Put Your Files in the Fast Lane

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If your workgroup isn't networked, it's time to consider getting connected. Even if you are connected, your workflow may be stuck in gridlock?a situation that might be remedied with the addition of a speedy server on which to store all your files and spool your print jobs. In this, the first in a series of Macworld articles to focus on working effectively in a networked world, Macworld Lab tested Mac OS-, Windows NT-, and even Unix-based servers to find which operating system provides the best speed and services.

Considering all the pros and cons of installing a server in your workplace can be enough to drive you crazy. Flashy consultants will tell you that while you may be comfortable with the Mac OS, the Mac's not really a suitable server. You'll hear recommendations that you should jump to Windows NT?or even Unix (see the sidebar "Publishing Powerhouses").

While Windows NT certainly has its strengths, we found that the current Mac OS is a powerful serving platform that may be able to fulfill all your needs without forcing you to brave the wilds of a foreign operating system. And the upcoming Mac OS X promises even more speed benefits.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

Which server is best for you?if you need one at all?depends on what you're looking to gain from a server.

With all the buzz surrounding servers, the general notion is that if you don't have a server, you can't possibly have an efficient workflow. That isn't necessarily true?your need for a server really depends on how your workgroup is organized. For example, if most tasks are handled from start to finish by one person, a server may not be much help. But for the vast majority of us, most projects are a collaborative effort and usually involve a good deal of file transmission across a network.

In most cases, it's true that incorporating a server into your workplace will help you transfer data more quickly. A server definitely helps if your machine lags several times a day because someone else on the network is reading a file on, or writing a large file to, your hard drive. Likewise, if your printer gets bogged down processing one large job after another, a server can help there, too. However, if you're still hesitant about adding a server to your family of Macs, you might want to consider a simple file-sharing solution.

The Old-Fashioned Way

Using the Mac OS's built-in file sharing works for file transfers, but this approach has two major disadvantages. For starters, if someone else on the network accesses your hard drive while you're working, you'll see a dramatic performance hit. You can address this problem by dedicating a Mac with no server software (usually an older, slower Mac) as a central repository for files. This way, individual workstations on the network don't get clobbered.

However, even if you set up an old Mac in the corner for shared files, a second disadvantage remains. File sharing slows down significantly as network traffic increases. If you try to copy a file while someone else on the network is printing, for example, file copying slows down and the print job takes longer than expected. The frequency of these delays depends on how often people are downloading files, transferring data, and ordering print commands?and your tolerance for these delays will depend on how often they occur and whether they interfere with your daily needs. The only solution to this second dilemma is to add a real server.

Network Upgrade

Don't forget that adding a server won't change the top speed at which data can travel on your network. If you're still running slow Ethernet, you should upgrade to 100BaseT before taking another step. The added muscle of any new server you buy will be wasted if your network doesn't offer the extra bandwidth for moving data. While 100BaseT isn't quite ten times as fast as 10BaseT Ethernet, you'll almost certainly achieve at least an 800 percent speed gain by increasing your bandwidth.

Be forewarned: a server will do more than speed up your network; it will also change the way you work. Depending on the choices you make, you may find new challenges facing you, from the small and annoying to the big and pricey. For example, you may need to change your file-naming conventions to accommodate a new platform and you may also need to learn the ins and outs of a new operating system. Regardless of your server-platform choice, you'll need to evaluate your tech-support needs and plan backup strategies in case the server crashes.

Taking all this into account, if you have a Mac-only office, there's a distinct advantage to sticking with the Mac OS as your server platform. Using a Mac server will be less disruptive to your workflow than bringing in a new platform: file naming won't be an issue, and maintenance will be simpler since you probably have experience with in-house troubleshooting.

Windows NT offers serious power for relatively few bucks, but you'll typically have to do everything yourself?unless you buy a more pricey, preconfigured system from a manufacturer, such as Intergraph (256/730-5441, http://www.intergraph.com ), that delivers NT solutions for Mac environments.

With different OS selections to choose from, it's important to consider all factors before making a decision. Although speed should not be the only consideration, it is the initial reason you'd consider adding a server to your network. Unless a server would accelerate your work, there's little reason for making such an investment.

There are several factors that influence a server's speed. The server's operating system must be compatible with the Mac clients, and the server must be powerful enough to handle the simultaneous commands of several workstations. To help you find the best server platform for your small office, Macworld Lab torture-tested servers running both the Mac OS and Windows. We tested the Apple server-software choice (AppleShare IP 6.1) and the two flavors of Microsoft Windows NT (version 4.0 with Service Pack 3 and a beta version of Windows 2000 Server?formerly known as NT 5). We also tested simple file sharing under Mac OS 8.5 to gauge the performance leaps of each server.

To determine the relative merits of each server-software package, we attempted to level the hardware playing field, testing the packages on comparably configured machines. The Mac server and the Windows server were each equipped with 128MB of RAM and a two-drive RAID Level 0 array.

Once we had the servers set up, we tested the transfer times of each server-software package by copying files and folders to and from the respective servers. To simulate the real-world workflow of a medium-size office, we timed each server's performance when copying a single 100MB file. (For the results of the tests, see the benchmark, " Speedy Servers.")

You'll get the maximum performance gain when using a server that is not busy. However, in the real world, it's not likely that only one person at a time will be accessing the server. Therefore, we also tested each system's file-transfer speed when the server was busy working on other commands. Using Ziff-Davis's NetBench 5.01, we created a network load of four clients continuously hitting the server?an atypically heavy load for mere file serving.

Since we tested each platform both with and without this network "noise," you can see how each server performed in ideal settings as well as how each one handled extremely heavy loads of commands.

Mac OS File Sharing

Simple file sharing has long been one of the Mac's strong points?it's built into every Mac, it's easy to use, and it's very robust. The most probable scenario for using Mac OS file sharing is to set up an old Macintosh to handle these demands. Macworld Lab tested Mac OS file sharing using an Apple Power Macintosh G3/333 running a default installation of Mac OS 8.5?a setup that is faster and more costly than what you'd typically use for just file sharing.

Although the Power Mac G3/333 is a speedy machine, when it ran the Mac OS's built-in file sharing, it was the slowest of all the servers we tested?even when the network was idle.

With a busy network, though, the main weakness of file sharing became glaringly obvious: copies to the server took well more than four times as long as they did with the next-slowest configuration, Windows NT 4.0, and copies from the server took slightly more than six times as long as they did with Windows NT 4.0, which was again the next-slowest configuration. File sharing may be a reasonable solution for light-duty file serving with a few users and relatively small files, but heavy network traffic?three or four users, for example?will quickly render this approach ineffective. If your network is hitting the wall, it's time to consider adding a real file server.

AppleShare IP 6.1

Loading AppleShare IP 6.1 ($999 for 50 users) onto the same Power Mac G3 used for file sharing resulted in dramatically improved file-copy times. Although the Mac has traditionally not been held in high regard as a server contender, AppleShare IP, the one solution custom-built for Mac clients, is the fastest all-around performer and includes automatic support for PC clients as well. Apple's new Power Mac G3 line of server solutions starts at $3,299.

AppleShare IP 6.1 came in first or second on all of our file-transfer tests. For general file serving in a Mac environment, AppleShare IP 6.1 shines?it's fast, even under a heavy network load, and it's relatively easy to set up. Plus, you'll be glad not to have to worry about introducing a different platform to your shop. (The previous version, AppleShare IP 6.0 [see Reviews, February 1999], is incompatible with Mac OS 8.5 despite having shipped only a few weeks before that OS upgrade.)

Windows NT

We tested Windows NT 4.0 on a Dell Dimension XPS D333 powered by a 333MHz Pentium II with MMX. The NT 4.0 server was easy to configure; we used default settings and encountered no problems connecting the Mac clients.

As a file server, the NT 4.0 solution proved disappointing, giving slower file-transfer performance than all other configurations we tested?with the exception of Mac OS 8.5 file sharing. In part, this is due to the fact that NT can connect to Mac clients using only the slower AppleTalk protocol. However, such performance lags vanish with Windows 2000 Server, which supports the faster IP protocol. An additional alternative on the Windows platform is Thursby Software Systems' Dave 2.0 (see "Mac Life Preservers," April 1998). This $119 software solution loads on the Mac clients and allows them to connect to a Windows NT 4.0 server via TCP/IP.

When copying to the server with Dave installed, we saw performance gains similar to what we experienced when using the Windows 2000 Server beta (see "Speedy Servers"), but copies from the server were much slower?comparable to what we got when running NT 4.0 without Dave.

Although neither Windows NT package offers the performance boost of AppleShare IP 6.1, you can get a fully configured Wintel server for less than $1,500. However, if you decide to add Windows NT to your office, hold out for Windows 2000 Server. This OS is expected to ship before the end of the year, and early tests show greater speed and better compatibility than what you'll find with Windows NT 4.0.

In addition to file sharing, print serving is an important test of a server platform's strength in a Mac-centric environment. And even though it's unlikely for a server to be busy transferring files all the time in a small or medium-size network environment, the server will likely need to continuously feed data to output devices such as imagesetters, platesetters, and proofers. To measure each server's ability in this regard, we focused our analysis on how each performed under a heavy load of network traffic.

For the most part, there isn't one configuration that works ideally as both a file and print server. Our tests demonstrate quite dramatically that for print serving, a PC running Windows NT 4.0 outperforms a Power Mac G3 running Mac OS 8.5 and AppleShare IP 6.1. Since print commands are sent using a different protocol than IP, servers optimized for IP may offer little advantage as print servers.

AppleShare, the champ on file serving, was disappointing as a print server. The more affordable Windows NT 4.0, a distinctly lackluster file server, excelled at our printing tests on a busy network.

For general file serving in a Mac environment, don't let anyone force you to abandon the Mac OS. AppleShare IP 6.1 is hard to beat?it's fast, easy to configure, and does not require the use of a foreign operating system. For print serving, Windows NT 4.0 was the true speed champ. Not only is it the fastest in the lot, but the necessary hardware is also affordable.

If you decide to go the server route, consider more than just sheer speed so you won't be blindsided by costly technical support or platform integration. And regardless of your platform selection, remember that integrating a server into your office will undoubtedly put your files in the fast lane.

Real World Photoshop 5

April 1999 page: 74

For high-end publishing shops, a mere file or print server may not do the trick. After all, few things can bring a network to its knees faster than moving print-resolution CMYK images from station to station. Because of this, a growing number of production environments now use Open Prepress Interface (OPI) servers, often on a Unix-based system. In general Unix servers are much more expensive than other solutions, ranging from $15,000 to more than $30,000, but they are also more robust, scalable, and capable of handling difficult tasks such as OPI.

For publishing professionals with time-critical projects, Unix-based OPI servers are a viable solution. These pricier, more powerful solutions speed up production by removing large, high-resolution images from the workflow and substituting low-resolution preview images that are linked to the high-resolution files through PostScript comments. When its time to print, the high-resolution images?which live on the OPI server?are substituted for the low-resolution previews.

The immediate and obvious benefit of an OPI server is that the high-resolution image files are kept entirely off the network. Designers and layout artists work with the smaller preview images to reduce network traffic and allow the design and layout applications to run faster on the artists workstations. For example, a typical magazine section-opener image is at least 40MB: the OPI preview image can easily be less than a megabyte (much less if JPEG compression is used), subjecting the network to far less overhead.

A second benefit of OPI is that design and layout can proceed concurrently with color-correction and retouching. Typically, an image is scanned directly to the OPI server at a high enough resolution to allow for any cropping or enlargement. The OPI software then generates the low-resolution preview for use in the design and layout phases. While the designers and layout artists work on the document files, using the preview image, retouchers can work on the color-correction and fine-tuning of the high-resolution image.

OPI-compatible applications, such as QuarkXPress, Adobe PageMaker and Illustrator, and Macromedia FreeHand, record operations such as rotation, cropping, scaling, and positioning as OPI comments in the PostScript stream. Immediately before printing, the OPI server applies the modifications recorded by the OPI comments to the high-resolution image.

In addition, several OPI server-software packages, such as Helios EtherShare OPI and Xinets FullPress, which generally run on Unix servers, allow you to perform ICC (International Color Consortium) profile-based color management on the server, automatically converting the color for proofers and for final output. Designers dont have to deal with the complexities of color management, and the color conversions are performed on a fast server rather than slowing down the production workers workstation.

To compare the performance of Unix servers to that of the Mac and Windows systems we tested for this story, Macworld Lab performed the same rigorous file-copying and print-spooling trials on two publisher-focused versions of Unix: Sun Microsystems Solaris 2.6 with Xinets K-AShare and K-Spool, and Silicon Graphics IRIX 6.5.1 with Helios EtherShare 2.5.1. For comparison purposes, we tested these machines with configurations similar to those of the Mac and Windows computers, but both Sun and Silicon Graphics have much heftier configurations available for customers. The Solaris server was configured slightly differently, with 1GB of RAM and a single 4GB Wide SCSI drive.

IRIX 6.5.1 with Helios EtherShare 2.5.1


This Silicon Graphics server-software package proved to be a strong performer, turning in the fastest time for copies to the server of any system we tested and tying for second when it came to copying files from the server over an idle network. Due to compatibility issues between Ziff-Daviss NetBench 5.01 and IRIX, we were unable to test this configuration under a network load.

Solaris 2.6 with Xinets K-AShare 9.03

Most Unix systems offer interfaces that are alien to Mac users and can be somewhat difficult to set up?the $28,000 Solaris server system was no exception. To its credit, however, the Solaris package offers an easier user interface than that of IRIX. And with a little help, we were able to set up the server hardware, a Sun Ultra2 Model 2200 Creator 3D, with Xinets K-AShare version 9.03 for Mac connectivity.

Copies from the server were very fast with this configuration, but copies to the server were surprisingly slow. The likeliest explanation for this is that Solaris 2.6 is fairly old and makes the drive do a lot of directory updating during writes. This problem was probably compounded by the fact that the server hardware supplied by Sun contained only a single drive. Every other server hardware system we tested contained a two-drive RAID Level 0 array.

Given the high price of this server hardware, we found this configurations speed somewhat disappointing. However, we did achieve similar performance when running a beta version of Xinets next-generation software?as well as the newer, friendlier Solaris 7 operating system?on a much less expensive Sun Ultra5. Furthermore, Xinet is preparing a Java-based client application that will run on the Mac. Depending on your OPI requirements, you may find Solaris an adequate, if not stellar, performer. And Sun offers some less expensive configurations that are appealing as well.

Given the price of Unix-based servers, adding equipment like this is probably an option only for the most bandwidth-greedy?and cash-rich?of workgroups. However, if OPI sounds like something you need to implement in your publishing shop, making an investment in a Unix-based server is a wise choice.

Adding a publishing server to your network will certainly speed up workflow, but a server you invest in today should also serve you well tomorrow. Aside from the solutions currently available, we uncovered future server operating systems and saw what they have in store for you. Upcoming operating systems promise improved Mac support, but these platform evolutions shouldnt dramatically affect the Macintosh-friendly solutions of today.

Mac OS X

Traditionally, Apple has focused its efforts in the server arena on ease of use at the exclusion of speed. However, Apple (408/996-1010, http://www.apple.com )?a company that at one point sold Unix servers running IBMs AIX?has turned to a homegrown Unix-based operating system for its server-software strategy.

The $99 Mac OS X Server, announced at Macworld Expo in January, is based on Rhapsody, the interim Apple operating system that originated at Steve Jobss Next. Because Mac OS X Server, like Mac OS X, is based on a Unix core, it provides standard Unix networking support, such as TCP/IP and Network File System (NFS, the Unix equivalent of the Macs AppleShare) in addition to AppleTalk. That means it can be a server for Unix workstations and Windows clients in addition to Macs using AppleTalk or TCP/IP.

However, the first version of Mac OS X Server appears to be most appropriate either for people in the market for a Web server or for system administrators who want to boot many iMacs off of a server, not for people looking for a file server.

Windows 2000 Server

More than a year ago, Microsoft (425/882-8080, http://www.microsoft.com ) hyped its Windows 2000 Server?formerly known as Windows NT 5?as providing great support for Macintosh clients. Due to be released late this year or in early 2000, Microsoft's server solution promises more speed and improved manageability.

The biggest change from Windows NT 4 will be faster performance, as evidenced by Macworld Lab tests of a recent beta version of Windows 2000 Server (see the benchmark, " Speedy Servers "). Under Windows 2000 Server, networked Macs are connected via IP, which provides for faster communication. Macintosh clients will also get native support for Apple Remote Access, so PowerBooks can easily dial in to a Windows 2000 Serverbased system.

Network managers will finally be able to manage the Mac file services and clients in a standard Windows 2000 control panel, rather than having to use the separate MacFile control panel.


Novells (408/967-8400, http://www.novell.com ) NetWare was the first network operating system to support Mac clients, back in 1988. But Novell ceased its Mac support with the release of NetWare 5. (Earlier versions support Mac clients, but their Mac-connectivity software doesnt work with NetWare 5.)

Novell handed over the development of Mac-connectivity software to Prosoft Engineering (925/426-6100, http://www.prosofteng.com ), which should ship NetWare 5 clients by years end for both AppleTalk- and TCP/IP-based networks. Beta versions are available for download now.?GALEN GRUMAN

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