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ISP-Planet: Multi-featured SOHO Server

May 14, 2000, 14:10 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Lisa Phifer)

By Lisa Phifer, ISP-Planet

The Rebel.com Net Winder OfficeServer is an Internet and Intranet server that supports mail, web, file, and printer sharing services for UNIX, Linux, Microsoft, and Apple networks. Security features include firewall and optional VPN. Includes a built-in serial interface for ISDN adapter or modem and a parallel port for direct printer connection.

The Rebel.com NetWinder Office Server is a powerful, multi-featured Internet access and office server solution for branch offices and small businesses. The desktop unit is remarkably compact and the form factor is decidedly "New Millenium", à la iMac and iPaq. Inside, the NetWinder system supports an impressive list of services for Internet - web, mail, domain naming, file transfer, dynamic host configuration - and complements these with file and print sharing for local office networks running UNIX, Microsoft, and Apple network operating systems. With the NetWinder, small offices can make use of the kinds of publishing and collaborative tools typically found in large enterprises, at a fraction of the cost.


A desktop model with one 10/100 Mbps and one 10 Mbps Ethernet starts at $999.

The rackmount model starts at $1665.

What's inside?
The NetWinder system runs Linux on a StrongArm processor. The compact desktop model we evaluated ships with a 6 GB disk and 32 MB of memory (10 GB/64 MB and 10GB/128MB versions also available). The rackmount model starts with a 10 GB disk and 64 MB of memory (also available in 10GB/128MB and 20GB/128MB configurations). One 10/100 Mbps and one 10 Mbps Ethernet provide connectivity for internal and external LANs, respectively. Keyboard, mouse and monitor ports may be used for "developer" access to NetWinder OfficeServer software.

Setting up the NetWinder
The NetWinder can be used with a DSL or cable modem, ISDN terminal adapter, a dialup or ISDN modem, or any "wide area network" router that provides an Ethernet-to-Internet connection. The User Manual provides very helpful network "schematics" to assist in making the correct physical connections between PCs, hubs, the NetWinder, and the different modems or routers you may use for your Internet Connection.

The Rebel.com NetWinder OfficeServer is configured from a web browser run on a PC on your internal LAN using a set of web pages provided on the Quick Start CD-ROM. These well-documented pages take you step-by-step through a series of web forms that explain the configuration process while gathering local network and Internet connection information needed to drive the automated configuration. The entire process takes between 10 and 15 minutes. Click to view larger image

If you are creating a new office LAN or wish to renumber your office LAN, the NetWinder's Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server can be used to assign IP addresses automatically for your entire network. If you are adding the NetWinder to an existing office LAN, when you complete the necessary forms, QuickStart takes the information provided and automatically searches your local network and proposes a suitable IP address and subnet mask, based on the traffic it sees on the LAN.

QuickStart then displays self-configuration results and requests confirmation before proceeding: Click to view larger image

It's helpful to have all the PCs that comprise your LAN powered up so that QuickStart can get the most accurate picture of the addresses you have already assigned. (In our tests, we did find it necessary to correct the subnet mask we used on our local network.) When you choose to activate settings, the OfficeServer reboots with the new configuration information.

To further configure and customize NetWinder features, you must reconnect your browser and present Administrator credentials.

Enter the Administrator username and password created as part of the QuickStart process. From the Administrator Mode menu, create user and group accounts, enable and configure web, email, DNS, print and file services, modify network and security (firewall) configuration parameters, and choose optional services, such as Virtual Private Networking. Click to view larger image

User and Group Accounts
Creating user and group accounts is simple and straightforward. Click on the "User" or "Group" URL to access the web forms that let the administrator add, edit and remove a user and assign or remove a user from a group. Users are automatically assigned a mailbox and personal web space. The user's mail persona is also used for threaded discussion lists. The Administrator controls user naming and passwords, as well as how much disk space any individual may use (a disk quota).

Virtual Hosts
From the Administration Mode menu, you can exploit a feature rarely found in SOHO appliances, Virtual Hosts. Virtual Hosts lets you run multiple web, email and FTP servers from a single OfficeServer. Individual organizations within your company can have multiple custom or vanity naming for their intranet or extranet servers (e.g., the same NetWinder can be referred to as sales.corecom.com, ftp.corecom.com and mailhub.rebel.com). The Administrator can exercise considerable control over Virtual Hosts and can select whether a Virtual Host will share or have its own IP address (called Name- and IP-based Virtual Hosting, respectively). This same feature on the rackmount model will be extremely attractive to ISPs who constantly seek ways to optimize rack space.

Multi-protocol File and Printer Sharing
The NetWinder supports major IP-based network operating system file sharing and printer services: Windows File Sharing (SMB), Apple File Sharing (AppleTalk over IP), and UNIX Network File System (NFS). Drag-and-drop file sharing is a convenient way for users to deposit files they wish to publish on personal and group web sites. Cross-platform file exchange, enabled by running several file sharing services on the NetWinder, is an added bonus, especially when it can be used instead of NT server in offices where both Macs and Windows PCs are present. Print server support is unparalleled (no pun intended). Simply connect a printer you wish to make available to your network to the NetWinder's parallel port to print from any Windows computer on which you have installed the correct driver. Choose Print server from the Services Menu, select a driver for your printer, and you can add a PostScript-compatible printer queue hosted by the NetWinder. You can also print from non-Windows workstations via the UNIX lpr command and the Apple Chooser.

Web Services, Email Services, and Collaborative Tools
A personal web directory is created each time a user is added. NetWinder's Web Page Creator provides a quick way to create pages from templates: choose a template, enter text through the web form presented, select images to download from your desktop, and you can be published in minutes.

Users can also create entire web sites using desktop publishing tools and upload these to the NetWinder using FTP or one of the file sharing services supported. Users can obtain graphical web traffic reports of their virtual hosts. The InfoPlace Document Manager provides sophisticated document indexing and categorization and a powerful search engine one typically expects from enterprise class Intranet servers. Click to view larger image

In addition to supporting Internet email via SMTP, POP3, and IMAP, the NetWinder provides users with powerful mail forwarding and filtering features. Users can create vacation responses with customized responses. They can also choose to silently discard or selectively forward received mail based on the contents of any mail header or the message body. These features can be used to process spam and to determine if acceptable use policies are being violated.

The NetWinder supports mail-based, public and private Discussion Forums.

A discussion forum allows users and visitors who register to collaborate by creating or posting messages to discussion topics or threads. Threads help users select and stay on topic: by choosing a thread, a user can see all the messages previously posted on that topic. Click to view larger image

Security Features
Rebel.com has put considerable effort into securing or hardening the Linux OS and applications on the NetWinder. Telnet can be disabled entirely. Domain name service (DNS) can be configured to support internal or external DNS, so small companies can avoid exposing internal naming to outsiders. To control web access by LAN users, use the NetWinder as a proxy and restrict access by port. CGI and server-side "include" privileges can be granted selectively to authorized users. By default, the firewall is configured to prevent access from the "outside" or public Internet to computers on your internal LAN, but allows access necessary to support your web, mail, and ftp services. These defaults are suitable for many small offices and businesses, but technical expertise is required to configure the more "advanced" functions like port forwarding and granular firewall rules. In keeping with this simple administration strategy, NetWinder provides access to logging only through advanced user interfaces (telnet and console). Companies seeking virtual private networking solutions may download Smartgate VPN from Progressive Systems via the Options menu. Licensed OfficeServer owners get two client licenses with their system, and may purchase additional licenses from Progressive Systems.

Final Word
The NetWinder OfficeServer is a complete solution for businesses that want the best of Internet access and applications plus intra-office collaboration, file and print sharing. It is an outstanding value for workgroup-oriented offices that require Internet and Intranet application host and secure Internet access.

150 Isabella Street, 10th floor
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1S 5R3
Phone: (613) 788-6000, (877)282-6735
Fax: (613) 230-8300
Web: www.rebel.com

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