Mac Daniel's Advice

Inside a Freenet

Manuel Mejia Jr - 2001.08.10

The following text was posted by the Florida freenet that I use to access the Internet. The ISP underwent upgrades in early May 2001. There have been problems with it since. The details behind those problems were quite fascinating.

When SCFN was set up in 1996, it used two Xyplex terminal servers to connect dial-in users to the SCFN server. At that time, they were cutting edge. And Abraham Lincoln was president, and gas cost 25 cents a gallon. Things have changed since then. When we had to replace all of our original IP addresses with new ones, we tried to "get into" the two Xyplex terminal servers to assign them new addresses. They refused to communicate with us. No matter what we did, they retained their old addresses.

We were able to scrape up three Annex terminal servers. They were newer than the Xyplex, dating from maybe the Truman administration. We were able to get one of them working in Hillsborough County. The second one was as obstinate as the Xyplexes. The third one is currently plugged into our network waiting on the one guy we've found who can program these things. When he does his work, we'll need to take the terminal server over to Pinellas, swap it in for the Xyplex, and take a shot at reprogramming the Pinellas router. If that works, dial-in service may resume in Pinellas County.

It sounds, though, as though dial-in is not working all that well in Hillsborough County. It may be that the modems are also failing because of old age or that they just don't communicate with an Annex as well as they did with the Xyplex. Or the Annex may have more trouble getting a log-in prompt from the SCFN server, so it takes longer for that prompt to get back to the user.

Frankly, we don't think the dial in service will ever return to the "way it was". To do that, we'd need to buy a new modem bank (or two of them), two new terminal servers (preferably from Chase), and upgrade the IOS in the Pinellas router. We're talking several thousand dollars for all that, and the Free-Net's income since January has been less than $500. That doesn't even cover our UNIX person's retainer. We will keep plugging away at getting these replacement parts in and operating, but it will continue to be a slow, painful process.

 -- Suncoast Free-Net

Since this was posted in early July, the Pinellas servers were put back into operation. The Freenet does not have the same operating behavior that it had in April 2001, but it works.

The key to any freenet's success is the volunteers who donate their free time. This time is spent maintaining the system and scrounging far afield for technical experts and parts. One should never negatively critique anyone with the dedication to keep something as complex as a freenet in working order. It is very hard work and seldom gets anyone any credit.

Kudos to those men and women who oversee the various freenets around the US and the world. It is a valuable service.

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