The UNINETT SAMSON project 1992

The 4th Joint European Networking Conference

Trondheim, Norway, May 11-13, 1993

Peter Hausken


N-7034 Trondheim



The SAMSON project was set up to provide networking services to all higher educational institutions in Norway. Most of these institutions had no knowledge of networking nor any expressed wish to get on the network. The project dealt with all technical aspects of building a network to 90 new institutions in one year, plus education and motivation of the employees so they could start using the network services.

1. The Task

The task given and funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research was to find a way to transfer data between the local student application systems at each institution to a central database that would coordinate the use of educational resources in Norway. The ministry also requested that the local libraries have access to the University library database and asked in general to provide networking services. UNINETT was given complete freedom in deciding the technical solutions.

2. The Budget

The total budget was 14.8 million Norwegian kr (NOK), equivalent of about 1.8 million ECU or 2.1 million USD. This was to cover purchase of all equipment needed, salaries and other expenses.

3. The Time Frame

The project was set up in November 1991 as a UNINETT project and by Christmas a complete project plan was ready, a Call for Tender to vendors sent out and existing equipment and networks at the involved sites surveyed. The first 30 sites had to be ready by May 15th to accommodate a pilot project for the student application system. The last 60 had to be up by the end of the year. For practical reasons this last group was divided in two and scheduled for August and October 1992.

4. The Human Resources

For economical reasons the project had to use people already involved with UNINETT. Only the project leader was working full time, while around 15 others where involved part time. An estimated 3 man years were payed by the project. More than 120 institutions were involved, including the Norwegian Telecom, HP and TBK. Thus the total time consumption is hard to estimate.

5. The new members of the network

UNINETT, until 1991 included mainly members among research institutes, universities and technically orientated schools in higher education (past the 12th year). The project was to bring in institutions teaching nurses, social workers, artists, primary school teachers and so forth. Both staff, teachers and students were to be given access to network services. Local knowledge about Internet networking was not assumed. To avoid overload on UNINETT personnel during and after the project, each school had to appoint one person to handle all contact with UNINETT. Depending on the size of the school, this is often the same person who run the local network. Most communication between the institutions and UNINETT is done by Electronic Mail.

6. The Network Services

The internal goal for the project was to provide all network services to the 90 institutions without prior network connectivety. It was clear from the very start that the only solution would be to use TCP/IP based services. The prime services we wanted to deploy was:

  • Filetransfer (FTP)
  • Terminal access (Telnet)
  • Electronic Mail (SMTP based)
  • Conference system (NNTP based)
  • Directory services (X.500 based)
  • Informationsystems (Gopher)

These services can be used from most machine platforms on the market and run on top of most types of network connections. [ The Whole Internet ] The prime goal was to make it possible for everyone to have access to all these services everywhere. The staff at a nursing school should have the same possibilities to use the network services as a professor in computer science or a consultant in the ministry. This brings a whole new group of users into the network without prior knowledge of how to use it, how to set it up, or how to plan for it. The SAMSON project had to take care of planning, implementation and personnel training from A to Z and deliver a turn key system from day one.

7. Network Lines

The first step was to find which technology to use for connecting the sites together. Many solutions where considered, but we were very conscious about later operational costs. This ruled out dial-up and inexpensive PC solutions, because it would require higher local skills than we thought we could build up in short time. Such setups was also regarded to be to difficult to maintain over the network it self. with the estimated traffic volume we had, Norwegian Telecoms X.25 service (Datapak) turned out to be more expensive than leased lines. Besides the thought of offering a variable priced line did not appeal to us. Particularly when it was important to encourage use of the network for everyone. A mix of different solutions based on location and traffic volume was not wanted either, because of the need of extra expertise and overhead at the operational level.

The project decided to lease 64 kilobit/sec digital lines from the Norwegian Telecom. As leased lines are priced by distance, sites in each county were connected to the site with most technical knowledge and then onwards to the nearest university. This meant that we had to reorganize around 40 research and higher educational institutions already connected to UNINETT.

8. The Equipment

The project decided that multiprotocol routers alone would not be enough to ensure stable services at low-tech institutions. This would require the Internet services to be set up on PC's. Electronic Mail and Domain Name Services (DNS) then had to be managed centrally. Another solution was to run X.25 over a leased line from a UNIX machine. This was limited to 19.2 kilobit/sec, if used on an inexpensive standard UNIX machine. After a Call for Tender and negotiation with the major router and UNIX vendors in Norway, Hewlett Packard Norge A/S was chosen. TBK was subcontractor on routers.

The project bought HP series 9000 model 705 with 16 Mb RAM, 420 Mb disk and 2 Gb DAT to all the institutions without prior network connections.

HP-ER routers was bought to realize the physical network. These routers connected HP-ER to HP-ER using Wellfleets own Point-to-Point protocol or HP-ER to cisco using X.25 or PPP.

To accommodate all new connections into the universities, the project had to buy 7 new cisco AGS+ routers and finance upgrades at several regional colleges.

9. Configuring the UNIX machine

To deliver a UNIX machine as it comes from the vendor directly to the institutions was out of the question. Manually configuring 90 machines in four different locations was not considered a good idea either. Three men used three weeks to set up a prototype machine with the needed software. In addition a system for easy configuration of the machines was made. A tape with this software was given to HP and the machines were installed preconfigured for the specific site by the HP staff. The HP-ER routers was preconfigured for each site by TBK. Normally an installation of a router and a UNIX machine took less than half an hour at each site. Some remote sites had the equipment shipped out and then set it up themselves with telephone guidance. [ TCP/IP Network Administration ]

10. The UNIX machine

The UNIX machine serves as a postoffice for Electronic Mail, DNS server for the local Internet domain and as a general workstation for the network services. It runs X Windows with HP's Visual User Environment (VUE) configured with all Internet services. It also has all services available in a menu for users that login over the network with telnet. Unfortunately the superuser on UNIX machine can easily do considerable damage. The local IT-responsible does not have the superuser password to the machine. The tasks that have to be done locally are done by a system developed by the project that allow non-superusers to:

  • Maintain users and mail addresses
  • Maintain rerouting to PC mail gateways
  • Maintain local machines in the DNS
  • Administrate subdomains etc. in the DNS
  • Backup and restore
  • Reboot or shutdown the machine
  • Administrate downloading of software

11. Maintaining Software

To update more than 90 UNIX machines with new software or to fix errors might be very time consuming. To avoid having to repeat any operation 90 times, the project decided to use a system named track. All machines do, at a random time every night and over the network a check for any updates in the software they subscribe to.

There is one machine where the source is compiled. Several machines does primary testing of changes, before the new version is transferred to where most machine subscribe to. This makes the maintenance of the 90 machines nearly as easy as maintaining four machines.

12. Machine Management

University of Oslo has developed a system named Palantir. This is used for the management of all the SAMSON machines. Over the network each machine i polled every 10 minute. Palantir checks the load, diskspace left, processes running, file protection and ownership etc. Every time something is wrong an alarm is set at the Network Operational center (NOC) in Oslo and the appropriate person is notified of the failure.

13. Network Management

All routers are supervised from the university in the region and from the national NOC in Trondheim using different SNMP based network management systems.

14. Utilizing existing equipment

The institutions had a variety of solutions for local area network. The most common systems were NOVELL, LanManager and Lantastic running over Ethernet or Token-Ring. To provide Internet services for PC's and Macintoshes in the local network, the project collected the public domain and shareware programs existing on the Internet and made them available on diskettes with automatic installation. It also made a system for easy configuration of the different programs.

The difficulty with the public domain programs on PC's is setting up drivers for the network interface enabling two protocols to be used simultaneously on the same interface. Once this is solved the same services as on the UNIX machine can be used from desktop computers.

There is a growing number of commercial products in the market. The project has tried to maintain a list of these products and what services they provide. So far services like Gopher, WAIS, X.500 are always missing in the commercial products. Most products also lack Network News and Electronic Mail. With Terminal access it is always possible to use the services from the UNIX machine, but it makes it more difficult for the user. Integration of personal computers to the Internet is regarded as a local responsibility and there is big variations between the schools as to how far this has been achieved. Some institutions have only one PC connected with Internet services, while others are getting close to 100% of their PC's and Mac's.

15. User Training

A vital part in bringing these new communities into the Internet has been training the users. The local computer staff has been trained by the SAMSON project to set up personal computers with TCP/IP based services. These people are responsible for training the local end users in how to use the services.

The diversity in prior knowledge about computers and networks has been a big challenge. Training has to continue at all levels for a year or two. UNINETT has been looking for other institutions to take part in the training of users.

One effort is to run courses on how to use the network services by distant education using the services themselves. This has been done with success in the training of staff at the nursing and engineering schools.

16. Usage of the Network

In a network with distributed services it is hard to measure how much the different services are used and by whom. But there is no doubt that the use of network services are rapidly increasing in the new institutions connected by the SAMSON project. Logging of Gopher / WAIS requests gives a clue and the number of hosts registered in DNS is another indicator. The number of electronic messages to UNINETT is a third, and of course personal contact with the computer staff at the institutions gives an idea of how the network is used.

It looks like Electronic Mail and information services based on Gopher are the easiest services to get started with.

All the institutions have to use the network during the coordination of student applications for education by the summer 1993. Most communication in this process will be based on Electronic Mail and the data itself will be transferred by FTP. Studies are also done to see how client/server based database applications can be used over the network. Multimedia might also be used if/when Multimedia applications can use a 64kbps line without blocking other services or we have more bandwidth.


It is possible to give large numbers of non-technical communities the network services when the resources are available.

Standardizing equipment and technical solutions gives cost-effective operation. Remote maintenance of UNIX machines in non-technical environments is possible. It is possible to integrate with existing LAN's for personal computers. Local computer staff or consultants can be trained to cover this area, but it takes time. Training the end-users takes time. It takes time to get people used to a new way of communication.


  • The Whole Internet - User's Guide & Catalog. Ed Krol, 1992 O'Reilly & Associates Inc. ISBN: 1-56592-025-2
  • TCP/IP Network Administration Craig Hunt, 1992 O'Reilly & Associates Inc. ISBN: 0-937175-82-X