Univention Corporate Server: Brief Description
Today, I want to introduce Univention Corporate Server (UCS), an enterprise Linux distribution based on Debian GNU/Linux and built by Univention. Let me begin with Univention, the organization behind UCS. Univention builds Open Source software for organizations to make the access to applications and devices for their members as easy as possible. Basically, this involves three core topics:
A central identity management system for users, their roles and rights.
An app store-like environment, which Univention calls 'App Center', for easy testing, provisioning, rollout and life-cycle management of applications.
And third, of course, IT infrastructure and device management
Univention brings all those topics together into a single, easy-to-use Open Source product called Univention Corporate Server (UCS).
People often call it an Open Source alternative to Microsoft Windows Server, because it provides Active Directory services like Microsoft's product and can be used for similar purposes. UCS can be part of an Active Directory domain or it can take over existing ones and migrate the data.
Other people like to think of UCS as a kind of Android for servers, because it provides a way to manage apps on your servers and integrate them, for example, by providing a central identity management system. The apps can be operated both on premises or in the cloud. This gives you flexibility in your work.
UCS Origins and Features
Univention Corporate Server is a Debian GNU/Linux derivative that started in 2002. It includes the necessary Open Source software to provide Active Directory domain functionality, among others basically Samba 4, Kerberos and OpenLDAP and integrates them in a maintainable and sophisticated way. The vast majority of software packages are built by the Debian project. Some packages, though, are built by Univention, because they are newer than the stable version of the Debian project, for example, the Linux kernel, Samba or OpenLDAP, or because the packages are customized with patches.
Next, there is a configuration file template system which is called Univention Configuration Registry that allows to define variables inside a variable tree that can be used in configuration files or scripts, for example, the LDAP base distinguished name. Many variables are used across different servers.
On top of that users find a web-based management system for users, groups, roles, user policies and infrastructure services like IP address leases, name resolution and the server management itself including software update management, just to name a few. The goal of the management system is to simplify recurring tasks for the system administrator and to lower the learning curve by using a full fledged enterprise Linux system.
In contrast to other Linux distributions, UCS focuses on a central IT infrastructure management and offers the necessary management interface. A UCS system can be used in several roles depending on it's purpose. The roles basically determine, for example, if a copy of the directory service is locally available on the system.
App Store-Like Environment Called 'App Center'
Installing enterprise applications on UCS with their default methods usually requires several manual steps from download, over installation to configuration and probably integration. This approach is appropriate for IT projects introducing a solution into organizations, because of its flexibility. But it involves too many steps for evaluation or for operation in small and mid-sized organizations where the focus is on using the solution and not keeping it functional with a dedicated technical team.
Univention Corporate Server fills in this gap to easily evaluate and operate enterprise applications like Kopano, Open-Xchange App Suite or ownCloud and many more. The steps for download, installation and configuration are consolidated in the installation of the app with one click. Apps like Kopano are up and running within a few minutes. Users can be added via the web-based UCS user management and can immediately login to the app.
Many apps are also integrated in the UCS directory service which makes the platform the central identity provider for these applications in the environment.
A UCS-basded IT environment can be set up within one hour, offering groupware, file share and sync, backup and VPN.
Docker Technology in App Center
The App Center uses the Docker container technology in the background to encapsulate the solutions from the host system. It also simplifies the deployment, because many solutions support Docker meanwhile. This approach also simplifies the necessary steps for app providers to offer their solutions on the UCS platform.
Customers and Market
At present there are more than 6,000 organizations all over the world using UCS daily and in production. These organizations range from small businesses with just a few users to one of Univention's largest customers who manages more than 30 million users with Univention Corporate Server.
One of the most important customer groups is the education market in Germany. UCS is used, for example, by several larger German cities to provide schools, students and teachers with reliable, centrally managed access to learning management systems, Wi-Fi, computers, file servers, email and to organize the integration of mobile devices. An extension from the App Center, named UCS@school, provides additional management functions needed by teachers, for example, class room management.
A third, growing user group are private tech enthusiasts who operate UCS as a safe, open source home server, for example, for mail, groupware and file exchange.
Availability - UCS Free Core versus Enterprise Edition
UCS comes in two editions: Core and Enterprise. The Core Edition is available for free via download from the Univention website. It has the same features as the Enterprise Edition, but comes without support and a limited maintenance period. Help is provided via the forum at Univention Help.
In contrast to the Core Edition, the Enterprise Edition comes with maintenance subscription and support. Univention offers a five to seven years lifecycle for the major versions of UCS. The price depends on the number of servers and the number of users in the environment. Depending on the Enterprise subscription level, the yearly prices range from $ 349 to $ 2,049.
Have a look at UCS and share your thoughts on it in the comments section or at Univention Help. We will be posting more guides about UCS in the days to come. Stay tuned!
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