Neighbors pitch in and help a N.C. county install a new firewall

Neighborly feeling. That's what Chatham County, N.C., communications software company Blast Inc. and Red Hat Inc.'a provider of open source Internet infrastructure software'discovered when the county sought a firewall product to protect its server while providing secure Internet access.

All three entities are near Research Triangle Park, known for its cutting-edge R&D. Blast, which installed the Linux operating system and firewall on a Chatham County server in June, operates out of Pittsboro, the county seat. Red Hat's offices are in Durham, about a 45-minute drive from Pittsboro.

'Our general purpose was to protect our internal network' from outside penetration, says Emily Foushee, the county's information systems administrator. 'Since they [Blast] were a local company, we decided to let them help us.'

Blocking access. In Chatham County, the Board of Elections uses a Microsoft Windows NT server. Other county applications run on an IBM Corp. AS/400 midrange server'also known as an iSeries 400. County officials sought the firewall to restrict access to the AS/400.

Kevin Bond, director of development for Blast, said several companies sell Linux-based firewalls, including Red Hat, Suse Inc. of Oakland, Calif., and Caldera Systems Inc. of Orem, Utah. Blast chose Red Hat Linux Version 6.1 partly because the company is a neighbor.

How fast should a machine be to run Linux? 'That really depends on the size of the network and the amount of use it's going to receive,' Bond said. 'For a small office of five to 10 computers, [you] could probably run it on a 66-MHz processor.' The recommended speed is 350 MHz to 550 MHz.

Pinching pennies. Blast specialists and Chatham County staff members created a server for the county's computer system by reformatting Foushee's existing desktop PC'which contains a 233-MHz Intel processor'to install the firewall. Before, it ran Microsoft Windows 95.

'That's one of the advantages of Linux'you can probably take an existing PC you had and replace' the OS, Bond said. Legacy PCs often have plenty of processing capability to do networking tasks, and recycling old computers saves taxpayer dollars, he said.

The Linux firewall requires a 350-MHz system with at least 64M of RAM and a 500M to 1G hard drive.

'Cindy Broome

Special to GCN


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