At long last! Universal networking has arrived

3rd January 1997 at 00:00
Les Watson welcomes the means to link peripherals to schools' systems.

School networks have come of age in the past few years. Rather than being odd systems based on quirky protocols that are "specially developed for education", the solutions are "real world". In fact, they are better than many commercial organisations in the service delivered to users and the numbers of users supported per network.

An important aspect of school networks is their ability to connect machines of all pedigrees, enabling schools to make the most of the three key education platforms: Apple and Acorn (now both marketed by one company, Xemplar), and PCs. Schools also have a wide range of peripherals, such as scanners and printers, which have the potential to be part of a universal network. This universal networking, which has been a long time coming, has finally arrived, thanks mainly to Microsoft's Windows NT server technology.

Research Machines will be capitalising on the latest connectivity possibilities and launching RM Logon for Acorn's Risc OS computers at BETT 97. RM Logon allows users to use Acorn computers on RM Connect, RM's industry standard educational network, which is based on Microsoft's NT server product. RM Connect Logon for Risc OS provides easy access to the Windows NT server through a single icon. Users then only need to enter a user name and password to be provided with automatic access to their home directory on the RM Connect server, which can contain files that they have produced on either PC or Acorn machines.

Users can also be given access to any printer connected to the server, or directly to the network from any machine. Acorn users can also run Acorn applications direct from the NT server. Schools that have Acorn systems and are moving to the Windows platform can potentially get further value from their Acorn machines using this system.

Lee Shakespeare of Pensett School, Dudley, has been using the RM Logon product, with an RM network based on NT server, for some time. With 60 per cent of its machines PCs and 40 per cent Acorns, the school decided to move over completely to the PC platform. RM Logon has enabled the school to integrate its Archimedes computers with the school's recently acquired Pentium machines. Users on the network have the same user area, independent of which type of machine they use to log on. They can access the same file store and share files between both types of machine. Users can also print from the Archimedes machines on the network printer.

Pat Nicholls, IT co-ordinator at Oakham School in Leicestershire, has also integrated a diverse range of equipment - PCs, Apples and Acorns - using the NT server and an Ethernet network. Connected to the server is an Apple domain with its own server as well as a range of Acorn and PC clients. The Acorn Risc PC machines have PC cards which enable them to access the network. Mr Nicholls was delighted to discover that these machines work extremely well as clients on an NT and Windows 95 network. This meant he could take the Acorn server off the network and share files between PCs and Acorns on the NT server.

Mr Nicholls sees the integration of multiple platforms in a universal network as "making the most of what you have". The system he runs provides increased flexibility. For example, the three previous school networks - Apple, Acorn and PC - each had a scanner allowing pupils to import graphics files. It is now possible to scan on any of these scanners and to send the files to the server for collection by any machine on the network. Similarly, printing can be managed across platforms with machines printing to a range of networked printers. Network management is also more flexible as the NT server can be managed from PCs and Acorns. The machine that a pupil has at home is now less of an issue, since any files can be put on the server and used by the appropriate machine.

Mr Nicholls has also used the Xemplar Intertalk product to provide e-mail and Internet access. An Acorn machine on the network running Intertalk now acts as a World Wide Web gateway, providing Internet services for Macs, PCs and Acorn machines.

The good news about networks is that connectivity really has arrived and that means an easier life. At Oakham School you can scan on an Apple Mac, use the file in desktop publishing on an Acorn and print across a Microsoft NT network to an Acorn printer.


RM stands 131, SN9

Xemplar stands 241, 440, SN19

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