Sharing CDs On A LAN? What’s A CD?
By combining zippy hardware with its new CDexecutive 1.1 software, Logicraft Information Systems Inc. has produced a turnkey CD ROM library system that integrates seamlessly into a NetWare bindery-based environment via Windows NT’s File and Print Services for NetWare.
Such integration comes at a price: The top-of-the-line, 12-drive CDexecutive/XF model 5300 system we tested costs $20,890. We could assemble a comparable unit for considerably less money, but we’d need lots of time to do so.
Given users’ increasing demands for instantaneous access to CD ROM-based information, overburdened network managers tired of swapping, sharing, and mounting CD ROM volumes may not mind shelling out for this very scalable, plug-and-play optical retrieval solution. The product began shipping Oct. 31.
The number of reference CD ROM titles appears to be growing exponentially, creating a strong demand for server-based clusters of CD ROM devices within a workgroup. The currently popular automated jukebox approach of swapping out one CD for another takes approximately 3 to 12 seconds per exchange and doesn’t really lend itself to multiuser access.
Leapfrogging that process, the CDexecutive/XF 5300 system implements intelligent software that dynamically mounts as many as 56 scalable CD ROM drives as network-shared volumes; the software also automatically associates each CD ROM title with predefined a ccess permissions, run-time scripts, and usage tracking facilities, further turbocharging the process.
Giving the platters a spin
PC Week Labs tested a CDexecutive/XF 5300 optical-retrieval tower system configured with a 75MHz Pentium CPU, 32M bytes of RAM, a 4.1G-byte hard disk, and 12 Plextor Inc. PX43-CS quad-speed CD ROM drives using two Adaptec Inc. AHA-3940A Fast SCSI host adapters.
In terms of software, the test system came with Windows NT 3.51, File and Print Services for NetWare, Windows NT Services for Macintosh, and CDexecutive 1.1 software installed.
It was nearly child’s play to then connect the system to our 16-node test LAN with a PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) bus-mastered 3Com Corp. EtherLink III adapter; all we needed to do was set a handful of network-related parameters.
We managed our CDexecutive/XF system using each of the three applications that constitute the CDexecutive software suite. CDcatalog allowed us to interact with the CD database, while CDstatus let us view the status of all 12 drives. With CDscript, we were able to create and maintain client run-time commands, as well as distribute access to the extensive data-storage capacity provided by 12 online CD ROM reference titles.
This suite of server-based CD ROM utilities–though not integrated but launched from a common front end–provided an easily accessible method of maintaining and managing our CD titles. Nonetheless, better integration between these utilities would improve the overall look and feel of the CDexecutive software, which is the real highlight of the CDexecutive/XF system.
Crafting a catalog
Not only did the CDexecutive 1.1 software perform the magic of maintaining an accurate catalog of each of the 12 packed CDs we mounted, but it also automatically shared each CD as a Windows NT volume and simultaneously mounted that CD as a NetWare volume when we inserted it into a vacant drive.
Using CDcatalog, the process of creating a catalog of a new CD title was simple. First, we inserted a new CD into any of the drives and clicked the Autosense button. After a moment of accessing the CD, specific fields in the CD database, such as volume label and serial number, were automatically filled in, helping us to verify which CD we put into the drive.
We concluded cataloging by completing other CD-specific information, including an extended CD title, publisher name, and release date fields.
We were able to limit the number of active users able to access a CD to help keep the license police away, as well as disable the eject button common to all CD ROM drives. It’s pretty annoying when someone ejects a CD while your computer is attempting to access it.
Pushing the limits
The software’s unique and speedy approach notwithstanding, there are hardware limitations to how quickly data can be delivered from a CD ROM drive.
On our test LAN, we calculated a 50 percent decrease in access time when we doubled (from eight active clients to 16) the number of clients accessing a single CD title. However, we think this performance hit is a result of reaching the maximum data throughput limit of today’s best CD ROM drives.
One solution would be to use duplicate CD titles in additional drives and have clients configured to access different resources. What is funny is that now, multiple drive RAID arrays have made this CD technology somewhat irrelevant, as aside from minor hard drive problems from time-to-time, they are basically flawless. As long as you have a hard drive recovery service in your contacts, you’re good to go!
Although CDexecutive/XF does not, some products circumvent this hardware bottleneck by providing the ability to distribute, on the fly, the data demand among multiple drives containing the same title.
To test CDexecutive’s ability to play in the NetWare environment, we added it to our NetWare-only LAN. Once we had configured the backbone network address using the Windows NT Control Panel, our CDexecutive took on many of the personality traits of our NetWare 3.12 server.
We logged in to the Windows NT File and Print Services for NetWare and found all active CD ROM drives were immediately available as mounted NetWare volumes. We verified the integration into our NetWare LAN using Novell’s Virtual Loadable Module client and Client32 for Windows to access each volume from DOS and Windows 95, respectively.
As a turnkey solution, we believe Logicraft has chosen the right components—a PCI bus architecture with a bus-mastered Ethernet adapter and dual SCSI adapters attached to multiple quad-speed CD ROM drives—on which to pre-install a carefully selected handful of Windows NT-based services.
In fact, the ability of this product to work so effectively in a NetWare environment is largely due to the functionality provided by NT’s File and Print Services for NetWare. Microsoft has done a good job of providing developers with a powerful reason to build products based on Windows NT rather than on NetWare.