Setting up a small business network

I’m expanding my company from a single person home based business to a small office with 3 employees and I’m planning on adding a 4th before my lease runs out. There is the potential to have 7 people on the network if things go well in the next three years. Since I’m incurring a bunch of cost right now I’m trying to repurpose my existing equipment as much as possible.

My goal is to mainly have a file server so everyone has access to all client files and people don’t have local copies of documents. Longer term I’d probably want vpn access so people can access the files from home or client facilities. I’m not planning on running any programs on the server but if I did it would be autocad and maybe some content creation software but for the now the plan is local copies of any program.

I’ve got a tower computer that I built as a gaming rig 7 years ago that I’d like to convert into the server but I’m not really sure what I need to do that and then I’m planning on buying a SonicWall | 01-SSC-0514. I’ve also got a fantom drives terabit external drive I was planning on using for back ups.

My first question is do I need any other pieces to set up the system? Then my follow up is how do I do the set up? I’ve looked around the net and I haven’t found any step by step instructions like I had when I built the gaming computer.

Have you thought about using a cloud service like, Dropbox, etc to store the shared files? I think this will cost you per user per month, but it has advantages.

I’ve got a dropbox account mainly for sharing files with customers i haven’t looked into using it for a company server. Can you work with the files while they’re on dropbox or would you have to upload each time after working on a document?

Are you basically talking about setting up a LAN in this small office where you’ll basically have four PCs connected, and one server for storage? I’m also assuming you’ll have some kind of internet access on that network.

You’ll need some kind of internet connection device (whatever connects to your internet carrier- an example is a DSL modem) , some kind of LAN switch or hub (for the physical layer connections - cabled or wireless ethernet), and some kind of router (to direct the IP traffic).

Often all of these functions are combined in one machine- for example most home DSL/cable modem devices combine the internet connection, the router and the cabled/wireless ethernet in one box with a firewall thrown in as well.

Your Sonicwall device would hook up between your internet connection device and your router.

I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m sure others here do.

The catch with web access is download/upload speed. Less an issue with download, but since upload speed is usually a fraction of download speed, it can be a major bottleneck for large files.

The owner of a company I worked for was thinking of switching over to a cloud service for all our files. The sales guy talked up a storm about how great the 100/10Mb connection would be. After my boss left the meeting I talked to him privately and pointed out that since the designers works with multi-gig CAD files, the 10meg up versus the 1 gig we had on our network would be a severe bottleneck for file sharing, especially since two or more would often review or modify elements in the files on a regular basis. He agreed and said the service wasn’t for us. I didn’t give the details to my boss, but it was never mentioned again. I like to think the sales guy called and told her it wasn’t a fit for us.

I don’t know about Box, but I know Google Docs lets you work on the file live and automatically saves the updated info. I don’t know how often or if it even saves your work in progress like MS Office does. I do know that a few times I didn’t close the doc properly and what I was working on didn’t appear when someone else or I opened it up later.

Personally, I would never save anything critical on anything accessible via the web. As I stated in another thread. Anything accessible on the web can be broken in to. It just matter of how badly the hackers want the info. And sometimes your data is collateral damage if it’s hosted on a server containing the real data the hackers wanted.

Also, if internet service is down or the domain where the files are stored is blocked (e.g. by a DDOS attack) you might have to send everyone home. I’ve had that happen, where anyone who wasn’t working on local files couldn’t do anything. A prime example is when the registers go down at the store and nothing can be rung up until the internet service is restored.

Yes, I’ll be getting a cable modem as well. I’m debating between 150 and 300 mbps but I’ve got 4 weeks to figure this all out.

The devil is in the SLAs…

On the hardware side, the requirements for a gaming rig and a server are far different and your old PC is likely not a good candidate for conversion to a true server. In a nutshell, a true server is built for reliability and configured (dual power supplies, hard drives, error correcting RAM) to up and running whenever it’s needed, typically 24/7.

On the software side, if you’re planning to do anything other than simple file sharing, you’ll need Windows Server or Linux.

I’ve set up simple networks for file sharing, but for 7+ users, you’ll be far better off hiring a networking specialist to build and maintain your networking needs. Paying a specialist a consulting fee is far cheaper than having 7+ employees unable to work because they can’t access their files.

As for backup, one drive isn’t enough. The bare minimum is two drives with the second offsite as a backup of the backup. For a business, I’d have a minimum of four drives, two to alternate on a monthly/weekly/daily basis copying the files to to the two offsite ASAP. The rule of backup is 1-2-3 or 3-2-1. One original and two backups (ideally on different media, i.e. optical disks, tape). 1 - original (the drive you’re saving data on), 2 - backup of that drive, 3 - backup of the backup stored offsite. For business, I’d keep critical data (e.g. incorporation data, tax and employee records) as third backup, stored offsite and never leaving that site (e.g. in a safety deposit box) and taking a laptop to copy new data to it at that site.

I fail to see what the SLA has to do with data breaches or inaccessibility. Yes, you may be protected monetarily, but that doesn’t make up for stolen data or productivity.

Yes, a data center may have my files mirrored at a different location with a different IP address, but that still leaves me SOL, if the second IP is blocked because of a DDOS. While not planned, access to the data on some of the big news websites have been temporarily unavailable because the servers were overwhelmed with simultaneous requests.

I would bet big money that immediately after 9/11 happened, access to CNN slowed to a crawl as people wanted to figure out what was going on.

Edit: Even on a managed server at one of the big server farms, recovery from a hardware failure takes a while, even if you’re paying for premium service/maintenance. Whereas a local network outage can be solved by switching to a backup server or swapping out of hardware onsite.

I think an important thing to remember here, and sorry if I’m making the wrong assumption, is that Oredigger77’s technical expertise is limited. In many cases it might be much safer to have files stored by a company who provides cloud service than to be stored locally by somebody who is in over their head. It also sounds like budget is a limitation, so making do with what is available may be much preferable to spending money to do it “right”.

A 7 year old gaming system is probably plenty powerful to be a small office server. I would strip out the fancy graphics card, just to save on electricity costs. Otherwise, as long as it has space to hold several hard drives, you should be fine.

I think these are the absolute minimum requirements:

[li]A sane backup plan[/li][LIST]
[li]The data should live in a minimum of two places (the active server and a backup)[/li][li]The data should live offsite[/li][/ul]

[li]Several drives to form a RAID (so failure of a single drive does not destroy everything)[/li][li]8GB of RAM (more is always better)[/li][li]an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to plug the thing into[/li][li]gigabit wired ethernet, even if the clients are all on wireless[/li][li]A sane backup plan[/li][li]Also, a sane backup plan[/li][/LIST]
That is all assuming you are storing spreadsheets, word processing documents, and the like. Things of a relatively small size. If you will be storing multi-gigabyte files, then the size of the server will have to be scaled up appropriately.

If your requirements are only office documents, and such, then something like Microsoft or Google’s cloud service might be the best option. Using a cloud service doesn’t change the requirement for backups, regardless of what the service promises. Failure of the local internet or the cloud service will impact your business operations. The important questions are: Is it more likely your local server goes down, or the cloud service goes down; how much money is it worth it to spend to buy more reliability; do you have more time or money—should you be spending hours that could be billable managing your own environment? Many of the local applications for the cloud services allow an offline mode, so you can continue to work if the internet is done. Again, this is a good option for small documents, but not massive files.

You might look into things such as FreeNAS, which is designed to convert a PC into a purpose built file server. Any server oriented Linux distribution will be able to do what you want (Ubuntu LTS, CentOS, Debian stable, etc.) None of them will be simple for somebody not otherwise experienced with such things. They all will be pretty easy for somebody who is experienced with such things.

If you decide to buy a proper small server, you might be able to find some cheap Poweredge T (tower) series servers in Dell’s outlet store.

A Synology, Drobo, Qnap, or other dedicated NAS appliance might also be a good option.

Keep it simple. Keep it cheap. Use Google Apps for your email and shared documents. On your LAN use a network attached printer. For your big files use a NAS on your LAN. A NAS is administered using a simple web interface and some are configured with several hard drives in a RAID configuration. They also have lots of useful apps. Take a look at those made by Syntology/Qnap/Drobo they are well built, quite mature product lines and it is easy to keep them updated. You could back all your files up to second cloud service. You get a lot of space for subscription these days.

Buy yourself a nice router with a firewall and VPN capability if you need remote access to your NAS.

Running your own server is a pain in the rear that is best avoided.


I concur with what you said except RAID. RAID 5, 6 & 10 require a minimum of 3 & 4 hard drives and don’t provide any more level of backup security than using 2 hard drives with software that continuously syncs data or syncs at short intervals. Rebuilding a RAID array if one of the drives fails takes way longer just swapping out a bad drive in a two or three non-RAID configuration. I’ve lived through local network and web server RAID rebuilds and it’s a lot of downtime.

Large servers use RAID because it’s impractical to physically swap out multiple failed drives. Especially on a large server that may have 24+ drives in a rack.

This is getting away from the needs of the OP, but back in 2001 my boss thought it would be a good idea to have our own unmanaged web server with me being the administrator. When I learned that meant I’d be on 24/7 call, I convinced her to get a fully managed one instead.

RAID is for reliability; it has nothing to do with backups per se. RAID 5 and a simple 2-disk mirror can both tolerate a single disk failure, but RAID 5 makes 66% of the storage available (using 3 disks) rather than 50% as does RAID 1 (with 2 disks). On a real server, there is no downtime: you can pop out the failed disk and put in a spare, or there are pre-installed spares, all while the storage server keeps running.

If more than 1 disk dies at a time you are indeed screwed, so RAID 1 and RAID 5 are inadequate once the individual disks grow large enough. I don’t know what the threshold is; maybe a terabyte? If this is indeed large, business-critical data then you probably want RAID 10 or something.

Okay, fair enough. I just see too many people claiming RAID is a valid backup method. Disregarding that all the drives are in a single enclosure, in a single location.

Raid 6 is the only one that can have two of the required four drives fail and still offer recovery. Great for reliability, but double or four times the cost of a single or two drive non-RAID setup that would be enough for a small business. The really big boys like Backblaze use custom RAID configurations in their 24+ bay drive pods.

Thanks for all of the information and I think I understand enough to start shopping for parts to add a raid configuration to my tower or buy a nas depending on which is cheaper. Yes, funds are limited since I’m spending a couple of grand putting together an office for the first hire. I’m looking to just get by today with an eye towards making the system upgradeable to meet my future possible needs.

I really wasn’t aware of all of this back up stuff. It sounds like I’ll need a second back up drive and as I understand it they will alternate days backing up so I’m never more then a full days work lost. I don’t quite get the offsite backups though. I guess I’d have two more drives at home VPNed into the server backing up my backups? Also what is that supposed to prevent against I guess the office burning down?

I haven’t had a hardware failure in 5 years of doing this solo so I’m trying to understand the point of the redundancies. Could dropbox work as the offsite backup?

Are there any other things i need to look out for setting it up doesn’t seem terrible and it looks like my major worry should be failures either in storage or access rather than difficulty getting everything talking.

Sure, that’s a possibility. As is a flood that ruins all of the hardware in your office. Or a break-in during which all of your hardware is stolen. Surely you’ve heard the expression “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket”?