Hardware

Linux solution restores network faxing lost in upgrade

Take a look at how one company set up a fax server using an open source solution on Linux.

Even the best-laid plans will go astray from time to time, so what do you do when you've planned to go from A to B but something breaks in between that won't be fixed until you get to C?

Sandy, an administrator of a state agency running Windows 2000 Servers and Novell 4.11, hit a snag following his well-choreographed upgrade of 250 Windows 95/98 machines to Windows 2000 Professional. Sometime after the workstation upgrades, he was going to use a Cisco voice-over-IP solution that included network faxing capabilities to solve a problem he was having with a faxing server.

However, after he began the workstation upgrades, users told him they couldn't fax documents through the old faxing server. He had to find an inexpensive solution—and fast.

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You can learn quite a bit by reading about the methods other administrators and engineers use to resolve challenging technology issues. Our hope is that this column will provide you with unique solutions and valuable techniques that can help you become a better IT professional. If you have an experience that would be a good candidate for a future From the Trenches column, please e-mail us. All administrators and their companies remain anonymous in this column so that no sensitive company or network information is revealed.

It seemed unimportant…until it was gone
Sandy started working for this state agency about a year ago, but he didn't realize that the server that handled network faxing was so busy until he started upgrading the workstations to Win2K Pro.

The fax server had been a problem since he had come to the agency. It had been installed and set up when the agency went to Novell 4.11, about four or five years previously. Sandy thinks the fax server probably worked fine for the first couple of years, but traffic had gradually grown and surpassed its capabilities. The server had been crashing nearly every day for the past year and had to be rebooted. Restarting simply became routine.

As the first department in the agency started getting the new operating system, end users began reporting that their faxing software wasn't working. When Sandy investigated the reason, the fax software vendor told him he would have to upgrade the server and client software to make it work. Because the faxing software was so old, this would mean essentially starting from scratch, and it would be just as expensive.

This cost hadn't been figured as part of the workstation upgrades, which needed to be done before the Cisco voice-over-IP solution would be installed.

Every problem has a solution—if you can just find it
Something had to bend, and it wasn't going to be the end users. Sandy looked to a reliable problem-solver.

"As I often do in these situations, I turned to Linux," he said.

At a previous company, Sandy had used Linux to provide DHCP and DNS services, and on this network, he had used a Linux box and the Multi Router Traffic Grapher software when he needed to troubleshoot a network problem associated with the T1 connection.

He did a search on SourceForge and found something called HylaFAX that seemed to have the capabilities he needed.

HylaFAX had two major things going for it, he said. First, it was free. Second, it had a mature version number that reassured him the major bugs had been worked out.

He took an old Pentium 400-MHz workstation that wasn't in use and installed Red Hat Linux 7.1 on it, along with all the prerequisites listed on the HylaFAX page. He hooked up an external US Robotics Sportster fax modem to the machine, and he was ready. He downloaded the RPM for HylaFAX and installed it on his nascent Linux server. Then, he ran faxaddmodem to configure the program.

"The only hurdle I had to jump, either because it isn't in the documentation or it's buried so deep I didn't see it, was that you have to run faxgetty ttyS0 to start the service," Sandy said.

The HylaFAX site recommended two possible fax clients for Windows 2000 Pro, WHFC and Cypheus. Sandy selected WHFC because it seemed simpler to administer and it did everything his client machines needed to do.

Another happy ending
Both HylaFAX and WHFC are freeware programs, so Sandy was able to solve his problem without adding an unexpected cost to his Windows 2000 Pro upgrade project. He said both he and his end users are very happy with how things have worked during the month that the new fax server has been running.

"I haven't had to touch it, not once," he said. "That's been astonishing to me."

Sandy checked the logs on the fax server after he got it up and running and now he understands why his end users are so happy with him. The fax server is averaging 330 faxes a week.

As it turns out, the Cisco project keeps slipping in the schedule because some of the costs associated with it are going to be greater than originally anticipated. So the server is also taking some of the pressure off making the Cisco network upgrade, which had originally included a new fax server. "I'm glad I've got a solution in place until that happens—if it ever happens."

Saving money on upgrading and maintaining the fax server has been a wonderful outcome of using the Linux solution, but Sandy cited an even bigger payoff: "Saving us from the outrage of the end users—that's priceless."

Is this a solution for you?
Do end users at your organization fax a lot of material over the network? Would they if they could? Have you found an inexpensive solution for network faxing? Send us a note or post a comment in the discussion below.

 

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