Friday, February 20, 2009

Vault-OS : The ZAK Kit For Windows NT

I have been trying to set up the Zero Administration Kit for Windows NT so I can essentially push whatever I want down to any thin client system in the Vault connected to the network.

I spend about 3/4 of my time in the evenings and the weekends configuring, testing, connecting and installing compatible systems on my freakish array of x86 devices. Whatever time I have left I spend programming them. In a perfect Vault-OS world, I would spend my time getting the central server properly configured and then push down/install whatever I wanted as soon as one of my terminals is plugged in, be it a laptop, x86 PC/104 box, Sentry unit or dedicated x86 32 bit device.

I need to administrate all the systems from the top in one central location in the shelter. I end up having to crawl through tunnels with a USB stick in my pocket from device to device, install the latest version of software after bringing up some graphic interface and then make sure it is individually configured to each device. Each device may have it's own display unit - sometimes it's a simple B&W television, another has a drop-down LCD screen intended originally for automative environments and I have a touchscreen LCD that does not work perfectly yet because there were no specific NT drivers for it.

My original ideas have been in constant flux because testing reveals the reality of how well they will work out. I started on this project with the idea of my Rabbit-2000 connected to a bunch of other custom embedded devices. I migrated to the notion of a small HTML server running Euphoria under DOS pumping pages out to old laptops. After the prices on x86 devices plummeted so low I could afford lots of them, I gravitated towards the concept of small boxes running PowerBASIC 24/7 with a wake-on-LAN call for the central server in NT when needed.

Realistically, my best results have come from running a super streamlined version of Windows 98SE on the tiny boxes connected to a Windows NT Terminal Server for central management and reporting, hosting the big applications like the security cameras and the voice recognition system. Somehow I seemingly went around the planet working on 4 different versions of the monitoring software under Borland C++, then PowerBASIC for DOS, GEOS Ensemble Basic, .NET 1.1 and finally ended up programming the Sentry/Watchdog to run a Borland C++ Builder program again which is now approaching version 1.0 in terms of stability.

Of all the solutions I have tried, none has been easier to manage and configure than Windows 98SE boxes to run the sensing/controllers, Windows NT Terminal Server to run the management on top and the Citrix thin client for DOS on laptops.

All of these systems have had their advantages and disadvantages but keeping it on Windows has meant convenience, configurability and easy resolution of hardware driver problems and network management.

The real key to total control over a network based on Windows NT is to use the ZAK kit to set up strict rules on licensing permissions and publishing applications from remote drives down to local boxes. If I get this working (and I am still working on it) then once a week I can go down in the shelter, upload the latest software upgrade version from a USB stick in my pocket onto the Vault-Co ThinkBoy and push it down to the Sentry units from a single script without touching them. In particular, I have one of the thin clients at the far end of the storage drum and it's a drag having to go back there and physically tinker with it to install a new software version.

If the thin clients never need an upgrade because they get it from the central server and the administration of the Sentry units (with minimal hardware specs) can take place through remote publishing, I will have reduced the amount of work needed to an absolute minimum. There's also the promise of being able to consolidate all of this system on a single installation CD which anybody can run and set up Vault-OS anywhere pretty rapidly without having to manage each and every machine as an atomic individual unit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have a look at this for a platform.
Brand new hardware, not problematic old crap, 5 watts, ethernet, usb, $100.
Put linux on it, run as many as you want off a single solar/wind charged UPS and put them anywhere in the vault you can be bothered putting a wall socket and connect via a single terminal.