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Small Business Network Without Server

This is not a one answer question so I am not expecting one. Only looking for some direction, advice or resources. I have restaurant business with 5 PCs (1 - Vista / 4 - XP) and about 8 printers. We have a POS system running a SQL server that the workstations connect to.  I dont have a server but I would like to configure the network like it had one. I've looked through quite a few networking books but they are completely geared to home networks or on the other extreme and geared towards running off of servers.

I just want to be able to manager the network from my office. I want it to be well organized and I want to identify each PC easily. Here are some of the things I face.
* Some PCs dont show up when I go to see click on "Network" from explorer
* All PCs dont have user accounts because of the way every uses the workstations to enter food orders so I have issue sharing folders
* And many more

I am looking for some resources to look into for best practices for my situation. For example and I am just making something up here, "make sure that all your PCs are on the same Workgroup, you can change Workgroups by..... blah blah blah". I know this is important, maybe, but I dont know why.

In short I am looking for something to read that will fit my enviornment. Something in the middle of a home network and a "real" business network. Like I said I have looked through quite a bit of books and none that I read for more than and hour or so because it was either too deep or to simplistic.
1 Solution
You are right now working with windows workgroups, as you metnioned.  However, if you really want to be able to manag your network EFFICIENTLY, you will want to setup one computer (any fairly decent computer) as a "domain controller server".  The only thing I mean by this is,  Install WINDOWS SERVER operating system on that machine (rather than say, window 7), so you can configure it as a domain controller.  
This OS includes the software to properly manage your network, and users.  It will also be able to provide a central data storage location, if you need that.

If you really want to manage your network, I suspect the cost of windows server (or windows small business server), will be well worth the amount of time you would spend on maintenence of workgroups.

Sorry I dont have a book recommendation, on that stuff for you, but I hope the above info will help you find what you need.
spaced45Author Commented:
i just looked up the domain  controller server topic and a ton of things came that are speaking to my topic. your suggestion about the windows server installation is something that is certainly doable for me since like you said just needs to be decent. I have ton of old components from pcs that I dont use anymore so I should be able to put one together that can handle the load.

I think this is plenty to go on. I do 2 quick follow up questions. you mentioned the ability to "manage users". our pos, point of sale, system is always on on all pcs and people are using one then another depending on the convenience. no login is required so no "user" management is realky needed. Does this change your recommendaton at all?

lastly, will I face any big issues with the fact that I am running different windows versions? I kind of have no choice on this one since the pos system is compatible with certain versions of windows?
Mohammed HamadaSenior IT ConsultantCommented:
If your problem is just with sharing folder, you could solve it with less time and effort and resources too.

In my opinion to your case, setting up a Domain server would cause you to spend more time and maybe more money, because setting up a DC means that problems will start happening! If the PC goes down then sometimes users won't be able to login if they are joined to the DC except with their local computer accounts. because DC accounts and local accounts are different.

The way you can ease things is by using a simple FTP Server e.g. (FileZilla) and setup an account (anonymous) without a password and give it the permission to do anything like create and delete folders ..etc

The 5 PCs will have to only Map the FTP network drive and be able to do it without any problem.
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Dave BaldwinFixer of ProblemsCommented:
What I think you should do is hire someone who can help you set it up and explain it to you so you can keep it running.
One of the main features of using a domain controller is to manage user logons and security.  If you dont think you will be using that component then perhaps a domain controller is NOT the best way to go.
Setting one up WILL indeed introduce potential problems, as moh10ly pointed out.  It is fairly complex software so both misconfiguration, and glitches can cause problems for the whole network.  I still prefer to use a domain controller to manage networks of more than 3 computers,  I feel the complexity is worth the benifits in security and management efficiency.  Dave Baldwin makes an excellent point, and though professional help costs more, it might very well be worth it in the long run, especially in the initial setup phase.

To answer your followup questions:
Logon: Even with a domain controller you an certainly configure the workstation computers, running the POS, to never automatically logoff.   So, you'd only have logon once when rebooting the workstation.
As long as your workstations are running a "professional" version of windows, they will be able to connect with the domain controller.  IMPORTANT:  if you have any "home" versions of windows workstations, they WILL NOT be able to connect to the domain controller.   (Though I doubt you would face any compatibility issues with your POS if you upgrade a workstation from a "home" to "pro", as long a you dont change the OS version.)

Let us know which way you go, spaced45!
spaced45Author Commented:
great! info thank u for your time
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