Network Computing Analysis by Dan Rau

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Dan Rau is the owner of D A Rau & Associates, a network and IT management consulting firm based in Denver, Colorado. The firm offers a comprehensive suite of services, from email and web hosting to network and server software design and implementation. Dan served in the Air Force for 10 years, as an avionics technician, an electronics instructor, and as Commandant of the Professional Military Education Center at Lowry AFB. He purchased his first computer in 1978 and shortly thereafter introduced the first computerized student database at Lowry. He left the service in 1982 to form his computer consulting business. Dan loves to travel and has designed and installed systems in a number of states and in Graz, Austria and Santiago, Chile.

Dan's varied interests also include raising peacocks. He intended to have four, but nature prevailed and he is now expanding his fences to accommodate 14. At some point each new hosting customer will receive a peacock. Mating pairs on request.


Q. Dan, I think it is pretty obvious that every life insurance company needs a web site, even if there is no plan to offer any insurance over the net. The first thing anyone does to check out a company is to enter the name on a search engine, like Google or Yahoo. The first step is to register a name. How do I do that, and how do I find out whether the name of my company is available for a web site?

There are several simple ways to find out if the domain name you want is available. You can go to and click on the Whois link. Type in the name and it will report who, if anyone, owns it, or "no information found" if it is available. You can also go to, which helpfully lists alternate close names and other extensions. Or just email us, and we will be glad to handle it for you, including suggesting alternatives. When you have the name, you need to register it. There used to be just one registrar, but the government opened that up and now there are hundreds of places to register with prices ranging from $8.95 to $35.00 a year. You probably don't want the cheapest places because they expect to make out on extra charges. The best way is to select your host first, and let that outfit register the name for you. If you already have a web designer check with them first, since they may have a preference for a host with whom they usually work.

Q. Suppose my company is American Income Life and I want to call my site I find out that it is already taken, but and .biz and .org are all available. Is it important to have the dot com after the name? If anyone wanted to go to my web site and didn't already know the URL, I would think that they would use a search engine to find me, and get the right URL, not the other one.

It is always best to have the dot com extension because that is what people will try first. If I'm looking for information on Ford Motor Company, my first instinct is to try That gets me what I want and I've saved some research time. If you can't get the dot com extension, then try the other two original extensions, dot net and dot org. It's also a good idea to register the other two dot extensions. You can have all three extensions point to your main address so that no matter what extension a person enters, they get to your web site. An good example of this is found at and No matter which one you enter, you end up at their primary web site, The domain name for the presidential home is a good example of what happens if you don't own the 'corollary' domains. The official site is Try going to, and and you can see why the government probably wishes that they had registered all variations of This is less important when people use a search engine to find your domain, as most will click on the link and not really notice the actual address.

Q. It is a common misconception that you have to get your mailbox from the internet service provider, the ISP, that provides your connection to the internet. One result is that the address changes every time the ISP changes. I recently moved to a new office, switching from DSL to cable but fortunately I never used the address that came with the DSL, and won’t use the new address that comes with the cable. I have my own domain name and my email is handled by the same company that hosts this web site, DA Rau & Associates. This was a difficult concept for me at first. How do you explain that?

Just like you can get a hotmail address or a yahoo address, you can have an email address from any domain name in the world. Of course, if you own and/or control the domain that is issuing the email addresses, you don't have to ask for permission. Most ISP's provide at least 1 email address ( when you sign up with them. Nothing says that you have to use that as your primary email address. Keep in mind that most ISPs will communicate with your through the email address that they assign so it is important that you either find a way to forward those emails to your primary email address or check your ISP email address frequently. Your ISPs tech support department can show you how to forward your emails. Normally, if your hosting site also provides email hosting, then you will have total control over the email addresses that are created. At D.A. Rau & Associates, for example, we have a link were the "postmaster" can log on and add, delete or modify any emails associated with your domain name. This means that you control everything to the left of the "@" symbol so you can create an email address such as:

Q. As a side note to the above, I once ran into a "relay" problem when I was using a mail server at my local ISP, but a different mailbox address to send from. I don't think people are likely to run into it, but just in case, will you discuss that? By the way, I ran across a site with relay fixing instructions for just about every email server in the universe, so it is a handy list of the various servers that exist.

"Relaying" occurs when your email server is configured to allow email to pass through it. Any email that does not originate from or is not destined for an address that is hosted on the server is considered a relay. Let's say you run your own mail server for Here are several scenarios for email:

OKAY. Because either the FROM: or the TO: is a valid email address on the email server

BAD. Neither address resides on the email server so this would be considered a relay. That means I could send email as "Open Relaying" means you allow anyone to send email through your server. This is NOT good. It won't take long before spammers find out that you are running an open server and they will begin sending their mail through your system. Imagine getting hit with 1 million emails to process through your server. Now imagine all the complaints you are going to get as people determine that it was YOUR server that was the source of all this unwanted mail. If only 1% of the receivers write to complain, that's an extra 10,000 emails in your mailbox over the next 24 hours. This will probably result in your email server being blacklisted with what I call the Spam cops. These are services that you can subscribe to which will check all inbound emails to see if they are on the list. If they are, the email is blocked. For example, if your server is blacklisted by ORDB (Open Relay Data Base) and IBM subscribes to their service, you will be unable to send emails to anyone at IBM.

There are several free sites out there that will test your system to see if it is configured for open relaying. Make sure that you read the fine print because some of these sites will add you to their list of open sites if you fail the test. and

Q. OK, I have selected a name, registered it as dot com, dot org, and dot net. I really don't want to do a lot with my site right now, but I want to look respectable if someone checks out the company. I need someone to put up a simple site for me. How do I go about this? There are ads in the yellow pages, but I don't know who is good.

Finding someone to put together a simple web site for you is as easy as finding a used car lot (with the same inherent risks). Web designers range from the kid down the block (result: too loud and flashy but cheap) to a professional, full-service web design/marketing firm (result: very professional and very VERY expensive). A good source of information is the Internet (of course). Pick a search engine like google and search for "web design school". You'll find numerous public and private institutions that teach web design and you may hit pay dirt and find that one of them offers an intern program. They will design your web page, get school credit for it and you don't have to pay anything! Don't let geographical distances be a concern. The web designer that I work with is 1200 miles from me. We communicate almost entirely via email. There are people/companies that have already created templates that they will give you or sell for a modest fee. These templates are already formatted properly and all you have to do is fill in the text and plug in a few graphics. Try searching for "web page templates". You'll be amazed at what you find. Another source of information is to simply ask around. Someone you know knows somebody who knows someone who will do a web page for you for a reasonable price.

Comment. Those are great tips. The templates in particular are a great way to start. I would add, from my experience, that every company already has employees who are quite competent with computers and can be converted to a passable web person in a few weeks. It is really just a question of interest. Get Dreamweaver and a good book, and the right person can teach themselves. When the company wants to do more it will need someone with some tech or design school, but you will always have enough for your first trainee to do.

Q. Let's check on the cost of all this before we go on. Assume the company has registered a name with the three suffixes though your company, you are providing email for 100 employees with that domain name, and you are hosting a web site with a few dozen pages, made by someone in the company mostly from templates. You have provided some support for the new web person by email and telephone, answering the normal questions. Can you give a cost breakdown and a total all in cost for this phase? The company used a computer and internet connection it already had, and spent $500 on Dreamweaver and books.

Up front costs:
Register 3 domain names for 1 year: $74.85
Monthly costs: Enterprise business web site hosting: $44.95
100 email accounts: $60.00 (40 come with web site + $1 each additional mailbox)
Telephone tech support: Approximately $60.00 (Based on $60/hr)
Estimated cost for the first month: $240.00
Monthly recurring cost: $104.95

Q. I have recommended that a company have a number of sites, such as one for the public, one for agents, and so on. I know a site can have subfolders, with a URL like, and we have discussed using different suffixes, like .org or .info for the agents, but is there a better way? If I want to use an entirely different name, like, do I have to host the sites separately? And pay a separate hosting fee?

No, any number of different URLs can exist for different folders in a single hosted site. I can make any folder (or subfolder) the root for an apparently separate site, in the sense that you get to it with a URL unrelated to the parent. Here is the pertinent line in the web server’s config file:

DocumentRoot /www2/htdocs/whateverdomain

The DocumentRoot defines where you go when you type I can make that point to a subfolder such as: DocumentRoot /www2/htdocs/lifecompany/belovedagents. That would then be the “home” page for that domain. The URL for that subfolder would be However the main site, the agents site, and any others handled in this way would just be one hosting as far as I am concerned.

Many times I’ve created a subfolder under my DocumentRoot and put a client’s web site there while they decided if they wanted to host with me. Using the “” domain as an example, I would set the DocumentRoot for that domain to point to “/www/htdocs/darau/whatever” and then put their entire web site in the ‘/whatever” subfolder.

Q. At $100 a month it is going to be hard to cost justify doing email and web hosting internally. But the company may already have a server used as a file server. Internet speeds make it hard to do that at a remote location. If there is room on that machine to add an email server and a web server, would you do it internally?

That's a tough question because there are so many variables, such as cost, security, and ease of use. First let's consider email. Most companies are using a Windows based server as their file server, usually Windows NT or 2000. The most expensive approach for email would be MS Exchange Server. The license fees run about $50.00 per user plus the software. It is complicated to maintain. I have 3 manuals for Exchange Server, two over 800 pages and one over 1100 pages. This would not be the choice for a company unless they needed sophisticated collaboration between users such as a common address book and calendar, which generally are not available with less expensive email servers.

A far less expensive solution would be an email server such as Imail, Post Office, or VisNetic, which used to be known as Mdaemon mail server. These are excellent email servers at about $1,000 for 250 users, less than double that for unlimited users. That is a one time cost except for optional upgrades. Microsoft's Windows 2000 server has a built-in web server (called Internet Information Service - IIS) so there are no additional expense to running a web server yourself.

An even lower cost alternative is to run a Linux server and the freeware email server Sendmail and the freeware web server Apache, all of which I use. With that route, you will want to run Samba for file serving. All of the software is free. The key here is whether you have (or want to acquire) an IT person who is knowledgeable about Linux to keep your system secure and updated. While the bulk of the security exploits that exist involve Microsoft products because of its large market share, Linux is not immune to hackers by any means. So far most of the Linux exploits have been against servers running older freeware that has not been kept up to date. With any of these alternatives, the issue is your IT staff. If you have or want to get the expert support, I would go all the way with Linux and the freeware. It just keeps getting better and better. There are even freeware substitutes for MS Office. But without the expertise this route requires, you are far better off with the $100/month solution, to outsource your email and web hosting.

Q. If a company does decide to provide some of its servers internally, there are a host of new issues. First, a comment on terminology. The term "server" is ambiguous and can lead to confusion. Sometimes it refers to the physical machine, and sometimes it means the set of programs, such as the "web server" or the "file server". When we were discussing relay, I wondered how I avoided the problem because my emails go through the "server" of my cable ISP before reaching your "server". You pointed out that while my email went through the server machine of the ISP, yours was the first "email server" reached.

That is a common mistake. A single machine can run multiple programs thus making it into a multi-purpose server. As a hosting service provider or a company providing its own service gets bigger, they will begin breaking out the workload to different machines and having a dedicated mail server for POP and/or SMTP, another for web services, and so on.

Q. What is the difference between a regular desk PC and a server machine? You can get a PC with multiple hard drives or RAID for about $2000. So what is so special about the much more expensive server machines, and why shouldn't a company just use a regular PC?

Like you pointed out in the previous question, a server becomes a server when you add server software. It is not the hardware that makes a machine into a server. I have one machine, a simple Pentium II/233, that is an email and web server (plus a few other server programs) and it handles the workload just fine. The primary reason for going with the more powerful machines is speed. My PII/233 would be totally bogged down if it were trying to handle 100 email users and a web site that was getting hundreds of hits per hour. In addition, the bigger machines can have hardware redundancy (multiple drives that mirror each other) that would greatly reduce the downtime in case of a catastrophic drive failure.

Another thing to keep in mind regarding the price of computers: In order to keep the price down and remain competitive, manufactures will put cheaper components in their systems. If they can keep the selling price low, they'll make up in volume what they lose in returns. Companies like DELL are more concerned with reputation and put quality parts in their machines but you'll pay more than you will for a Walmart branded computer.

Q. The IT team I have worked with for years, Fleming and Doyle, certainly agree with that. They order their machines part by part to get that control. They don't like Dell because they can't select parts, and because only Dell's service people are authorized to work on Dell machines, and they don't like the delay when they can do it themselves. Where would you advise a company to obtain their PCs, including those that are to be used as server machines?

Having the luxury of your own in-house people is definitely an advantage. Especially since you don't have to factor in a profit margin or follow up technical support. I used to build custom computers but it became too hard to stay competitive on the pricing. I still build the computers that we use in our office. For my clients I recommend DELL. Clients have purchased over $100,000 of equipment from them and we've had only one bad monitor and one bad modem. Dell offers several support plans, including one that has a tech support person at your site within 4 hours of your call. My experience with their tech support has been very positive. Basically, the components that DELL uses are the same ones that I choose for my own computers.

Q. Let's come back to Linux. We discussed this open source (free) operating system and the various open source servers that run on it. In our hypothetical case we have a company that has been running a file server, but hosting its email and web site with a vendor like you. They have recently hired a network person who advocates operating their own web and email servers and has some familiarity with Linux. Would you advise them to switch the file server from Windows 2000 to Linux, and once Samba is functioning as the file server, add open source servers like Apache and Sendmail? What are the things to consider?

Again, it depends. I read that MicroSoft is very concerned that Linux and the associated freeware will be a growing competitive threat to their business. For web hosting operations like mine, Linux has already replaced MS products almost universally. I run just one MS machine, to support one client that uses MS Exchange. All the rest is Linux, Apache, Sendmail, MySQL and PHP. All software freely downloadable, without charge. The only burden is keeping up with the latest official releases, but you have that no matter what you use.

Whether to go open source, and whether to run your own web server and email, are really two totally separate questions. First, if a company has staff that wants to go open source, it is hard to think of reasons why they should not do it. Some companies that have been using MS products, such as ASPs, or Exchange, will have some work to get off of them, but otherwise, it is hard to argue with free. On the compatibility issue, if the company has been outsourcing its web server and email, it is very likely they are already totally on open source, since that is what most hosts use, so switching will not have that problem.

As for taking the web server and email internal, that depends on how the company intends to access data for their web site. Since hosting is so inexpensive, a few hundred dollars a month for most companies, that is clearly the first choice. You can't match that cost internally. However, most web sites for insurance companies allow the policyholder to get information from the site that requires file access. If it is feasible to access the data individually on the mainframe, still the usual repository, e.g. with CGI programs, the hosted site should do fine at internet speeds. If, on the other hand, the utilization is going to overburden the mainframe to the point that the company chooses to maintain the data on a server so it is available to the web server at LAN or higher speed, there are additional considerations. At internet speeds, it is difficult to transfer masses of data all at once to a server outside the LAN of the company. The usual way around this is to send the host only data that has changed since the last transmission, and frequently, so the amount of data in any one send only takes a few minutes at T1 speed, the usual company internet connection. This does take more organization than keeping the data internally.

Q. Whether a company maintains its own web server or hosts it commercially, it will want to keep track of usage, eyeballs if you will, who is using the site and how often. I did not realize how comprehensive the available data was until you alerted me to the usage statistics on my own site, at Is that something special that you offer, or should every site have it available?

Most commercial hosts offer a comprehensive usage analyzer. The program is usually referred to as Web Stats, Web Analyzer, Hit Analysis or Web Statistics. Much more sophisticated than a Hit Counter. I use AWSTATS. You can see a demo at their site, as well as download it. It is an open source free program for use with Linux and Apache, and will also work with windows web servers. Here is a review offered at, which by the way is, as they say, the "first stop" for Linux users hunting for software. See the next paragraph for the "About freshmeat" quote from their site.
Advanced Web Statistics (AWStats) is a free powerful Web server logfile analyzer (Perl script) that shows you all your Web statistics including visits, unique visitors, pages, hits, rush hours, search engines, keywords used to find your site, robots, broken links, and more. It works with both IIS 5.0+ and Apache Web server log files as a CGI and/or from the command line. It also supports multiple languages including English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, and Greek.

The following is quoted from the "About Freshmeat" page.

freshmeat maintains the Web's largest index of Unix and cross-platform software, themes and related "eye-candy", and Palm OS software. Thousands of applications, which are preferably released under an open source license, are meticulously cataloged in the freshmeat database, and links to new applications are added daily. Each entry provides a description of the software, links to download it and to obtain more information, and a history of the project's releases, so readers can keep up-to-date on the latest developments.

freshmeat is the first stop for Linux users hunting for the software they need for work or play. It is continuously updated with the latest developments from the "release early, release often" community. In addition to providing news on new releases, freshmeat offers a variety of original content on technical, political, and social aspects of software and programming, written by both freshmeat readers and Free Software luminaries. The comment board attached to each page serves as a home for spirited discussion, bug reports, and technical support. An essential resource for serious developers, makes it possible to keep up on who's doing what, and what everyone else thinks of it.

And the following is quoted from another key open source site, the site: is the world's largest Open Source software development web site, with the largest repository of Open Source code and applications available on the Internet.