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Networking the DAR SoundStation (part 1)

Put two or more computers together in the same organisation and you will very soon have a network. It's usually called floppynet, sneakernet or some such term and it means that any data that has to be transferred from one computer to another is copied onto a disk and physically transported to the computer where it is needed...

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Put two or more computers together in the same organisation and you will very soon have a network. It's usually called floppynet, sneakernet or some such term and it means that any data that has to be transferred from one computer to another is copied onto a disk and physically transported to the computer where it is needed. It doesn't usually take very long for people to get extremely fed up with this way of working and so the company invests in a proper network so that files can be transferred along cables that link all the computers together. In the audio world we have managed without networks (other than sneakernet of course) pretty well. But now that all our old analogue equipment is being sold off through secondhand dealers to music studios where I believe the analogue sound is still quite popular (!) and being replaced with computers, then proper networking facilities are bound to be in demand. Let's get one thing straight, we are talking about computers here and your beloved SoundStation or AudioFile, sexy as it might seem, is as much a computer underneath the skin as Star Trek's Commander Data. This allows me to bring in a new new piece of vocabulary that may be unfamiliar to soundies: computer people use the word 'box' to represent a device with data processing power, i.e. a computer. But it can equally represent an audio device such as a DAR SoundStation or Sabre, since to the designers they are computers too. Save this knowledge for later.

In the old fashioned world of audio, when we wanted to transport material from one place to another we could do it in two ways. One would be to record onto one machine and then carry the tape to another. Alternatively, we could hook up a couple of cables between the two machines and copy directly across in real time. Pretty logical maybe, but a network can do it better. Copying in the old fashioned way is satisfactory, but if you have several machines in several locations in the building, then you need a patchbay to direct the signal. With a network, one cable system can snake around the entire building connecting all the boxes together (the new jargon, remember). The single cable system carries all the signals - the data - and routing is all done in software. So if you want to transfer some material from a machine somewhere else in the building to your machine, you don't have to make a phone call to the central machine room to have it patched for you, or take a trip to collect a tape copy, you can fetch it directly from your own workstation. And other people can be doing exactly the same thing at the same time on the same network. Depending on the type of data, transfer may take place faster than real time. Audio isn't terribly demanding and can travel quickly, full bandwidth video would take a little longer.

Networks commonly take two forms, one where each user has his or her own box and they communicate on the same level. A step up from this is where there is an extra box called a 'server' which is central to the whole network and is a large repository for data, upon which any of the users can call. In fact in an office where the bulk of the data is word processor files and spreadsheet documents etc. which don't demand much in terms of data transfer rate, there may be no need for individual users to have their own data storage and their boxes might be 'diskless nodes' on the network, all data being sourced and stored on the server's disk or disks.

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By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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