Originally Published: Friday, 20 August 1999 Author: Ed Matthews
Published to: linux_work/Linux@Work Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Success of Linux in the ISP

This article outlines the real world use of Linux in an ISP environment.

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By Ed Matthews, Content Manager


There have been a number of articles here recently describing how Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, are using Linux to help them offer a broad set of services at a competitive price. This week, we spoke with Steve Berman, President of Homenet Communications, Inc., of central Georgia, and in this article we're going to look at some essential services they offer via what their web site describes as "a mess of" Linux servers. (For you non-Southerners "a mess of" is at least a few and probably several or many).

Linux's versatility, and its ability to run on any hardware since the 386, give companies a performance to cost ratio that cannot be found with any other combination. This article gives system details, so you can see what a Linux machine might do for you.

Who is Homenet?

Homenet Communications Inc. is an ISP serving central Georgia. They offer individual and corporate accounts ranging from a bare bones 5 hour a month starter to a T1corporate line, and even T1 wireless. They have five offices, with the corporate offices located in Warner-Robins. They administer machines remotely, and they mirror the popular software download site, Tucows.

How is Homenet Using Linux?

Homenet maintains 7 production computers running Linux. Their lowest-end machine is a 486, with 16mb RAM. The highest-end machine is a dual P-II/450 with 256mb RAM, and a 32 Gb hard drive.

Let's look at each in more detail, as they are performing functions required by nearly every company today, and not just ISPs.

One: Inbound Mail Server SMTP mail inbound (using sendmail) This machine is exclusively for mail inbound to the Homenet network. version 2.0.33 Slackware Intel P266, 64mb

Two: News Server This one is the big box, the dual PII 450. It runs kernel version 2.2.10 on Red Hat Linux. Homenet uses it to run Dnews and to provide its users with USENET access to 40,000+ groups.

Three: Softcast (Netsurfer...see www.netsurfer.com) server for Homenet and Flint EMC customers, also does redirection of pop.flintemc.net to a different port on the main pop3 server.. It runs Slackware using Linux kernel release 2.2.10 on a P166 with 32 mb RAM

Four: Mirroring tucows' software library for Windows machines, running Apache. This is a P200 wth 32 meg of RAM and running kernel release 2.0.36 on Slackware

Five: Providing shell access to our users This is a low end machine used by users for compiling. It's a P233/32 running Slackware

Six: A Support Call Tracking Server Homenet uses this machine to support the ticket system used by its technical support staff. It runs MySQL, Apache, and Keystone (PHP3) on Slackware. It's a great example of what to do with a P100 and 128mb of RAM.

Last but not least: a multi purpose machine, handling Mail, web, CVS, ftp, shells for the gIDE developers, MUDs, and a MIDI sequencer. It's a PII233 with 114 megs of RAM, running Red Hat.

In additon to these, Homenet has also set up several customer machines to act as gateways, and a couple of secure tunnels using Linux.

Linux's reliability has allowed Homenet to install each server without fear of failure. Berman says, "These things pretty much don't die, [unless there is a hardware failure] which has happened a couple of times."

Who Keeps Homenet's Servers Running?

If your interested in Linux, but you wonder who it takes to make these boxes run, we've included some profiles for Homenet's system administrators. There are currently three sysadmins: Dave Stewart (System Manager), Dave Smith (System Engineer), and Don Giuliano (summer intern, system engineer). According to Berman, the three, "have years of Linux experience, mostly gained at 3am"

Dave Stewart has a background as a radio DJ, radio station owner and engineer, and computer system engineer. He's kind of a jack-of-all-trades because he knows how to use a telephone but-set as well as a Makefile (he does both well). He's in charge of all system and network issues for the company. If all his Homenet duties aren't enough, he's also got a 7 computer network at his house, using a Linux machine as the gateway and proxy.

Dave Smith is 19 years old, and Berman calls him "a prodigy." "Even though he's leaving us to pursue another calling (school), he'll be around as a consultant." "Right now, he keeps all our machines up and running, does our reliability scripts, spider scripts, and back-end automation." Dave's the primary admin for gdev.net, the CVS server for GIDE, and a bunch of other Open Source and GNOME projects. Currently, he dials up with a Linux machine as gateway to his 5 machine network.

Don Giuliano is a student at Oklahoma State University. He works at Homenet during the summer and on breaks, and the rest of the time eats up IM and ICQ bandwidth at 3am. Don helps out everywhere. He's been playing with Linux for a few years, and has contributed to several Open Source and GNOME projects.

Berman, at 34, counts himself the grand old man at Homenet, and carries a wide variety of system administrator's experiences with him into his role as President. He explains, "I've worked with original AT&T Unix System V, on an ICL box, I've used Berkeley Unix on a VAX at college. I did lots of time on HP9000 (HPUX), IBM RS6000 (AIX), and all kinds of VAXen (mostly VMS, oh well)." Before Homenet, Berman ran the network for the Air Force's Joint STARS project at Robins AFB.

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