The 19th Century Meets the 21st

Mr. Murphy describes how he set up frame-relay service for the old Brooklyn apartment where he lives.
Web Service

It is tempting to offer web hosting services for everyone in the building. This would, however, run counter to our “keep it simple” goal. Although there is little complicated about allowing people to set up and maintain home pages, the peripheral support involved is potentially significant. As people become more sophisticated and web development and management software becomes easier to use, my policy will probably change.

Currently, the web server we run serves only private building information: contact information, bylaws, house rules, meeting minutes, etc. I am sure some public information (e.g., directions) will eventually find its way onto the server.

As with special mail servers, anyone wanting to run their own web server is free to do so, on their network segment.

Figure 4. Apartment Building Showing Proximity of Bridge

Implementation Issues

I find it hard to quantify the difficulty involved in setting up the network. My neighbor and I both have done quite a bit of UNIX system administration. Tasks that seem easy to us, like configuring sendmail or name service, might require quite a bit more effort for a beginner. Luckily, the Linux community is extremely supportive. Before embarking on a project like this one, anyone unfamiliar with system administration should make sure they know how to deal with the following issues:

  • kernel recompilation (for WAN pipe support)

  • interface configuration

  • routing

  • name service

  • sendmail

  • HTTP server setup

We found the most difficult task was setting up the WAN pipe. Because it is not a common router, the telephone company and ISP tend to blame it for every problem—Sangoma is used to this. They ship excellent debugging tools with their hardware, and their installation support personnel are top notch.

The Future

Having the network in place is a great first step. We now have something very solid to build on. Immediately, we all had better Internet access.

We are currently evaluating the purchase of a RaQ from Cobalt Networks. It would provide a more flexible e-mail system and would allow each apartment to maintain its own web site. Under the hood, the RaQ runs on Linux, of course!

Within a few months, I suspect most people will have given up their fax lines. They were often justified because they were shared with the computer. Now that they are stand alone, it probably makes more sense to use the JFax or efax services. It is cheaper (JFax) or free (efax), and more flexible than a dedicated phone line.

When we can buy IP telephones that look and act like telephones, we will buy them. I can easily imagine this building buying no local lines from Bell Atlantic within five years. Between IP telephones and the incredible calling plans offered by our national cellular providers, local lines might not make any sense.

Installing a building security camera will now cost us about $800—the price of an IP camera.

We will likely bump the network up from 10BASE-T to 100BASE-T within the next two years. I suspect a gigabit network will become necessary once we all start using net-based video broadcasts. If that turns out to be impossible over copper, we will run fiber through the old telephone wire conduits. The wire was left in place so that it would be easy to pull the fiber.

Acknowledgments

Paul Murphy spent almost ten years writing software on Wall Street. Today he is a technical partner at Brushfire, a venture capital firm he helped found in 1997. He has advocated free software throughout his career, much to the dismay of his employers. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, plays the violin and raises trouble-free children. He can be reached at murphy@brushfire.com.

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