Internet Access: More Do-It-Yourself Solutions

Software: A "free" Unix and Windows NT 3.5 Server enhance Internet connectivity.

Addison Ching, Newport-Mesa Unified School District

As some of you might recall, I took a "Do-it-yourself" approach to Internet connectivity for our district. I assembled a 486dx-50 computer and licensed and installed the SCO Unix operating system on it to act as our domain name service machine. Our Web Server is on a 486dx2-80 PC computer running the Windows NT Server operating system. Our Gopher and E-mail servers are both running on a Macintosh IIci. Only the SCO Unix software had to be licensed for use; the other server packages are freeware or shareware and can be used either free of charge (in the educational setting) or by paying the author a modest registration fee. SCO Unix is closely related to the form of Unix commonly known as SVR4 (System V, Release 4) developed by AT&T.

This approach has inspired other agencies to take a similar, economical approach to Internet connectivity. The crew at Huntington Beach Union High School District has gone one step further by using a different Unix operating system developed by the University of California, Berkeley, called Berkeley Unix (or BSD Unix). Look for a future article in The DataBus from the HDUHSD crew, describing their experiences with their Internet startup.

A hybrid of Berkeley Unix called FreeBSD Unix, is available free of charge for PCs. FreeBSD Unix is a very robust implementation of Unix. While there are some differences between BSD Unix and SVR4, most of the features required for TCP/IP support are implemented. Most importantly, FreeBSD provides full E-mail and Domain Name Service (DNS) support. Since many colleges and universities run Berkeley Unix on Sun workstations, much of the software that runs at those sites will run on a PC using FreeBSD Unix. This includes Web, Gopher, Mail and News servers.

Obtaining the package can prove to be a novel experience. An Internet-capable computer is required to obtain a startup disk image and a program to create the startup diskette from the site that contains the sotware, FTP.FREEBSD.ORG. Once this is done, the target Unix computer can be created entirely from this startup diskette. The startup diskette creates a basic Unix shell on the target computer, then allows the remaining system to be automatically downloaded via FTP from the software archive or obtained from a variety of other sources including DOS floppy, FTP from an alternate site, QIC tape, or CD-ROM. The entire FreeBSD software package and documentation is available on a Walnut Creek CD-ROM for about $40.

Hardware requirements for FreeBSD include any 386dx or 486 computer with at least 4mb of main memory, a large (> 200 mb) hard disk and a supported network interface card (NIC.) Most common NICs are supported including 3com 3C503-9, SMC Elite 16, and any NE2000-compatible card. Documentation for FreeBSD Unix is online in the form of Unix manpages. Information for all supported Unix commands and services is available through the manpages.

As a comparison to the SCO Unix machine, a computer running the FreeBSD Unix operating system was added to the Internet support servers at our district. This computer now acts as one of our secondary Domain Name Service computers for the domain (each domain must have a primary name server and at least one secondary name server in order to be registered.) Implementation was relatively painless, especially with the availability of the online manpages.

On another note, the new version of Windows NT, version 3.5, supports remote access (dialup) services. Upon reviewing the documentation, this access includes full PPP (Point to Point Protocol) support, so any client that is PPP-capable can access the Internet remotely if the Windows NT server is an Internet node. On the Macintosh, this includes any computer with MacTCP and MacPPP. On the PC, any Windows computer using Trumpet Winsock v2.0 or greater can be used. While the Windows NT workstation 3.5 operating system only supports a single remote access client, the Windows NT Server 3.5 operating system can provide support for up to 256 PPP clients (if it were possible to connect that many dialup ports to the computer.) Up to 32 dialup clients can be easily supported by using two 16-port multiport cards such as those manufactured by DigiBoard. This 486-computer/Windows NT Server 3.5/DigiBoard combination could prove to be a reasonable alternative to several off-the-shelf remote access solutions such as those provided by Asante and Shiva.