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Server for a small law office

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  • Management
  • Windows Server
  • Office
  • Servers
  • Business Computing
Last response: in Business Computing
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January 12, 2013 3:51:28 AM

Hello, I am a lawyer, a sole practitioner, with 2 to 3 staff plus me, all with computers, networked through a Windows server. I store about 300 GB of files on the server, along with my bookkeeping (Quick Books) and timekeeping data. Remote access is very important. I have to replace the server. Any suggestions? NAS has been suggested, but I'm not sure what it is or whether I want something that different from what I have.

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January 12, 2013 4:16:35 AM

Why do you need to replace the server, if you don't mind me asking?

NAS is network attached storage. Basically, it's just a small server with some storage shared across your network. Many routers support attaching USB storage to act as the server for a NAS.
January 12, 2013 12:43:58 PM

While it might be possible to replace your server with a NAS, keep in mind that a NAS is not as versatile as a full server and you might not be able to do everything with it. In fact, depending upon how your Quickbooks is set up you might not have the option at all and may require a full server.

I set up a law office almost identical to your situation, and they were also looking at just doing a NAS. However, they had a piece of software for time tracking as well as their Quickbooks that was directly installed on the old server, with shares set up as well. This won't work on a NAS, as you can't install Quickbooks or your other software you might need to. In the end going with a full server didn't really cost them much more than the NAS would have anyways and they have a full Windows Server 2008 environment with all their software needs, and a system that runs on enterprise standard hardware so it can be upgraded or replaced in the event of failure without any difficulties and for relatively cheap.

When you say that you need remote access, what are you referring to? Do you use FTP to pull data when off-site, or are you using some form of remote desktop? Do you use a remote-to-site VPN? Basically, do you only want to have access to files or are you wanting to have complete access and control to your computer or server at the office when you are out and about?

In the case of the law office I assisted with, they chose full remote desktop as that way they had the ability to pull up all the programs and operate their own individual computers remotely just as if they were at their computers at the office. It gave them more flexibility to have access not just to individual documents, but also all their necessary applications networked and installed in one location.
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January 12, 2013 1:33:03 PM

What Server are you using at the moment ?
January 12, 2013 4:45:59 PM

Thanks choucove, that's very helpful. It confirms my general concern that NAS really might be more trouble than it's worth. I do plan to put Quickbooks and Tabs, my timekeeping software, on the server, and it sounds like that may not work well on NAS. I don't really mind paying a little more for a server. Mainly I do not want to miss the opportunity to become more efficient with this transition. To answer your question, I need full remote desktop access. I travel and need my full desktop environment when on the road, to keep up with my office work. I have my laptop set up to do this now, I think through the Remote Desktop utility that comes with the Windows OS. It works well, and I will probably set it up the same way in my new office. The one problem I have with it is that I spend some time in an area where my only internet access is via HughesNet, a satellite provider. There is some lag when typing. I'm told the problem is not solvable, but I am open to suggestions if you have any.
choucove said:
While it might be possible to replace your server with a NAS, keep in mind that a NAS is not as versatile as a full server and you might not be able to do everything with it. In fact, depending upon how your Quickbooks is set up you might not have the option at all and may require a full server.

I set up a law office almost identical to your situation, and they were also looking at just doing a NAS. However, they had a piece of software for time tracking as well as their Quickbooks that was directly installed on the old server, with shares set up as well. This won't work on a NAS, as you can't install Quickbooks or your other software you might need to. In the end going with a full server didn't really cost them much more than the NAS would have anyways and they have a full Windows Server 2008 environment with all their software needs, and a system that runs on enterprise standard hardware so it can be upgraded or replaced in the event of failure without any difficulties and for relatively cheap.

When you say that you need remote access, what are you referring to? Do you use FTP to pull data when off-site, or are you using some form of remote desktop? Do you use a remote-to-site VPN? Basically, do you only want to have access to files or are you wanting to have complete access and control to your computer or server at the office when you are out and about?

In the case of the law office I assisted with, they chose full remote desktop as that way they had the ability to pull up all the programs and operate their own individual computers remotely just as if they were at their computers at the office. It gave them more flexibility to have access not just to individual documents, but also all their necessary applications networked and installed in one location.

January 13, 2013 12:15:37 AM

Your occasional issues with remote desktop is most likely lag from bandwidth issues or latency, which is going to be common from HughesNet. We live in a rural area so we don't have very great internet service here either so I understand this can sometimes be a limitation, but unfortunately there really isn't a "fix" for this except a better network connection.

Given that you are wanting to do more with your storage device than just file storage, I'd suggest a server. That is basically the first question I ask customers when they are considering NAS, "Do you foresee wanting to do anything with your NAS besides storing files?" If yes, then you are probably best just going with a server. There are NAS devices out there that are great and include additional features like cloud backup and FTP access, but you're not going to be able to install QuickBooks on it or run a domain from it, but a server gives you everything in one box.

What type of budget are you looking at for this currently? Are you needing to use a full Windows Server OS to give you a domain, print server, etc. or do you not really need these functions? Often customers have saved some money by just using Windows 7 Professional on their server as they can still set up shared folders in a workgroup environment, control user account access to data across their network, set up remote desktop connection, and install applications which can share data or have shared access via remote desktop.

Do you have a skilled technician at your office who will be overseeing the installation, configuration, and regular maintenance of your equipment, or do you have someone or a company that you have take care of this type of work for you? While I can give you recommendations on hardware, configurations, etc. having someone who actually knows what they are doing to set it up for you and make sure it's doing what you need is going to be crucial for a business environment.
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