RISING STARS

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, February 1995

Whew! Another trade show season is over. I like to measure the quality of a trade show by how much you have to bend over to scratch your knee. For the best shows, the quantity of valuable literature is enough so that you don't have to bend at all! This is, of course, assuming that you remember to switch your bag from side to side on a regular basis. If you don't, then you end up doing Marty Feldman impressions (as he appeared in "Young Frankenstein"). Of course, even if you do remember, you may be eligible to be an extra in "Gorillas in The Mist, Part 2" - without using any prostheses.

One product I spotted at these shows that absolutely fascinated me is the Pereos tape drive from Datasonix (Boulder, CO, 303-545-9500). It is a ten-ounce tape drive (the whole drive, not just the tape) that holds approximately 1.25GB after compression. That weight includes the two AA batteries that power it! (An AC adapter is also available.) The tapes are about the size of my thumbprint and about one-fifth of an inch thick!

This drive uses that same basic technology as the microminiature personal note-taking recorders made by Sony. It uses a non-tracking helical scan recording method (essentially an elegant simplified version of what 4MM and 8MM tape drives use) with a very low theoretical error rate. Lest you worry about saving data using a technology derived from the consumer recording industry, remember that 4MM DAT tapes evolved from Digital Audio Tape standards and 8MM tapes are a direct offshoot of 8MM video cameras.

The current version uses a removable parallel port interface, with PCMCIA and SCSI interfaces in the planning stage. The drive is a separate module that plugs into the interface, so one drive can be used with multiple interfaces.

My initial reaction to seeing this drive was disbelief. It looked too small to hold 1.25GB! The salesman had a little plastic box in his shirt pocket, smaller than a cigarette case (but not as deadly). He pulled it out and handed it to me and said "Here, have 8GB!" The box contained eight of the tiny tapes, each in its own slot. I probably could have carried six of them in my shirt pocket. This brings new meaning to the term "Offsite Backup".

The Pereos is currently being marketed with an eye toward people with laptop computers or both desktop and laptop computers. It has features in its software that allow fuzzy search for file names, file synchronization between computers, and the ability to restore to a specific date and time. (Sherman, crank up the Wayback machine!) These extra features (and its price - $695) should make the Pereos popular in many other market niches. The only thing that they are missing (for now) is a way to backup Netware Rights and Bindery information.

Another item of more immediate use in Netware environments is Vinca Corporation's (Orem, UT, 801-223-3100) StandbyServer. This product allows you to configure a backup server that is available at any time with just a few keystrokes, using the clever device of tricking Netware into thinking that the second server is simply a mirrored (that is a duplicate) disk drive. Because of this trick, the only restricting requirement is that the sizes of the Netware volumes being mirrored are identical. All other aspects of the servers can be varied.

You can think of this system as a sort of "SFT III Lite". Where Netware SFT (System Fault Tolerance Level) III automatically switches to the secondary server upon failure of the primary, the StandbyServer requires a few manually entered keystrokes to confirm the demise of the primary and give permission to start the secondary server.

This disadvantage is balanced by the compatibility and flexibility of the StandbyServer. SFT III has serious restrictions on the type of NLM (Netware Loadable Module) that can be run. Any NLM that directly interacts with the underlying hardware of the server is probably ineligible for use on an SFT III system. The StandbyServer doesn't care about the type of NLMs that it runs. It doesn't try to match the two servers on a CPU (Central Processing Unit) cycle by CPU cycle basis. It merely mirrors the disks and coordinates some surface aspects of the two servers' operations.

Since the secondary server runs as a sophisticated DOS program, only a single copy of Netware is active at any given time. This means that you don't need a second copy of Netware. StandbyServer comes bundled with two MSL-compatible (Mirrored Server Link) cards (from $1695 to $1895 depending on bus structure). Bundling reduces the possibility of the type of multivendor recriminations that impeded my original implementation of Netware SFT Level III, and maintains the possibility of upgrading to SFT III in the future.

Remember this product the next time you replace your server. It may be a good idea to keep the old one around and use StandbyServer to provide backup server capability.

For the security-conscious, Veritel Corporation of America (Mt. Prospect, IL, 708-670-1780) offers the Logon Verification System and Caller Verification System. I've been interested in security verification systems for several years. Historically, they use a combination of a personal code or password, a centralized software or hardware based challenge generator, and a calculator-sized response generator (that often doubles as a real calculator).

Typically, the user enters a login ID. The challenge generator replies with a numeric or alphanumeric challenge code. The user enters this challenge code and a password into the calculator. An algorithm (Don't you just love these buzzwords? I could have used "formula" but I have to put buzzwords in wherever I can to comply with the minimums set by the Computer Writers' Guild.) inside the calculator derives a response - assuming, of course that the password is correct. The user then enters the response code on the keyboard. If everything works right, only someone who both discovers the password and steals the calculator/response unit can gain unauthorized access.

In practice, it's a royal pain. If you make even the slightest error in transcribing either the challenge or the response, you don't get in - this is assuming you have the calculator/response unit with you. No unit - no access.

Veritel has come up with a way to eliminate the extra codes and the response unit from the equation. They use your own voice as your entry key. (They were probably frightened by the self-destruct sequences in the original Star Trek series as children - or at least by the simplicity of the codes required.) It recognizes your voice and key phrases as necessary to allow access to computer systems, PBXs, voice mail systems, and even the internal 800-number dial-out systems used by many corporations.

The system adjusts well to day to day variations in voice quality so that allergies, a cold, or a sore throat is not likely to confuse it. It is designed with an algorithm (another point towards my quota) that detects the waveform distortion generated by even the most sophisticated recording system, so recording someone's voice won't get you past its security. (Is it live - or is it Memorex?) It can also adjust for phone versus direct microphone input so the two are not interchangeable. It even supports fallback to touch-tone codes if you lose your voice (and, of course, if your system administrator activates that function).

This is the ultimate in easy to implement security. Try it the next time you get a multi-thousand dollar fraudulent bill on your outgoing 800 lines.

Now that we've explored these rising stars, assume the lotus (not Lotus) position, close your eyes, and recite our new mantra - "Netware 4.1 lives, Netware 4.1 lives, Netware 4.1 lives . . . "


1995, Wayne M. Krakau