Tag Archives: email

Personal Computing Comes Full Circle

Revisiting the Lessons of Timesharing

by Warren Juran

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana, might have been talking about how today’s Internet-based computing echoes computer timesharing from the 1960s and 1970s.  How can the lessons learned from that early era of computing help us to design better systems and applications today?  The tale of personal computing’s evolutionary path shows what experienced engineers and developers can bring to the design table.

Once upon a time, computers were so large and expensive that hardly anyone could afford to have one.  Computer users punched their program instructions and data into cards and brought the decks of cards to a computer center.  Operators at the computer center fed the cards into the computer’s input device.  The printed results were available after a considerable wait.  This inconvenient system seemed to take forever to debug software because of the delays after each cycle of correction and re-submission.  There wasn’t much ready-to-use software and the benefits of computing were available to very few.

Computer timesharing let more people enjoy the advantages of “personal computing.”  Hundreds of users could use their own keyboard/printer terminals to share the resources of one central computer.  In the 1960s and 1970s, computer timesharing companies spread around the world, operating large data centers and communications networks to provide dial-up services for their users.  Timesharing companies opened branch offices in large cities and employed armies of salesmen to locate and cultivate new customers.  The new customers could do their own interactive programming, or use extensive libraries of ready-to-use software for their computing needs.

The timesharing companies provided the central computers, communications networks, software libraries, customer support and education, printing services, remote job entry for traditional “batch” computing jobs, client data storage, and a one-stop-shop for word processing, accounting, messaging, engineering analysis and other customer requirements.

Developers of early timesharing systems dealt with issues like utilizing limited bandwidth, providing rapid access to large amounts of data, and insuring that individual users didn’t monopolize computer resources. Tools like “linked lists,” “sparse matrices,” “hashing,” and priority queuing helped improve timesharing systems. Today’s computers and communication networks are vastly more powerful than their early counterparts, but disciplines like Information Theory, Queuing Theory, Distributed Computing and Peer-to-Peer computing can still enhance system performance and reduce costs.

Free Internet Node, Introduction – How to Set Up a Free Internet Node & Web Server

Hello and Welcome! My name is “The Tarnz,” administrator and blogger ordinaire for DataPlex.com, so please bear with me as I get things bootstrapped and organized. Feel free to make comments and I will respond when appropriate. (Thank you!)

Over the past couple of years, I have set up a node on the Internet equipped with a bunch of free services and technologies including:

  • web server
  • ftp server
  • email server
  • database engine
  • forum engine
  • blog publishing engine
  • PERL, PHP and other languages
  • a bunch of utility software tools

As you may imagine, I have been through a lot dealing with the hardware and so many software packages, so I thought I would share the experience and occasional challenges in case anyone else is geeky enough to set up their own free Internet Node.

Okay, maybe the node wasn’t completely free for the value of own efforts, the cost of any new domain name registrations, and the cost of a low-end Windows XP Home Desktop PC and, optional but highly recommended, a reliable Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS). But it sure beats paying $200 to $2,000 a year to an ISP for what can often be very bad hosting. Any problems and enhancements are solely my own.

Today the node has a fully functional multiple-domain web server, email server, ftp server, database and blogging engines along with many fully-implemented technologies such as Perl, PHP, AJAX, SQL and more.

Whoa, wait a minute! A half-dozen, fully-implemented Internet services, for free, on an eMachines running XP Home? Surely, you jest, Tarnz ol’ boy! That’s the domain of IBM blade servers and other vertical niches rack mount hardware costing thousands of dollars!

Not necessarily. In the past few years, several new technological developments have made it possible. Severe cost-costing competition has led eMachines (owned now by Gateway) to release surprisingly high quality PC boxes for only a few hundred bucks. The release of Apache 2 for Windows (yes, free) turns an XP Home PC into a screaming top notch web server.

But that’s just the beginning. I still had to set up the email and ftp servers, deal with security and spam, develop a backup and restore plan, and handle the everyday maintenance issues that come up. Even though it has been some work, I find myself being rewarded in a number of ways – for example, understanding better the Internet, setting up the servers exactly the way I want, paying much less for domain names, website and email support. I will get into those particulars that too.

Disclaimer: This project is educational and is direct towards amateurs wanting to set up their own Internet node and learn the details about web and email servers and the like. Of course, we cannot be responsible for any problems you encounter, although if you post comments, we will do our best to help. If you are really concerned about reliability, uptime, providing services to clients, security and all that, you should have your service hosted by a mission critical ISP.

Setting up your own Internet server, or Internet Node as I call it since in actuality the node’s PC has running on it several different types of servers, is not for everyone. High volume and mission critical applications should be run in professional 24 x 7 installations. But if you are a consultant like me, then hosting your own Internet Node is less expensive, educational, and not necessarily any less reliable than what I have been encountering with several ISPs.

Anyway, if you stick with me, you will come to understand what I went through, and maybe my experience with embolden you to set up your own node as well. Or, maybe it will make you run to your nearest ISP?! If you do set up your own node, you might then share with me your deviations, enhancements and clever insights to make me smarter about all this too.

Next Up: Free Internet Node, Part 1 – Equipment and Location Evaluation