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3. Introduction

Linux (or more accurately GNU/Linux) is gaining increasing popularity within the workplace. Primarily it is deployed within the Internet marketplace at server level but it is beginning to make in roads into other areas such as internal network servers and desktop workstations. With this in mind and for reasons given below, my company decided to deploy a Linux based LAN server into our Windows9x based network. I started this project with basic knowledge of Linux and some knowledge of Unix. During the course of the project it occurred to me that some sort of document describing the tasks involved would be helpful. I could not find such a document and hence wrote this one.

What you will not find here is a repeat of installation and configuration documentation for the various tools and utilities used. I see no reason to repeat that but have instead opted to include problems encountered whilst installing or configuring these and workarounds/solutions for those situations.

3.1 The Scenario

It will probably be helpful to give a short background of the environment in which the new server will be deployed.

Some 35 PC's are linked in an Ethernet LAN across a sprawling site. Like many offices this one started with a single PC and grew bit by bit into the current environment. For reasons of speed, convenience and cost a peer-to-peer network was employed. Users share directories and printers across the network using share level access.

One of the PC's became designated as a "server" (from here on I shall refer to this as the "serverPC"). Peer-to-peer networks have no server as such and thus this PC was identical to the others except that it had no consistent user. It was used to store common files (templates, small database files etc.) for use by all users and also contained the Microsoft Mail postoffice directories for the internal mail system. Networking faxing was also routed through this PC by means of Microsoft Fax and more recently, internet e-mail distribution was added by means of a mailserver utility which connected periodically to an external mailserver and redistributes the mail accordingly. It also shares a printer for use by the majority of users in the vicinity. The client side of the mail and fax systems was handled by Microsoft Outlook.

Increase of traffic through the serverPC especially internet mail increased to the point where file access slowed and users could not always log onto the internet mailserver. At first the internet mailserver program was suspected but further tests proved this to be untrue. Users were becoming increasingly frustrated and subsequently handing these emotions onto the IT support people.

There was also a secondary issue to consider. Having a designated serverPC meant from the management viewpoint a perfectly good PC was "doing nothing" because nobody was sitting at it. A decision was made to allow occasional users to use this PC as a workstation. The PC would sometimes lock during these occasional uses as a workstation meaning the loss of access to important files to all users while it was rebooted and subsequently database and file locks would need to be cleared to allow users to get back to their data.

3.2 The Options

The situation called for some kind of remedy. At the most basic level the options were simply "repair or replace" and as is often the case, there was funding limitation.

Repair

Repair is at first glance the quickest and cheapest option but it is rarely easy, especially if you are unsure of the exact cause of the problem. As a workstation there was nothing "wrong" with this PC but as a server it often seemed overwhelmed. The situation could have been partially solved by installation of a network switch to speed the network traffic but could have possibly resulted in creating a bottleneck at the serverPC as it struggled to keep up with traffic demand. The PC was running Windows98 which as a desktop environment is perfectly adequate but as a server starts to struggle. At best it was considered that this option would only postpone the problem for a while especially if network growth continued.

Replace

Replacing the serverPC with a dedicated server and establishing a client-server relationship would allow for the expected increase in network size and traffic. Traditionally a dedicated server would involve some considerable outlay as the options here were either WindowsNT or NetWare. Since the latter part of the 1990's Linux has come very much into the spotlight and it provided an alternative replacement strategy.


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