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Re-Architecting  a Small Office Network

Posted on 2012-08-31
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Last Modified: 2012-11-10
Current system:
HP Compaq Proliant ML110 w/ Server 2000 or 2003.
1GB RAM

- hosts Quickbooks company files (usually has 1 remote user .. rarely 2 .. sometimes 1 local user)
- hosts Service 2000 "S2K" networked automotive application
- is used as workstation for S2K and various web-based app's
- file server for the office

5 Windows XP workstations:
- use the S2K app on the server
- some workstations access files on the server
- 2 are Quickbooks workstations .. usually just 1
- workstations open Word and Excel on files resident on the Server

The system is slow and I have some thoughts about re-architecting it.  The system resides in a rural area with little Server OS support.  And, this system has little need for a Windows Server OS.  So, I'd lean to something like Windows 7 Pro for all the computers - in whatever hardware is most suitable.

The only application that currently requires Windows Server OS is the S2K app.  
So, as a first step I plan to move the user files to a workstation as the "file server".
Same thing for the Quickbooks files on another workstation - probably put them on the workstation that does the bulk of the Quickbooks work.  That only makes sense.

In the future, S2K can be replaced with the latest app which does not require a Windows Server OS.  Then replace that machine with one with Windows 7 Pro.

Any comments on the approach?
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Question by:Fred Marshall
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by:Mike
ID: 38355345
Get a new server with Windows Server 2008 R2 Std and run that as the QB host, S2K host, and file server.  One centralized location, and only one location that needs to be backed up.  People should not be using this as a "workstation".  Get an el cheapo computer for this purpose.

You can get a reasonably priced Dell PowerEdge T110 to use.
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by:djcanter
ID: 38355355
Stick with a Server OS.  Peer networks make me cringe. Authentication issues, password mismatches,virus issues on the 'fileserver' due to users  disregard for safe browsing.
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by:Fred Marshall
ID: 38355462
djcanter:   A well-managed network doesn't have virus issues that much .. although I definitely agree with the safe browsing comment.  It's the #1 cause of infected machines.  This suggests a dedicated machine that is primarily headless - or an enterprise firewall with web filtering.  

I don't know your experience but would you introduce a Linux server and leave it for someone else to maintain?  arghhhh....  My views are sort of like that regarding Windows Server OS - being in a small rural location with very little Server OS support available.
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Run5k earned 2000 total points
ID: 38355625
I would tend to agree with the previous suggestions regarding a Server 2008 R2 tech solution.  However, if you really feel that it's preferrable to configure a Windows 7 Professional machine as your file server, it's certainly possible.  The SMB connection limit on Windows 7 machines is 20, so you wouldn't need to worry in that regard.

There is one compelling "best practice" that you should implement to the Win7 machine that would be functioning as a file server.  You need to make a pair of changes within the registry of the Window 7 operating system so that it will allocate resources in an optimal manner for any Windows XP workstations.

Open the registry editor, navigate to the following key and change the value to "1"

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\LargeSystemCache

Next, navigate to the following key and change the value to "3"

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\LanmanServer\Parameters\Size

After that, reboot your Windows 7 system and the problem should be gone.

Here is an old Microsoft KB article that explains the rationale behind the registry changes:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/232271
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by:Fred Marshall
ID: 38355673
OK:

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\LargeSystemCache

1 = Maximize Throughput for File Sharing

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\LanmanServer\Parameters\Size

3 = Maximize Throughput for File Sharing and Maximize Throughput for Network Applications
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by:djcanter
ID: 38355820
I used to work for a software vendor that would deploy peer to peer networks. I cant count the headaches that were encountered. Sometime beginning in early 2011, we had name resolution issues as our local ISP began returning dns results for single label hostnames. The only clients that were unaffected were in a windows domain environment with internal dns.
How many times we were forced to flatten and reload the 'Server' PC because the OS was unstable due to users(or issues caused by users).  And how about when Bob decides he wants to apssword protect his account on his main pc, all of a sudden he cant access any other networked resources.

Since Windows 2000 I have advocated a domain environment for anything more than a 2 PC network.  Redirected Document stores,  RDS RemoteApp, Group policies.  As mentioned you can pickup a Dell entry level server with Server08 R2 for little more than you would pay for a decent workstation. I dont buy that supportability is a valid argument for not implementing Windows server OS either.  With decent RMM tools, I can support clients on the opposite coast. Stick a DRAC card in the server and I will support it across the ocean.
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by:Fred Marshall
ID: 38356466
djcanter:  Can you help me understand
our local ISP began returning dns results for single label hostnames
?
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by:Fred Marshall
ID: 38356480
djcanter: I guess our experiences are different.

I *do* try to support my customers - not just being self-serving.
The fact is I've evolved my own capabilities in this market where there are too few servers to mess with.  So I don't feel I can give affordable support.  When I've tried I've found that I would have to waste time in low probability server problems.

This gives me an idea: Team up with someone who can do it remotely.  That should work very well actually.  Then I could provide a broader range of services and maybe in this case, serve the customer better.  But teaming up with a stranger and bringing them into customer's networks where I'm trusted seems a bit of a leap.  

Then there's the issue of managing costs, etc. etc.  
What is the going rate for prearranged remote  tech support per hour in the wide world?
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by:ChiefIT
ID: 38356667
Let me be straight and blunt: You are opening up a big can of WhoopA$$ on yourself.

First off, your work is OK. I am concerned you are not a big advocate of server based operations. Centralized authentication (domain controllers) are almost a must in any business scenario. Stick with a domain, as recommended above.

Third-party contracting:
Good contractors are PAID $$$. My last contract job offer was 6 figures. This might exceed your budget for network support of your customers. Also, because they are your customers, you must take into consideration corporate/business espionage, and IT security. Trade secrets and personal data are lost in some situations with third parties involved.

Re-designing networks is DIFFERENT than technical support. You are moving up from tech support to basically their IT manager. If they have the budget, they need to hire an IT manager, then you can assist when needed. It sounds like these are small businesses that don't want to hire within. So, where does that leave you.

You must have competitive prices or your customers wouldn't overwhelm you with business. Be careful you don't take on more of their business than the scope of your intended duties. If you want to start hiring employees, hire college students.

For a big job, go to the local colleges and say "boy do I have a senior project for you". I need help. Here is my budget. Here is what I am doing. I need seniors to help me design and implement this project. These seniors will have college professors with experience working with them. So, you are not alone.

My senior project was a $2.4 Million dollar redesign and re-fabricating the Entire IT infrastructure of a Government Scientific Research Ship to include switches, routers, wires, fiber, servers, ITSEC, mass storage SAN, and Satellite. Other projects I know of are a complete grade school Wifi and also a business incubator entire IT structure.  If you are a Fire Marshall (as your name suggests) pick the Senior IT students brains and temporary staffing in exchange for a good grade with the school's IT curriculum. Look at DeVry Seniors. I know that many frown upon DeVry, but they have a better placement rate than Stanford U or Microsoft Backed University of Washington. DeVry also has hands on labs for switch and router configs. Many students have years of experience and like me were looking for a piece of paper to say "I am ready for my promotion, now". I think you will be pleasantly surprised with them.

Centralized management:
Once again, USE DOMAIN SERVICES. There is no way to centrally manage a bunch of peer to peer networks easily or without big bucks.

There are tools to VPN into networks and centrally manage domains that are free called (RSAT) Remote Server Admin Tool set. Also Domains can be set into a Forest configuration for easier centralized administration for a forest.

By the way: There are few people with PMI (Project Management Institute) certification. As one, I will tell you that what you are doing is called "Scope Creep". Look it up and it will show you that all IT pros go through this painful lesson.
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by:Fred Marshall
ID: 38366323
ChiefIT:  I understand what "scope creep" is quite well.  That's another subject entirely and not connected to this question.

I appreciate all the comments and believe it could be useful to hire someone from DeVry or .... where ever.    Yet, those folks are 2-1/2 hours away at best.  It's not the technical ability that concerns me, it's the ability to manage folks.  I can't afford to create, in effect, a project management company for the very small number of "opportunities" even though I'm perfectly capable of doing it in principle.
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by:ChiefIT
ID: 38369773
Something to consider:

Have  you considered a  virtual server (or two as a cluster) in the cloud that all your sites can contact for centralized authentication (domain controller) and network shares? In one cloud virtual server, you can host a forest and/or site specific centralized domain services for small sites.

This idea, of course, stems on Internet connection availability and bandwidth.
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by:Fred Marshall
ID: 38370388
Oh my.  It's either that I'm just a curmudgeon or I have a business climate that's so hard to imagine that nobody accepts what I've said.  I do appreciate the recommendations and have taken them to heart.  But business decisions and demands win out at the end of the day.

Just to summarize:

- I provide computer and network support to a variety of businesses (none of them very large - with 50 computers the largest and 4 or 5 much more typical).  
- I can count on one hand the number of customers or potential customers who have Server OS systems.  
- Accordingly, the DEMAND for Server OS services is little to none.
- We are 2-1/2 hours away from the nearest big city where affordable Server OS is available.
- It is arguable whether pushing a customer to a Server OS installation is good for them or not.  It's hard for them to get affordable support.  I don't think it's good policy to paint them into a corner to lock myself in.
- Installing and maintaining Server OS systems is fine as long as one isn't trying to implement all the bells and whistles.  But, when one does do that then there's a learning curve to a knowledge base that not only has to be justified, it has to be maintained.  With few customers, it's not justified.
- If you're already up on the learning curve then surely you could serve the few customers better.   I've not been able to justify that adventure - even though I've started at times, it's never demanded the attention necessary.  Sort of like setting up and really using Linux - every few years I set it up just to find that maintenance is going to be more trouble than it's worth.  I know it's getting better so will likely do something with it again soon enough.

So, I will launch a new question about the trade.  Seems like I did that here a few years ago but why not again?  New players here and all.....
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by:Fred Marshall
ID: 38377050
Seems like y'all would like to get more points.  So, as I promised, I launched a new question:
Q_27855040.html
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by:ChiefIT
ID: 38378464
Points are just ones and zeros on a computer somewhere. They make not diff to me. I would like to help you.

Four or five sites is manageable. One concern is your largest site. I would definately consider a DC on that (maybe a Small Business Server). Once you get over 4/5 computers on a site, centralized authentication (domain services) is a blessing.
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by:Fred Marshall
ID: 38379978
OK.  But I'm still trying to learn.  why are domain services a blessing?
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by:ChiefIT
ID: 38385353
It makes it much easier to control authentication, secure a network, share files, centrally manage software, centrally manage updates, etc....

Think of it as a central management server for authentication, controlling DNS, controlling DHCP, updates, printing, etc....

Also, it's not that complicated when you use the MMC console and remote server admin tools (remember that).. Furthermore, you have enterprise admins that have thousands (like myself) of machines that they manage, right here on EE to help you.
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by:Fred Marshall
ID: 38389020
I do appreciate that there are folks to help.  One obvious problem is that help isn't in "real time" when one often needs it when working in the field on a production system.  Even so, the help is valuable!

The other problem is that there aren't Server machines around to play with in a more or less reasonable environment when one is surrounded with peer-to-peer systems.

It also doesn't help when one's largest client had purposefully weaned their enterprise *away* from a Server OS-based approach - most likely due to availability of skilled support people (and before my time).

I may venture out and set up a Windows Server-based OS again on one of my own machines.  I did start to do that but, because of the lack of immediate need, that got sidetracked.

Please jump in at Q_27855040.html
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Expert Comment

by:David Johnson, CD, MVP
ID: 38586590
Get yourself a technet or become a MS Partner and grab an action pack subscription.. If you have a reasonably new computer you can make your own network using virtual machines .. or set one up on a spare computer.. familiarize yourself with it..

A server managed solution actually reduces the workload of the administrator.. as you don't have to go to each machine and change settings.. And being 2.5 hours away from a reasonably priced server doesn't compute in my mind, software is available over the internet. Hardware is maybe 2-3 Days by Fedex/UPS. I've setup networks where the nearest population center over 100K was 2,500KM away.. I did have reasonable internet speed, hardware was a pain as it was at least 2 weeks away usually more if something of a higher priority went onto the plane..
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