Using OS/2 as a Platform for a Web Server

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By Jeff Hasz

Background

When I began using OS/2, I was looking for a solution to the fact that I could only afford one computer, but wanted to run a BBS and have the system on line 24 hours a day.

The only way I could do that was using QuarterDeck [DesqView - Ed] or OS/2.

Yes Windows was available, but Windows 3.1 had such a terrible reputation for multitasking communications applications behind any other applications that QuarterDeck would have been a better solution. Instead I choose to look into OS/2. Version 1.3 had nearly all of the features that I needed, but it lacked the VDM. Its "DOS Machine" was a dedicated DOS full-screen session. This was not acceptable. Fortunately, OS/2 Version 2.0 was about to burst onto the scene.

When version 2.0 came out I was one of the first in line for it (although I've never been on a beta program). Within a week I had a Wildcat! system running in the background as I did my word processing, and other applications (including playing some DOS games) in the foreground.

Then came version 3, Warp. I started to play with the Internet Access Kit that was included, including some large over time charges (don't tell my wife).

Are you Being Served?

Finally, I was convinced that it wouldn't take much to put a Web Server on the Internet from my house. I was right, relatively speaking. It doesn't take much, just an ISDN line, ISDN interface or router, server software, and a willing accomplice called an ISP (Internet Service Provider).

Before I knew it, I had a domain (tclsystems.com), a web server (www.tclsystems.com) and e-mail addresses (too many to mention here).

What I hope to cover here is not only my odyssey from Internet user to content provider, but how you too can do it, the various servers that are available, and some of the obstacles and challenges that you will run into along the way. And you _will_ run into most of these challenges.

First, The Box

The box that you use should be capable of running OS/2. It should also be capable of running about 8 or 9 other very large applications at the same time. This doesn't necessarily mean that you need 64 megabytes of memory (although it won't hurt). What it does mean is that when you have your server running, you will need to remember that TCP/IP will be loaded and running and your PPP software will be running. Most likely you'll have a dialer running also.

As an example, my systems started life as a Web Server with the following configuration:

 486 DX2/66
 16 megabytes of memory,
 1-1.2 GB HD, 1-560 MB HD, 1-220 MB HD.
 All the other usual accessories.

This system performed quite adequately. In fact, I've managed to fax resumes from DeScribe 5.0 via FaxWorks out com 3 at 9600 bps while serving Web Pages out com 1 at 64KBps (1 ISDN B channel, more on this later).

One other piece of hardware that would be at the top of the list to obtain is a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). Here in Southern California, we don't get many power failures, but it does happen. When it happens, you want to be able to stay on line (if it's a short failure) or shut down gracefully (if it's a long one). Those of you in the mid-west can certainly relate to this in the summertime.

OK, Now what?

Now you need find an ISP. This sound simple, but isn't always. You may think that you need to get your ISDN line installed first. Not yet. Pac Bell wanted to know what type of equipment I would be dialing into. Your telco may differ, and if it does, you may be better off (from some of the stories I've heard) if you get it ordered now. Some telco's take forever to install it. One other thing you want the telco to let you know about is if your local office can support ISDN without digging up the street! Yep, some of the locations here in the good ol' U.S. of A. aren't even ISDN capable! If this is so in your area, they may charge you an arm, a leg, and your firstborn child to run ISDN lines from the CO to your house.

If you go through your ISP, however, they may be able to give you a flat rate on this ordeal. They will give you a flat rate through your local telco (if they are a representative for the telco) for the ISDN installation and recurring charges.

They will handle giving the required information to the telco, as well as providing you with your IP address, and helping you register your domain name. We'll cover domain name registration in another article so that you can possibly save yourself a few bucks.

Another item that you will need to have is the interface between the ISDN line and your computer. While not precisely a modem, it performs a lot of the same functions that a modem does. It dials, it answers, it turns data from your RS232 Serial port into data that the ISDN specification understands, and vice versa. And there is one other very important item that this box does. It provides a power termination for your ISDN line. Some of the interfaces available have this power capability built in and some do not.

There is a large variety of options available on these interfaces.

One option that I suggest is worth the effort and extra money is a POTS port. POTS stands for Plain Old Telephone Service, and essentially allows you to plug in a standard telephone into the ISDN adapter, giving you an extra voice line. This can be pretty handy if you are in a section of the country where calls on either ISDN B channel are inexpensive enough.

Another option, that I admit I was unable to obtain on my system, is an internal ISDN adapter. At the time I purchased the ISDN adapter that I use, there was no version of it that was internal. It is now available, but I cannot justify moving to it. This is a highly personal choice. Some people like external modems, and others like internals. The same goes for ISDN adapters.

All of these items must come together at nearly the same time. Sometimes it even seems as if there is a circular dependency between some of them. But be persistent; you'll get it put together.

The ISP that you choose should be one that can provide you with the services you require. I realize that this seems like a statement of the obvious, but from experience I have learned that not all ISPs are alike in this regard.

Some will be able to perform "Dial Out." This is a method whereby when a document (page) is requested from your server, the ISPs system dials your system. Your system answers the call, negotiates with the ISP system, accepts the request, and then, after a period of inactivity, the ISP system hangs up, disconnecting.

This is a great way to start, if you can find an ISP that will/can do it. Most want to do dial back instead. This is where the ISP system dials your system. Your system answers, and hangs up. Next your system dials the ISP system, negotiates the connection, accepts the request, serves the document(s) and after a period of inactivity, hangs up.

This is slower than the first method, but the ISPs like it because the bulk of the phone connection charges are places on your phone bill, not theirs.

The final method is to obtain a dedicated connection. This is the simplest, because you are required to dial into the ISP system, negotiate the connection, and sit there until traffic occurs. On occasion, traffic is slow enough that the ISP system may kick you off. If this is so, either put a ping up, to keep the connection busy, or use a dialer that will attempt to reconnect when the ISP system bumps you (for whatever unknown reason)

Summary

In this installment, we've covered the hardware required for a Web server. Next installment [Some time in the future. This is not a regular column or series. If you want to see more soon, mail the author. Ed.], we'll cover the various pieces of server software available.

In the months to come we'll explore Web Page Programming, and tools, CGI scripting, using REXX to perform scripting duties, security issues, and that elusive buzzword that no one ever seems to be able to pin down - Web Commerce!