Assuming you decide to purchase a general-purpose server, you have a number of options from which to choose. Most generally, these include: what hardware, what operating system, and what Web server software.
Among hardware choices, you can pick among:
“Wintel” based PCs or PC servers. These machines run on Intel or compatible processors. Vendors include Dell, Gateway, Compaq, IBM, HP, and others.
Proprietary server hardware. Typically offered by traditional vendors such as HP, Sun, IBM, Compaq/DEC, etc., these servers generally use proprietary processors.
The Macintosh, running on the PowerPC processor.
Your server operating system choice may be implied by the hardware choice. If for instance you choose a Sun server, the system will come with Sun’s version of Unix, Solaris. In other cases, your hardware choice may not dictate your operating system. For instance, you might pick a Compaq Prosignia server, which would be able to run either Windows NT or an Intel-or-compatible-processor-friendly Unix clone such as Linux.
The core server operating system choices, then, are:
Windows NT. Windows NT is Microsoft’s operating system for server applications. Windows NT comes in two flavors, “Workstation” and “Server.” Microsoft does not intend Windows NT Workstation for production services, but rather for low-volume testing, development, and desktop use.
A proprietary version of Unix.
A Unix-like system for Intel servers such as Linux or FreeBSD.
The Macintosh operating system.
Some sites may be tempted to run Windows 98 as a server platform, as it comes pre-installed with Microsoft’s Personal Web server. In general this is not advisable. Windows 98 is not intended as a multiuser, multitasking server environment, and the Personal Web Server is limited in its functionality. This tool could make a Windows 98 desktop PC a good testbed, on which content providers pre-publish their new documents for review.
In the Macintosh realm, you have a choice between Apple’s traditional operating system, at level 8.5 as of this writing, and Apple’s new OS-X operating system, which is intended as a server environment. OS-X blends some Unix-like server capabilities into the core Apple operating system; Apple claims this yields an easy-to-administer but robust server environment.
Finally, you have a choice of Web server software packages. Although there are dozens of Web server packages, only a handful are commonly used:
Apache, a freely-available server software package, is used on about one-half of the production servers in use today. According to a survey by Netcraft.com, Apache represents about 54% of Web servers online.
Microsoft’s Internet Information Server, or IIS, is popular as a server for the NT platform. Netcraft estimates that the various flavors of IIS represent about 24% of the server market, with share increasing.
Netscape’s various servers (Fasttrack, Enterprise, Commerce) represent just under 7% of the server market..
Web Site Pro, a tool from publisher O’Reilly & Associates, has just under two percent of the market.
If you choose a server environment that’s popular, you are more likely to find training materials, magazine articles, tools, and online discussions to help support your developing site. Less-popular server environments may be appealing because of special features such as ease of administration.
Connecting to the Internet: Wide Area Network (WAN) Choices
If you host your own server, it will need to be connected to your ISP via a permanent, direct connection. There are a number of choices for such a WAN connection:
ISDN, or Integrated Services Digital Network, is a mature technology available from the telephone company. There are several variations on ISDN but the most common variety moves data at 128 kilobits per second.
T1 lines are a form of leased telephone line moving data at 1.544 megabits per second. A T1 line is a basic, reasonably high-speed mode of connecting across town or across a long distance.
Cable modems are offered by some cable television systems. They move data at relatively high speeds – up to 10 megabits per second, which is much faster than ISDN. (Because you share the local loop between your premises and a neighborhood facility, you cannot assume all of the advertised raw bandwidth for yourself.) A relatively new technology, cable modems do not always offer the level of reliability of traditional telephone links, but service may become sufficiently solid as the technology matures.
DSL, or Digital Subscriber Loop, is a relatively new technology for digital data transfer over traditional telephone lines. DSL can move data at about two megabits per second. DSL is only available in some localities and only subject to constraints having to do with the local telephone plant. DSL is expected to be a very popular connectivity option for small businesses and other small organizations. (Sometimes DSL is referred to as “ADSL.”)
ATM and Frame Relay are higher-speed data transfer methodologies often associated with fiber optic rings found in larger metropolitan areas. Speeds in the multi-megabit range are typical. Only a few community information networks are likely to demand these speeds in the near term.
The cost of connecting from your premises to your ISP varies with speed and with distance. You can spend anywhere from under $50 per month to thousands of dollars per month. As a practical matter, most CI networking projects are unlikely to generate a large number of concurrent users. Also, most projects are not likely to deliver large quantities of data. An exception would a site that relies heavily on multimedia content (such as an audio voice archive) or on delivering large graphical images to many users (such as a geographical information system site). Therefore, many if not most CI sites can survive quite handily on a link such as a T1 line.
Many public libraries hosting a new CI site will have their own existing communications link. Such sites need merely evaluate whether their existing link has sufficient spare capacity to handle the new load induced by the CI site.