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New technology replaces heavy iron
by Peter Vogel


In his March 20 article “Archbishop applauds recent progress on goals,” Brett Powell, the archbishop’s delegate for development and ministries, described a number of Archdiocese of Vancouver initiatives aimed at supporting parishes and parish staff.

Of particular interest to me was a mention of “complimentary hosted websites for any of the 76 parishes that want one.”

That statement took me back 20 years to 1996, the early days of the then-nascent World Wide Web, more generally, although incorrectly, referred to nowadays as simply the Internet.

Back in September of that year, my visionary principal, Mike Cooke, decided to embark on a bold program of technology expansion at Notre Dame Regional Secondary. We were fortunate to join forces with an equally visionary technology supplier, who quite simply said “the cloud will be everything.”

By “cloud” he meant the Internet. And by “everything,” he meant this Internet would touch all aspects of school instruction. By 1996, my own classroom had been using some form of Internet communication for 10 years after I received a grant to download NASA material using new bulletin board service technology and low-speed dial-up modems.

When this new school-wide cloud technology infrastructure was installed and operational, my principal and I decided we now had the means of serving not only our school but also the broader Catholic community, including the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

We purchased the domain name (rcav being an acronym for Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver) for the going rate of US$70. We set aside a small portion of our new server, named Millennium in anticipation of the looming year 2000, for web hosting based on that root domain name.

Initially we set aside space for just root structure and for this very newspaper (using the subdomain name The B.C. Catholic subdomain was used to post regular columns, including this one. It was quite magical in those early years. My own column would be posted to the subdomain by noon Friday. By about 1 p.m. I’d be getting questions from people around the world, so good was Google’s search engine it had already indexed the column by then.

And so it went. Various parishes and diocesan organizations began requesting space on server Millennium. Instrumental in all this was then volunteer and now diocesan employee and webmaster Makani Marquis. A parish or group would want to set up a web presence, so I would set aside the space, using either a subdomain or a dedicated domain, and then set up the appropriate domain name service pointers. Makani would take care of the rest.

So successful did the venture become as we provided space to diocesan groups that with $1,000 or so we acquired a used second server and dedicated it to additional web hosting. Servers in those days were referred to as “heavy iron”: lots of steel, and heavyweight.

Those two servers ran for many years. They were only retired last year after 20 years straight with seldom an interruption. A few disk drives were replaced over the years, but they were of the hot-swap variety, meaning they could be replaced without even powering down the servers. A few fans failed over time – one after an errant employee drilled holes in a concrete floor, causing dust to seize up the fan bearings. But the servers themselves continued dishing up web pages.

Eventually though, technological limitations brought an end to the project. As Internet service speeds improved, and web hosting plans decreased in price, it became more sensible to turn to dedicated hosting companies. At school, our outbound speeds were limited by those of our service provider. There was no way to match, or even come close to, those of commercial hosting companies with equipment housed at major Internet nodes.

There was also little understanding from a new school administration of what the diocesan web site hosting project actually meant. To borrow from the business world, such web hosting was seen as not part of the core mission of the school.

Nonetheless, the school had served the broader Catholic community for almost 20 years, sharing what it had with those that had not. It seemed to be the right thing to do, even if it meant the occasional sleepless night when some intervention was needed to keep everything operational, especially around important times such as Christmas and Easter.

Most of the sites were eventually ported to other hosting platforms, meaning I was no longer sitting next to the very machine that was serving up diocesan web pages, and my own column, for readers from around the world.

Today, web hosting at my school has ended. Outbound Internet speeds at the school are still pretty much what they were at the dawn of the World Wide Web, although once fibre optic cable comes to the neighbourhood it should jump from around 5 Mbps to the once unthinkable 150 Mbps range, eventually reaching gigabit speeds within a decade.

And, after 20 years, we are back where we started, with the archdiocese now offering complimentary web hosting for parishes.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 April 2017 08:02  

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