how to setup 5 locations to communicate with one another cost effectively?

I have attained a job on the side to network 5 gyms. They want to be able to have all gyms be able to commuinicate with one another. Each memeber will have card access to gain access to the gym. They are asking me to come up with the most cost effective way to have all 5 gyms communicate with one another and have all data shared so that all workers can access information and create one central point for the database so that all gyms can connect in order to allow the card scan feature for gym members?? Any ideas guys for a cost effective way?
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Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
Not enough information.
What is the physical layout.  Are all the gyms in the same building?  Are they simply contiguous rooms or spread out? etc. etc. Are cable runs to a central point feasible?

What is the equipment needing to communicate?  Computers in each gym?  Monitored equipment? ..... What does card access have to do with it?

What does "cost effective" really mean in terms of desired specifications?  e.g. is backup required or not? etc. etc.

What is the state of development?  Are the gyms already outfitted with equipment (that would be networked) or are choices still wide open?

You are looking for a centrally managed proximity card system, I think.  These are made by a number of manufacturers.  I have experience with units from HID, but you would be better off contacting some local security system contractors and seeing what they have to offer - make sure they are qualified (references are useful) and get written proposals from at least three.  Many of these systems are available in a do-it-yourself format but, unless you are ready to accept full maintenance responsibility, I would steer away from that.

However, before you do this it would be a good idea to write a set of objectives for the system: your list above is a good starting point but you have many other aspects of the system to consider besides initial cost: how will it to be maintained, where, by whom, how it will be serviced, whether it is a stand-alone system or one that relies on an off the shelf computer to run it, how the units will communicate with each other, etc.

The unit that I am familiar with is very basic - it is a electrically-activated lock and prox card reader (RFID) and stores all access information locally.  It can be interrogated over a serial link by a PC-based program on a periodic basis to get access logs.  The access lists can be updated in this way as well.  It came with a set of prox cards that are issued on an as-needed basis and returned when the members leave the organization.  RFID cards are pretty robust as opposed to the magnetic stripe types which can get damaged more easily.

Let me know if you would like model number/software informaiton - I can dig it up later.


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sbodnarAuthor Commented:

I will have 5 different locations. They will all get new desktops. I want to be able to have them all communicate with one another. What im asking is do I need a server, router, at each location. Do I need DSL, T1, or ??? Im not sure how to set this up.
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If you are just looking for access control I would steer clear of building it on a desktop network; that's the kind of thing security contractors know how to do (or should know how to do).

If you have other data sharing needs, fmarshall has the right approach: there are many things that have to be defined before the project gets off the ground.

Make sure you know what the project requirements are before you start it - otherwise the project can turn into an amorphous monster that will consume you.


how many desktops are you talking about at each location?
for a start you are goingto need a router at each location and you can use either vpn or t1 to connect to the main hq from the other gyms-T1 costs alot of money so you will need to be careful about that
i would get the database side of it sorted out first as i do not know what kinf of configuration you will need for it regards multiple locations
You can implement a VPN comunication using Linksys BFVP41 routers. You need internet to each location and that's all.

Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
Here's what to do as at least a prospective solution *if* the "locations" are in the same building:

Run a single CAT5 cable from each gym to a central location.  The central location can be a closet.
If there's to be DSL or cable internet connection, it's handy to have the DSL or cable available at that same location.

Install a router in the central location.  $60 should do it.  
Connect the cables to the router.  If there aren't enough ports on the router, add an ethernet switch.
Connect the far end of the cables to the respective computers.
If there is more than one computer in a gym, put an ethernet switch in that gym and plug in the cable and the computers.

Feed the WAN side of the router to the cable/DSL modem if there is one.

You don't need a server.
Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
Here's what to do as a prospective solution if the "locations" are at different sites around the world - or down the block.

- You will need internet access at each location.
- Depending on the time responses needed, you may be able to use something as simple as email alerts between locations.
- Another approach would be to share files via ftp using ftp-oriented storage space "in the sky" provided by your ISP.
- If you can obtain fixed public IP addresses for each site, then a rather robust approach would be to use VPNs between 4 sites and the 5th designated "central site".  That would be 4 VPNs.  5 RV042s total would do it.  The implementation is a bit more challenging perhaps but then you could have more direct and faster interconnections.
Fatal_ExceptionSystems EngineerCommented:
Since this is obviously beyond the knowledge  of your local IT dept., I would suggest you bring in a GOOD consultant to help you configure this..  We can only give you obscure answers to your question, as no one here knows your budget, your goals, or your current configuration...  I assume you want this all to be in one database, and that would be at your HQ..  the problem will be that a database cannot be transmitted across slow ethernet lines, meaning anything less the 100 Mbps..  The only way to gain access to a remote DB is through a Terminal Server, which would acces the DB locally..  

So, you need to outline your goals, your budget, and your network configuration, then call in someone that can help you build it..

JMHO of course!

I agree with Fatal_Exception - this project needs definition before you talk about software or hardware it runs on.

Some basic questions that have to be answered:

What do you want to do? (this will become 'What can you do?')
Where do you want to do it? (this will become 'Where can you do it?')
Who are you doing it with?
Who will be managing the solution?
Who will be maintaining the solution?
What is the duration of the project and solution?
What is the budget?

Try to avoid things like 'it would be nice if we could...' or 'we can upgrade to that later...' - these are indicators of mission creep - once the project is defined don't change it unless you have a very good reason to do so and you know what it will cost in terms of money and schedule.

Fatal_ExceptionSystems EngineerCommented:
Yes..  I might also suggest that where we can help the most is after you get the project bid...  we can certainly add content to it, or perhaps point out where your problems lie, and help ascertain a better solution...

You might also research how others in your industry have done this...  They won't give out particulars, but LAN administrators are usually proud of their work and may suggest specific products they use..  Warren's centrally managed proximity card system is a start..  with a combination of this, centrally located servers holding the database, and Terminal Servers running through VPNs or Point to Point T1s might do the trick..  In this vein, I like Citrix, but that can get exensive..
sbodnarAuthor Commented:
Well IM looking to keep a budget of ten grand. I want to setup up 3 workstations at each location. These locations will be in different areas of the state. So I want to setup a central server at the primary location with a centralized database that all the other locations can access. Would this best be done with a terminal connection?

What Im trying to get from everyone also is how to set it up. Do I put a router in each location and that just run the desktops to that. Or do I have to have a server at each location? When a member comes in and scans his card to gain access to the gym how will it communicate with the central server?? Will I have to have a server at every location that replicates several times a day to be up to date or can I just have a the main desktop termail service into the main server????
Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
One way to view things for perspective (I emphasize *one* way), is to back off the idea of "servers" entirely and figure out what you need to have running and stored where.  Any computer can be a "server" in many situations.  It depends a lot on the application and application software.

You should consider fault tolerance as well.  If the database is centralized then what if the link goes down?  On the other hand, will the application software readily support distributing the application database or will someone need to "create" a scheme for doing that?  

Does the budget include the computers or just the network?  3workstations at each location times 5 locations is 15 computers...

If there are multiple computers at each site that need to connect/share then a $60 router will do that.  If you want to have VPNs then $200 for RV042 or RV082 (for example) might be a better choice.

If you don't know how the card reader will communicate with the card reader application server then you need help.  Get help.  The VPN implementation should take care of dealing with remoteness if that's what you choose to do.

Fatal_ExceptionSystems EngineerCommented:
All good points from fmarshall..  and I have little that I can add to that comment..  I would look at the Card Reader portion as this is where you will need to bring in a consultant, since I believe that your entire prospectus is contingent on this..  everything else is pretty easy to implement..  routers, vpns, etc...  
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