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The Linux server at the heart of our WLAN

Jun 30, 20035 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Gearhead columnist Mark Gibbs upgrades to Red Hat Linux 9

What a system! Red Hat Linux 9 easily can be tailored for as large or small an installation as you require.

Last week ( we got our Raritan Paragon keyboard, video and monitor switch up and running so that we could build the wireless LAN for the Web Metrics conference without having to run to and from the computer room while we installed software. And the first thing on our installation agenda was Red Hat Linux 9.

We had successfully upgraded an old server from Red Hat Linux 7 to Red Hat Linux 9 but its performance wasn’t great and we needed more RAM. So we visited our friends at MJP Computers and purchased a white box system with 2G bytes of RAM (we have big plans) and a Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) drive.

But when we tried to set up Red Hat Linux 9 the installer complained that there was no disk drive. After lots of research, including conferring with Aron Hsiao, author of Teach Yourself Red Hat Linux 9 in 24 Hours (a fine introduction to Linux), we discovered that while Serial ATA works fine for Windows you have to do strange and arcane things when you’re using Linux (such as recompiling the kernel). Unfortunately, these things don’t seem guaranteed to work. If you know how to make Serial ATA drives work under Red Hat Linux 9, please drop us a note and we will tell the world.

What exactly is Serial ATA , you ask? Well, in the beginning desktop storage systems used the Integrated Data Electronics (IDE) interface, also known as Parallel ATA or Ultra ATA/100. That has been the desktop standard since the 1980s. Then a group of vendors got together and formed to develop and promote a serial version of the ATA interface to simplify disk installation and configuration.

It also happens to be higher performance. Serial ATA serializes data sent to or from a drive in packets that are transferred to or from the host up to 50% faster than with Parallel ATA. The data transfer rate can reach 150M byte/sec and the next generation of Serial ATA, due in the middle of next year, is expected to raise the top rate to 300M byte/sec. The generation after that, due in 2007, promises a top speed of 600M byte/sec.

Serial ATA also improves cabling and connectors used to connect drives to host systems. The cables used for Serial ATA drives are thinner and can be longer (up to 1 meter) than those used with Parallel ATA drives. This improves airflow through computer cabinets. The new connectors used with Serial ATA drives also have a blind-mate type of connection, which removes the risk of bent connector pins and can be connected without looking.

Linux undoubtedly will support Serial ATA drives in the near future, but before you go for a Serial ATA -based Linux solution, make sure that Serial ATA support is not only available but stable and documented. We solved our problem by swapping the Serial ATA drive for a couple of good ol’ fashioned Parallel ATA drives.

Installation of Red Hat Linux 9 is pretty simple, although we advise you to read up on disk partitioning. Red Hat Linux 9 provides all of the requisite tools for partitioning and automatically can divvy up your drives, but if you go for the auto option make sure there is no data on the target drives that you can’t afford to lose. As with any server installation, whether Windows, Linux or anything else, installing on a clean system is the best way to go.

The other consideration when installing Red Hat Linux 9 is to leave plenty of time. A full installation can take two to three hours, which is, in our experience, not dissimilar to the time required for a Windows installation.

And once you’ve finished installing and if you are connected to the ‘Net, a utility called the Red Hat Network Alert Notification Tool will poll the Red Hat servers to see which of your packages (aka applications) have updates available. In our case that seemed to be pretty much everything, so we spent another hour downloading and updating. Again, when you consider the time required to download and install Windows service packs and patches, the time required for a first-time setup of a Linux system and a Windows system is comparable.

But in the end, what a system! Red Hat Linux 9 easily can be tailored for as large or small an installation as you require. It includes Linux Kernel 2.4.20, the GNU Compiler Collection Version 3.2.1 (this consists of front ends and libraries for C, C++, Objective-C, Fortran, Java and Ada), GNU libc 2.3.2 (that’s the C library of system calls, which includes the Native Posix Thread Library), and the Apache httpd 2.0 Web server. There’s a new and reorganized Gnome GUI and tons of applications and tools we’ll discuss next week.

Install your thoughts on


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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