Fall 2005

TechTalk: Dropped Into Deep Drupal a NOC, NOC story

For more than a decade our MAIN/TCRC community Network Operating Center (NOC) has been running smoothly, with Unix, Linux, NT, and Apple servers supporting both our R&D and free nonprofit organization hosting services.  But even though it wasn’t “broken,” we recently decided to “fix it” anyway.  Want to guess how that turned out? 

Our Revered Online Systems Director noticed we were due a major overhaul to increase power, user features, and operating efficiency.  Key changes were upgrading to newest Linux OS on our primary server and installing later Drupal/Civicspace content management software releases.

Lesson One:  We didn’t realize multi-generation upgrades, like changing Red Hat from version 7 to version 12, are not necessarily compatible with all other server software.  (Visualize a server without DNS and email software.  Now wipe away your tears.)

Our next major upgrades (currently scheduled for October, 2041) will be on our mirror site first.  When reviews are good, then we’ll bring the show into town.  [Tip: Find a sister CN with similar servers; we’re cross-mirroring with Salsa.net in San Antonio.]

Lesson Two:  Try really, really hard not to begin community support server overhaul just before two hurricanes strike.  I can’t emphasize this one enough; typing underwater became a total pain.  Check first with the weather service, religious leaders, psychic hotlines, and your granny’s knee.

But all ended well.  Revered Director was right; the NOC is running better than ever.

Note:  Though tested operations models help, running a CN server is still demanding, even with outside R&D.  Security and spam protection alone have become so difficult that many smaller nonprofit and commercial ISPs are quitting, unable to justify the overhead.  So while we believe ICT networks are important, not every community has sufficient local technology capacity to run its own NOC.  We’ve started testing free hosting for a few smaller towns and would like to hear from any other CNs doing the same.

genepublicity.jpgGene Crick is Executive Director of the TeleCommunity Resource Center, member of the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee, Chair of their Working Group on Rural and Underserved Broadband Access, and past President of the Association for Community Networking.


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