The purpose of this discussion is to compare the cost of contracting for “Virtual Server” services with the cost of implementing similar services “in-house”. Understanding that a “Virtual Server” is a computer operating at a remote location, the “in-house” designation refers to a computer owned and maintained at our place of business. Saving one company one percent of the time and expense we incurred evaluating these options, will make this effort worthwhile.
The theme of this discussion is how to best implement and maintain a corporate Internet presence and is based on our personal experiences. Our discussion will not address the benefits of an Internet presence. That subject is addressed by over 40 million, plus users accessing web sites daily. Our concerns focus on how to secure an Internet presence, better, faster, and at the lowest costs.
- Establish an Internet Presence.
- Use existing technology, equipment, and labor in order to minimize costs.
Establishing an Internet Presence
The motivating factor behind our desire to have a presence on the World Wide Web was credibility. We recognized that literally thousands of companies, including our competitors, had elected to present themselves as viable candidates for products and/or services they provide. The question was not, “Should we compete?” It was “How do we get this done, today?” The pressure of 40 million potential shoppers per day was unbearable!
The Internet Service Provider’s Solution
Starting with the configuration “Illustration 1″, we considered that perhaps our Internet service provider could host our web site. After all, 1.0 megabytes of “free” web page space was included with our dial-up service. Sounded good, so we tried it. Trust me. Don’t do anything that’s “free”!
Problem: We did not understand that the ISP had over 1000 dial-up accounts on the server we were assigned to, each with the same allotted “free” web page space. Further, we did not understand that there was only one “Web Server Software package” servicing all web sites on this server. This meant that our customers, trying to access our web site, may have to wait until the system services requests for the other 999 web sites before it can service our customer’s request. Adding to this insanity, our customer would then be subjected to additional delays due to the congestion resulting from 5,000, plus other dialup users trying to access the Internet over the same communication links. Be advised that ISP’s have more than one server and service thousands of dialup users over the same communication channels. AOL has over 100,000 users on various servers across the country.
Considering your office telephones, the identical two problems exist. If you have an adequate number of telephone lines, your customer can make a connection (the telephone is answered). However, if the traffic is heavy, the operator may get busy and your customer may have to wait(wait for a connection to your web site). The amount of time your customer must wait is directly related to the number of callers and the efficiency of your operator.
Additionally, assume that the number of telephone lines is not adequate for the number of callers (users). The second problem, in addition to waiting for service after getting a connection, your customer may have to call back because all lines are busy. Your customer doesn’t get a connection; he gets a busy signal! The industry standard, “All of our agents are busy servicing other customers” is little consolation after connecting to a previously busy number. Sound familiar?
This is how your ISP operates and his primary source of revenue is the dialup user. He’s paid for all calls; not for just those wanting your extension. Hosting your web site is a secondary, part-time job for Internet service providers. Your customers and his customers are competitors for his services.
We even considered, briefly, living with this. However, when advised that we could not implement our own CGI scripts without the ISP’s approval and the payment of $50.00 per instance (CGI script), it became obvious that this was a losing proposition. That decision was final when we were further advised that our ISP would charge $7.50 for each mailbox in excess of two, per month. This would have amounted to an addition $150.00 per month for people to have their private mailbox. So much for “Free”!
For the majority of us, it’s only necessary to understand that CGI scripts are “things” that give your web page the capability of being interactive. They allow your customers to communicate with you by responding to request made by you via your web page. They allow, for example, your customer to enter his order via an order form on your web page. To enter credit card information over secure communication links. They provide life to your web page and are included, at no additional charge, by any reasonable supplier of “Virtual Server” services. Be aware of this feature. You should even be allowed to write your own CGI scripts and upload them for use on your “Virtual Server” at your discretion.
Also, be aware that the “Virtual Server” we use includes a separate “Web Server Software package” (our own telephone operator) for our server and allows unlimited private mailboxes(POP accounts is the term) for no additional charge. We now effectively recoup our total cost each month from savings in what would have been “mail charges” from our former ISP. The congestion (heavy traffic) problem is also solved. We found out that “Virtual Server” service suppliers do not offer dialup accounts. This means to you that they devote 100% of their bandwidth (telephone lines) to the business of servicing Web Sites.
Conclusion: An ISP’s “free service” was not even close to an answer. However, the necessity to establish an Internet presence was still as important as ever. We were simply distracted because of not knowing exactly what we needed.
The In-House Solution
At this point, all of the ingredients required, including a 200mhz-system processor with 128 Meg of ram, adequate hard disk space, and an Internet connection via our new ISP, existed. Microsoft Windows NT Server v4.0, Microsoft Exchange Server v5.0, Microsoft Proxy Server, Microsoft Internet Information Server, and Microsoft Front Page comprised our software package. A full-time systems administrator was available, so obviously we were in excellent shape. Well, maybe we overlooked a few things.
For example, we had previously used a 28.8 KBPS shared modem to connect to the Internet via a dialup account through our ISP. This configuration will not work if your purpose is to maintain an in-house Web Server. A Web Server must be available and operational 24 hours per day. Ok! Two choices were available to us.
To maintain 24-hour access to our new Web Server, we could purchase a connection from our office to the IAP (Internet Access Provider-Not the ISP) for $600.00 per month plus a $1,500.00 installation charge. There would be a five-year contract for this arrangement. Secondly, we would need to purchase access to the Internet backbone for $2000.00 per month, plus $1500.00 installation fee. A three-year contract was required for this arrangement. This was not feasible based on cost and relatively minimal usage. Performance would have been fantastic; however, let’s get real!
Our other option was to obtain a single ISDN BRI (Basic Rate Interface) from our local Telephone Company and interface with our ISP’s connection to the Internet backbone. The cost of this arrangement was reasonable at $249.00 per month considering it provided Internet users 24-hour access to our Web Server.
The remaining hardware problem – that’s right, there’s more – concerned what would be used to replace the 28.8 KBPS analog modem we had been using. Without details, we settled on the Ascend Pipeline 130 router at $1700.00. By now, everyone had some additional feature or function that they would find very valuable.
Most of these features were implemented and are proving invaluable. This resulted in our requiring another machine to perform the task of being a Web Server plus some of the mentioned additional functions. Cost of this additional machine including, Microsoft BackOffice v2.5, was $10,000. This configuration is shown as Illustration 2.
The system worked beautifully. However, one of our initial problems returned. When AutoCAD operators began transferring drawing files over the Internet along with people using the Web server for retrieving messages and web pages, the network slowed. Add other employees downloading large data files from the primary server and Internet shoppers accessing our web pages, you can simply go to lunch!
Recalling our discussion about bandwidth (telephone lines – data channels), we had inadvertently re-created that scenario. All of this data, including that being requested and sent by our Internet users, is coming across our 128 KBPS connection. This data channel, under these conditions, is not adequate to service the needs of all of these users. In addition, as the ISP continues to add new accounts, the link from our Internet shopper to our ISP’s switch is going to eventually slow. This would further deteriorate the performance of our Web Sever and our Intranet. Over the long term, this is not an optimal solution.
However, as mentioned above, this configuration is ideal for our primary business. We are now using our network in ways we never considered and profiting from the effort significantly. It was simply a total failure as far as accomplishing our primary goal of establishing a viable Internet presence. It doesn’t do the job and the cost was totally unreasonable.
|One new machine (Server)
|One new Monitor
|One new router
||- $3000.00 (Annual ISP Charge)
||- $840.00 (Annual S.W. Bell Charge)
||Charged to job
Again, had we realized the potential pitfalls of this endeavor, we would not have considered an “in-house” solution. Be aware that these are some of the numbers and considerations you will be faced with if you elect to establish your Internet presence using an in-house configuration.
Conclusion: We got it done! Except for the cost, time, and very poor results from the aspect of a pure Internet presence, we feel good about it.
The Virtual Server Solution
Superior to our “in-house” solution because it eliminates the traffic generated by our customers and other Internet shoppers, from our intranet. Our home workers, along with regular field personnel, have better access to the resources they need. The result has been the best of both worlds. This configuration is shown as ”Illustration 3″.
One extremely important issue that we have not discussed is security for your network. Using Microsoft Proxy Server as our “firewall” on the “in-house” solution was effective as far as we went with it. However, the thought of our Web Server totally isolated from our main network server is much more assuring. The Microsoft Proxy Server is the best on the market; however, the problem remains. Any configuration that allows unauthorized users (hackers) even potential access to the “wire”, regardless of the encryption techniques available, is a real threat to the security of your network. The Virtual Server provides total isolation and, therefore, total security!
- The ISP solution is inapplicable for a reliable Internet presence.
- The “in-house” solution is great; however, extremely expensive at best. Represents a potential security threat.
- The Virtual Sever fulfills all requirements at reasonable costs.
- The major problem we had was in being able to mentally separate the operations of our Intranet operations and our Internet presence as two totally separate functions. These operations use many of the same facilities; however, are totally different in purpose. It is not necessary or even, in most cases, advisable for these functions to be performed at the same physical location.
- We could have tried the “Virtual Server” solution first at a total commitment of $179.00 with no long-term contracts. Then, at our option, we could have continued for a total payment for our “Virtual Server” of $100.00 per month, month to month billing, with no long-term contract. Again, at our option, we could have upgraded our connectivity as more of our people started using our Internet connection for other tasks.