Rapid Reference: The CD Server Solution

One reason many schools are turning to online CD reference libraries is the relative ease of setting up a CD-ROM server on a network. And the low cost doesn't hurt much either.

CD-ROM towers are an easy, inexpensive solution for providing a centralized reference system for schools. For starters, they are easy to use. Multiple CDs appear as icons on any workstation on the network and can be easily accessed by a double click of a mouse.

But the real savings come in the tower's multiple-user capability: A single CD on the server can be accessed by a number of users at once, although too many users can slow information retrieval.

We tested one solution, SMS Data Products Inc.'s NETower CD-ROM server, which came equipped with seven 12X CD-ROMs and Ethernet capabilities. SMS' solution proved to be not only easy to set up and use on a network, but at less than $2,000, it was inexpensive enough to be a bargain in any budget.

One of the real benefits of SMS' solution to setting up an electronic reference library is that the CD-ROM tower operates as an independent file server. Therefore, there is no need for intermediate communication with another server. This also makes for easy setup because all the drivers and protocols are pre-installed.

SMS also pre-installed the AXIS StorPoint CD connectivity module, which enables the tower to be accessed simultaneously from Novell Inc.'s NetWare, Microsoft Corp.'s Windows, OS/2, DOS, Unix and Internet/intranet.

We chose to install the CD-ROM server on a Windows NT network-a task that took no more than 15 minutes. After we plugged the server into our network, the CD-ROM tower was automatically recognized by the NetBUEI protocol, which was installed on our workstation. There were no setup diskettes or CD-ROMs. Other networks, such as those running in a Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol environment, require that you set an IP address using one of a few protocol downloads, but the entire process is closely described in the manual. To set an IP address for the server on our Windows NT network instead of the default, however, we had to go into a text configuration file and edit it by hand.Because the NETower has Internet/intranet capabilities, it can function as a World Wide Web server and can be accessed via Web browsers. In addition to the possibility of making the reference library available on the Web, this feature gives a network administrator the option of controlling the configuration and management of the unit from a remote location.

For those concerned with security, it is possible to limit access to any of the CDs in the tower by creating a list of allowed users or by setting up password protection. Access to the configuration setup is limited to those with administrator's rights.

The SMS NETower uses a 32-bit reduced instruction-set computing processor and has up to 32M of expandable cache memory-plenty to optimize access time. The model we tested came not only with a 10Base-T connector but also with an Attachment Unit Interface connector, which allows you to connect a 10Base2, 10Base5 or fiber-optic cable provided that you have the proper external connector.

But even for those who do not have a network, there is hope. One easy solution we have seen involves hooking up a few PCs and a CD-ROM server to a mini-hub, which is very inexpensive and simple to configure for a basic network.

This solution provides the multiple-user benefit of a local-area network while keeping costs to a minimum. You can configure a two-workstation mini-network for less than $2,000. With 12X CD-ROMs installed, the NETower costs $1,849. But if a faster speed suits your needs, a NETower with 32X CD-ROMs is available at a government price of $2,499. No matter which solution you choose, you can find an affordably priced CD-ROM tower.

All in all, a CD-ROM tower server is a quick and easy way to upgrade your school system's reference library. And the SMS NETower is a particularly good choice because of its self-explanatory setup, ease of use and low price. SMS' NETower with seven 12X CD-ROMs has a government price of $1,849.

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