Office Server Setup - Completely Lost


I am looking at creating a server in my home office to better help with efficiently. I have absolutely no idea what I am doing and upon searching the site I have found multiple questions and answers about basic server stuff, but none as lost as mine. The office is for a future online company, but the server is not to run the website off of (that may be a future thing, but as of right now it is not). It is for the office work side of the website.

Here is the current setup:
-Main Computer in office for office work.
-Gaming Computer in game room for recording video games off consoles & editing videos. (Not for gaming)
-Mobile Laptop for out of office work.

Here is what I'd love to do:
-Add a server to share documents and videos between computers.
-Keep laptop connected to server outside of office.
-Keep all computers connected to the server and regular internet.
-Be able to expand.

Here are may questions.
1. Obviously I need a server in the center (figuratively) to connect everything, but would it have to be a more powerful one to deal with the videos?
2. Do all the computers in the group have to be a server style computer, or a certain operating system. Or would simple windows 7/8 PCs work just as good? (Minus the server itself)
3. If yes to above, how would a server style computer handle video editing?
4. I currently use a Seagate backup Hard drive for backing everything up, would that be a good way to backup a server or are there better way?
5. What should I be looking for in a server? I know most of the PC specs to look for well, but it seems like Servers for the same price point aren't even comparable to the specs of a PC.
6. Do any of my questions even make sense? lol

Also, everything but the Laptop (preferably) is wired connections and I'd like to keep it that way.

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  1. There's a lot to this, so lets try and break it down into smaller components to address, which will help with guiding the suggestions of what to look for, as well as details on the right questions to ask.

    So first, you say that you are wanting to put in a server in your home network, but what specifically are you wanting this server to DO? Are you only interested in storing files? Do you want to run additional software off the server in the future, such as some networked application, or use it for remote desktop, or running a website? Here's why I bring this up. If ALL you want is storage of files which can be accessed through your networked computers, then you can make due with a NAS device, which is basically a simple computer with a stripped-down operating system specifically intended for storing and sharing files on a network. They are cheaper than a full-blown server, but also less powerful and less flexible. However, if you intend to do anything more with it than just storing files, then you need to look into an actual server system.

    Now, lets assume for a minute that you want to look into a full server system and not just a NAS. All a server really is, is a computer that is hosting a specific service (or multiple services) for other devices in a network. This means that any computer can be a server. Hardware-wise, you can use a standard desktop computer as a server if you want, but for a true business environment where reliability, compatibility, and longevity are the key concerns for a server you should be looking at a server-class hardware configuration and not a desktop computer. True server-class hardware is built exactly for that purpose of running 24/7 for years of service, featuring compatibility with a range of server operating systems, and more useful or reliable integrated features for a server environment. However, a true server system is going to also cost you more than a simple desktop system.

    So the next thing to address is budget and capacity or performance needs. Are you only looking to store data, or will you be interested in running virtual machines on the server? Do you need something with a lot of performance needs or the capability of supporting increased performance needs in the future? How much storage capacity are you needing to start with, and how much growth do you foresee? And what kind of budget are you anticipating for this type of server?

    There's a lot of other things to address still based on your questions, such as operating system and hardware configuration choices, remote access, etc. but first lets address the things above.
  2. Ok, thanks for the reply.

    As of right now the main purpose of the server and the goal would be to share files, those files would range from office based documents to pictures and videos (a decent amount of video in fact). The main goal would be to let all the computers and laptops (even when out of the office share files with ease).

    I would love to create a setup where a computer or laptop in the network can be replaced and have the new one simply connect to the network and you'd be working again.

    As for growth, the growth of the office will most likely not be anything major simply due to the setup of everything and how the website needs to grow exponentially compared to what the office will need to grow to keep up. However, you mentioned OS and the sort, I'd love to be running on a system that can do well running as a website hosting server if that route were to be taken (Not saying the server itself would be turned into a website host, but if a new one was added for it). As of this point hosting the website myself means moving to an area with better internet and therefore is not on the primary list of things to due as the online based host is working fine, but I'd love to be able to transfer with ease and not have to relearn (and possibly retrain staff) the OS. The website host right now does use CPanel and I have truly found a love for it as far as website management goes, if that affects the OS idea.

    However, may I ask what kind of software is useful to run off a server vs the individual computers in an office setting?
  3. For basic file storage and sharing, a simple NAS is going to give you the cheapest point of entry, and will be pretty simple to set up. However, you're not going to be able to set up and run a website from a NAS appliance very well. They are designed for storage and that's about it. The problem comes in that setting up an actual server is more costly and requires more time and skill in configuring.

    So again, looking at a full server system instead of a pre-built NAS, there are a couple ways you can approach it. You can go with a standard desktop computer for starters. This would run your standard desktop OS (such as Windows 8 Professional 64-bit) and allow you to share out files and folders to all manner of devices in a workgroup (up to ten computers) with no additional need for server licensing. Add to that the fact that Windows 8 Pro now can have Hyper-V installed for running virtual machines. This means you can buy a desktop system, run virtual machines of your Windows OS or some Linux OS for hosting websites or other needs. You are able to do multiple things with a single physical box. However, each virtual machine has to be licensed separately. So that means if you run Win8 Pro on your physical machine plus one virtual machine of Win8 Pro, you have to buy two copies of Win8 Pro.

    There are some limitations to this. First of all, Windows OS doesn't have built-in services really for running websites compared to the robust features of IIS in Windows Server 2008/2012. However, there's tons of options for operating website hosting and honestly I don't know them as I don't host locally so I don't have much experience with many. The other limitation comes in to size. A standard desktop OS like Windows 8 Pro (and yes you need to be sure you have the Pro version) can share files in a workgroup configuration with up to 10 computers without any problem, but going beyond that introduces problems with accessing to shares. It is also much more difficult to configure and control user access and permissions. This is where a full server operating system like Windows Server 2008/2012 has additional benefits.

    A more expensive, but probably more efficient and reliable option, would be to utilize a true server system instead of a desktop system. Here I'm mostly talking about the hardware, because you CAN put a desktop OS on server-class hardware. Server-class hardware is expensive, there's no doubt there, but it's also designed with the intention of running continuously for years without a hiccup, and accommodating a wide range of server-class operating systems that might not be supported on standard desktop hardware. What you are looking to do doesn't require a huge amount of system resources, but you want to find something that still offers expandability to fit future needs. After all, time and time again I've worked with customers who have spent thousands on a new server, didn't get something that fits their needs well, and can't be upgraded well either. A year or two after their initial purchase, their server has to be completely replaced instead of just upgraded, requiring more expense than it should.

    Now, that's all for the server here for now, as we take a look at remote access to data. Windows Server 2012 does support remote VPN setup, but generally for what you are looking to do the best thing to do is look at this from a network level instead of just at the server. Remote access should be done through secure methods instead of just simply remote desktop, which means some form of VPN. Most home routers do not support VPN, so you need to look into a home firewall or router with VPN support. You can utilize the VPN to log in to your entire network from remotely and it's secure. Many good VPN routers also give you full access to control who has access to what within your LAN network through a remote VPN session. This means that if you are out of the office and log in through VPN you could have access not only to shared files, but also to network printers, other computers in the network, etc. Likewise, let's say you have another account set up for remote VPN access that you don't want to allow access to shared documents, only to shared printers. This can be achieved through permission settings of the users in your VPN server.

    Primarily for VPN and firewall systems I have used Sonicwall. They are easy to set up, very robust features, and very reasonable cost as well for what you are getting. Sonicwall TZ series firewalls allow for a huge selection of different VPN types, both site-to-site and remote-to-site VPN.
  4. OK that makes sense, the NAS idea does seem like the better route at this point and maybe upgrade afterwards if things go wel. Quick question, how hard it is to upgrade or change a server in a network without messing up the network? Now, before we go any further into this, I have been creeping this site for a bit and it gave me an idea. Since I would really like an efficient office setup, but would love to limit the costs of it to keep it from pulling too much from the website's budget itself. Would this idea work and be practical? Use Unbuntu?

    Build a server, use Ubuntu Server OS
    Build two desktops, use Ubuntu Desktop

    That would make the start of the office costs merely hardware based, but I have very little experience and reviews are all over the place for Ubuntu servers. Obliviously I'd have to make sure gaming capture and printers work on it before eve trying. Just skimming prices, that would be a cost of a about $1,500 for all 3.
  5. You can definitely try Ubuntu for your desktop OS if you want and price is a major factor. The problem with this is there is a much larger learning curve introduced, and the other side is compatibility. You're not going to be able to run the great majority of software out there on a standard linux desktop because it's just not supported. That's not to say there aren't alternatives that might work, but it's going to take a little more work on your end sorting out compatibilities and finding alternatives.

    If a NAS device is fine for what you are looking to do, my recommendation would probably be to buy a pre-built NAS such as a Synology unit. You don't have to worry about testing compatibility, setting up software, ensuring hardware compatibilities or anything, it's just plug in hard drives and start setting up shares and users. Then for your desktop computers I'd suggest looking into decent quality business-class PCs running Windows 7 or Windows 8. To give you all the features for future growth I'd recommend Windows 7/8 Professional, but it's not critical with a very small business.
  6. Ok, so lets say I wanted to accomplish this: Have a server, two desktops, and a laptop or two to start. The server will be for file sharing, mostly text/office documents, but some large (possibly very large) videos. The one desktop will be for office applications and the second for video editing. The laptops are just there and could pretty much fall in line no matter. After researching online web hosting vs owning the server for web hosting, by both cost and performance, I could not justify that route for quite some time if ever... therefore this is completely office based now and the ability to run the website off of it is gone as a factor. Also, purchasing a server OS seems unpractical for the price vs what I need (besides going with a free OS).

    So here is the question, Windows must be installed on one of the systems (it is the most used OS, therefore is needed for testing as you most likely know), but would it work for everything I need?. Windows 8 Profession is reasonably priced. $200 per computer/server isn't bad at all. I know it would work well in the computers/laptops, but server features I have no idea. A big feature I'd be looking for is the ability to share files with laptops outside of the office.
  7. Do you already have these computers purchased, and looking to upgrade them? If so, then yes Windows 8 Professional can be a little pricey, but I don't believe it's going to be $200. If you do not have computers purchased yet, then I'd highly recommend looking at the BUSINESS side of any of the major manufacturers if you are going with a pre-built system (such as Dell, HP, etc.) as you can get Windows 8 Professional pre-installed, included in the cost of the computer, instead of purchasing a desktop with just Windows 8 and having to again purchase the additional upgrade license to the Pro version. If you are doing custom-built then an OEM license of Windows 8 Pro is currently about $150.

    If all you need to do is share files, then right now there's no need for you to build or buy a full server system running a desktop-class operating system like Windows 8 Professional. Yes, you can do it, and yes it works nice integrating additional features if you need in the future. But, you're looking at probably $1,000 or better to purchase or build a decent desktop capable of giving you good data storage (read, multiple drives in RAID. I don't know how much storage space you actually need.) Or, you can save a few hundred dollars doing with just a pre-built NAS and just as much storage.

    Remote access to storage again is probably best done at the network level and would include using a VPN router or firewall. This way you don't need any additional operating system features or software installed on your server to have remote access to your network.
  8. OK, the server and one of of the workstations need to be purchased still. The other workstation and laptop are on Windows 7 Home.

    Thanks for all the help so far!

    Now my next question is the setup. Right now I am picturing this:
    Phone Line To DSL Modem
    Modem to Switch Box 1
    Switch Box 1 to Server, Printers, and Workstations
    Then each Workstation has a switch box to help organize things.

    I have more then enough switch boxes to play with, due to a nice deal I picked up at a yard sale lol.
    A Paint Based Example:
  9. I would be careful about using a bunch of small workgroup switches daisy chained together. It can cause a lot of network congestion or increased network traffic for one, but if you accidentally plug the switches in wrong, it can cause a broadcast storm which will completely cripple your network.

    The proper way that this should be done is
    Phone Line - > DSL Modem WAN port
    DSL Modem LAN port -> Firewall WAN port
    Firewall LAN port -> Gigabit Switch port
    Gigabit Switch ports -> End devices (server, printers, workstations, etc.)

    Again, the firewall (or at minimum VPN router) is what's going to give you remote access capabilities using L2TP VPN functions. If you want to run wireless within your network, and don't have a firewall or VPN router capable of doing that as well, then you'd want to install a wireless router set up as an access point, connected either directly to another ethernet port on your firewall (depending upon how you can configure network zones) or to your gigabit switch.
  10. Sorry about the very slow reply.

    So, lets say I did this:

    Phone Line goes to DSL Modem.
    DSL Modem go to Firewall
    Firewall then sends an Ethernet to each room which would go directly to a Computer or Switch Box (if needed).
    Server would be directly connected from firewall.
    Printers would connect directly to server (USB?or would ethernet be better?)
    Workstations would be connected off a switch box or directly from Firewall (if only on device needed network)

    My Ideas for Products:
    DSL Modem ( if ISP allows it)
    Firewall (
    Server (
    Workstations (
    Printers are Espon Workforce and Network Compatible (They are already purchased, but not easy to link as replaced by newer versions).
    Switches are NetGear (vary, grabbed a box of them off a out of business sale)

    Also, I do a lot of work at my local fire department, it sounds like a VPN would work for this, but at the chance my ISP does not allow that, would there be another way to share files with a workstation there?

  11. First, it's best to minimize the number of switches you have in your network. Having multiple daisy chained together increases network traffic and latency between devices. It's better to have one switch connecting all devices than multiple chained together.

    I haven't used the Cisco firewall that you linked, so I can't give you any recommendations or input on that one in particular. I have used the Sonicwall TZ 105 firewalls for this sort of network system because personally I've found them much easier to work with. However, it comes down to personal preference and what kind of support you have.

    The Lenovo server that you linked to is adequate but just barely I think. There's several reasons why: First, this server only runs two 500 GB hard drives which, if you're sharing and storing large files including video, it's going to be pretty limited in the long run. Second, this server is only running Server 2012 Foundation which is very basic. It doesn't support any virtualization. Yes, you can operate your server system directly on the hardware, but today there's so many benefits to virtualizing that its become quite commonplace really.

    All of this is basically just weighing benefits and costs though when it comes down to it. If you're just needing something to get you started, to get you by, at a low cost, then this should do it for you. I haven't used the equipment you linked personally, so unfortunately I can't give you much more detail or information regarding specific products but everything seems like a good fit.
  12. Ok, I'm really starting to think building a server is a good idea. Unless I'm missing something, the quality between a $500 server and $1,500 one is minimal. If you had any suggestions for one around $1,000 to $1,500 that would be great!

    Now, would I be better with a basic server OS or say Windows 7/8 Pro as a Server? This is what I'd be eying up if I needed to buy the OS: Is that a good idea?

    As far as the Sonicwall, it looks good to me.
  13. Most of the entry-level server systems we have done for small businesses have been based on the HP ProLiant ML110 G7 server (older) which has now been replaced by the HP ProLiant ML310E G8 server. This is basically the same product tier as the Lenovo server that you originally linked. Most of these systems can be purchased through Smart Buys which require you to provide the hard drives and operating system, but will come with the processor installed plus a base amount of RAM. The onboard RAID controller is one area that could tend to use upgrades, as the onboard is only software RAID and supports SATA hard drives only (much like the onboard SATA RAID of most mainstream desktop motherboards.) For improved performance and reliability you can look into a dedicated hardware RAID controller, and they have very affordable prices on places like Amazon for some of the SmartArray P410 RAID controllers with 256 MB or 512 MB of cache. These also support SAS hard drives if you need the additional performance over SATA drives.

    Server 2012 Standard is the mainstream Server OS product from Microsoft and that's primarily what we use for ourselves and customers. It allows you to install the WS2012 Standard on the physical machine with the Hyper-V role for virtualization, plus run up to two virtual machine instances of that same WS2012 Standard product key so it's very flexible for the cost. If your primary task right now is file sharing, you can set up one virtual machine to manage your whole network including domain controller if you wish, file sharing, etc. and still add a second virtual machine in the future if you need to run an application server such as Quickbooks or a whole host of other things such as web or ftp server.
  14. Ok, so taking a step back on this. It seems like Windows Server 2012 Standard is the best approach for the OS. Two questions:

    1. Is it like Desktop OS where it is just a one time fee, or is it yearly?
    2. I can find like 7 versions of Server 2012 Standard on Newegg alone, what should I be looking for?

    Granted it doesn't have to be from Newegg, I just like them as a reference point.
  15. Server 2012 Standard is just a one time fee. You can use the exact one that you linked to in your previous post, that is the proper license for a single-processor server with up to two virtual machines.
  16. Ok, is it better to aim for a two processor system? And if I did that, would that OS cover it?
  17. Given what you are looking at doing with your server, using a dual-processor server would be overkill. You can do it, sure, but the great majority of the hardware resources wouldn't be utilized, and would cost much more than a single processor server. That's what I would probably recommend for this sort of network and utilization.
  18. Ok, sounds good. Now, you mentioned there could be application servers, like for quickbooks. Quickbooks and Email are two things that seem very useful keeping server based. Are they things that really need an entire server each?
  19. It's best to look at compartmentalizing your server resources in a production environment for several reasons:

    - Utilizing separate virtual machines for certain tasks can help to make addressing system resources easier as you can allocate more to certain machines as needed for that specific task. This is less of an issue, though, with a very small number of virtual machines.

    - Backing up and managing data access or control can be simplified if the data is compartmentalized based on its usage. For example, if you have two virtual machines on your network, you can utilize one as your domain controller and primary storage controller for saving all of your documents, files, etc. However, on your second you can set up your QuickBooks and financial documents, and control who has access to those files and documents completely separate of your domain access. This can be especially important if you have, for example, multiple people who must get access to the QuickBooks either through multi-user mode or directly through remote desktop to the virtual machine, but don't want them to have access to information about your domain controller or making changes to things they shouldn't within your other data.

    - Compartmentalizing your services means that you can take down components for service, upgrades, or replacement of software or settings without affecting other crucial areas of your server infrastructure. Utilizing the same example as above, lets say you end up having a problem with your QuickBooks and need to reinstall or update the software, requiring some Windows updates to also be installed, which all in all requires several reboots and quite a bit of time that it is unavailable for use. If you have everything on the same virtual machine as your domain controller and storage server, then doing work on your QuickBooks alone will also cause access to everyone's shared documents and other domain services to also need to be rebooted and likewise be unavailable. However, with these running in separate virtual machines, you can make changes to one without having to shut down your over virtual machine eliminating some downtime and what all is affected during this period.

    Now, does this mean you need multiple physical servers to perform each role? No, that's the power of virtualization, to leverage the hardware capabilities of a single server to act as multiple virtual servers that are standardized and easily managed.
  20. Ok, so is this a bad idea.

    Seeing how it would be the first server setup we have and money would be tight. Would it be better to keep everything on one server and when time comes to upgrade/replace that server, base it off what we used the most and divide from there at that time?
  21. I think you may be looking at this backwards actually. A lot of small business customers we work with actually have this sort of approach for their first server system. "Well it's our first, we don't need much, so we'll just get the basics now and in a year or two get something better!" In actually, now you're just planning to spend twice as much because you're buying two servers instead of just getting what you need with room to grow now.

    If what you are talking about is utilizing multiple virtual machines, and additional cost there, well, there isn't actually. If you're already planning to get Windows Server 2012 Standard, that single license will cover the physical server installation (which will run Hyper V for virtualization) plus up to two virtual machines with that same license. This means even if you decide for now to just run one virtual machine for your domain services right now, you have the ability to add a second virtual machine, such as an application server, with no additional cost. Just create a new virtual machine, install the operating system, and you're good to go.
  22. Ok, I see what you mean.

    I sat down and really figured out what I was looking for and here we go.

    Server Needs:
    -File Sharing for 2+ local/wired workstations, 1 laptop, 1+ workstation not local (sub office).
    -Server Email Solution, be able to run a generalized email so each workstation doesn't need to have it installed and setup individually (Outlook Preferred)
    -Server Based QuickBooks, be able to run QuickBooks from any workstation (but only users with authorization.)

    Server OS: Windows Server 2012
    Work Station OS: Windows 7 Pro
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