Our approach to network design is simple and straightforward: the right tool for the right job. With networks, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. There are a few constants, though, such as security, stability, and scalability. We achieve these objectives by utilizing quality server & communications components from manufacturers such as IBM, HP, Cisco, QLogic, and Adaptec, and by delivering services via operating systems and software from such companies as IBM, Novell, and Serenity Systems.
Network topologies differ along several lines: size, scope, serviceability, upgrade provisioning, and current services to be provided. For most of our designs, 1000Mbps ethernet over CAT-6 copper wire is sufficient. However, we find today that many clients have need for wireless, from notebooks for visiting professionals to handheld devices. To service these, some implementation of 802.11 wireless technology is required. To maximize throughput and stability on wired segments, we prefer Cisco managed switches; for wireless, we opt for either LinkSys, or Cisco access points and Intel or Atheros-powered client adapters. Sometimes, fiber loops are required to span distances which exceed copper specification; we handle those implementations as well.
With the advent of NetWare 4, file compression came to the enterprise in a major way. It was easier – and often much more cost effective – to enable compression on the server volume instead of upgrading the server drive. However, in an age where storage hardware has become much more affordable, it’s usually better to leave compression turned off and add additional drives in an array configuration, providing for fault tolerance (such as RAID 5) as well as dynamic volume expansion. At a minimum, we recommend RAID 1+0, which is achieved through disk mirroring (writing the same data to two separate drives in real-time.
Clustering of servers brings yet another level to storage uptime, availability, and scalability. We routinely work with fiber channel-connected HP MSA units in clustered Novell environments, and we have experience with other SAN hardware and topologies, as well.
Once the data is stored on a network device (or even a local workstation), the need for backup – both for archival purposes and for recovery – becomes paramount. We typically recommend LTO tape technology, using industry standard software from either Symantec or Sync Sort.
Remote backup can quickly become problematic. Here, we might turn to rsync to provide a quick solution for getting the raw data to the main office, where it may then be pulled onto tape along with the standard backup schedule.
Novell’s iFolder is another technology we employ to allow easy synchronization for end user data on remote workstations to the data center.
Backup management can be an arduous task. We offer regular monitoring and maintenance of backup schedules and tasks, to better assure our clients that their data is actually making it onto backup medium, instead of just “setting and forgetting.”
Print & imaging services
Clients typically need to print. Our approach is usually one of network-managed devices, such as LaserJets from Hewlett Packard connected directly to the network. iPrint technology and CUPS printing (for Linux and eComStation workstations) makes printer and job management easier for the end user, and off-loads the hard work to the server(s).
When imaging services are required, we recommend HP Multifunction Copiers (mopiers) and Ricoh Afficio imagers, which combine the power and flexibility of laser printing with a high-quality scanner and document feeder, providing print, copy, and scan-to-email/scan-to-fax services. We have also had experience with Laserfishe and Doculex document imaging and archiving solutions.
Internet connectivity & wide area networking
Internet connection sharing is another major concern to clients. Broadband options, and how to maximize available bandwidth are topics we deal with regularly. In a small office scenario, usually small routers or switch/router combination units, such as those offered by LinkSys may be sufficient, although Astaro’s small offerings improve on the functionality of these more basic units for a very modest upgrade in cost.
For more elaborate security requirements, Astaro Security Gateway hardware or Astaro Security Linux installed on specially chosen server hardware is our best recommendation.
We have had experience with DSL, cable, satellite, ISDN, ATM, Frame Relay, and T1 connectivity on a variety of platforms running multiple communication protocols, and have had expereince configuring Cisco, 3Com, US Robotics, Motorola, and AdTran communications equipment.
E-mail clients & servers
Besides configuring e-mail clients (Thunderbird, SeaMonkey MailNews, Qualcomm Eudora, MS Outlook, Novell GroupWise, PM Mail, Kmail, etc.), we also have seen the need to implement e-mail servers at our client installations.
We install and support Novell GroupWise and Stalker CommuniGate Pro mail and collaboration servers.
For clients who require their own web servers, we usually Apache. In fact, our own server runs Apache, under eComStation. Apache is an industry standard application with broad support across platforms, and it scales well. For web acceleration, reverse proxies may be configured, rather than simply “throwing more hardware at the problem.”
FTP & remote file services
We frequently see the need to provide remote access to files stored on the company servers. FTP is an easy and effective way to provide such access, when security is not of paramount concern (so-called “public files”). When security is a factor, however, VPN or iFolder services (with encryption) may be a better fit, and we provide guidance and technical expertise in these areas, as well.
Often, it is necessary to run Windows applications. In situations where the majority of desktops are running non-Windows operating systems, Citrix provides Xen Desktop, offering virtual Windows desktops or individual applications served to local and/or remote clients.
We have successfully deployed Citrix servers in our own offices, as well as for clients with similar needs. Even in situations where Windows is the dominant desktop operating system in the office, it is often easier to manage applications in a terminal services environment. One installation of an application suffices for the entire office, instead of individual installations on all stations.
We also support Unix, Linux, and OS/2 applications served via telnet or ssh sessions, when these applications fit a particular client’s need.
Other connectivity concerns, network services, and custom scripting
Remote access, wireless point-to-point links, network attached storage and devices, imaging, portable clients, and other enterprise computing needs can usually be addressed using industry standard protocols and services, without the need to turn to proprietary solutions whcih lock clients into a single vendor’s vision of “how it should be.”
When needs arise for custom scripted solutions (for web applications, backup, task automation, and so forth), if we don’t handle a particular language in-house, we strive to work closely with (and/or find) developer(s) to provide smooth implementation, maintenance, and upgrade path to our clients.