More than just a network directory-services solution

Systems administrators and computer users are touting the benefits of directory services. Supposedly, a directory service is the perfect solution for network administrators who need to make resources on their global enterprise networks available to users. Unfortunately, Windows NT 4.0 doesn't include directory-service components. Windows 2000 (Win2K--­formerly NT 5.0) will include these components, but Microsoft doesn't plan to release Win2K until the year 2000. In the meantime, you can use Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) or invest in an alternative directory-services software product, such as Banyan Systems' StreetTalk for Windows NT 8.5.

StreetTalk offers more than directory services: The software can fully integrate security, messaging, and file-and-print services into your network's directory-services structure. Thus, the client workstations you install StreetTalk on can access any StreetTalk resource on the network when you type in the name of the resource.

Installation and Use
To test StreetTalk's capabilities, I installed the software on the LAN in my home lab. I used my Micronics-based, dual-Pentium II system running NT Server 4.0 as my server. For my client systems, I used an Acer America system with a 233MHz Pentium processor running Windows 98 and an American Megatrends (AMI) MegaRUM-based system with 300MHz dual-Pentium II processors running NT Workstation 4.0.

Before I installed StreetTalk, I had to read a significant amount of information. The installation manual is longer than 80 pages, and it presents some information in confusing terms. For example, one section of the manual defines IP client workstations as workstations that use UDP to communicate over a TCP/IP network. I wondered whether I needed to install the software's Communications Protocol component, or whether Microsoft's stock TCP/IP stack would suffice.

To install StreetTalk, you must complete several preinstallation steps. First, you must check that your system meets the software's minimum hardware and software requirements. Second, you must install the software on a drive formatted with NTFS. Third, you must select a unique StreetTalk server name for each server. Finally, check to see whether you have any other Banyan products installed on your system. You might have to uninstall them before you install StreetTalk.

The installation process is straightforward. When you launch the setup program, the software prompts you for information such as installation type and location, server name, serial number, and activation key. Next, you choose one of three installation types: typical, compact, or custom. The typical installation installs all the software's standard components. The compact installation installs all components except the VINES Files component. The custom installation lets you choose the components you want to install. After you provide the installation information, the installation process runs with minimal interruptions.

The software ships on three CD-ROMs. One CD-ROM contains the server components, one CD-ROM contains the workstation components, and one CD-ROM contains the instruction manual documentation. I installed StreetTalk on my server first. After the installation program copies files to your hard drive, you must supply several workstation and network configuration parameters in separate dialog boxes. I used the default settings for my installation, which worked fine.

Before you can use the software, you must install the Enterprise Client and Explorer programs. The Enterprise Client automatically places your NT server log in an appropriate user group each time you log on to NT. The Explorer program lets you manage your StreetTalk resources using an Explorerlike interface. After I installed these programs, I rebooted my system.

After rebooting, I thought I was ready to start using StreetTalk, but the software presented its online documentation at this point. You can browse this documentation using a program called Folio. However, I found Folio difficult to use.

Users log on to the network from client computer systems by providing a username and password. Users can use a separate logon to access the StreetTalk network or combine the Microsoft Networking and StreetTalk logons into one username and password combination (i.e., use a common logon).

After users log on, they can use several methods to access resources by providing the full name of the resource they want to use. For example, the StreetTalk Win95 client software is fully integrated with Explorer, My Computer, and Network Neighborhood, so you can access StreetTalk resources from those areas.

In my test environment, I configured users to use common logons. After I logged on to the StreetTalk network from my client workstations, I could access file-and-print services from those clients using a resource name. The software performed as I expected.

The Explorer Program
StreetTalk's Explorer program lets you configure resources on your network. Before you can launch this program, you might have to log on to the StreetTalk network. Whether you must log on to the network depends on how you configured the Enterprise Client installation (i.e., whether you configured it to perform an automatic logon to the network based on an NT username, or whether you configured it to require a manual logon).

The Explorer program's interface has three tiers--­a menu bar, a toolbar, and bottom left and right panes--­which makes using the software a breeze. You use the menu bar and toolbar to perform common actions (e.g., add a new file service, print service, or user). You use the bottom left and right panes to access lists of network servers, view the resources configured for those servers, and monitor resource usage and statistics, as Screen 1 shows. For example, you can create a structure in which you place client-based information (i.e., username, division, and location information--­username@division@location) or server-based information (i.e., resource name, server name, and resource type--­resourcename@servername@resourcetype). Screen 2 displays a sample list of resources. By default, StreetTalk configures the NT server you install the software on as ServerName@Servers and automatically adds an administrative user called Admin@ServerName@Servers.

In some environments, users might have difficulty using this three-tiered structure. Other directory-services products (e.g., Novell Directory Services--­NDS) provide more than three tiers. Thus, before you install a directory-services product, carefully plan how you intend to structure your network. After you create your structure, changing it is difficult.

Standard Components
StreetTalk provides a uniform view of your network. Users can access resources within the range of their security permissions.

StreetTalk contains 14 components. Users use some of these components directly; other components operate in the background. To understand the software's capabilities, you need to understand the components' functions.

StreetTalk's naming service is the software's core component. This service controls the software's directory management and keeps track of the names and attributes you assign to the software's resources. The attributes, which are the resource's properties, can vary.

StreetTalk's Communications Protocol Stack component is a network protocol you must install on your servers and any client systems that will interact with the software. StreetTalk uses this component to operate over its network communications protocol--­VINES Internet Protocol (VIP). Client systems then communicate with StreetTalk using VIP alone or VIP encapsulated within UDP packets.

StreetTalk's Directory Assistance Service is one of the software's most easily accessible components. Users and administrators can use this component to search for the names of other users or resources within StreetTalk.

StreetTalk's LDAP Support component builds on the Directory Assistance Service. LDAP is a directory-services protocol that runs over TCP/IP. You can use this protocol in applications such as Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and Netscape Communicator. The LDAP Support component lets StreetTalk interact with your LDAP-compliant software.

StreetTalk's File Service component provides file-sharing services. Your system's configuration determines the number of file-sharing services the software can support. You can configure the shares you create with NT as StreetTalk file-sharing services. The software supports any size partition that NT supports, and the software accommodates long and international filename formats.

StreetTalk's Print Service lets users print from a Windows or DOS computer to any NT-supported printer within your network. This service supports printing to printers defined on your StreetTalk server and other LAN-attached printers (including printers attached to other NT servers).

Additional standard StreetTalk components include the Security Service, which authenticates user logons and authorizes access to system resources. The software's Server Service is a general utility service that provides information about your server and the StreetTalk services running on it. If you have a VINES network installed on your system, the VINES Files component lets users on the VINES network access file services on your NT StreetTalk host.

Optional Components
StreetTalk offers several optional components. The Server-to-Server UDP component lets your StreetTalk server communicate with other StreetTalk servers (and VINES servers) over your TCP/IP network. Server-to-Server UDP is particularly useful in enterprise environments in which you have more than one StreetTalk server. The Intelligent Messaging component is a complete email system that users can access from any workstation on the network. The Network Management component maintains and reports server performance and network traffic statistics. This service is useful for monitoring performance in areas in which you suspect a network or CPU I/O-bound performance problem. The Backup Suite component lets you back up your installation and restore individual files or configuration data on each StreetTalk component.

A Useful Solution for the Interim
The best-written programs make a complex task appear simple to the user; in this regard, StreetTalk delivers. StreetTalk's setup process was tedious, but the software's performance and usefulness are great. The software's Explorer program's three-tiered interface might limit large enterprise environments, but the components the software offers make the product useful.

StreetTalk's price is reasonable--­the software uses a server and client license pricing structure. If you need enterprise-level directory services and can't wait for Win2K to arrive, StreetTalk is a helpful solution in the interim.

StreetTalk for Windows NT 8.5
Contact:
Banyan Systems * 508-898-1000 or 800-222-6926
Web: http://www.banyan.com
Price: $2495 per server license; $90 per client license
System Requirements:
486 processor or better, 32MB of RAM, 20MB of hard disk space, 250MB of hard disk space, CD-ROM drive, Network adapter