Help with really easy back end shared drive, network or server

Laurel Bird
Laurel Bird used Ask the Experts™
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I work for a non-profit with 2 staff. I live in a part of Canada that is backwards technologically - MailMerge is regarded as the pinnacle of achievement here. I have developed an Access database with a back end in Dropbox, which worked really well when no-one used the program ;). Now they like it and want to use it, which of course DropBox hates. It produces a lot of conflicted files, losing data like crazy. I did research initially and knew DropBox was not a real solution but went ahead since I was not sure they would want to invest further after this preliminary phase was finished. Turns out they do!

I have a degree in Computer Science & lots of database development experience but have no clue at all about servers or networks. My employers have very little money. Here is the hardware situation.

Four fairly new laptops access the database.. three in the office and mine remotely. The institution has decent wifi from a router on site & repeaters through the building. There is one older (but functional) laptop and one pretty good desktop available to be used as servers.

Can Windows Network work for this? File sharing?  The Board might be willing to spend up to $800 at most. I volunteer a lot of time  and think I can probably figure out how to implement your suggestions, but right now am at a loss as to how to proceed.

Any and all suggestions most welcome.  Thanks!
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Commented:
A small networked hard disk would probably be the best way to go. The budget is even big enough to have extra room for backups, and mirroring. Try to look for Synology's 2 bay options, and fit the rest of the budget with 2 big disks.
Most Valuable Expert 2012
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
Assuming you already know about the ins and outs of using Access as a multi-user database, yes, Windows networking should work but you need to maintain one machine as always-on and the "server" of sorts.  Leads to more issues for a small shop.

If you can VPN into the office then I agree a small NAS should work fine.

Not familiar with Synology but from a quick Google it appears to be an enclosure and you need to add your own disks.

I would look for more of an all-in-one.  I have a Seagate Goflex at home and haven't had any issues with it.

This isn't the model I have but should be similar:
https://www.amazon.com/Seagate-FreeAgent-GoFlex-Home-STAM1000100/dp/B003SU4BXQ/ref=sr_1_4

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Commented:
I am not quite sure of this interface yet, but I am attempting to respond to both slightwv amd Kimputer.

Thanks very much for answering.  I am a total neophyte in this area but will go ahead and look up VPN and NAS, and how to go about setting up a small networked hard drive.  I like more the sound of Windows Networking and having one machine as always-on but what is the role of an external Seagate in that scenario?
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Commented:
I plugged my Seagate directly into my wireless router and it is just a storage device on the network.  I map the drive on my desktop just like any other drive.

It is more or less plug and play, well, I think I had to install the Seagate software/drivers.  I can turn my machine off and the drive is still on the network.

My NAS is large enough for my backups as well as my storage.  I then use a USB removable to copy backups to once in a while to protect from crypto viruses.

If you go with a dedicate server, why bother with a NAS?  Internal hard drives are cheaper.
John TsioumprisSoftware & Systems Engineer

Commented:
Well for sure DropBox is a bad idea for Access BE.
What you need is machine that will act as a File server and serve the files to the rest of users.
This can range from a cheap refurbished server to even a NAS or a Raspberry PI (or clone) that will act as BE "handler"..Personally ..because i wanted an always on solution for some old Access BE that i use occassionaly ...i had  an old dead cheap TV box .. a 64Gb microsd card and that was all...i "formatted " the card with Armbian and then i installed Samba ...presto a low budget ..low consumption server to serve my files...(Note : if i would have to choose that kind of server i would certainly go to something more powerfull like this ..but nothing can beat a cheap 2nd hand server like this....<-- Not endorsing...just a simple google search)
Another thing to take account is that wireless is also a bad idea for Access cause Access by nature is extra sensitive to network latencies and wireless is surely not a "stable" network protocol.
My advice is to go and buy a cheap refurbished machine (server) that would cost something in the range of $300 - $400 along with a gigabit switch and resolve the issue for the years to come.
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Commented:
No need for the big money.

Use the "pretty good desktop available" as a server - all you need is to create a file share on the machine. It should run Windows Vista or newer.
That will cover your inhouse users, but if you experience any issue with network errors, this is most likely caused by the Wi-Fi. If so, go for wired LAN connection. There is no way around this.

As for the remote user, install the application on the "pretty good desktop available", configure it (click Computer, Properties, Settings for remote access), to "Allow remote access to this computer", and then from the remote computer use "Remote Desktop" to connect to the machine.
This probably will (should) require setting up an open port in the organisation's router/firewall which, however, is a trivial task for your network admin to carry out.

This will be a near-zero budget solution that even plays by the rules.
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Commented:
to "Allow remote access to this computer", and then from the remote computer use "Remote Desktop" to connect to the machine.
This probably will (should) require setting up an open port in the organisation's router/firewall which, however, is a trivial task for your network admin to carry out.

I would strongly advise against RDP through the outside firewall.  It is a HUGE security risk.  Get some good, trusted VPN software and use it to connect remotely.

Author

Commented:
You guys are terrific! Thank you! I am laughing reading your replies. It reminds me of the famous art course instructions for drawing an owl.
1. Draw a small oval representing the head
2. Now draw the rest of the **&^% owl!

The fault is with me, not with you. You have given me enough to figure this out fairly easily, so thanks. I am quite ill right now but will mark a solution when I have had some time to work in this. Thanks,   Laurel
Most Valuable Expert 2015
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
You are welcome!
Brandon LyonWeb Developer/Designer

Commented:
I agree with the Synology NAS solution. The reason is that it's going to be the easiest to implement. It's mostly a "stick it in a closet and leave it alone" kind of a solution. Occasionally someone might need to reboot it or replace a dead hard drive. Man hours are usually more expensive than equipment.

If you want to make your own NAS using existing hardware, I recommend Unraid. It's not free but it's relatively easy to use, stable, and extensible.
Thanks everyone. Unfortunately I became ill about five minutes after I posted this question and my brain is still not working. There is a lot of information here, which will probably make a lot more sense when I am recovered. Thanks again for your help, I am marking this as solved for right now.

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