How to pick the right Intranet server

If you are trying to build your first Intranet server, chances are you are wrestling with trying to choose which is the best platform to start out on. By Intranet server, I mean something that will deliver web documents to your corporate compatriots and begin to make use of the TCP/IP network and Internet technologies.

For purposes of this essay, let's assume the following common situation: you've got a mixture of Macs and Wintel PCs running over a NetWare 3.x network. Let's also assume that you have little or no Unix expertise, and are just getting started really getting into Windows NT networking. You'll need to decide on several things:

1. First off, pick how you are going to implement DHCP, the best way to deliver IP network numbers to each desktop. DHCP has a nice system to reserve a range of IP addresses for its client machines and you'll need both client and server pieces to make it work properly. NT, Win95, several on-ramp add-ons for Win 3.1, and Macs running Open Transport now all more or less support DHCP clients.

But it is the server side that requires some thought and planning. NT Server comes with a DHCP server. And On Technologies makes a software product for NetWare called IPTrack that turns NetWare into a DHCP server. However, after trying these two out I ended up using my Farallon Netopia ISDN router to provide DHCP service -- it seemed like the easiest solution. One thing I haven't been able to figure out is how to manage more than one DHCP server on the same subnet.

2. Next, decide on what the primary purpose will be for picking your web server platform: ease of setup and integration into the underlying operating system; functionality and publishing features; or ease of integration into your existing file services. Want all three? Sorry, go directly to Unix. But if you don't have any Unix expertise and don't want to get started now, there are some alternatives. Here are my picks based on what works best for each purpose:

What about Notes and the Web? I'll have more to say about that later as well.

3. Then pick the product and get going. Don't form a committee, don't take months evaluating different strategies. The best way to learn about Intranets is to just do it. Experiment with publishing different kinds of documents, both things that change frequently and things that don't.

While you are at it, don't forget to take a look at your log files and see who is viewing what pages. I've learned all sorts of interesting things from mine, including that I have received visitors from over a dozen other countries.

4. Buy a couple of books: Laura Lemay's Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML 3.0($30, Sams), is an excellent how-to. Also David Chandler's Running the Perfect Web Site($40, Que), which has the advantage of a CD ROM with various image and file manipulation tools in one place. Want more help? Check out one of the comp.infosystems.www. newsgroups, if you are so inclined. Also, look at this page with lots of links to helpful places, including other books to read, links to other server software, and other tools.

Sitekeeping, viewer mailbag, and promotions dep't

My essay last week on ISDN brought lots of comments, both from people that had horror stories and those that felt my criticism of ISDN was misplaced. Thanks, everyone. One repeated comment: I should be fair and compare the process I went through with trying to setup a dial-up router, since that is where most of my problems were anyway. Point well taken.

I am scheduled to appear on the CBS TV news program "Up to the Minute" this Friday morning at 4:40 am to surf the net as part of their Digital Drive segment. If you don't get the broadcast, or can't program your VCR, there is always the UTTM web site.

Also this week, the on-line magazine Web Review has my "Which Windows" essay that originally ran as WI#12. The current issue also has a very good article called: Corporations know they need a Website, but do they know why? that directly speaks to the issues of building Intranets.

One final promo: many of you know that I've been working to help put computers in our local schools. Here is an update.

This essay is composed in HTML and can be read in your browser. This is not always a simple process, and I'll be happy to provide help if I can. If you are getting this directly from me, or if someone is forwarding it to you, and you want to change that situation, let me know. Subscriptions are always free of charge. ------------------------------------------------------- ---------

David Strom
+1 516 944 3407
Link to our web site
Back issues of Web Informant essays