Connecting NT to the Internet

Mark Minasi answers reader questions about the cost of connecting to the Internet.

Mark Minasi

June 30, 1996

5 Min Read
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Options and cost

Last month, I thought I had put the final pieces in place for connecting aWindows-NT based network to the Internet. I planned to set the stage forimportant topics such as name resolution with the Windows Internet NamingService (WINS) and comparing WINS to the Domain Name System (DNS). But eachmonth, I receive several letters (thanks!) describing problems in getting on theNet and asking for advice.

The routing and Internet connection issues I've talked about aren't as muchfun as building the world's best Web page. Still, routing IP packets can becomereally exciting when you can't connect to your Internet Service Provider(ISP). So here's one more column on this topic to cover some odds and ends andto answer dozens of pieces of mail about how to connect to the Internet.

Cost of Connecting
Many readers want to know what it costs to connect to the Internet. Theanswer depends on how you connect. You can choose among three ways.

First, you can get a Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP) or Point-to-PointProtocol (PPP) account. With this method, your ISP gives you one IPaddress.

Yes, you can attach your NT workstation or server to the Internetusing Remote Access Service (RAS), and yes, you can participate as a completenode on the Net. However, you probably can't put your entire network on theInternet via one computer. I say probably because you can't useout-of-the-box NT software to let dozens of PCs share one IP address. However,Microsoft plans to ship "Catapult," an Internet proxy server forsharing one IP address over an entire LAN. The idea is neat, but you can't buyit now, and I don't know of any such products on the market.

Second, as my June column explained, you can install a LAN-to-WAN routerwith a dial-up connection. Third, you can use a leased line rather than adial-up connection.

If you put your mail server, Web server, FTP server, or Gopher server onthe Internet, you need a full-time Internet connection. Although you can use adial-up connection, it can be expensive (find out the cost of local callingrates from commercial locations in your area). Establishing a full-timeconnection means your ISP has to dedicate a phone line and modem to you. The ISPwill probably charge you accordingly.

If you can afford the per-minute charges on Integrated Services DigitalNetwork (ISDN), a full-time connection can be an excellent application for thistechnology--find out what it costs before doing it. (For more information, seeJohn Enck's, "ISDN to the Rescue," Windows NT Magazine,May 1996.)

For decent speed, look into a fixed-speed leased line or a variable-speedframe relay line. Low-speed leased lines come in 64Kbits per second (Kbps) and1500Kbps, sometimes known as DDS and T1. Leasing T1 can be expensive, about$2000 per month for the telephone company's charges, not including ISP fees.

Frame relay leased lines can be a better value and offer a minimumguaranteed throughput, or committed information rate (CIR), and maximum possiblethroughput (usually twice the CIR). The lowest-level frame relay has a CIR of32Kbps because it's built on a regular DDS 64Kbps line, so it can temporarilyhandle up to 64Kbps. Frame relay on T1 usually has CIRs of 256Kbps, 512Kbps, or768Kbps. Including everything, my ISP charges between $400 and $1300 per monthfor CIRs of between 32Kbps and 768Kbps. You can save money using higher linerates. ISPs set different rates, but usually the more the ISP costs, the betterthe tech support.

To connect to the Internet, you need two pieces of equipment: a modem orDigital Service Unit/Channel Service Unit (DSU/CSU) to transfer your bits on thedial-up or leased line, and a LAN-to-WAN router to move the bits to the rightlocation. With a digital leased line, a DSU/CSU handles high speeds on digitallines. Like a modem, a DSU/CSU connects to the router with a short digital cablesimilar to a serial RS-232 cable. The rating for RS-232 is only for transportspeeds up to 20Kbps. Although you can use it for higher speeds, I don'trecommend building an important network interface running at 1Mbit per second(Mbps) through RS-232. Another faster, but not as familiar, interface is V.35.

My column in June showed how to cook up a homemade router with an NTworkstation, which is not a bad alternative. Still, a dedicated router ischeaper (usually under $2000) and can come bundled with specialized networkmanagement software that simplifies network monitoring and troubleshooting.

If your NT machine routes packets over a frame relay interface, connectyour NT machine to a DSU/CSU. That connection requires a plug-in V.35 board withRAS drivers. After you connect to the DSU/CSU, you can route packets with RAS asI described in June.

To buy a dedicated router, look to Compatible Systems in Boulder, Colorado.For a simple dial-up connection, I recommend their MicroRouter 900i. For thefaster frame relay connection, you'll have to move up to the MicroRouter 1200i(about $800 and $1200 discounted).

Your ISP will recommend another router vendor (call it "Vendor X."Hint: Vendor X is big--really big). My experience with these routers hasbeen tremendously disappointing, starting with the router's functionality: nolights. And there's no easy-to-use, NT-based router management software. You canconnect a terminal to the Vendor X router, but you need a separate, nonstandardcable (Compatible Systems' routers come with cables). And Vendor X's routerboasts only a 15-pin DIX/AUI Ethernet connector (Compatible Systems' routershave all three Ethernet connector types built in).

By now, I hope we're all connected. Next month, we'll start figuring outhow to call each other by name with DHCP. See you then, and keep those emailsrolling in.

Contact Info

Compatible Systems * 303-444-9532 or 800-356-0283Web:

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