's initiatives, but there's "a huge amount of downtime," Steffen says. "With Nitix, the boxes go in quicker and installation is mostly automatic. Feature upgrades happen automatically. It's been a really good match for us."


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