WWW94: DEC's WWW server, a case study


presented by russ jones, digital equipment corporation

introduction

Digital Equimpent Corporation (DEC) was one of the first large companies that provide information to their customers, prospects and partners via the web. the author presented the major goals of their approach, the actual implementation plus the results and what was learned during the process of setting up a WWW server.

goals

DEC wanted its server to be setup as fast as possible ("time to market"). since the basic information was already there as an FTP archive, all that was needed was a way to present the data in WWW-style.
the FTP archive is divided into directories. each document is available as an ASCII textfile and/or as a postscript file. the later is often also available as a ZIP file and/or in other compressed formats. plus there is an abstract for each document.

DEC also wanted to establish several indexes so the readers could find a document in many different ways. users shall be able to navigate by:

design issues

DEC wanted to give their documents a unified look. a basic style guide was set up. beside other rules, each page should have:

while experimenting with graphics, it has become clear the images must be kept small and rare. too many or too large images lead to unacceptable response time because a huge amount of data has to be transferred over the network which in turn distracts users from reading such pages.

implementation

because most of the information was already in place - as mentioned above - the basic work was to generate HTML documents, that would include the text from the abstract and links to the related files. beside that, the various indexes have to be built. both operation were automated.

building the indexes was rather easy. the procedure runs every night and rebuilds the indexes to include new documents.
also most of the HTML documents could be generated automatically from the abstracts. however some restrictions became apparent. by definition, HTML leaves the formatting of the document to the client. currently HTML does not support special formats like tables, TABs, etc. so in some cases it was necessary to convert the document manually or the original ASCII text was wrapped with the "preformated tag" which allows to preserve to format of a text.

results and lessons learned

it took DEC five months to setup a WWW server and to prepare the data. when it went on-line on october 1993, there were 1500+ HTML documents containing about 32'000 links.

one of the major problems encountered during the first few months was the fact, that they used URLs with absolute addresses. therefore it was not possible to move documents around or even to another system. all URLs that referred to another HTML document where translated into relative addresses.


i have no link information for this paper on the web, but you may want to browse through digital's WWW server.
2nd_day_dec / 13-jun-94 (ra) / reto ambühler