Originally Published: Monday, 4 June 2001 Author: Marcelo Pham
Published to: develop_articles/Development Articles Page: 1/3 - [Printable]

Introduction to Cross Platform Integration in the Enterprise (Part 1 of 2)

Marcelo Pham returns to Linux.com for an in-depth look at platform integration and networking with Linux. In part one of this two part series Marcelo takes use through installing Samba and other enterprise networking technologies.

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1. Introduction

As you may have already noticed, computer networks are becoming a mixture of Network Operating Systems (NOS) and Applications, especially in enterprise environments. The Internet, cheaper links and cheaper hardware have allowed LAN's and WAN's to expand in an exponential way. This revolution started about ten years ago: NOS's and programming languages were improving so fast that it was almost impossible to keep up with the infrastructure and technology and at the same time grow the business.

Big companies cannot afford the continual migration of all their data from one platform to another. A good example is the banking industry: most entities have their huge databases with customer information and transaction history stored in IBM 3x mainframes with COBOL. To migrate that information to a new platform with a new, fast error-free front end, ensuring data integrity and consistency within a couple of months with a limited budget is an impossible mission. And that is without considering the hardware upgrades that would be involved. What did they decide? To develop independent applications on newer platforms using newer technologies, integrating them with the old system and dividing the migration plan into several stages (we're talking about years). Some large corporations plan their data migration from three to ten years in advance. Another factor that contributed to the network platform mix was the fast-growing economy: this phenomenon produced a series of acquisitions and merges between corporations of all kinds that forced them to interface their computer systems while trying to reach almost impossible deadlines.

For these and other reasons Linux and Open Source technologies will play a key role in the enterprise within the next few years. Everybody was skeptical about free software a couple of years ago, but now big players like IBM and Sun are putting their feet firmly on the Open Source ground. Linux is free, developed and supported by thousands of talented programmers (so it keeps improving every day). Integrating Linux with other technologies will always be easier, cheaper and quicker.

Ok, now that we know a little bit more of why and how this phenomenon was born and will keep growing, let's see how we -developers and network and database administrators- can face some of the issues when playing in a mixed ground.

2. Networking Linux

2.a. It's all about protocols

TCP/IP is definitely the standard universal protocol for network communications. LAN's and WAN's adopted it because it has been proved fast, reliable and also because the Internet uses it. You shouldn't have any problem communicating a Linux box with any other computer with a different system, since almost every operating system comes with TCP/IP support.

So, we are fine with communications, what about file transfer? FTP is the standard protocol for file transfers, widely utilized on the Internet, in WAN's and LAN's. But sometimes we need more than transferring files from one computer to another. Sometimes we need to allow remote computers to read data stored in our server drive (or share the hard drive). Sharing is exposing a resource on a computer so connected clients can take advantage of it. You can share hard drives or devices such as printers or scanners. File and printer sharing are by far the most popular shareable resources.

Let's talk about file sharing. How is the information stored in a hard drive? That's an excellent question. Each operating system comes with its own method of storing data in a hard drive, or File System. For example, Unix uses HTFS, Linux adopted NFS (originally created by Sun), Microsoft Windows is currently using its own proprietary file system called NTFS, Apple has its V2, and so forth and so on.

Here is where the file sharing protocol comes in: it allows computers with different file systems to share information stored in their hard drives. There are several file sharing protocols: Linux shares data through NFS, Microsoft Windows does the same using the famous SMB (Server Message Block, a protocol originally developed by IBM), and Apple utilizes AppleTalk. How do we allow our Linux box to share data with other computers? Samba is the answer for SMB-based systems. Netatalk, on the other side, allows Linux to 'talk' and 'listen' to AppleTalk-based computers.

Other systems used in business environments are AS/400 and OS/2. If you want to find out more about these platforms and how they can interact with Linux, please refer to the IBM website.

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