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This is probably going to be a bit up in the air, because we're still in the "reaching towards solutions" phase, but I figured I'd see what you guys had to say. Plus I honestly know very little about systems and what is good and bad pratice.

My organisation has always more or less worked on the concept of local machines; since it primarily employed contractors who were working from home, each of those people was largely responsible for their own machine and backup procedures and the like.

We're now expanding, though we're still reasonably small (we're up to about 20 staff members). Most people still work remotely, but we have a central office where about five people are working. But we're getting large enough that we're starting to think it would be a good idea to have a central file server, and things like that - if someone gets hit by a bus, we want someone else to know where to look for the files to continue their work.

A lot of the people who work for us remotely work on projects for other companies as well, so I don't want to force them to log in to our server whenever they're on a network. But I do want to make connection to be as painless as possible to do so, to improve utilisation.

The other thing is that we're getting more people who would like to remote into the office server and do their work there. Our current remote connection application is an SSH install that allows people access to the network; the problem is, it's a black box to me, and I've never understood how to even connect to it (despite supposedly being de facto sysadmin). Thus far I've been able to bounce questions about how to get it working to the guy who does know it well, but he's leaving the company soon. So we probably need a solution for this that I actually understand. We were knocking around the idea of implementing a VPN with some form of remote desktop, and someone mentioned that this was largely a matter of purchasing a router capable of it; I'm not sure of the truth of that statement.

This is what we have in the office:

  • Two shiny new i7 servers, each running Windows Server 2008. Precise eventual layout is still being debated, a little, but the current suggestion is that one is primary database crunching, while the other is a warm backup of the databases, along with running Reporting Services. They currently have SQL Server 2008 installed on them, which is being connected to via the 'sa' account. We're hoping to make each person use their own account (preferably one tied to the 'central' password we set up, so we can use Windows Authentication).
  • An older server, running XP Pro, that we are currently using as a test bed for a project that requires access to older versions of software. This machine is also being used to take backups, but I'm thinking of moving that functionality elsewhere.
  • A spare desktop from a guy who left the company (XP Pro). We're thinking of bumping up the hard disk space and using it as the magical file server that's going to solve one particular everything.
  • Assorted desktops, laptops, etc, at least one for each person in the office (mix of Win XP and Win 7; occasionally a person who normally works remotely might drop in to the office and bring a laptop bearing Vista, but it's pretty rare). All are set up as local user accounts at the moment; I don't know if it's the best arrangement.

Purchasing more hardware is not a big problem, but we figure we might as well make use of what we've got first.

Is Active Directory a big magic wand that's going to solve all the world's problems? Is there some other arrangement we should be looking to instead?

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PLEASE don't use the desktop PC as the file server - that would be very bad practice. For starters, XP has a 10 connection limit. The PC won't have redundant anything so if something fails, you're down until it's replaced. Also as it's a desktop, it just isn't designed to be running 24x7 like a proper server system is. –  Ben Pilbrow Jun 12 '10 at 22:54
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Our eventual system: OpenVPN for remote connections, Active Directory for accounts, and one of the i7s as the file server...

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