Use this software alone or as part of the Microtest turnkey solution to share CD-ROMs enterprisewide

The US armed forces use FedLog, a six CD-ROM set, to order, inventory, and replace 7.2 million parts; thousands of offices around the world update FedLog monthly. Fortunately for network administrators who must update and distribute information in a timely manner, Microtest provides DiscPort Executive 2.0. I tested the Windows NT version of this product as part of Microtest's turnkey solution. (For details about the system I used to test DiscPort, see "Microtest's Turnkey Solution," page 112.)

DiscPort Executive enhances NT's file-sharing capabilities with numerous CD-ROM-specific functions. These functions let you create virtual CD-ROMs, catalog hundreds to thousands of shares, aggregate many CD-ROM volumes under one share (a collection), and make NT-foreign media available to workstations that run different operating systems.

Microtest designed the software to deliver information as efficiently as possible. The company claims that the software will identify whether a particular disc is in more than one place on a network (e.g., in a standalone drive and in a jukebox), determine whether the title is currently queued in the jukebox, evaluate the load on the standalone drive (e.g., whether other users are already accessing it), and choose the quickest path to get the information to its destination. To reduce bottlenecks, administrators can limit the number of users who can access a title concurrently. For titles with a particularly large demand, network administrators can build a FastCD, a digital image of a CD-ROM placed on a SCSI hard disk.

Because the configuration I tested was turnkey, the software installed without a glitch. However, for administrators who must configure existing equipment to work with the DiscPort software and jukeboxes with autoloading devices, the software will take additional setup and configuration. And don't forget, you must add the DiscPort server to the NT domain.

When booting, DiscPort creates an aggregate share that contains all CD-ROMs and virtual CD-ROMs the software will make available across the network. Using the CDexplorer utility, I quickly created shares and collections that I could make available to specific domains or to all users by simply dragging selected icons from the aggregate share. After reading the manual, I learned how to better manage the structure of shares and collections by using folders and their interrelationships.

The software's cataloging feature is especially nice. It remembers every disc ever placed in a DiscPort shared drive and all the share properties associated with it. This feature makes queuing up an infrequently used title a snap. You can load a CD-ROM that DiscPort has already cataloged into a shared drive, and it will become available across the network, without your needing to redefine the parameters associated with the share.

One of the best features of this software is it can receive and share NT-foreign media. Because DiscPort supports International Standards Organization (ISO) 9660, High Sierra, Rockridge, and Macintosh HFS CD-ROM formats, and has an NFS mount point available, it can support Microsoft, File and Print Services for NetWare (FPNW), NFS, and Macintosh networks simultaneously. This ability is ideal for multiplatform distributed environments. The software can also manage multisession discs (e.g., Macintosh and Windows applications on one disc) without difficulty.

As with most applications, one program contains most of the functionality, while the others support it. In DiscPort Executive, CDexplorer, shown in Screen 1, is the management utility. The Control Panel applet, DiscPort Executive Configuration, configures hardware (including jukeboxes), queues performance parameters, and tracks event log filtering. The Media Manager and CDstatus utilities deal directly with the media.

CDstatus provides a tree view of all servers available to DiscPort Executive, the media within, and their respective share properties and availability. This utility is where you can add or remove servers from DiscPort's jurisdiction. The Media Manager lets administrators create or build FastCDs, search for titles, and lock or unlock standalone drives so that users cannot physically remove CD-ROMs from a drive without Administrator permission.

After using the software for a while, you will appreciate its effectiveness in sharing CD-ROMs across a network (and with other networks), the well thought-out folder structures, and the integrated security. But there's more. The recent addition of DiscPort Launch makes the package even better. This group of executables automate the launching of applications across networks, including the Web. By installing the DiscPort Launch software on the DiscPort server, you can give users access to applications through a small number of DLLs on the client machine. The actual program runs in a share residing on the server.

This capability can provide an excellent way for an online software repository to let users try a title before they buy or download it. Similarly, a software company using this technology for beta testing can considerably reduce the debugging cycle by performing quick fixes in realtime for all testers involved with the project. In both of these instances, the ability to quickly exchange discs for new projects can be an invaluable time-saver.

If you must keep CD-ROM data current and available to users across the room or across the ocean, DiscPort Executive might be your solution. However, with the dropping price of hard disks, why would you need such a battery of CD-based information? One SCSI hard disk can hold more information than current CD-ROM technology and deliver this information much faster. Perhaps using DiscPort Executive to create numerous virtual CD-ROMs is the best use of this technology.

DiscPort Executive 2.0
Contact: Microtest
602-952-6400 or 800-526-9675
Web: http://www.microtest.com
Email: info@microtest.com
Price: Starts at $1999 for a 60 CD-ROM platter license for the Enterprise version; $20,000 as tested
System Requirements: Windows NT Server 3.51 or 4.0, Intel Pentium 166MHz (minimum), 64MB of RAM, SCSI CD-ROM drives, 2GB hard disk (SCSI recommended), Network Interface