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eBox as an Ubuntu server front end

Trying to get a handle on all of the interconnected network services can be a challenge. It appears that the Canonical folks have decided that eBox is a good place to start and eBox provides a custom version of the Ubuntu server CD image with their software ready to go.

There are other FOSS options to provide a front end for services on a network box. Webmin is a good example.

Webmin is a web-based interface for system administration for Unix. Using any modern web browser, you can setup user accounts, Apache, DNS, file sharing and much more. Webmin removes the need to manually edit Unix configuration files like /etc/passwd, and lets you manage a system from the console or remotely.

These network administration front ends do not depend upon a GUI on the server. Instead they use the web server so you can administer your network from anywhere on the net.

A key difference between eBox and some of the other network management tools is how much they do for you. Do they just provide a front end for the various service configuration files and let you have at it or do they help you with the interdependencies between services?

eBox chooses the integrated approach which is probably why the Canonical folks tend to favor it for Ubuntu. This means that you have a bit less control about the configuration but when you set up a service, any others needed to make it work are also adjusted as needed. For instance, set up a Samba file server and the firewall rules are changed to allow that sort of activity.

In order to manage this integration, eBox maintains its own templates for the various service configuration files. At boot, it reads these templates and re-writes them so the services will be configured to a known state. This means that if you go tweak a service configuration in the usual way, that tweak will get lost the next time you boot the computer. If you just gotta’ tweak, you will have to find the eBox templates and tweak them. These templates are XML files in the eBox application folder.

eBox makes for an easy to set up network server with all of the services normally needed for a small business office. It doesn’t take much know-how to get it up and going with the services you need. Once you have a functioning server, you can explore and learn by testing things out and perusing the configuration files. It is a good lab platform for learning about network administration as well as a good resource for someone who needs a service box but not the usual hassle.