Nelson López Centeno <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Viena García Acosta <email@example.com>
Carlos Armas Alvarez de la Campa <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Felix Miguel Armona Araujo <email@example.com>
Ricardo Ricardo Parellada <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Luis F. Lorenzo-Luaces <email@example.com>
Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
This paper describes the development of intranet services (CIGB Intranet) at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), a biotechnology research institution in Havana, Cuba. Although CIGB has no direct connection to the Internet, since 1991 it has been providing dial-up-based electronic mail services to its user base. At the same time an internal networking infrastructure was developed to provide the organization with:
CIGB Intranet was designed and developed under some technical and economic constraints:
The evolution of CIGB Intranet can be briefly stated as:
Keywords: intranet, information services, corporate information, WWW, CGI applications.
The Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) is an institution devoted to scientific research, production, and commercialization of biotechnology products. It has facilities in Havana, capital of Cuba, and two other provinces, Camagüey and Sancti Spiritus, for a total of five different locations:
The use of computing and networking equipment is mandatory at CIGB, in order to process the amount of information produced and consumed every day by all different units of the complex. CIGB Intranet, or CIGBnet for short, is then composed of all the interconnected computing and networking equipment at CIGB, as well as the networked information services available to the specialists and researchers working for CIGB.
The CIGBnet mission is to provide a coherent infrastructure to process the information produced and consumed by CIGB.
The CIGB networking infrastructure provides the CIGB organization:
The CIGB campus is composed of four main buildings about 500 meters away from each other. The buildings are interconnected by a fiber-optic collapsed backbone (inter-building links). The subnetworks inside the buildings (a total of 10) are composed of a mix of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) Ethernet coaxial backbones and 10BaseT segments. A total of 210 computers are connected (Figure 1).
Figure 1. CIGBnet topology
DEC, CIB, CIGB Camagüey, and CIGB Sancti Spiritus are also wired internally with the same Ethernet technology. They connect to the CIGB campus either via dial-up UUCP (DEC, CIGB Sancti Spiritus) or RENACYT (Red Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología), the X.25-based national academic network. CIGB Camagüey and CIB have access through RENACYT, while CIGB Sancti Spiritus and DEC connect through dial-up services (Figure 1b). CIGBnet exchanges TCP/IP-based services with some other academic institutions also connected to RENACYT.
Figure 1b. CIGB locations
CIGBnet began operations in 1991. Some limitations, technical and financial, handicapped the development of the network:
The first service available in 1991 was, of course, e-mail. Users accessed the e-mail server (a System V-UNIX PC) via dial-up lines and asynchronous modems. At the beginning of 1992 CIGBnet was provided a UUCP connection to Web Networks in Toronto, Canada, which has been (and is) the mail exchanger to the Internet for CIGBnet. By the beginning of 1993 there were 30 computers connected via Ethernet technology, while 20 used modem technology to access e-mail services.
As of January 1997, there are 210 computers connected in the CIGB campus in 10 subnetworks. Multiprotocol PC-based routers link the subnetworks to provide access to services residing on Novell's Netware, WindowsNT, and UNIX servers. TCP/IP and IPX/SPX are the network protocols used on the campus. The CIGB Camagüey campus has 11 computers connected, running on top of an TCP/IP protocol network, while CIGB Sancti Spiritus campus has seven computers accessing local TCP/IP and IPX/SPX-based services. The DEC campus and CIB campus have 15 computers connected running TCP/IP and IPX/SPX-based services.
Computer, network, and software engineers are in charge of maintaining the network operations and services. They are responsible for:
They work for the CIGB Information Unit and report to the CIO, who in turn reports directly to the CIGB Director General.
The strategy applied to the development of network-based information services at CIGB has been pointing toward providing services to all CIGBnet users, independent of their level of connectivity and/or access speed. Therefore, e-mail-based services and online services have been developed in parallel, to suit the information needs of users located anywhere, accessing services either at Ethernet speeds or X.25 and dial-up speeds.
For the past two years, WWW-based services have been evolving into critical applications either in the corporate or academic world, sharing the user preference with the most used and most popular application of all, e-mail. CIGBnet has followed the trend and some interesting services have been devised, reached by users over e-mail or Web browsers. Some of them will be briefly described:
The above services have different formats. Some of them are provided in native HTML form while others use filters from word processors. Still others are provided through interactions between browsing and/or searching engines and databases or raw data files stored in electronic form. Although some of the applications are interactive, other s are automatically executed by servers at regular intervals.
A detailed description of some interesting implementations follows.
The CIGB Projects Information Service was implemented because of the need to reach users in the broadest and fastest way. Coordinated by the CIGB Project Management Office, the information was previously distributed through an electronic mailing list. The design decision was to provide the information through different, but synchronized, services depending on the level of connectivity and access of users throughout the organization. A WWW server, an anonymous File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server, and a mailing list server together ensure the distribution of updated information and documents to all interested CIGBnet users in a timely fashion (Figure 2).
Documents are stored in two different formats: HTML and Microsoft Word. HTML documents reside on the WWW server and can be accessed and viewed using a WWW browser, namely Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer; Microsoft Word documents can be retrieved from the public-access FTP server. Those users who have no access to TCP/IP-based services can instead retrieve the documents from a mailing lists server through electronic mail.
Figure 2. Ways to access documents through CIGB Projects Information Service
The following steps are needed to update the information on the service:
To automate the steps and therefore simplify the task for the service maintainer (who is not a computer specialist) a CGI (Common Gateway Interface) script was developed. The CGI application shows the operator a complete list of all documents uploaded to the FTP server and a data-entry field to enter a brief description for each document (Figure 3). When the Actualizar button is pressed, the HTML index file is updated as well as the mailing list index. With the application the operation is then reduced to a two-step process:
The whole system is protected by a user-password mechanism to access and/or update information residing on the servers.
Figure 3. Project information updating process (CGI application window)
Access to nucleic acids and protein sequence information is critical for the research and development units of CIGB. A vast amount of academic and commercial data banks of this kind exist, including EMBL, GENBANK, SWISSPROT, PDB, and PROSITE, among others. Specialists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) have developed a WWW-based application to access and browse the content of these data banks known as the Sequence Retrieval System (SRS).
The CIGB Information Unit has subscribed to a CD-ROM distribution service for some of the above data banks. An e-mail-based application to access those data banks, known as Netserver, has also been implemented by the CIGB Information Unit staff.
Both systems, SRS and Netserver, provide access, either online or e-mail-based, to the biological sequences data banks available in two network servers. They cover users' needs throughout the organization, again independently of their level of access and speed.
Figure 4. SRS information flow
The information flow of SRS (Figure 4) is similar to other applications that interact with the Web using CGI. It has a small difference, though; the CGI application accesses the data banks through a proxy program. It was developed using ODD (Object Design and Definition) and a set of commands to extract link-access entries in the data banks. Special indexes for the information stored in the data banks should be constructed before the service is ready to use. The task is periodically performed by the maintainers of the service each time a new CD-ROM with the latest releases of the data banks is received. The name of the proxy application between WWW and SRS is wgetz. A typical search window is shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5. SRS search window
The CIGB Phone Directory kernel is a PH server (CSO Phone Book server) that interacts with the WWW service and provides a complete online contact service for each member of the CIGB staff (Figure 6). The proxy program named telefonos uses a PH client to query the CSO server as requested by the user using a WWW browser, and gives the HTML-formatted results back to the WWW server. The phone contacts database is fed from the staff information databases maintained by the CIGB Personnel Department. Users can perform searches based on different keywords, namely name of the person, CIGB internal number, department, and others.
Figure 6. CIGB Phone Directory Service components
A typical search window is shown in Figure 7. If the contact has an e-mail address, an HTML link allows sending an e-mail to the person directly from the browser.
Figure 7. Typical query results from the CIGB Phone Directory Service
The PH (CSO) server allows users to access the service using:
The Web page devoted to network user support provides information about usage of different network services:
The most used service is Netinfo, which provides information on how to install and use different applications, available in file servers, in desktop computers. Netware file servers host frequently used applications like word processors, spreadsheets, e-mail applications, antivirus software, and presentation programs, among others. Most of them require certain configurations. Netinfo provides information on how to configure those applications in HTML format. The Web page is maintained by the Network Services Group and is updated each time a new application is installed, modified, or deleted in any of the file servers (Figure 8).
Figure 8. NetInfo Web page
The user can access information by browsing the page or perform a search in the whole Netinfo service for a specific item, or even send comments or questions to the user support personnel via e-mail. The search is performed by SWISH, which builds indexes of every HTML document in the system.
CIGB Intranet has evolved from providing basic network services at the beginning of 1991 to sophisticated information services (organization-wide phone directory, software tracking system, online library catalog, WWW-based news service, project department information system, product catalog, and some others).
Users of CIGB Intranet have been trained on the use of the Internet--even with no direct connection to it--by providing them with Internet-like services, browsing tools, and structured information organization to access and spread corporate information. CIGB Intranet is not a finished system. It is being developed and customized as the organization evolves, and new services are currently in the analysis and design process.