Setup for small network of 3-4 computers......?

A guy who owns a small business that I know of is wanting to create a network, because the company only has 3 computers, un-networked, but I don't know if he really needs a server...
They use Quickbooks but only on 1 computer.  They want to be able to on all 3 computers and have a general file storage area.  
Should a Workgroup just be setup?  or should they get a small server and create a domain?

Can a simple workgroup have a single pc use folder sharing to act like a server for a centralized data storage among all three or four computers?

Does anyone have any experience with Quickbooks and transitioning from a single PC to a multiple PC environment with it?  

Any input I can pass on would be greatly appreciated!!!
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
You could absolutely use a workgroup.  I wouldn't - in my experience they are too flaky and problematic.  Domains are a little more difficult to setup and require a server, but once setup, they are usually a LOT more reliable.

Assuming you go the domain route, you have two options for the server:
*If the business wants e-mail and wants to run it's own email server (enabling Exchange), then Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) 2008 is the route I'd go.  Aside from Exchange, it also offers some added features that are potentially quite useful, like the wizards for administration/management and the Remote Web Workplace for working outside the office.  SBS has a maximum of 75 users, comes with 5 users and costs only slightly more than a standard non-SBS server license (the non-SBS server license would not include exchange; Exchange is typically $1000 or so by itself).
*If the business doesn't want e-mail to be hosted on Exchange, then I'd opt for Microsoft Foundation Server 2008 R2.  This is only sold WITH a server from several OEMs like HP and Dell.  I have two clients running this and it works great.  It has a MAXIMUM of 15 users but doesn't require any additional CALs and the price is REALLY good compared to other Windows server products - the OEM software license is, I believe $300.  This is just like Standard server with the only exception being that you cannot have more than 15 users.

With regards to QuickBooks, you need 3 licenses to have it run on three computers.  Transitioning shouldn't be a big deal.  Quickbooks would need to be installed on the server to "share" the database, but after that, it's pretty simple and easy.  Just follow the instructions.  (One of my clients on the Foundation Server is doing this).
A domain with server sounds like overkill for this situation.  You could use 1/3rd of that cost and upgrade the existing workstations.

The primary QB workstation should be the fastest.  A single drive will work OK, but safer and faster would be to put a RAID1 mirror in this computer.  Data reads can occur from either drive in the mirror.  (Install 2 new drives for the data, don't just use the same drive as the operating system.)

Put gigabit network cards in all, then plug into a dumb gigabit switch.  This removes the network as the bottlenect, and is cheap.  Quickbooks is heavy on network traffic (and not very efficient about it either).

Don't use your internet router as the switch to connect all of the computers.  Plug all computers into the gigabit switch, then plug (uplink) the router into the gigabit switch.

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There is a feature within Quickbooks that gives you the ability to have multiple users access the application simultaneously.

Once you network your computers together, you would create a share on the one machine that has the quickbooks data file.

Of course you will have to install Quickbooks on every computer you wish to access the shared data file at.

Depending on the version of quickbooks you have, you might have to map a drive to that shared location of the data file, or can simply browse the shared location within your "My Network Places" on your computer.

I would most certainly set your backups up to where it backs the file up to another computer, so you have a form of redundancy if the main computer that has the primary data file dies or has a hard drive failure.

Nevertheless I would keep your network simple, but at the same time, backup backup backup :)

Hope that helps a little on top of the other good suggestions above!

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I would buy a server. The cost of a low-end server is about $500....keep all your company data files there and then backup the server daily. It makes more business sense.
Legal software and maintenance on a server costs far more than $500.  Try $1000-2000 or more, depending on how many times you have to call in a tech to maintain the server.  The same backup strategies can be applied at the workstation level, and not incur the additional cost.  A workstation-level backup solution will often include free backup software with the hardware.

Hardware cost (especially where $500 is considered a "server"), is the least of all considerations in a client/server environment.

If the QB data is stored on a server, then _all_ users will have a degraded experience.  No user will have the speed of local access.   This is a waste of employee time resources.  An employee who uses QB for 50% or more of the day will save more time than the $500 cost of a "server" over the course of the first year alone.

That's good business sense, when you actually turn words into practical numbers.  I hear too many people say "get a server" without actually evaluating the benefits in a real-world scenario.

It's a nice rule of thumb...but I wouldn't pay a carpenter to build me a house by measuring with his thumb.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:

Please explain your cost breakdown on "legal software and maintenance".  The server operating system has no maintenance charges on an annual basis.  If you mean having a tech come in and "maintain" it, then I disagree.  There is very little to maintain.  If you want a service contract where a flat fee is paid, that can be more costly.  But on a break-fix format, I don't charge a higher rate to work on a server than I do to work on a workstation.  As a result, in a workgroup config, the client is MORE LIKELY to have problems since there is no centralized source for files and resources and, as stated, I find that workgroups can be flaky in terms of connectivity.  Such flakiness can result in high costs to maintain.  As for quickbooks performance over a network, Most of my clients use it and I can't recall one that complains of it's performance.  Generally, it's performance is just fine and a person's ability to use the product will be slower than the products ability to respond.

> An employee who uses QB for 50% or more of the day will save more time
> than the $500 cost of a "server" over the course of the first year alone.
I disagree but would be happy to be proved wrong - if you can reference any reputable studies that might say this.

Though I agree - you don't want a $500.  Generally, I recommend a low end Dell running the Foundation version of Windows server, cost of which is approximately $1250 including shipping and an appropriate warranty.

Consider that any changes/configurations you start making to a workgroup will not easily translate into a domain when you do move to one.
Just off the MSRP:

Server 2008 = $1029
5 user CAL = $199

Installation, configuration, even at a minimum 4 hours for the server and mapping on the clients = $400-500.

But by putting out $1700 in non-tangible software and tech time, I wouldn't recommend a barebones $500 "server", which is not functionally different than a workstation.

Forgot about the "Foundations" bundled product, because Microsoft omits it from their pricing tables.  It's OEM-stickered under $300 for 15 users (no extra CALs)

So, without SA, there are no annual fees, and the software dies with the server.

I would definitely re-consider putting a Foundations-based server over a straight workgroup if there is a budget and space for a server.  There is a definite price break there, as long as the warranty covers the full expected lifetime of the machine.

As for QB over the network...latency in the cartoony user interface is a big complaint.  Locally, single-user, single file, it works fine.  Client-server, the interface is slow.  Waiting 5-10 seconds for a screen listing doesn't seem like much, but when you've got multiple users using QB 4-6 hours/day, it gets to be more than a slight annoyance.  Putting it on a local RAID1 on Terminal Server seemed to be OK.

I couldn't get a "server" for that $1,250 price.  I consider a server to have at least a RAID1, external/removable backup, battery backup, redundant PSU (not a deal-breaker).

At a zero-cost for hardware, I still think a DIY workgroup is still a viable option.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Server 2008 INCLUDES 5 CALs, so you don't need the extra CALs.

But, I wouldn't use Server 2008 in that environment, as I've otherwise suggested twice.  Foundation is ONLY available via OEM (which I noted).  While I would normally agree that volume license is the way to go, for a SMALL small business, Foundation and OEM is fine.  The license cost is, compared to other licenses, minimal.  The $1250 (or so) price I mentioned included:

Dell T100 Server
3 year 24x7x365 warranty with 4 hour response.
Add-in SAS 6iR RAID Controller with 2x250 GB Hard Drives in a RAID 1
Dual Core Pentium E5400 2.7 GHz/3MB Cache
Windows Server 2008 R2 Foundation  Edition
DVD Writer

Leew, I agree with your choice of Foundation.   Like I said, it didn't come to mind because Microsoft doesn't mention it in any pricing tables.  It's an OEM-only product.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Anything may be a viable option... the point is, which are you less likely to have a problem with... and when you do have a problem, which is going to be more detrimental to the company.  In a properly setup domain, all files are stored on the server, the only thing that needs backup is the server, there are services enabled on the server to help ensure users don't "accidentally" save to the local computer, and your positioned for future growth.  Your biggest concerns are server failure (unlikely with a new box and even if it happens two years down the road, you're covered with the warranty that helps ensure your outage is minimal)

In a workgroup, your network connectivity can be more challenging to maintain and more problematic over time.  Yes, it costs less to NOT add a server and just throw a couple of drives in a system, but over 36 months, I would estimate the cost to be less than $75 per month - INCLUDING accumulated service calls using a respectable (not cheap) IT Consultant in a break/fix manner.

Now anything can happen to EITHER setup.  But I think your odds at a low cost (over time) successful network in a domain are greater than potentially expensive workgroup that, among other things, can require significant changes every time a workstation is replaced, depending on how it's configured.

That's just my opinion.
ausman89Author Commented:
this will be the solution, at least temporarily.  It will enable them to do what they want until they grow a little bigger and need the performance and reliability of a server.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Usually, when multiple people post comments to an opinion question, it's appropriate to thank everyone with reasonable comments with points.  Points are a way of thanking those volunteering to participate in the question for contributing reasonable information.
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