Server center directs Internet access
An Internet-access technology developed by Hew lett-Packard Co. in Palo Alto, CA, aims at helping telephone companies, cable-TV service operators and utility companies become Internet-access providers. Hewlett-Packard`s Broadband Internet Delivery System (BIDS) server complex is claimed to deliver Internet access to these companies` customers over fiber-optic and hybrid fiber/coaxial-cable (HFC) networks.
The company introduced BIDS during last April`s National Cable Television Association Convention in Los Angeles. At the show, Hewlett-Packard announced the BIDS access architecture, and home-PC access to the Internet through BIDS using Netscape server software and HP Quickburst or Motorola CyberSurfr cable modems.
Early adopters step forward
The first cable-TV providers to adopt BIDS technology are Time Warner Cable and Comcast Cable Communications Inc. Time Warner plans to use the technology as one of several delivery systems for its LineRunner multimedia service to subscribers` home PCs. As a result of a successful test in Elmira, NY, the full service will begin its first rollout in Akron, OH, later this year. Comcast plans to debut BIDS-based services in five communities by year-end. Steven C. Craddock, the company`s vice president for new media development, estimates that 10,000 cable-TV subscribers in the Baltimore area will use Comcast as their Internet-access provider by the end of 1997.
According to Gail E. Hamilton, general manager of Hewlett-Packard`s Telecommunications Platform Division, "Each BIDS server center can support 500 to 100,000 users. Larger user loads can be scaled and distributed among multiple BIDS servers. Unlike other interactive broadband offerings, which are designed for televisions equipped with set-top boxes, BIDS delivers data directly to users` home PCs" (see figure).
Users access the Internet through Netscape software and QuickBurst or CyberSurfr cable modems. Netscape Communications Corp.`s software provides Internet access; implements transaction security through encryption, digital signatures and message integrity checks; and authenticates users to other parties by name, password, domain, host, Internet Protocol address and user group. Hewlett-Packard and Motorola cable modems support downstream data feeds to 30 Mbits/sec and upstream user replies at 768 kbits/sec.
According to Hamilton, "This capability offers 1000 times the capacity of standard dial-up lines," which she illustrates by comparing an ordinary 28.8-kbit/sec modem--which takes 46 minutes to download a 10-Mbyte video clip--to a cable modem that finishes the download in only 20 seconds.
BIDS for Internet access
The BIDS architecture is designed to help non-Internet service providers deliver broadband Internet content to their customers. On the provider end, BIDS servers handle five functions, including management for World Wide Web content, server network, subscriber accounts, Internet transactions and network security. These servers communicate with each other through an Asynchronous Transfer Mode or Fiber Distributed Data Interface switch, with the Internet`s standard Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) used throughout the BIDS network.
BIDS server installations can reach end-user subscribers over fiber-to-the-curb and HFC lines. Each installation contains five independent, but integrated, servers:
The content management server stages and updates Web and local user-group content on HP 9000 computing platforms.
An operations management server lets providers manage and control remote BIDS systems using HP OpenView. Providers who already use OpenView to manage their computer and communications networks will be able to oversee remote BIDS Internet servers and allocate end-user IP addresses.
The subscriber management server adds, deletes and changes service subscriber accounts; collects user data for business management and marketing; communicates with content providers` central billing systems; and handles user authentication.
A broadband Internet server manages subscriber e-mail, bulletin boards, news databases, chat areas and domain name services to support standard Web browsing, Telnet, FTP, rlogin and gopher Internet transactions.
A security and firewall server guards against attacks from outside the BIDS domain, prevents BIDS subscribers from accessing external networks without authorization and supports Kerberos-based user authentication. The firewall server also consists of an IP packet filtering router with an application gateway. The packet filtering routers are capable of filtering traffic based on IP addresses and TCP or User Datagram Protocol port numbers. The firewall also provides the service provider with the ability to set up dynamic filtering rules, on a per-user basis, based on the type of service a particular user has subscribed.
"This is probably close to a one-stop purchase for companies that want to provide Internet-access services," says Daniel P. Dern, a Boston-based Internet analyst and author of The Internet Guide for New Users. "At this early stage, I can`t really tell if any pieces are missing."
But breaking into the Internet-access business is not the same as succeeding at it, Dern cautions. He explains that "[prioritizing] customer service and problem resolution may prove problematic for any new Internet-access provider. This may be especially true for cable-TV companies and electric utilities, which may find it difficult to ship and service end-users` network lines and cable modems.
"We don`t really have a wide Internet cable-user base yet," Dern adds. "This makes it a young pre-market to evaluate." q
Dave Powell writes from Winchester, MA.