Open Source

Using the NetMAX suite of Linux servers

The NetMAX family of products is designed to help Linux admins avoid overkill installations. You can use a NetMAX product that fits your needs without installing other things you don't need. Vince Danen looks at the installation in this Daily Drill Down.


Most Linux administrators are familiar with one or more distributions of Linux and have their particular favorites. The criteria for their favorite distribution depend on their needs and what they are familiar with, as many distributions are quite different from one another. Many distributions are overkill if you want to use them for certain applications.

The NetMAX family of products includes the NetMAX Firewall and Router, the NetMAX FileServer with Print Sharing, the NetMAX WebServer with Email and FTP, and NetMAX Professional, which is basically all the NetMAX products combined into one. The reasoning behind segmenting this distribution of Linux is simple: Provide one product to do one or two jobs. This means that you can use a NetMAX product that fits your needs without installing a lot of other things that you may not need or ever use. This makes NetMAX more efficient on low-end hardware or systems with smaller drive capacities.

All of the NetMAX products install in the same way. Whether you install the Firewall and Router or the Professional suite, the installation method is so similar that you’ll have a hard time distinguishing between NetMAX installations. The consistency among the different server suites is a benefit, however, since there is less to learn. In this Daily Drill Down, I’ll take a close look at the NetMAX suite of products.

Installation
Turn on your computer, insert the CD-ROM, and tell your BIOS to boot from the CD-ROM or the boot floppy that comes with the NetMAX product. When NetMAX loads, it automatically goes into configuration mode, auto-sets your hostname, and configures your Ethernet device. The detection for network cards is quite nice. Using an AMD network card, NetMAX will find and configure it quickly.

The installation will then ask you for your network type. You’ll have to tell the installer whether you have a static IP address or if you receive your IP address dynamically via DHCP. You can even select none, but NetMAX is not the type of Linux system that you’d want for regular desktop usage.

When you select the static IP address, you’re asked for the IP address and netmask in the form [IP address]/[Netmask] (for example, 192.168.1.5/255.255.255.0).

Once you’ve done this, you can either continue with the installation in console mode or you can move to your desktop computer and complete the installation via your Web browser. We’ll select console mode here, but the Web interface is pretty slick as well. Once you’ve chosen your method, you’ll be asked to accept the NetMAX license agreement.

You can then select whether you want a full install or an upgrade, which NetMAX calls an overlay install. The overlay install can also be used to upgrade a Red Hat 5.2 system or Red Hat 6.1 with the latest release.

When you select the full installation, you’ll be asked to confirm the source and destination for the installation. The source should be your CD-ROM, and the destination should be the partition where you wish to install NetMAX. Strangely enough, NetMAX calls the /dev/hda1 partition "a" so be aware that it does not use the same Linux lingo you may be used to from other installation programs.

You’ll then be asked for your license number. NetMAX is a corporate product. There are no demonstration or free download versions. You must purchase NetMAX and use the license number printed on your registration card in order to proceed further. Once you enter your license number, a simple text-based installer comes up, formats your hard drive, and installs NetMAX. There are no package selections, no deciding on one editor or another, etc. NetMAX knows what it needs to run and simply installs it.

When the installation is complete, reboot the system, and you’ll see a splash screen containing the NetMAX logo, a spherical happy face. Once the bootup is complete, a login/monitor screen will open. This screen shows you the current time, the uptime of the system, the date, and the load average. It also shows any users logged in to the system, and a section of the screen is devoted to console messages, such as kernel messages. It also offers you the option of typing ? for help, S to shut down the system, L to log in, or C to configure X11.

The console monitor is available only on the first virtual console. If you switch to any other console by using [Alt][Fx], where x is a number from 1 to 6, you’ll receive a regular login prompt. Return to the first virtual console by using [Alt][F1] at any time to watch your console monitor.

At this point, you can configure X if you like. I attempted to do so. It gives you a choice between XF86Config, which did not work at all for me, and EZXconfig, which is a text-based configuration tool like Xconfigurator. Unfortunately, it did not work for me either.

Instead, I chose to move to my browser and pointed it to http://192.168.1.5:5150/, which is where you can reach the NetMAX Web browser to further configure your server. Obviously, you must change the IP address to whatever IP address you assigned to the computer.

Web-based configuration
When you enter the initial Web screen, you can choose to either visit the tutorial or press the Continue button to get into the configuration. Select the Networking tab to configure your network.

You will be asked for your hostname, domain name, primary DNS server, and the default router. You will also be asked for your netmask and the Windows workgroup/domain if you’re connected to a network using Windows or Linux machines running Samba. NetMAX will be as intelligent about this as possible. It found my Windows domain name setting and filled it in for me, but I had to configure the rest myself. Once you’ve filled in these values, click Continue.

You’ll next be asked for the login name and password of the network administrator. This is not root! Enter the login name you wish to use and a password, and you’ll then be sent to a screen called Configuration Template Options.

This is where you install some defaults for users who will be using the system. You can select settings for users, such as whether they will be using the system for mail, file storage, and logins, or mail and personal file storage only, or mail only. You can even tell it not to bother with users. If you're setting up a router and firewall, you most likely won’t see the need to allow users access to the machine.

You can also select some services that NetMAX will provide. This will depend on which particular server suite you’ve installed. You can also change some Shared Folders settings, which appear to be a simple Samba interface for a few predefined shares.

Finally, once you’ve finished all of your selections, you’ll be asked to either commit the changes or go back and make some last-minute changes. Once you’ve committed the changes, a screen shows you the progress as NetMAX configures your system as you specified.

Using NetMAX
When the initial configuration is complete, you’ll be asked to log in as the administrator. One neat thing is that on the console you’ll see the user logged in to the system when you log in via the Web interface.

Once you’ve logged in, you’ll be presented with a nice Web-based menu system. Initially, you’ll start in the Personal menu. Here you can define personal hotlinks, which are basically bookmarks to other Web sites. As the administrator, you can also edit global hotlinks, which will be shown to all other users. You can also manage files in the various shares you allowed during configuration. Finally, you can change your personal information, change your password, or log out of the Web system.

If you select the Users menu, you can administer the users for the system, as well as the group settings for the system. You can change password policies and define the root settings. I highly recommend that after a first-time install, you go into the root settings and change the root password because, by default, NetMAX uses a preselected password for root (which you will find in the manual). You can also allow or disallow root console access via the login screen and the su tool.

In the Services menu, you will be shown a number of services that you can configure. The services available will again depend upon which version of NetMAX you’ve installed. In the NetMAX Professional version, you’ll be able to configure local and remote backups, FTP, e-mail, the news server, the Web server, LDAP, and more. One useful item that is similar in all versions is the Package Management service. This is basically a Web-based version of kpackage or any other RPM management program.

The Package Management service will list every package and its corresponding version on your system. It will give you options to either delete the item or view details on it. If you select the icon showing a magnifying glass with an eye, you’ll get into the package details. The package details will provide a description of the RPM package, its dependencies, and the files that belong to it.

You can also add new packages to your system using the Package Management service. Before you can do this, however, you’ll need to set some defaults, so click the Defaults button. It will then ask you for preferences for local and FTP packages. You need not select both, but you may. By default, the FTP site is the NetMAX FTP site, but it does ask you where you wish to store the downloaded packages. If you click the Select button, you’ll be able to select the directory in which to store the packages.

You’ll need to provide a local path for packages. If you like, you can point it to the same directory where the FTP-downloaded packages will be stored or to /mnt/cdrom, where your CD is mounted. When you’ve finished, click OK, and you’ll be returned to the package index list. If you click Add, you’ll be asked from where you want to install the package: local or FTP. The rest of the package addition is relatively straightforward; just follow the simple instructions.

I attempted to perform an installation for Apache and mod_php3. The interface told me I needed the gd package to satisfy dependencies, so I selected it. It downloaded the files, but only the gd package was installed successfully. Neither Apache nor mod_php3 were installed, and both exited with errors.

Upon closer inspection, I decided to abandon the upgrade anyway. The updated version of Apache on the site was 1.3.3 (while the current version is 1.3.12). It looked like the version of Apache hadn't been updated since Red Hat 5.2 was released. To be fair, however, I had an older version of NetMAX. A new version was released that’s based on Red Hat 6.1, which upon closer inspection, includes Apache 1.3.9. The new version of NetMAX, judging by the Web site, was released in August 2000.

NetMAX alerts
There’s one extremely cool feature about NetMAX. When you log in as the administrator, the NetMAX title bar at the top of the screen will appear in one of two ways. It will either show the NetMAX happy face with a cyan banner that indicates all is well or show a scared-looking NetMAX face with a red banner. If you click the red banner, NetMAX will bring you to an Alerts page.

This page contains various alerts on the system. It will show you things like system shutdowns, system bootups, failed logins, and so on. These items are configurable, which we’ll see how to do in a moment.

There’s a Confirm button next to each item. Once you view the various items, click the Confirm buttons to tell NetMAX to archive the entries. Once you’ve done this, click the OK button to continue. The banner will become cyan again, the NetMAX head will smile once more, and life will go on as usual. The next time you see a red banner, however, be sure to check it out. This is NetMAX's way of telling you that there may have been suspicious activity on the server.

Reports
Any system administrator will find useful another menu item called Reports. In the Professional version, Reports allows you to view logs such as the system log, a Web server access report, a mail log report, and so forth. It will give you reports on the network, backups performed, newsgroups, users, the traffic monitor, and more. You can also configure the administrative alerts to which NetMAX will be responsive. (Remember the red banner and the scared NetMAX face?) You can tell it to log and/or notify the administrator about certain conditions like login failures, shutdowns and restarts, root-access setting modifications, printing failures, package manipulation, and so forth. This feature is useful for tailoring NetMAX to your needs so that you’re not constantly bothered by that scared face about items that you may feel are not important enough to warrant your immediate attention.

You can even select the Notification tab and have NetMAX send alerts to various e-mail addresses or send a pop-up message to a Windows machine. You can also view the archive that shows who posted the alert, who verified it, and what type of alert it was.

Conclusion
NetMAX is an ingenious product and is quite powerful. I like the Web-based administration because it lets you do pretty much everything. Being able to install RPM packages, download new packages via FTP, reboot or shut down the server, and so on is quite impressive. The NetMAX suite also offers a good amount of choice with its different packages, which ensures that you don't perform an overkill install on any machine used for one or two specific tasks.

I was a little disappointed by their choice of software, however. They use wu_ftpd for their FTP server, which is known to have problems and to be insecure. A far better choice would have been proftpd. They also use sendmail for the e-mail server, which is in relatively the same boat. A better choice would have been postfix, qmail, or even exim. It looks like NetMAX built their product upon Red Hat, though, so they most likely used whatever defaults Red Hat uses and built their product to conform to it. In a way, this makes sense because it allows people familiar with Red Hat to easily adapt to NetMAX. But they should be taking advantage of the opportunity to improve upon Red Hat as well.

NetMAX is also strictly a commercial product. You cannot download a demo version to try out first. There is a demo that you can view online at their official site for the Connect series, which includes the WebServer, Internet Server Suite, and Internet Server ProSuite. You can also view the demo for the FireWall, FireWall Suite, and FireWall ProSuite on the NetMAX site. One interesting thing is that they also make a NetMAX based on FreeBSD, so if you're more comfortable with a BSD-style system, you can use NetMAX's unique interface on a FreeBSD-based system instead of a Linux-based one.

The pricing for NetMAX varies, but the cheapest product is the Linux FireWall product, which retails for $39 U.S. Incidentally, the FreeBSD FireWall product retails for $99 U.S. The most expensive product is the Professional Suite, which retails for $549 U.S. for Linux and $499 for FreeBSD.

As I’ve shown in this Daily Drill Down, NetMAX is a good product. Anyone who wants a Web interface with a little more power than webmin would feel very comfortable with NetMAX. I would imagine that their newest release has more features and goodies under the hood than the versions I managed to get my hands on, but even the Red Hat 5.2-based version was impressive.

Vincent Danen, a native Canadian in Edmonton, Alberta, is an avid Linux "revolutionary" and a firm believer in the Open Source philosophy. He attempts to contribute to the Linux cause in as many ways as possible, from his Freezer Burn Web site to local advocacy in his hometown. Owner of a Linux consulting firm, Vincent is also the security updates manager for MandrakeSoft, creators of the Linux-Mandrake operating system. Vincent is a certified Linux Administrator by Tekmetrics.com.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

About Vincent Danen

Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

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