Monthly Archives: March 2005

Technology Brief: Scanning over Networks

This is something I wrote last week for a client, perhaps someone else will find it useful as well… -Ben

Technology Brief: Scanning over Networks
Date: March 18, 2005
by Ben Franske

Executive Summary:
Four main technologies may be used for sharing a scanner over a network, each with unique pros and cons. Because scanners have been traditionally deployed as standalone devices most if not all solutions for using them in a networked environment are less than optimal. Further complicating the matter is the fact that many of the inexpensive new scanners do not use, or use a heavily modified, TWAIN driver interface that has been the standard for a number of years. Mixing PCs and Macintoshes can also add a twist to this problem.

The scanner sharing technologies explored in this document:

  • Shared Scanning Workstations
  • USB Servers
  • Sharing Software
  • Network Enabled Scanners

Traditionally scanners have been designed as standalone devices and a solution commonly used is to setup a “scanning station” complete with PC where employees can scan in documents and save them to a network share, return to their desk and further manipulate the image as needed. Obviously this is the least expensive solution and the most straightforward which explains its popularity. On the downside, you need to dedicate space for both the PC and scanner. There is also the issue of how logins to the scanning workstation should be done (shared login, domain logins, etc). This method also requires the intermediate step of saving the document as an image before manipulating it, rather than using TWAIN to directly import it into your application.

The second major technology for sharing scanners is the use of a USB server device. In a situation such as this the USB scanner is connected to an external USB server device such as the Digi International AnywhereUSB or the Keyspan USB Server, clients can connect one at a time to the scanner and must disconnect before the scanner is available for another person to use. In general the Digi International product is considered a more mature commercial product and the Keyspan a newer consumer/SOHO device. The major benefit to this model is the fact a PC is not required at the scanner location. The downside is that only one person can connect to the scanner at a time and if someone forgets to disconnect it is unavailable to everyone else and the scanner must be USB as opposed to SCSI. Because this method essentially adds new USB ports to the computer (simply extending them over Ethernet) each PC is required to have the scanner drivers installed, but the scan can be imported directly into the application as if the scanner was local.

Thirdly, some software exists that allows you to share scanners over a network. Specifically, Umax includes it with some of their scanners though that is pretty rudimentary software. Third party software such as RemoteScan will also work with any TWAIN scanner. With a setup such as this the scanner remains tied to a scan server computer that could be either a dedicated PC or the most frequent users PC. This is much less expensive than a dedicated network scanner, but is fairly new technology and relatively untested. It remains to be seen how the interfacing between the scanner driver, the scanner, and the client computer is done. It should be noted that Macintosh OS X does support native scanner sharing through the “Image Catpure” application preferences and the Rendevouz technology though this only works sharing between Macintoshes.

Finally, some manufacturers make network enabled scanners which are designed for built in scan servers similar to print servers commonly found on business class printers. HP has discontinued their network scanners (eg. Scanjet 4si/5) in favor of “document sending” machines which are more like fax machines with Ethernet jacks, not photo quality, Xerox has made a similar move. As far as I can tell Afga, Kodak and Umax the other major players in the photo-scanning arena do not manufacture networked scanners. HP, Lexmark and Brother all make multifunction devices that can be networked and include the ability to scan, but again this is not usually a very high-resolution scanner. One manufacturer with a viable high-resolution network scanner is Epson. The Epson GT series of scanners is specifically designed for group environments. The GT-30000 includes a built in scan server while the GT-15000 requires an optional network interface card. In addition to the GT series the Epson Expression 10000XL scanners can also use the optional network interface card.

Obviously the best solution from a technology standpoint is a scanner designed for use in a networked environment such as the Epson GT-30000. Of course, the greatest downside to a solution such as this is the sheer cost of a true network scanner. As of this writing the GT-30000 is roughly $4000, the GT-15000 plus the network card coming in at just under half of that and the 10000XL somewhere in the middle. The next best solution would likely be the RemoteScan software followed by the USB server or a dedicated workstation.

Online Resources:
Remote-Scan Software
Sharing an Imaging Device in OS X
Sharing a UMAX Scanner Over a Network
Epson Scanners
Keyspan USB Server
Digi International AnywhereUSB

Online Editing

As I was poking around the internet today I happend upon the FCKEditor project. This thing is cool! If you’ve ever developed a webpage with a form you’d like to send HTML into this is your friend. It’s a very lightweight HTML editor that you could include in place of any standard textarea to allow easy HTML authoring. I’m going to have to try and stick it into b2evolution.

Recovering the Past

One of the many projects I’ve been working on lately is restoring data from a hard drive crash that took place years ago. In fact, it was so long ago I no longer remember when it occurred. Looking back over my files it seems to have been sometime in 1996 or early 1997. In any event nearly everything prior to that was lost. When we originally purchased our AST Pentium 90 we got a (HP) Colorado Jumbo 250 tape drive and used it occasionally for backup, though without rotating the tapes. This drive used QIC tapes (we sepcifically used 3M DC2120 120MB tapes) and connected via the floppy controller. Additionally, in Septempber of 1997 we had someone ele use their HP Travan T1000 drive to make a full system backup. After seeing these tapes sit on the shelf for so long I thought maybe I’d have a go at getting some of our old data off them.

Of course the actual AST P90 system was long gone, luckily I had saved the Jumbo 250 drive so I started by digging that out and attaching it to my current system. No go. Apparently the WinXp/2003 NTBackup client didn’t like the way the tapes were recorded. I dug an old Cyrix 200 system out of the basement to see if I could install on old copy of Windows and use that backup program to restore things. Again, it didn’t want to read the tapes. I never knew much about tape backup systems so I started doing some research. I quickyl discovered that tapes really only like to recover from the same software they were created with. Of course, I didn’t know what they had been made with and if I still had it. I scoured the internet and downloded just about every major piece of backup software I could. None of them wanted to give me anything more than the volume name on the tapes. I went on Ebay and found I could get a backwards compatible Seagate Travan drive to read the Travan tapes from September 1997 for about $9 with shipping. That was a no brainer. Of course once I got that drive I had the same problem trying to match the software.

Eventually I got found the software for the smaller Jumbo 250 tapes and got it to work with that drive. I was able to look at the tapes and discovered that the first tape in the set had been recorded over and so it no longer contained a valid catalog for the the other three tapes in that set. I did get a date of the last backup done on those, March 1997. Well, that’s no good. It means there’s pretty much no hope from recovering from the DC2120s. My understanding is that if the catalog file is gone (first tape) there’s pretty much no hope of getting anything off the others. I haven’t found a way to dump the tapes to file, which I would like to do because I might be able to get some ASCII text out of them somewhere…

Onto the Travan (TR1) tapes. It is my belief that these tapes were made with an HP T1000 and it’s included Colorado Backup software. I did get a copy of the software but it won’t work with the Seagate Travan drive I purchased on Ebay. MS Backup gives me the media name but won’t load the catalog. Unluckily, during one of the runs one of the two Travan tapes broke which means it’s useless unless I have it professionally recovered and I’m not willing to spend that much. Luckily, the two tapes were of seperate partitions and not part of a set so hopefully I can still get the data off the other tape. I went on Ebay and ordered a HP T1000 in hopes that I can use that to extract the data. That drive should get mailed out to me on Monday, here’s hoping this works!

SO what have I learned? Well, more than I probably ever wanted to know about backups. First, MS Backup is really just rebranded software from other companies. First it was made by Norton (Win 3.11/DOS6.22), then (HP) Colorado (Win 95), then Seagate, then Veritas and now Stomp!Softare. This in and of itself introduces compatibility problems if you have backups made with “MS Backup”! I also learned about using tape backups in *NIX (yeah, I tried that too) and how you really need the same drive and software it was created on to get the data back. I also found a few nifty sites about working with MS Backup files that I’m sharing with you.

This site has lots of information about the file formats used by MS Backup. It’s mostly focused on floppy backups, but the same information applies to tapes if you can get the tape to dump to file. There’s also some neat GPL software to assit in recovering data from MS Backup files.

This site is someone who’s trying to do a similar thing I am, get data off a bunch of old tapes they have around.

Grandstream set to rock the VoIP world

I was just perusing about and saw that later this month Grandstream (of BudgeTone and HT286 fame) will be releasing the HT-488 Analog Telephone Adapter. You might wonder why this is so amazing. This is going to be the first low-cost true FXO consumer VoIP device. Some devices claim to have FXO ports but they are really just failsafes for when your VoIP line goes down. Here is a sub-$100 device that actually can accept incoming calls from the PSTN and send them along to a VoIP phone or Asterisk PBX. Additionally, you can call out from a VoIP phone over a PSTN line. I would venture to guess that this little puppy will storm the Asterisk world and we’ll see a lot more people experimenting with VoIP PBX software in the SOHO arena. A major barrior to entry will be knocked down as both the Digium and knockoff FXO PCI cards were notoriously difficult to get working correctly with good audio quality and no echo.