Software Bridge Between Mac and UNIX Solves University's LAN Dilemma
Universities have traditionally enjoyed the best of both worlds by using Macintosh computers and Sun Microsystems UNIX workstations. Both have emerged over the last decade to become the platforms of choice on most campuses; Sun, for example, outsells its nearest competitor by a two-to-one ratio. Each system offers distinct advantages to the student, faculty or staff user. The UNIX system boasts power and speed. The Mac offers unrivaled ease-of-use, thanks partly to widespread use in primary and secondary schools. The Macintosh and the UNIX workstation clearly represent disparate computer environments. In essence, these two systems speak different languages. Their peaceful co-existence on campus used to be taken for granted, with the popular attitude being "a Mac is a Mac, a Sun is a Sun, and never the twain shall meet." New Demands However, that approach has been replaced recently by a new philosophy as university network administrators grapple with decreasing budgets and increasing demand. Priority is on finding cost-effective, powerful software solutions that permit maximum utilization of existing systems. Educators now ask: "What if we could interface our Macintoshes with our UNIX workstations into a single system?" Money would be saved, the network would speed up and expensive equipment would not have to be replaced. Administrators are anxious to have UNIX and Mac systems speak the same language. This is particularly true in the development of a client/server system, where all computing services are merged onto a specific network. The server is the central data storage center; access is granted to users based on need. However, the university server is not just a "dumb storage center," but rather a computer capable of heavy-duty distributed processing, including database services for a network of heterogeneous clients, or 3D rendering of geometry created on client workstations. The UNIX server, which has earned a reputation as the ideal file server due to its fast throughput and multi-processing capabilities, has become the standard by which others are compared. Leading database companies -- Oracle, Sybase and Informix -- run on UNIX. The problem comes down to this: How d'es a university keep its fast UNIX file server and link the user-popular Macintosh into it? University Solves Dilemma The University of California at Santa Barbara has successfully mastered such client/server computing in the school's Life Sciences Instructional Computing Facility. The building has two 4/670 MP Sun systems, serving approximately 80 Macintosh clients, and also provides printer-sharing capabilities. Larry Murdock, who works in the facility, judges the marriage between Mac and UNIX a success. "Our users can print from their Macintosh systems to UNIX printers as well as from UNIX-based applications to their local Apple or Hewlett-Packard printers," he explains. "In my view, the result is savings as well as ease of access for users." UCSB has realized the benefits of redesigning their computer networks. They have seen an increase in productivity and a decrease in the cost of maintaining separate, expensive systems. Software Bridge The key factor in a successful merging of Macintosh and UNIX is selecting appropriate software. Cost-conscious universities must choose between commercial programs and that which is available in the public domain. The temptation, not surprisingly, is to go with the latter. But those tend to lack the more sophisticated and comprehensive capabilities. Two commercial offerings, uShare and Partner, by Information Presentation Technologies (IPT) of San Luis Obispo, Calif., are popular choices and are found in a diverse array of academic settings nationwide. The uShare package, first introduced in 1984, embraces client/server computing by permitting SPARC workstations to function as fully compatible AppleShare file servers. Mac users in the network, acting as clients, can access UNIX resources transparently through a native Macintosh GUI front-end. Murdock selected uShare after exhausting other options. "We needed to do file-sharing and there was no good product out there. I looked at everything, including CAP (Columbia AppleTalk Protocol). Choosing uShare was an early decision in the game." IPT also plays a dominant role in peer-to-peer networking, which is dependent on bi-directional communication. The only established way of mounting files on Macintoshes and UNIX workstations is through IPT's Partner software. A significant advancement in network services, Partner is a seamless process. The software integrates Sun's Network File Systems (NFS) with the Mac's Apple Filing Protocol (AFP). The Macintosh, in turn, views the Sun's files as if they are AppleShare volumes. Data sharing is accomplished without making copies or translating files. The result is a true peer-to-peer, bi-directional network where a user can be completely oblivious to the location or creator of data. Of special interest to educators is Partner's uMail component, which provides connection between Macs and the UNIX mail system and, in turn, the worldwide Internet. Support Issues A recent survey published in the Wall Street Journal found that schools typically spend thousands of dollars annually on support costs for each personal computer. IPT offers comprehensive support, an edge that many schools find attractive and makes the commercial package actually cheaper than its public domain counterpart in the long term. Murdock believes that was the case when UCSB picked uShare for its network. "They're very good about answering any questions." Critical Acclaim SunWorld, the magazine for advanced systems computing, did a major study in 1992 of five Mac-to-Sun connectivity systems. The study concluded: "Only IPT's Partner offers the capability for Sun users to access Mac files." IPT outranked Alisa, Sitka, Pacer and Cayman. After comparing five vendors' approaches to Macintosh/Sun integration, General Electric of Syracuse, N.Y., reached a similar conclusion. On bi-directional printing, the GE authors concluded, "This is a hands-down win for IPT. A Macintosh user can easily print to any printer in the Sun LAN as well as any Sun user can take advantage of the printers in the LocalTalk domain." Final Thoughts Speaking English or Japanese, UNIX or Mac, the goal remains communication and understanding. Software acts as the bridge. The result is more than academic. Larry Murdock believes the right software made all the difference at UCSB. For both the software and the company, he says, "I'm really quite impressed."
This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.