Doing Integration Right

When it comes to tackling integration, you'd be hard-pressed to find a company that does it better than FileEngine.

Almost two years ago, before this column started, I wrote an article about an Indianapolis-based company called FileEngine (http://www.FileEngine.com). Since writing that article, I have yet to come across a company that approaches integration from a better angle.

One of my biggest laments is that administrators often fall into the same traps as consumers, using other factors besides logic to make their decisions. For example, there are those who insist Linux should be used in all new implementations, based solely on the fact that they despise Microsoft. At the other end of the spectrum are those who insist on using only Microsoft products or operating systems because they find safety in numbers. The truth is, there is not one universal solution, and it's important to evaluate each installation based on its own needs.

What makes FileEngine unique, in my view, is that it doesn't evangelize for the sake of impressing its friends; rather, it saw a need in the market and then found the best product to fill that need. In doing so, FileEngine integrated Linux with Windows, often without its customers being aware of it.

Allow me to explain: FileEngine realized that there are a lot of small businesses that are outgrowing their peer-to-peer (or not) networks. Most of these companies are running some version of Windows and using Microsoft products; they use them because these are the tools they need in order to perform their real jobs. In other words, they are accountants and attorneys, not software developers and IT technicians.

As they outgrow their workgroups, these companies become ready for a server. What they are not ready for is an IT department; a small real-estate company with six users cannot afford to add an administrator just because it added a complex server to the network.

The solution FileEngine came up with is to lease a server to each of these companies. The server is painted fire engine-red and sits on the network handling the same tasks standard servers handle (including backups) without a keyboard, a monitor or a mouse. All the administration is done remotely, and the company doesn't have to think about anything besides the lease fee of approximately $8 a day.

This alone makes an interesting story. What makes the relationship even better, though, is that the server is running Progeny Debian Linux. Why Linux, and why this version of it? Because it makes the most sense. By using Progeny, FileEngine pays a license fee based on the server; it doesn't have to renegotiate if the company suddenly goes from 10 users to 20. The leasing fee covers an unlimited number of users.

Naturally, this isn't the right solution for every business, but it does satisfy a niche very well. The target market FileEngine is pursuing has six to 25 desktops and just needs basic file sharing. FileEngine's solution is cheaper than most other alternatives on the market.

What I like best, though, is that FileEngine spends no time trying to convince customers that one operating system platform is better than another. The company is satisfied when its customers are happy with what they get, and if they know that their server will fit in seamlessly with what's already there. The operating system on the server, in this environment, is invisible to the users. As long as users can save and retrieve files, print and do other server-based operations, it doesn't matter what operating system is running on the server.

By coupling Samba with LDAP and other open source technologies, FileEngine is able to meet customers' needs and give them a no-worries guarantee, thanks to an appliance that has low maintenance requirements and high uptime numbers.

You can't help but look at this solution and marvel. It fits a customer's need better than anything else, and that, the texts tell us, is the secret to marketing. That FileEngine does it in the way it does is -- I'll tell you -- the secret to true integration.

About the Author

Emmett Dulaney is the author of several books on Linux, Unix and certification, including the Security+ Study Guide, Fourth Edition. He can be reached at eadulaney@comcast.net.

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