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I've been asked by a local school to help out with a network setup.

The school has an office and a computer room. The office has a switch which connects to the modem. (it has about 40 ports. Dell 2422, I think.) For each port, there is a matching ethernet jack in the office which is routed throughout the building. There is another hub/switch in the computer room with about 10 ports on it. The computers run XP Gold ("gold", meaning "no service packs") with no antivirus.

They have servers available, but they are not connected to the network. The person I'm dealing with claims that he's been advised against using the servers because he is inexperienced and that the servers will introduce more trouble than they're worth.

Since the school has young children, they want to keep kids off of the Internet and do so by setting manual IP addresses with a bad gateway IP. A cute solution, but easily bypassable. Besides, this breaks connectivity with the local network and hence the network drive. (see below)

I was asked two things.

One: How do I hook up an external hard drive so that every user account on every computer in the building can access a per user protected folder? (sounds like a question of network placement and software to me)

Two: What other recommendations do I have? (upgrade to sp3)

I'd like help answering these two questions.

Thanks!

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Last 2 digits in a PowerConnect model is the number of ports, so a 6224 is 24-port, for example. –  Chris Thorpe Sep 26 '10 at 12:16

5 Answers 5

Well in no particular order:

Unless there's a really good reason not to do so, pay a visit to Microsoft Update on all those machines and get them onto SP3 with all the patches to bring them up to date.

Get some Antivirus on them. If you're a school you may not have it setup right now, but you should be able to get stupidly cheap educational pricing on all manner of products particularly from Microsoft.

Internet access I'm a little unclear on what you actually want - if the intention is to keep the computers off the internet regardless of who is logged on then you could just not bother setting a default gateway (local network subnet access only), or if you want to control who can access the internet i.e. teachers yes, kids no, you'd need some form of software on the computers or at the gateway (in between your network and the router).

What servers do you have (make/model/spec) and what software is installed? If you have decent hardware I would look to make use of it instead of an "external hard drive" - not sure what you actually mean by that tbh as you'd still have to connect it to something acting as a server to make it available.

Basically you have lots of options and as with most things it comes down to ability and budget.

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There is a ton of questions that must be answered before anyone can suggest anything. Is this network on a Windows Domain? Different subnets? How are user accounts handled? Why does this have to be an external HDD? Storage and backup requirements? So they want to have a file server, but without the server part?

I have been in this business a long time, and "XP Gold" is a marketing term Microsoft uses when they released XP to the oems. Nobody else uses it.

I will agree with TomTom that you don't seem to have the skills to handle this job. Please use the Google to do some research first. If you have a specific question, please ask.

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I'm not arguing that I don't have the skills to handle this job. I am great with programming and home computer hardware, I just never researched networking. The basic question here is where to hook up the hard drive. They already bought it and want to use it as described. And I guess you could say that they want a file server sans server. I questioned that immediately, but didn't get a valid answer. As for XP Gold, I've heard it used as a sort of slang before, I guess you haven't. It's not that important that it's worth fighting over. Thanks. –  Moshe Sep 26 '10 at 9:30
    
To answer your questions, right now, there is no server in use, it's pretty much all peer to peer. User accounts are handled on each machine individually. –  Moshe Sep 26 '10 at 9:33
    
It might be the fact that it's 2:42am right now and I am up far later then I should be, but I don't see any place you posted the number of computers and users? –  Porch Sep 26 '10 at 9:42
    
You also didn't didn't give any details on the servers, or if you can even use them. –  Porch Sep 26 '10 at 9:47
    
Porch, you're right. On my end it is almost sunrise. The details are forthcoming. Pending a little sleep, of course. (about 20 computers) –  Moshe Sep 26 '10 at 10:14

Moshe - you seem to have been asked to just make it all work - with no details of what "working" means nor any thought of the implications.

The best way to keep computers off the internet is not to provide any connection to the internet. But these days that provides no protection against viruses/malware - which have to be a very big concern on a set up like this. There is apparently some internet connectivity - which implies that you need some sort of access control.

Similarly for the network storage. Its easy to plug-in a NAS - but how do you manage permissions - are you just planning on allowing every body to create/change/delete anything? How can you grant 'per-user' access when you've got no server available to identify what a user is?

If you're asking these questions here - it rather suggests you may be out of your depth.

If it were me I'd suggest:

1) installing some sort of authentication server

2) mediate all internet access via an access control system - could be done using the authentication system above - or a standalone authentication

3) control access to shared storage using on-upload / on-demand malware scanning

4) setup a system for network imaging of each client - e.g. Norton Ghost - but there are open-source tools available - and regularly write back the original image to ensure the desktops are clean.

This could be accomadated for up to 200 clients on a single server - which also provides your network storage.

It's been a while since I set up a Microsoft based network, but Using Linux, Squid, GoSA I'd reckon on a 2xdual cpu, 4Gb ram, 5Gb/client for imaging + required network storage - say 5x500Gb drives as RAID5 - approx 1400 UKP (although if you cut a few corners should be possible for less than 1k)

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What open source "ghosting" programs are available? –  Moshe Sep 27 '10 at 12:19
    
There's a list at thefreecountry.com/utilities/backupandimage.shtml I hear a lot of good things about clonezilla –  symcbean Sep 27 '10 at 12:37

My advice:

  1. Find any excuse to get uninvolved with this. The existence of the servers are an indication that you aren't the first sucker roped into doing this. Clueless, micromanaging school administrators get real old real fast.
  2. Insist that they setup a server. If they refuse, that's your pretext to follow recommendation #1.
  3. They need a proper network that doesn't use hacks that screw up the network and they need to use Windows Update. If they refuse, see #1.
  4. Their excuse for refusing to do anything will be hand-waving and whining about money. You might hear about how they have a master's degree and this computer stuff is too complicated. That's a BS excuse indicative of lazy/incompetent administrators -- grant funds from software companies, grants from other government organizations or E-Rate are available, and there is always the option to use open source software. When you encounter this, see #1.

If this is a private school, and your helping them is fulfilling some service commitment in lieu of payment, you're going to earn that compulsory donation!

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First advice: get your facts straight.

he office has a hub (or us it a switch-I'm a bit of a newbie here... and It has about 40 ports. Dell 2422, I think

Means all you need to find out is GOOGLE. One lookup. Switch.

Same for:

The computers run XP Gold

Tell Microsoft about that - they may want to know where you got that given that there never was an XP Gold edition.

They have servers available, but not connected to the network

How do they use them? Magic? By definition a server HAS to be connected to the network, otherwise it is not a server.

Since the school has young children, they keep kids off of the Internet by setting manual IP addresses with a bad gateway IP. A cute solution, but easily bypassable.

No. See, even in XP normal users can not change the IP configuration, so it is not something users can bypass at all. That said, there is no reason to even HAVE a gateway IP... you can set up IP without. So, it is not an easy solution, it is a stupid one. Like a guy leaving the keys in the car but then taknig off the wires so people don't drive away with his car instead of just taking his keys and locking the car.

One: How do I hook up an external hard drive so that every cotter in the building can access a per user protected folder?

With a server. Or a small NAS box (which incidentally is also a server).

Two: What other recommendations do I have?

Get someone with a little bit of a clue in there.

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TomTom - It seems I have more clue than you do. XP Gold refers to Windows XP without any service packs. Also, server is a server whether it is in use or not. It could just be unplugged and powered off. (Like in this case.) I am not going to waste any more time or server space by arguing with you. Please don't be so malicious. –  Moshe Sep 26 '10 at 9:00
    
Although, thanks for Googling the model number ;D –  Moshe Sep 26 '10 at 9:01
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Normally thisis referered to as RTM - not Gold, dear clueless Moshe, and it is SERIOUSLY outdated. First thing - get that updated to the last SP and hotfix level, make sure there is a way to get updates distributed. –  TomTom Sep 26 '10 at 10:14
    
I am aware of the term RTM and he fact that it is commonly used, but each service pack was also RTM at one point or another. –  Moshe Sep 26 '10 at 17:24

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