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Starting small office setup, seekign input

Last response: in Business Computing
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Anonymous
September 25, 2012 6:47:59 PM

Hi Guys and Gals,

So my brother and I own a company, and have a for a few years.. seems now is the time to expand. So we have purchased office space(was run out of my home). I do have some, not much technical knowledge..but I wont be implementing.. I just want the knowledge related.

I'm looking to setup a network in this office to support about 5 workers. I also want this network to be connected to my home network, as well as other mobile devices.

Essentially, I think i'm looking for synchronized desktops.. i know about dropbox, but are there other options?, I probably would need a server for emails correct(we need constant access to emails), we deal with large spreadsheets, and powerpoints, so I would love to have these auto synced across all devices.

Would I need to purchase a server? If it is linux based, would that server be able to serve content to XP/Windows 7 machines? Or would we have to run a flavor of Linux?

How feasible is it to have Android tablets and iPads connected to our network to business use?

Essentially, with each desktop/laptop.. I think I would like them configured to where they sign into a domain, this would allow machines to easily be updated remotely correct? ie I could drop a file/take a file from and onto a co-workers desktop and such?

If my ideas are all over the place I apologize. I am open to guidance and suggestions.. and have been reading as much as possible.

Please assist!
September 25, 2012 8:12:51 PM

I'm not an experienced network admin, so I can't really answer all of your questions well, but since no one else has tried to help you yet, I'll give it a shot.

If you want a server, then you should be able to use a Windows server if you want to. You could use a Unix/Linux based server to work with Windows computers anyway, but this might be more difficult even if cheaper. Windows and Unix/Linux servers can be used as email servers. Also, you can use desktop Windows OSs as a server if you want to, but they aren't designed specifically for this task (although they are much cheaper) and you might need to use third party programs to do the tasks that you could do with a Windows server OS with MS's supplied software. For example, I downloaded Apache Web Server to use a Windows Vista Home Premium computer as a web server.

I'm not sure of what you'd do with them, but any tablet with WiFi should be able to be connected to your network.

I think that you could use a VPN setup to link networks through the internet if you don't have physical links between them.

With the network server, you should be able to share data between machines. A program called GladiNet might be able to do what you ask in that it can take a folder on several machines and keep them all synced in real-time. However, maybe using a folder on the server and letting other computers access it as a shared network drive would be better.

A real network administrator might be able to be more helpful than this, but I hope it helps at least a little.
September 25, 2012 9:32:50 PM

consider office 365, $5/head/month, email, sharepoint for doc sharing, no hardware costs beyond your machines. The other stuff you want to do it harder. logmein pro can do some of that though.
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September 25, 2012 9:55:12 PM

you should talk to a local admin or a company to help you set up your office. you want to try to pick up 5 same desktop so you can make one custom desktop image if the drive failes on one of the system. you also one to look into backup of your data. online and a storage device. drive failures and hardware failure will happen. it easier to set up back up program from scratch then after it happens.
Anonymous
September 25, 2012 11:18:06 PM

Thank you for the ideas guys! I considered the shared drive as well, but wasn't sure tablets can view those folders. I'm familiar with a VPN.. that is a good idea, and my son, my maybe to get a copy of a server OS via dream spark. :) 
September 26, 2012 1:53:38 AM

Everyone is going to have an opinion on which way to go with this. I own a small computer business and the majority of our business is work for small offices about your size, so I'll explain the way that I would go if you were coming to my office for consulting.

First, I would recommend a server setup for sharing files between five computers. However, it might not really be feasible cost-wise, nor beneficial really for you, to go with a full-blown domain. A server system will give you several benefits. The first is ease of access. A single computer is sharing out your files and data to be accessed by all your other computers, meaning your end user desktop systems aren't doing double-duty of dishing out shared data as well as whatever the end user is doing such as developing and presenting a PowerPoint. Next, a server allows you central management of access. Since your data is shared from a single point, you can control who has access to what information and can easily add additional computers to the network and gain access to your shared data without having to reconfigure each computer as well. A server also gives you enhanced data protection. If data in your office is scattered across a handful of computers, all of those computers must be backed up regularly and must be extra careful about viruses to ensure you won't lose information if a computer dies. In the case of a server, you are utilizing high-availability and redundancy-capable hardware which can protect your data in the event of a failure, and if an end-user computer goes down you know you aren't losing any data. This also makes full backups of your data much easier and quicker!

For an office of your size you could simply get a NAS if all you are wanting to do is store files and access shared folders on end computers in your network. However, often times I've seen small businesses get a NAS and then regret they didn't spend a little more to get a full-blown file server which can run a normal operating system, operates using standardized PC hardware, and perform many other tasks if needed just by installing additional software or services. I would recommend looking into an HP ProLiant ML110 G7 server. These servers are rock solid, I've used several of them, and they can be highly customized to fit your needs. Additionally, they are very cheap and easy to use for your first file server. To keep things cheap and easy, you can just install Windows 7 on the server and use that to serve out files on your network. It really can do just about anything you need right there. If you want to step it up a bit for future proofing and the ability to do more powerful server tasks such as virtualization, website hosting, and domain services, then you can look into Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard or Windows Server 2012 Standard. This is a decent additional expense to your server, though. If you'd like more detailed specifications of the server recommendations, just ask and I'd be glad to help!

On to your office computers. Unless you specifically need mobility, I'd highly recommend sticking with desktop computers versus laptop computers. 1) In my experience desktop computers will last longer and perform far better through the years of usage than a similar laptop. 2) It will be much cheaper and easier to replace hardware or upgrade hardware if needed in a desktop computer compared to a laptop. 3) Connectivity and warranty coverage on business desktops are going to be much better compared to entry-level laptops at the same price point. In general, you're going to get much better bang for your buck. I will always recommend business-class computers compared to consumer desktops and laptops. Not only are you going to be getting better quality and performance normally, but you also will get better warranty and software support.

I have had offices that had employees who still needed access to computers while out of the office, but only occasionally and not all at the same time. In this case, they purchased one laptop in addition to their normal desktops which any person could use when they had to be out of the office. This had the added benefit that if someone's computer did go down, such as a virus or hard drive failure, they can just pull out the laptop and keep working with access to files so there is minimal affect from the failed computer.

One thing you mentioned was access to email, and looking at needing to set up your own email server for this. I'd really not recommend this. It gets very complicated and can get very expensive very fast. There are several cheap or free options out there. Get web-based email so that your employees can log in using a web browser from anywhere and have access to their email. Additionally, you don't have to worry about backing up everyone's messages. I've had customers use Google for this task and just get multiple business accounts which they are then able to share docs, calendars, and more. Other solutions are getting email through a hosting service such as for your website. I myself use GoDaddy for hosting and have emails through there with my own company name which can give a much better impression than using generic free email accounts.

Another thing that you mentioned was having access to files remotely. The most secure way of doing this is to set up a remote-to-site SSL VPN that users can log into using some specialized software from anywhere and have access to your network. The problem is this can get expensive and complicated. You have to have a firewall router capable of configuring and handling remote-to-site VPNs, and then you have to have someone skilled in configuring this for you to use. An alternative to use is Remote Desktop, which is free and built right into Windows. With remote desktop you can use pretty much any router for your network, it just needs to be configured with port address translation for multiple remote desktop connections to the computers inside your network. Another option is trying one of the remote desktop programs such as logmein or Teamviewer which allows remote desktop functionality without having to configure anything in your router. The difference here is most of the remote desktop programs like Teamviewer have some fee to use for business purposes.

When it comes to using mobile devices for work purposes in your network, well that just gets much more difficult. Mainly this is because your tablets are much more limited in their functionality and inter-connectivity in the business world. You can't really just plug in your printer to your iPad and print out that spreadsheet. A lot of this comes down to what you intend to do on your tablet device. Are you just wanting access to emails? Pull up pictures and documents? Or are you wanting to be able to completely replace your desktop if needed and type reports or create powerpoint presentations? I don't really know what kind of work your company does, so this is a hard answer to give really. Because of the limited capabilities of current tablets, unless you have a developer and some specialized software that is specifically built for use on your chosen tablet, I'd just stay away. They can be fine to get on a web browser or pull up your email, but little else in the business right now in general. This is going to change when the Windows 8 tablets release next month, though. At that point pretty much anything you can do on your desktop you can do on your tablet including mapped network drives, installing printers, and installing any program you would install on your normal desktop. If you're wanting to implement Android or Apple tablets right now, you're having to look into a whole new category of compatibility and complexities to get your information working properly. If instead you're looking at Windows 8 tablets then there's nothing new it's just like adding or working with any other normal computer system.
Anonymous
September 26, 2012 3:48:58 AM

^^ oh my.. thank you so much for this post. It will definitely take me a day or two to digest it all! One quick question I do have, is what purpose would virtualization server in the business world?

I always hear this term being tossed, but I don't understand the benefit? Does it just allow you to run multiple operating systems on the server? Why would you want to do this?
September 26, 2012 3:54:38 AM

You can run multiple systems on a single server through virtual machines. It lets you have several dedicated systems within a single computer and can allow for easier maintenance, although that's probably not the only benefits. For example, I can easily back up a web server virtual machine and even if I have a severe hardware failure on the main computer, I can simply upload the virtual machine to another hardware computer and open it up if that computer has proper software (which although maybe not for businesses, is freely available for personal usage with multiple programs).

I could go as far as using several lower end machines, each running only one or two virtual machines out of say five or more, if I have too, so it's a very convenient way to deploy features such as email servers.
September 26, 2012 4:20:13 AM

Virtualization really shows its benefits when having to leverage multiple tasks on multiple machines, but in a small business office environment like yours that's not really the case. In your situation virtualization is really intended to help with the continuity of data and help minimize the affects of hardware failures.

As luciferano stated above, if you are running your server as a virtual machine instead of based directly on the physical hardware, then you can move that virtual machine to a completely different computer if you need, start it up, and you're back up and running. We have had to do this before to recover domain controllers when a physical server crashes.

There's several ways of running a system as a virtual machine, each takes a little work to learn. For a simple server like you would need, you can do the free version of VMWare's ESXi HyperVisor and run a single virtual machine with Windows 7, this is going to be the cheapest option. I've personally had difficulties getting virtual machines backed up efficiently using this version of ESXi though. It does have more of a learning curve. The other option might be to use Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard or 2012 Standard. The good news with both of these is its your standard Windows operating system so the support is there for all your drivers and other software needs, and a single OEM license includes a key for your physical server AND one virtual server. For small systems I've personally had better luck with Hyper-V as it is simple and can be easier for customers to learn and manage themselves since it's the standard Windows system.
Anonymous
September 26, 2012 4:51:13 AM

You guys are quick! Ok, so correct me if im wrong, and bear with me.. but is it like:
I have the server running Server 08 R2.. but nothing integral is installed on the server except for the VM..lets say Hyper-V where I'm running a Windows 7 OS installed. On this VM/Windows 7.. i would install my active directory, exchange, setup the group policies for my business, shared/networked folders etc. Users would essentially access the VM, rather than the actual OS on the server?

If anything were to crash hardware wise.. its easy to migrate to a similar hardware compatible server ie a Proliant.. and get up and running again in short order?
September 26, 2012 2:04:50 PM

You have the general idea, but if you're doing a Hyper-V setup on Server 08 on the physical machine, then it would make more sense to just use another instance of Server 08 as your virtual machine since your license comes with one activation for the physical server AND one for a virtual server. The Server 08 would offer you the ability to run active directory and group policies where Windows 7 does not.

Migrating virtual machines is pretty powerful. In reality you wouldn't even have to migrate the system to similar hardware. I've taken Windows VMs from Hyper-V on an AMD based system from a few years back and moved it to an Intel based HP ProLiant running Hyper-V and it ran without any problems or changes needed.

To move to a different computer with your virtual machine, you would just need to use some spare computer with a moderate amount of CPU and RAM hardware capabilities, install Windows Server 08 R2 Standard and add the Hyper-V role, then you just transfer the virtual hard drive, which has all the data of the virtual machine, and set up the machine properties in the settings. Turn it on, and you're back up and going. Using VMWare ESXi for running the virtual machines can make this migration part simpler sometimes. First off, it takes less time to install the ESXi operating system, and you can just install it on a simple small USB drive which are easy to swap out in the event of a failure. However, again I have had difficulties being able to back up and transfer the virtual machine data on the free version of ESXi, but there are paid packages, called VMWare vCenter, that incorporate additional tools and features for backing up and moving virtual machines. This does require a separate computer, though, running Windows Server 2008 and the vCenter management software so it's much more expensive and complex to get into than just a single server running Hyper-V.

Purchasing the right server is very crucial for a small business. They are a big investment, and it's very important that you are getting the right thing for your needs. I've seen companies who have not spent enough money in the right areas and didn't have the capabilities they needed or outgrew it within a year. I've also seen companies who have spent far more than they needed to on the wrong things so even after spending a fortune the server doesn't meet their needs and they will never recoup the value of the server. This is why it's such a big deal for small businesses to get the right server. Normally they don't have the spare capital to just throw down $5,000 and not be affected by it if the server doesn't completely meet their needs and they have to fork out another $5,000 to redo it a year later.
September 26, 2012 2:40:13 PM

choucove said:
You have the general idea, but if you're doing a Hyper-V setup on Server 08 on the physical machine, then it would make more sense to just use another instance of Server 08 as your virtual machine since your license comes with one activation for the physical server AND one for a virtual server. The Server 08 would offer you the ability to run active directory and group policies where Windows 7 does not.

Migrating virtual machines is pretty powerful. In reality you wouldn't even have to migrate the system to similar hardware. I've taken Windows VMs from Hyper-V on an AMD based system from a few years back and moved it to an Intel based HP ProLiant running Hyper-V and it ran without any problems or changes needed.

To move to a different computer with your virtual machine, you would just need to use some spare computer with a moderate amount of CPU and RAM hardware capabilities, install Windows Server 08 R2 Standard and add the Hyper-V role, then you just transfer the virtual hard drive, which has all the data of the virtual machine, and set up the machine properties in the settings. Turn it on, and you're back up and going. Using VMWare ESXi for running the virtual machines can make this migration part simpler sometimes. First off, it takes less time to install the ESXi operating system, and you can just install it on a simple small USB drive which are easy to swap out in the event of a failure. However, again I have had difficulties being able to back up and transfer the virtual machine data on the free version of ESXi, but there are paid packages, called VMWare vCenter, that incorporate additional tools and features for backing up and moving virtual machines. This does require a separate computer, though, running Windows Server 2008 and the vCenter management software so it's much more expensive and complex to get into than just a single server running Hyper-V.

Purchasing the right server is very crucial for a small business. They are a big investment, and it's very important that you are getting the right thing for your needs. I've seen companies who have not spent enough money in the right areas and didn't have the capabilities they needed or outgrew it within a year. I've also seen companies who have spent far more than they needed to on the wrong things so even after spending a fortune the server doesn't meet their needs and they will never recoup the value of the server. This is why it's such a big deal for small businesses to get the right server. Normally they don't have the spare capital to just throw down $5,000 and not be affected by it if the server doesn't completely meet their needs and they have to fork out another $5,000 to redo it a year later.


If price is too restrictive, then couldn't OP go for a cheaper workstation or desktop and use it as a server? The CPU performance shouldn't need to be stellar for a server with only a few to a few dozen users. Even cheaper machines can get 32GB-128GB of RAM (assuming that OP needs that much), depending on the platform and motherboard more than anything else as far as I'm aware. Unless OP needs dozens of TB of storage space, a work station or desktop should be able to hold enough storage drives. Even if one to four GbE or even 10GbE ports (depending on the system) aren't enough, more can be added with a PCIe card or two. I'm not an expert with servers, so I don't claim to know if I'm right or wrong about this, but is there anything (other than OS, also assuming that OP doesn't know any college students to get a free copy of Server 2008R2 x64 through MS Dreamspark) that OP specifically needs a server/enterprise computer for in this? Heck, workstations and some desktops can even have ECC support.

For example, Intel has several $200-$300 Xeons that perform as well as Intel's top quad-core i7s, just with Xeon features such as ECC support and more. AMD has support for ECC on most of their desktop platforms (although this is often not advertised) and even many of their desktop CPUs support it, although I'm not suggesting that OP go with a consumer CPU instead of an Opteron since those really aren't all expensive anyway.

If OP ever needs more, then is getting a still rather affordable, but very upgradable, system out of the question?

Am I mistaken about any of this?
September 26, 2012 2:47:36 PM

Got to be honest I've not fully all the text above me but here's my thoughts based on the OP question.

If you're starting from scratch and small business then I doubt you really want to forkout a lot of capital. Take a look at the Office 365 E3 plan. You get email, sharepoint and the Office suite at a monthly rate which adapts as your workforce does. All data would be in the cloud so you don't even have to worry about backups. As things get cleverer you can look at on-site servers when you are ready.
September 26, 2012 2:48:52 PM

I do not trust cloud services too much. I can't name any such service that has never been down and you don't have control over that data because it's in the hands of MS and anyone else who they work with storing it. If they get hacked, then that data can be posted right on the internet or outright deleted.
September 26, 2012 5:43:17 PM

Luciferano you are making a good point about an entry level workstation or standard desktop system for running a basic file server. Yes, generally that's what is needed in this situation, not a massive power plant. The HP ProLiant ML110 G7 server that I recommended is just this. It's an entry level server for a cheaper cost than many dual-socket systems supporting ungodly amounts of RAM.

The reason I recommend going this route instead of just getting a standard desktop computer is based on several things though. First, the ProLiant has a higher quality integrated RAID controller onboard compared to most all consumer-level onboard SATA controllers. It is still software based, though, and that's why I still recommend going with a dedicated RAID card add-in like the P410/256 MB SmartArray PCI-Express RAID SAS controller. Next, the ProLiant offers configurations with higher availability features like dual-redundant power supplies. Around where I live we have some poor power issues, so this feature has saved many businesses from extended down times when one power supply failed!

Then there is also driver support. Many times motherboards and controllers on consumer desktop systems do not have drivers for Windows Server 2008 support, but the ML100 G7 server does have full driver support. And next, while the ML110 G7 server offers enough flexibility to be upgraded to fit pretty high demands, it can also be purchased for very cheap to get into, comparable to a performance desktop or workstation even when fully configured.
September 26, 2012 6:00:58 PM

I've honestly never had any desktop nor even laptop hardware that didn't have complete driver support for every component with Windows Server 2008R2 x64, so that's news to me.

Please don't take this as trying to argue against your recommendation of that server (especially now that I've looked at its pricing), I'm just trying to learn something, so here's a few questions:

If you recommend a dedicated RAID controller, then wouldn't the on-board controller of the server motherboard be irrelevant?

I've personally build desktops with dual-redundant power supplies, so why is it an issue in this?
September 26, 2012 10:18:14 PM

A lot of times motherboards will be able to use Windows 7 drivers to get things running for Windows Server 2008 R2, but I've personally had two systems we set up for testing, one running an AMD chipset and the other an Intel chipset, which did not have any compatible drivers for the onboard NIC, SATA RAID controller, or onboard video. I even contacted into their support forums and received confirmation from their rep that they didn't support Server 2008 R2 on their consumer motherboards.

The reason I recommend the dedicated RAID controller is that it is more powerful and robust, plus it is required if you wish to run a VMWare ESXi system as the onboard RAID controller is software only and not supported in ESXi. The reason why I still recommend it is because sometimes customers may not have the funds to purchase the additional dedicated RAID controller. If all they're wanting to do is run a simple Windows 7 server, then the onboard should be fine. It's still higher quality than many of the onboard RAID controllers found in some basic consumer motherboards, especially when you start looking at pre-built consumer computers like from HP or Dell which may not even support RAID functionality.

Yes, it's possible to do dual-redundant power supplies in a custom-built computer, but don't expect to order any computer from Dell, HP, Acer, or any other major brand out there like this without it being specifically a server. I apologize that I made my statement too general, but you are correct that a custom-built desktop could have dual-redundant power supplies.

In the end, what we're really coming down to is just terminology. There's really nothing that I'm describing using the term "server" that you're not also describing by using the term "desktop" or "workstation" computer. The hardware is not any different. What I mean by server is purely a computer system which has a primary task of hosting and sharing a service to other computers in the network.

I'm sorry if this came across as arguing as I'm really not meaning that, simply clarifying as well what I meant since I didn't go into enough detail in my explanation of my recommendations.
September 26, 2012 10:23:56 PM

choucove said:
A lot of times motherboards will be able to use Windows 7 drivers to get things running for Windows Server 2008 R2, but I've personally had two systems we set up for testing, one running an AMD chipset and the other an Intel chipset, which did not have any compatible drivers for the onboard NIC, SATA RAID controller, or onboard video. I even contacted into their support forums and received confirmation from their rep that they didn't support Server 2008 R2 on their consumer motherboards.

The reason I recommend the dedicated RAID controller is that it is more powerful and robust, plus it is required if you wish to run a VMWare ESXi system as the onboard RAID controller is software only and not supported in ESXi. The reason why I still recommend it is because sometimes customers may not have the funds to purchase the additional dedicated RAID controller. If all they're wanting to do is run a simple Windows 7 server, then the onboard should be fine. It's still higher quality than many of the onboard RAID controllers found in some basic consumer motherboards, especially when you start looking at pre-built consumer computers like from HP or Dell which may not even support RAID functionality.

Yes, it's possible to do dual-redundant power supplies in a custom-built computer, but don't expect to order any computer from Dell, HP, Acer, or any other major brand out there like this without it being specifically a server. I apologize that I made my statement too general, but you are correct that a custom-built desktop could have dual-redundant power supplies.

In the end, what we're really coming down to is just terminology. There's really nothing that I'm describing using the term "server" that you're not also describing by using the term "desktop" or "workstation" computer. The hardware is not any different. What I mean by server is purely a computer system which has a primary task of hosting and sharing a service to other computers in the network.

I'm sorry if this came across as arguing as I'm really not meaning that, simply clarifying as well what I meant since I didn't go into enough detail in my explanation of my recommendations.


I don't take any offense, I asked a question and you gave an answer. I thinkthat you misunderstood my first question, so I'll reword it. If you recommend a dedicated RAID controller, then why is that a con for a workstation or desktop system? Assuming that you're not using an old PCI-X RAID controller, the workstation/desktop computer with Server 2008R2 (or even Windows 7) should be able to use any dedicated RAID controller that a server system can.

When I say server hardware, I realize that there isn't necessarily a difference in compatibility and what-not, but the hardware is generally oriented towards server usage, such as higher reliability components, components and feature support that are used in servers far more than in consumer computers, guaranteed Windows Server driver support, et cetera, correct?

Like I said earlier, I'm not suggesting that OP should get a consumer computer instead of that HP tower that you recommended, I'm just asking questions to be more sure of the subject.
September 26, 2012 10:29:43 PM

Also, for consumer parts that I've used with Windows Server 2008r2 X64, I've used a few Gateway, Dell, eMachines, HP, and several home-built computers, some of which had AMD CPUs and some of which had Intel CPUs. I've honestly never run into driver incompatibility with on-board NIC, integrated video, WiFi cards, and more. Honestly, the only issue that I've ever run into was using an old WiFi adapter that was only supported by 32-bit versions of Windows.

I'm not saying that you're wrong, I did a little reading and found that there is a lot of hardware that isn't supported (at least not directly), just that I was surprised to learn this because I haven't had issues myself except with my old WiFi card.

One thing that I did need to do for 64-bit compatible WiFi adapters such as those in a few of my laptops (they make decent home servers once the battery dies out and they're too old to get a new one at a good price, if at all) was that I had to start up a service that was disabled by default.
Anonymous
September 28, 2012 6:19:37 PM

Just wanted to say, that I definitely appreciate the feedback guys. Still here learning, just got caught up with work the past few days. I really have learned ALOT via this thread and googling more indepthly, now that I have a base of knowledge on what im seeking.

Thanks! :D 
!