Simple and Expensive CD-ROM Networking: A Step-by-Step Approach

By Cain, Mark | Information Technology and Libraries, June 1993 | Go to article overview

Simple and Expensive CD-ROM Networking: A Step-by-Step Approach


Cain, Mark, Information Technology and Libraries


Many librarians, especially those at smaller institutions, are intimidated by the prospect of installing a CD-ROM network. Networks are reputed to cost too much and to require someone on staff with considerable technical expertise to install one. Yet establishing a small network for CD-ROM access need not be a daunting task. The purpose of this article is to describe a low-cost, upgradable networking solution and then take the reader step-by-step through the installation process. The approach to the topic is elementary. No special technical knowledge or skill is assumed.

For purposes of illustration, this tutorial assumes the following situation: the library has three IBM-compatible microcomputers, each with its own CD-ROM drive and each running a different product. These three computers will be networked, allowing library users the ability to search any of the three databases from any of the three machines. Simultaneous searching of a single CD-ROM product will also be possible.

STEP ONE: TAKE AN INVENTOR OF ASSETS

If the library has a single CD-ROM product, there is probably at least one staff member who has a basic knowledge of the search software and of DOS. (A DOS-based network is assumed, since most library CD-ROM products run on IBM compatibles.) Such an individual is the logical candidate for installing and maintaining the network.

More than likely, the library has several CD-ROM products, or its staff would not be considering a network in the first place. If the library has at least two microcomputers and one CD-ROM drive, it may not actually have to buy any equipment, except the few adapter boards that will have to be installed in the back of the microcomputers.

STEP TWO: LEARN ABOUT THE COMPONENTS OF A NETWORK

What is a PC network? In its simplest form, it consists of microcomputers, cables, and an adapter board (also called an adapter or adapter card) in each machine to which the cables are attached. Together these form the data highway of the network, the physical medium that allows information to pass from one machine to another. Some of the computers hooked together are workstations. One (or more of them) is a server, providing access to network devices (printers, CD-ROM drives, hard disks, and so on) and/or software. Finally, there is the network operating system (NOS); the NOS allows all the components to work together.

In a CD-ROM network, the server provides the workstations on the network with access to one or more CD-ROM drives. These drives are physically attached to the server, but the workstations can access them as if the drives were directly and physically attached to each of them as well.

STEP THREE: SELECT A NETWORKING SOLUTION

For a simple network, Artisoft's LANtastic is a good choice. LANtastic 4.1 cost only $99 per network at the time of writing. (Version 5.0 has just been released.) If the adapter boards are bought from Artisoft as well, a network may be installed for about $350 (list) per workstation. With the usual discount from a computer dealer, this hypothetical three-station network will cost less than $1,000. Adapters may be purchased from a source other than Artisoft, but then LANtastic's price increases to $99 per node. Even with the higher software cost, a better overall price may be obtained if adapters are bought from a third party, though the neophyte may like the security of buying hardware and software from the same vendor. LANtastic has built-in support for CD-ROM drives, while, as of this writing, other CD-ROM networking solutions require the purchase of network software (such as Novell NetWare) and a separate CD-ROM management program such as OPTI-NET or CD-Connection. In addition, the LANtastic software does not require a dedicated server; one or more workstations can perform double duty as servers. At least initially, the library will not have to invest in additional equipment. …

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