Data in the 21st Century

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Well, how about handling data traffic in a modern small business. In our shop eight years ago, we ended up quite conventional. We have:

* a 100Mbps Ethernet and a 802.11b/g 2.4GHz Wifi access point outside the firewall.
* In house, we an bunch of rack mounted servers. We’ve got an Exchange Server, a Blackberry Server, a file server, a VPN server and a Firewall and then a Cisco router for all of it. We get into the network over Wifi via VPN, so we have one wifi network outside the firewall and then one inside. There is a tape backup and a Raid array for Exchange.
* Our external website is hosted
* Most of the computers are Windows desktops and most people also have a Windows laptop, usually a Sony. There are a scattering of Macbooks too.
* Finally, there is XO as I mentioned before providing data IP (as well as T-1 for our PBX)

So how would a modern office do it? Well, we had some good lessons from setting up Qiming in Shanghai

h2. Computers

First of all, we would buy only laptops. The cost difference isn’t that much and convenience is great. We are likely to be 80% MacBook and 20% Windows rather than the other way around.

Also with the coming of all flash notebooks, reliabililty should really improve, so we hold off buying as long as possible to let flash prices come down. The biggest failure points for laptops tends to be the hard drives, so the new Intel 120GB flash drives are going to be very important.

For the high end professionals, we get the MacBook Air or MacBook and then a 24″ monitor and Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. For associates, a notebook itself is fine and this is also OK for admins so they can work at home etc.

h2. The Data Network.

Everything is going to be wifi where possible, it saves a wire and Wifi is fast now. So we need lots more bandwidth in the network. That means going to 5GHz Wide Channel so we get a shared 300Mbps. Since there are lots more channels at 5GHz, we get 20 un-overlapped channels there (vs. only 3 in 2.4GHz), we’ll push all the MacBooks up there. The hardware could either be a single big “Cisco 1250”:http://www.networkcomputing.com/channels/wireless/showArticle.jhtml?queryText=&articleID=206901320&pgno=3 or two, or we could use the Apple Time Capsule/Airport Extreme’s.

* To handle all of this, we’re going to need more bandwidth in the wired network, so that means going to Cat 6 and 1Gbps Ethernet (you actually get a true 400Mbps on that kind of network, but it is a better match to the true 150 Mbps or so you get with 802.11n vs. the 80Mbps with 100Mbps Ethernet). That means a 1Gb Ethernet switch which really aren’t that expensive anymore. A 24 port unmanaged switch is really quite inexpensive from D-link or Netgear.
* Also we still need a 2.4GHz 802.11b/g network for devices like the iPhone that are down there and also for guests. Rather than having VPN which is a major pain, we just have two networks. We don’t need a VPN as much because we can access Exchange over HTTP through Outlook Web Access and for files in the network, most folks just use email to store key files. That means we have a separate network for 802.11b/g. That implies another set of Cisco 1250s running down there, but its worth it to have higher bandwidth.

As an aside, we probably want to have two switches or configure 802.11q so that we separate voice from data traffic. Since switches are really cheap, it probably makes the most sense to just separate voice and data jacks and keep it all separate for SIP phones only.

h2. Servers

This seems to me the biggest area of economy.

* First, we can use the Bellevue infrastructure for Exchange and Blackberry servers. We can experiment with hosted Exchange and Blackberry from “Applix”:http://www.asp-one.com. Longer term, it may turn out we can actually use Leopard Server for iCal or even “Kerio”:http://kerio.com for an Exchange swapout if we really decide to go completely all Mac and abandon PC interooperability.
* File Servers. With today’s Time Capsule, I think we can get away with a pair of Time Capsules which can do laptop upgrade. We use the second Time Capsule to just do brute force backup. Copy everything from one to another. Should be pretty fast over Gigabit Ethernet. We configure file servers from the same terabyte store.
* Backup. Rather than an expensive tape system, we buy a dozen 1TB USB Hard Drives and you can plug them into the Time Capsules and again do a simple copy to get a snap shot. We only need to retain data for 90 days, so that means we just have 12 weeks worth or 12 Hard Drives. Get the office manager or admin to plug it in and drag and drop. Nice thing is that you don’t need a PC over there since Time Capsule supports plugging a USB drive in and you can do this from any computer.
* Website. We leave this hosted, but maybe look at bluehost.com or someone else that is lighter weight. Alternatively, if this becomes important, we go to a virtual private server and use TQHosting to get a real server.

h2. Printers and such

Well, we need really two sorts. The first is a workgroup printer for the quick stuff. We’ve been using the HP LaserJet 4250 for the last eight years and they’ve been great. Now the world is moving on to color, so a network color laserjet makes some sense. So here are the needs:

* Color LaserJet. A workgroup version that is the update to the 4250n. Needs to be fast and quiet
* A big Colorjet like the “9500”:http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/uk/en/sm/WF06a/5043-5527-5531-5531-9400621-10263355.html which is like our Ricoh that lets you make big books well.

2 Replies to “Data in the 21st Century”

  1. dude why not 100% hosted for all docs and mail, get rid of servers and backup entirely? would you really have a server room if you were starting up a small business today?

  2. Well, for documents, I don’t think that is a big issue. The main reason is that it is still kinda expensive to have terabytes of storage for laptop backup and file servers are just so easy now. It is just a box you stick on the network to get 1TB.

    For Mail server, I kind of agree if you can find a good hoster. I’ve used http://tqhosting.com for years and they’ve been more reliable than our Exchange, so I’d say the ideal is hosted http://kerio.com or Exchange on http://applix.com or free loading on the existing Bellevue servers (which is I’m sure what we’ll end up doing :0)

    So you are right, why have a machine room when you can host. The main answer is that most hosters do a terrible job. Just look at the raft of complaints across IP PBX, Exchange and other hosting services.

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