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Branch Office File Replication or LAN type speeds to WAN files

DEoff asked
Last Modified: 2008-01-09
This is my first question on ee, so please bear that in mind as we move forward.

First, a brief overview-

The Network:

I have one central set of servers here in our central office (lets call them Chicago1 (file server), Chicago2 (email server), Chicago3 (terminal server), Chicago4 (backup/scans/console/printserver).  All of my servers run MS 2003 Server (Fully updated, release 1).  

I have several branch offices with NO remote servers.  Lets call the branch offices Oregon, Minnesota, California, Florida, Oklahoma, etc etc, you get the point.

Each office (branch and central) has 2 T1 lines coming into a Cisco 2800 series router that also provides a permanent VPN tunnel between them all.  Some smaller offices may just use a PIX for this, but that isn't the issue right now.

I have 100 users, which will be expanding to 200 quickly, most of which are in these branch offices, and most of which are constantly-on-the-road laptop users.

For file sharing and backup to our central server, we use group policy to redirect and sync mydocs and desktop folders for each user.  Each user has exclusive rights to their mydocs/desktop, which is located on Chicago1 and synced via offline files to their laptops.

We also use mapped drives back to server shares on Chicago1.  These are not persistent (they are used via group policy set logon script) and not synced.  Users must be in a branch office or connected to the Cisco VPN software back to our Chicago office to get these mapped drives.

The issue:

After many registry tweaks and QoS hassles the branch offices are "ok" as far as mapped drive file browsing, and offline files synchronization.  However it is still not satisfactory.  To open, for instance, a 1.5mb excel file on the K:(mapped) drive takes longer than my branch users are willing to tolerate.  When they are in the Chicago office, however, they open the file without complaint.

When someone from marketing opens a large PDF file (60 megs or so sometimes) or a large powerpoint (20 megs or so sometimes) it might take 10, 30 mins, or sometimes an hour or more to open.  

I realize that this is a limitation of bandwidth/dropped packets/everything else, involving the WAN.  

The question:

I have looked into many solutions, such as MS Server 2003 R2 with DFS and/or FRS, Cisco WAFS, and various other "High Availability" and "File Replication" solutions by third parties, but none have really satisfied me.  The MS solution does not have write protection, so would only be useful for the mydocs/desktop redirection, but the hardware, licensing, research, and setup time and costs are all too high.  Most 3rd party solutions are only for Desaster recovery, or are Citrix type solutions I do not want (and I'm trying to get away form Terminal Server for everything except our financial software, which is dictated by higher ups).

The Cisco WAFS seem promising (but most hardware seems to be reaching end of life), but even after reading whitepapers and data sheets, I'm still unsure if they are right for me.  This is where I am leaning, but would its myriad of QoS and prediction things do the trick?

So the question really boils down to, how can I get as close to LAN speeds, on WAN accessed files, from a central server, and have these central files be available and write protected, in several locations at once?  And how can I do this with minimal dent in my IT budget?
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