TENET commissions an official IRC server

Announcement by Andrew Alston and Duncan Martin
[ TENET Home Page ]

Wednesday, 18 May 2005

Tenet has commissioned an official IRC server, to provide a platform for improved communication between higher education and research institutions in South Africa and abroad.  The server can be accessed at irc.ac.za on ports 6665 6669.  It is currently hosted at a temporary location and is fully accessible via the Internet, but will be moved into the envisaged TENET beachhead facility once that Facility has been established..

IRC is an acronym for Internet Relay Chat, a real-time chat service that allows for communication between individuals and groups of people. The server in question is linked to the EFNET IRC network, which is utilized by approximately 100,000 concurrent users at any one time.

How IRC works

Users connect to IRC via a client, the client being dependant on their operating system. The most common clients currently in use are MIRC (Windows based), ScrollZ/IrcII/IRSSI (Linux/BSD/etc based console clients) and X-CHAT (Linux/BSD/etc X-Windows based client).

Once connected to the service using one of these clients, users have the option of joining various "channels". These are essentially chat-rooms, where groups of users communicate. Anything said in the particular channel will go to all users currently joined to that specific channel. Certain educational channels on the server for the use by the students have been created, though students will also have full access to the other channels on the network for support resources/general communication/social interaction etc.

Users also have the option of communicating directly with one another via means of private messages.

The benefits of IRC

IRC is a communications tool. The benefits include the sharing of information resources, location of support resources for troubleshooting, and, of course, social interaction between students at different institutions. The hope is that further enabling students and staff to communicate with one another at low cost, will develop the information sharing capacity of the various institutions.

Facilities available on the server

The following channels have been provided on the server:

#irc.za - The home of irc.ac.za server administrators and a general meeting point for discussion of IRC within South Africa etc.
#students - A channel designed for students to meet and talk to each other, exchange information, socialize etc.
#zachat - A general South African chat channel for South Africans to communicate irrespective of their location within South Africa

The following support channels are highly recommended:

#novell - A channel dedicated to Novell and the support thereof
#Freebsdhelp - A channel dedicated to the FreeBSD operating system and the support thereof
#Linuxhelp - A channel dedicated to the Linux operating system and the support thereof
#WindowsNT - A windows support channel

Obviously many more channels exist on EFNET, covering almost every topic imaginable.  As users spend time on the server they will begin to locate and find channels that suit their particular requirements.

A few other notes

The server is an official Tenet service Maintenance. Andrew Alston, who works at the University of Cape Town, maintains and supports the server in his private capacity. It should be noted that IRC channels are open fora, and the content is not generally controlled. A channel operator controls each channel on the server. Channel operators can, at their discretion, set the rules and limits on the channels they control, and remove troublesome users should this be necessary. Users also have the ability to ignore other users if they wish.

IRC is incredibly light on bandwidth as messages consist of just plain text. While file transfers over IRC are possible, the actual transfers of the files do not flow via the IRC server; they flow directly from client to client. This means that should an institution have fire walling in place and permit only the 6667 TCP port through their firewall, their users will be able to connect to IRC but not be able to do file transfers, removing security concerns and bandwidth concerns.

While utilizing an IRC client to access the server is recommended, there is also a web interface to the server hosted at http://www.ircd.co.za , this is a CGI interface kindly sponsored by Nexus ISP. Obviously utilization of this interface does require slightly more bandwidth, and we recommend the use of a client, however the use of this interface is especially useful where there are security concerns about opening up the required TCP ports to allow for IRC to work.

Institutions have the option of setting up their own CGI::IRC interfaces on their web servers, which allows the institution to open only a single machine to IRC for additional security. Should assistance with this be required, email can be sent to aalston@its.uct.ac.za, Such requests will be dealt with only outside of normal business hours.

Should an institution be using a NAT interface, as a result of which the IRC clients appear to be coming from a single IP address, the institution should contact the above email address. The server by default will allow only a maximum of 3 clients per connecting IP address at any one time, and so special allowances may have to be made for these institutions. (e).

Any further queries can also be emailed to Andrew and will be responded to after hours.

TENET hopes that the institutions find this service useable and a great benefit to their students and staff alike.

Acknowledgement by TENET

TENET congratulates and thanks Andrew Alston for the initiative he has taken to establish this new IRC server and for his willingness to administer and support it.

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