How to "health check" and optimize a windows network?


I have a customer that has a network - nothing fancy - one PC acts as a server, and everyone reads/writes/deletes from each of the 6 PC's. Aside from each persons data, there is also a shared microsoft access database that only resides on the server, and each person opens and closes it from their own pc.

The server is running windows vista home premium. The pcs are running xp.

The network is becoming unreliable - sometimes its prompting username and passwords to access the server, etc.... Plus there have been power failures.

How do I troubleshoot this network? and optimize it? Some are using "shared folders" and some are using "virtual drives" to point to the server... Which is best?

Any steps anyone could recommend to follow?


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Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
I operate a very similar peer-to-peer network with quite a few more PCs.  I see no immediate issues with what you describe.  So, I have to assume that there are things that you haven't yet revealed:

- what do you mean by "power failures"?  If you simply mean the AC power to all the building then that's rather outside the realm of "networking".  But, you may want to have some sort of Uninterruptible Power Supply(ies) if this is common in sections of the building.  For example, you may want to have all the networking equipment on uninterruptible power and maybe the server so that when PCs go powerless, others won't and will continue to operate.

- flaky routers can cause problems that are hard to understand .. because they don't behave in a logical manner.  For example, one can reach some web pages and not others that can normally be reached.  Go figure that one!!  The solution for this is sometimes to reboot those devices.  In one case we have a good fraction of all the networking equipment in one room and have connected the devices to AC power with power strips such that we can "reset" the entire set of equipment with one switch.  That makes it easy for the non-technical users.  In fact, it's recommended before calling for support.  Mileage will vary according to your equipment.

- somehow it sounds to me that you've run into a possible hardware problem.  With a network of PCs I can imagine that you don't have any punchdown cabling at all.  This means you're using patch cables.  Patch cables are considered to be disposable and they do fail (more often if they aren't tied down and can move around).  Best practice is to punch down the long cables and use patch cables at the ends.  The idea is that the long cables are permanent installations and the patch cables can be replaced easily.  So consider this.

- also, in the kind of situation I'm guessing you have, cables are often "home made" i.e. they have been terminated with RJ-45 plugs by someone working there.  In that case you may see cables where the insulation has not been crimped *into* the plug body .. and you can see the colored wires coming out of the plug.  If this is the case then that's just plain poor workmanship and those plugs should be replaced with the insulation crimped onto the plug body.  This is a form of stress relief for the wires and, without it and with any movement, the cables will fail more readily.

So, that's two methods to assure improved reliability of cables.  Hard-fixed terminations and stress-relieved floating terminations.

It's possible to have a flaky network interface.  I have seen bad connectors in NICs that would not capture the RJ-45 connector solidly enough to make reliable contact.  The RJ-45 should not be very movable at all once it's "clicked" into the jack.  If it will move in and out then the jack may be broken.  If there are lights then it's easy enough to wiggle and watch.

Finding a bad NIC requires that you look at port errors.  If you have a managed switch with SNMP set up then that can be a good way to look for things like this.
Check ping times from the machines to to each other and the server and back, and check for any packet loss. Make sure the connection speeds are up to par and what they should be, that's the first thing.

Make sure the machines are clean. For example run some maintenance programs on the server (like malwarebytes, ccleaner) and on each machine, and make sure all the machines (server included) are clean.

The only real problem you mentioned was that you're now getting prompted for creds when you access the server, and 'power failures' but I'm not sure what you mean by this. Are PC's turning off and/or the server?

With regard to the shared folder/virtual drive thing, you may want to suggest that they all start using the same thing. Putting them on a cloud solution wouldn't be a bad idea either, such as for example. Might make things run a little bit cleaner around there.

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Khandakar Ashfaqur RahmanExpert/ConsultantCommented:
Windows Vista Home premium must be unreliable as a server because it's not a Server Operating System.You need to install and configure Server Operating System like as Windows 2003.2008 etc.It's better if you could create and administer a domain otherwise workgroup would be ok.

1.For Windows network you'll face challanges if you don't use anti-virus.
2.If you want to check network throughput you can use 'Iperf' tool.
3.You may use AVG PC Tuneup into your client computer:
or You may use CCleaner to fix error.

And of course you need to check the satus of physical components like PC hardware,UPS etc.
intangiblemediaAuthor Commented:
Thanks guys
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