Peer To Peer Networks Make A Comeback

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Buyers value the security features, non-dedicated server capabilities, low maintenance and low cost of peer-to-peer networks. Some buyers, however, find that the performance and reliability of these networks are not adequate for more demanding applications or for larger LAN configurations.

At Hardee’s Food System Inc.’s headquarters in Rocky Mount, N.C., the fast-food company uses Performance Technology’s PowerLAN 2.10.

“We looked at NetWare, but we strayed away from it because it doesn’t work without a dedicated server,” said Clay Morrisette, senior programming analyst for the firm.

Michael Martell of the Brooklyn College Community Partnership, also favored a peer-to-peer LAN over NetWare. He uses WebCorp’s Web version 2.55. “We have a specific need for confidentiality and security,” Martell said. “Web provided tighter security by having a password-protection feature that works on individual files. Novell will lock out a given area — it can’t protect just one particular file.

“I’ve found a steady incremental growth with each new version [of Web] in terms of compatibility,” he continued. “The early versions would give us some trouble with some non-network software. [For example,] the hardware “drive ready” check would fail because [the software] couldn’t find the drive. The newest version will pass over this process.”

Richard Tayman, a systems analyst in the environmental division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, chose a peer-to-peer LAN because he must be prepared to set up a network at a moment’s notice anywhere in the United States.

Tayman currently is working with one field site in Anchorage, Alaska, where the department has stationed eight people to handle issues pertaining to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

“We need to go on-site, spend two days to configure the network and then not worry about supporting it when we leave,” Tayman said.

“We wanted to go with an [industry] standard like Novell, but then you’re talking higher cost as well as having to deal with more support issues, because the Novell network would require an on-site LAN technician for troubleshooting purposes.”

The environmental division has selected Artisoft Inc.’s LANtastic and currently is using a version in several locations, including a 12-node configuration at the division’s personnel group in Washington. LANtastic runs over Ethernet at 10M bytes per second, a satisfactory rate for the group’s database, word-processing and E-mail applications, said Tayman.

Tayman said that LANtastic is less expensive than NetWare on a node-by-node basis. “The cost breakdown is $250 per node for Artisoft’s LAN and $1,000 per node for Novell,” he said.

Some buyers, however, find that they need to move from a peer-to-peer LAN to a more sophisticated system.

According to Joe Carton, president of Service Forms and Computers Inc. of Decatur, Ala., a consulting firm and reseller of hardware and software products, LANtastic does not provide enough speed for his applications. He plans to switch to NetWare 3.11 for running a Fox Software Inc. FoxPro accounting database.

“We are using LANtastic [4.0] in-house with five nodes installed,” Carton said. “Although it can be a fast network for doing low-end [tasks] like file sharing, [LANtastic] is too slow to work with the high-end database applications we are using.”

Mike Henderson, database administrator at the Midland Co., an insurance agency based in Cincinnati, also decided to migrate from a peer-to-peer system to NetWare.

Henderson had been using an early version of 10-Net Plus from Digital Communications Associates Inc. (The product is now marketed by Tiara Computer Systems Inc.) Midland had installed the operating system for peripheral sharing.

Downtime a Problem

“10-Net was always going down — it was too much aggravation,” Henderson said. “Sometimes the printer would work, sometimes it wouldn’t, and we knew it was the LAN causing the problem. We had a growing network, and it looked like 10-Net was going to be a hassle when we added more workstations, so we turned to Novell because we knew they had a good reputation.”

Henderson said that sharing printers is much easier with NetWare.

Revco Drug Stores Inc. is pleased with Net-Source Inc.’s SilverNet-OS version 1.57. The peer-to-peer software is installed at Revco’s pharmacy mail-order department at the firm’s headquarters in Twinsburg, Ohio, said Dan Kable, the senior systems designer at the headquarters.

Revco may also implement the LAN at some drugstore sites. SilverNet-OS is ideal, Kable said, because it functions as a server message block network, making it compatible with the office’s existing IBM systems that have network drivers installed.

The drugstore chain has 10 PC compatibles in its mail-order department. Kable said the firm has developed its own applications for order processing, account information and for accessing its customer database.

“We have written code for Windows using [SilverNet-OS] to add information that has to do with prescription orders on top of the mainframe data,” said Kable. “We’ve gotten about five revisions [of the software] up until now, and with each I noticed the transfer rate [of the applications] gets a little faster.

“The only problem I have with printing is if I need to print a large file,” Kable said. “A 300K-byte file is going to take a long time, especially if I’m downloading fonts.”

Buyers agreed that the best feature of peer-to-peer LANs is their ease of installation and use.

“The PowerLAN system can be installed in 10 minutes or less,” said Hardee’s Food System’s Morrisette.

“After doing the batch files and configuring LANtastic, I never need to work on it again until I have to add another node,” Tayman of the Justice Department said.

Ease in using and maintaining the LAN is also important to Allen Downard, manager of technical support at Mathematica Inc., a graphics-software developer. Downard has installed a 10-node WebCorp Web peer-to-peer LAN at the company’s headquarters in Lakeland, Fla.

Web is fully compatible with the different types of 286-based PCs in his work environment, Downard said, making it extremely easy to use. Mathematica uses Web primarily for sending E-mail and for sharing files and printers.

“I’m not in the business of running a network, I’m in the business of doing business,” Downard said. “Web allows us to make productive use of our day by not taking our attention away from work in order to fix a Web problem.”

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