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-- by John D. Ruley
A year ago, Microsoft's Internet offerings were little more than vaporware. Now, the company seemingly delivers a new Internet product every week. Among the latest is Proxy Server 1.0, an application for Windows NT Server that eases Internet connectivity and management.
Just what is Proxy Server? From the Internet, it resembles a single, albeit busy, user. In addition to hiding all your in-house connections from external Internet users, Proxy Server lets numerous internal clients share a single Internet connection. It can also save on connect charges by caching Web pages that are frequently requested by end users. While Proxy Server can significantly enhance the security of your local network, it isn't a full firewall-the product doesn't support packet filtering (see NT Newstrends, February)
Eager to take Proxy Server for a test drive, I installed it on an NCR 3360 dual-Pentium system with 32MB of RAM, running NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 1 and a beta release of Internet Information Server 3.0. Internet connectivity was provided by NT 4.0 Remote Access Services and a 28.8Kbps modem.
Proxy Server installed without a hitch and proved very easy to set up and operate. It includes a CERN-standard caching Web proxy with ftp, HTTP and gopher support, as well as a proprietary WinSock Proxy that enhances most Windows Sockets 1.1-compatible applications (including Web browsers, Internet news clients and so on). The Web Proxy works with any browser that can prompt you for a Proxy server's IP address or server name.
A major feature of the Web Proxy is active caching, a means for Proxy Server to automatically update frequently requested Web pages-without waiting for a user to request the page. Active caching performance was reasonable, but resulted in the phone being dialed once per hour whether or not I was using the system. I eventually decided to switch the cache to passive mode (which refreshes a Web page only when requested). Passive mode reduced performance slightly but eliminated unnecessary connect time.
In contrast to Web Proxy, the WinSock Proxy requires users to install client redirector software on their computers. It supports both IP and NetWare-style IPX protocols (allowing you to eliminate IP from your client systems if desired). WinSock Proxy also uses NT-standard challenge/response authentication. However, it is not currently compatible with the UNIX-standard SOCKS library (Microsoft is considering this for future versions), and supports only Windows 95 and NT 4.0 clients. Users of other client operating systems can still use the Web Proxy, but are limited to Web, ftp and gopher protocols.
On the whole, I was impressed by Proxy Server 1.0. Web Proxy worked well and WinSock Proxy performance was adequate, even with a small (10MB) cache size set-undoubtedly a larger cache would have been required for more than one user. And as an Internet Server API (ISAPI) application, Proxy Server is tightly integrated with IIS. That is, they share a common administrative interface. Also, Proxy Server executes in the IIS memory context-which Microsoft claims improves performance.
If you're running IIS as your Web server and don't need to support nonstandard socket clients, Proxy Server is a good choice. Users of other Web servers, and small shops that don't need an NT Server-based solution, however, should look elsewhere; there are alternative proxy server products on the market.
Microsoft Proxy Server costs $995 for an unlimited number of users and requires Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 1 or later, Internet Information Server 2.0 or later, 16MB of RAM and 15MB of disk space (20MB for RISC servers). For active caching, you'll need an additional 5MB to 100MB of disk space, depending on your network's size. For more information, see the microsoft.public.proxy newsgroup on news://msnews.microsoft.com.
Copyright (c) 1997 CMP Media Inc.