Need some server/storage guidance

Hi there. I'm an experienced, self-employed sysadmin with numerous small business clients. I've come across a puzzler and I need to ask for opinions.

One small company that I work for has about ten employees who also produce an enormous amount of data. Each of the employees works on Windows-based workstations. They produce publications in word processing and GIS software that span hundreds of pages with embedded graphics. These files, as per the rules of the owner of the company, cannot be located on the workstations. Instead, each of these huge files are kept on a NAS unit with a RAID mirror array. The NAS unit itself is BSD-based with simple SMB shares.

My issue is that every employee, including the boss, is not surprisingly irritated that it takes forever to load, save, or print files. Often just connecting to the shares via Windows Explorer times out.

They want a faster system to solve these problems.

My dilemma is that this small company produces such huge files that it sort of pushes the boundaries of what I'm used to seeing or managing. The first thing I thought to do was to replace their old NAS unit with a heavy server complete with RAID-5 array, adapter teamed NICs, and Windows Server 2008 that I would then use also as domain controller and perhaps print server.

The Supermicro server with XEON CPU and boatloads of memory will cost a few thousand bucks plus my labor. Here's my issue: if I do all of this and it doesn't solve their problem (and I don't mean just improve a bit) then I'll lose the contract and a ton of money.

The network already uses gigabit network cards on each workstation and gigabit switches.

Should I drop the NAS unit for a full-on Windows fileserver?
What would be the best options for solving this problem given a budget of $3-5k USD?

Thanks for any input.

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  1. I'm no expert in storage, but it seems to me they would get better performance with a RAID1+0 array then a RAID5 array, or else use RAID 0 for best perfromance. You are going to need backups regardless of which RAID you go with.
  2. A high-end NAS will be easily as fast as a file server. You can do a small test, puchase a NAS, also make sure that each of the systems is actually running at 1 gig. You may want to do some subnetting on the network, even with only 10 users, to divide up network traffic. NAS is way easier to work with than a full server and easier to configure.

    The RAID with mirroring is also fairly slow, if they expect the redundancy of that, it will cost in speed a bit. But does help with a recovery if something gets lost before the backups are run.

    With the requirements you may need to have a bigger budget, fast storage is not cheap for enterprise use. Maybe look into SSD storage. Although a SAS drive is pretty speedy. The one I have in my workstation now is a 15k rpm drive, slower than a SSD but more proven.
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