General purpose news server for Windows 95/98/NT platforms
June 5, 2002
With a rather expensive price tag and some questionable support policies, Cassandra needs to be knock-your-socks-off software in order to make it in the crowded news server market. While Cassandra has many outstanding features, it won't knock your socks off, but it might merit a look if you're tired of working with hard-to-configure news servers. And while beta releases of Cassandra limited the news server to Windows NT environments, the official release adds full support for Windows 95/98 as well.
Cassandra uses the NNTP (Network News Transport Protocol) network protocol to distribute messages to mail and news clients. However, any discussion -- intranet- or Internet-based -- can be distributed via Cassandra, placing it in the same league as Netscape Collabra in terms of fostering collaborative discussions. In addition to being fully compliant with the NNTP protocol (as defined in RFC977), Cassandra is also in accordance with the Usenet Standard for Interchange of Messages (as defined in RFC850) and the Common NNTP Extensions (draft-barber-nntp-imp-07).
Cassandra's most compelling feature -- and the selling point that should make it worthy of evaluation by any harried administrator who doesn't have a ton of time to devote to newsgroups -- is its easy-to-use graphical user interface. Administration is performed via a graphical Windows program that looks and functions like the Windows Explorer. You can run this program from any machine on the network where the program is installed. There is also a remote configuration utility that can be executed on any remote computer; however, there are no remote browser-based administration tools.
Policies like storage capacity and message expiration dates, as well as content-based rules, can be applied to individual newsgroups or to sets of newsgroups. In addition, user profiles can allow you to set permissions for specific newsgroups or a collection of newsgroups. Permissions can be applied to specific IP addresses; for example, you may want to limit access by your remote users in the Sioux City office while allowing more liberal permissions for the home-office employees in Bozeman. Since most of these newsgroups are intended for a more specific set of users -- as opposed to the larger, public Usenet newsgroups -- account information can be imported from the Windows NT User Manager utility to make sure that only authorized users have access to the news.
Cassandra also does a good job of scheduling newsgroup feeds. Most sites targeted by Cassandra probably won't warrant a continually updated full feed, so it's important to set up a feed that doesn't inconvenience users or the system. Cassandra can be set up to send and receive news at specific time intervals, or it can be set up to pull content at scheduled intervals. These schedules can also be varied depending on the day of the week. And if you're working with a dial-up connection, Cassandra can be set up to open and close a dial-up connection at predefined intervals.
While Cassandra brings some sorely needed graphical features to the news-management market, its rather expensive price tag ($640) and its fee-based support policies ($150 for standard support and $350 for premium support) make it a tough sell for small and most mid-sized businesses. Still, if you're not worried about flying solo with news server software and you're willing to fork over $640, Cassandra should definitely be considered for your news needs.
Pros: 7 Excellent graphical user tools, 7 Use of ODBC databases for log information, 7 Integration with Windows NT user profiles, 7 Remote configuration utility
Cons: 7 Expensive price tag (especially compared to DNEWS and Netscape Collabra Server), 7 Support costs extra, 7 No Mac/Unix versions available