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I'm looking for advice on setting up a small business network for a start-up retail company.

We're a five-man outfit. We need email, file sharing, printing, scanning etc. We have a bespoke line-of-business application written in .NET that relies on Active Directory and SQL Server 2005. We need our website to be able to connect to our LOB app to retrieve and update data securely.

Currently, my proposed solution for this is to create a small network using SBS 2008 Premium (to cover off the email, LOB app, AD, SQL Server demands) and to pay for a hosted server with configurable firewall (at RackSpace or 1&1 or similar) to host the web site which would allow me to set up a secure VPN tunnel between the website and our LOB app.

My first question is: does this sound like the best solution? And if not where am I going wrong and what are the alternatives?

Okay, so assuming that what I've suggested sounds okay, my next question is what hardware should I be buying for the network? My current shopping list looks like this:

  • 1 x 24U rack cabinet with PDU and fans
  • 2 x server - Dell Poweredge 2850 or similar (RAID 1 or 5 with redundant PSU's, network cards, etc)
  • 1 x hardware firewall - what should I be looking for?
  • 1 x 24 port 1GB switch - again what functionality will I need?
  • 1 x router - do I need this?
  • 1 x UPS - will this include surge protection?
  • 1 x Tape Drive
  • Plenty of cabling - cat5 or cat6? - what other cabling requirements have I managed to over look?

Given that harware, should I be able to achieve what I'm looking to do? My background is in software development and I've just taken all of this for granted in the past. More fool me ;)

I would be very grateful for any advice you can offer as I need help and/or reassurance on the solution before I go and blow our IT budget.

Thanks

AnyOldIron

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Thank you all for you quick replies. –  user9058 Jun 10 '09 at 20:19

4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

My immediate thoughts. First, the kind of hardware you need is dependent heavily on things like, how much downtime you can afford, how many concurrent users you will have, etc. That said, I would say at a glance that you are on the right track although there are definitely specifics that need addressing. As for your specific questions, you need to make sure that whatever firewall you get has VPN capabilities that are compatible with whatever hosting provider you use for your website. Talk to your sales representative there to see what you need. You really don't want to rely on a Windows VPN service for a mission critical always on VPN. A switch is a switch, unless you feel that you are going to need to do network segment partitioning for security reasons, make sure it is GigE and that it is 24 port and from a reputable vendor, and you should be good. You need a router if you want to connect to any external network including the internet. I have never seen a UPS unit that was not surge protected, it would be a very odd thing indeed if you found one. Make sure that whatever UPS you get has enough battery life to shut your servers down safely and has an agent to connect to your operating system. The main difference between cat5 and cat6 are their ability to handle long cable runs and electrical interference. You probably don't need cat6, but I think that the cost difference is fairly minimal at this point, so you might as well go with it. On the software side, you will need some kind of backup software that can handle both the database and whatever you are using for email (Exchange in particular requires a special agent to backup correctly) I haven't worked with Server 2008, but no previous version of Windows has had a built in backup that can handle these things correctly. Sorry to be so long winded and I hope some of that helps.

Catherine MacInnes

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The router will be necessary to cover any external connectivity between the world and your internal network. Similarly, you'll want a firewall, and possibly VPN too, to allow you to get access when you're not in the office. In a similar small shop we used Fortigate boxes to accomplish much of this. Plug your T1/T3, etc into the external side, and your switch into the internal side. It'll handle routing, firewalling, scan mail, etc. This will also handle the VPN to your webhost.

Double-Take can handle failovers of Exchange, AD, etc pretty well, especially within the same site.

The Dells are pretty good value for money, generally reliable.

The UPS should include surge protection, just be sure to pick a model that will give you the time you need to either get everything running again, or shut it down.

You don't have AC on your list, which you'll probably want.

Personally, you might want to consider getting hosted email, it can save a lot of time and hassle. Email is generally considered vital to an on-line business and outages are serious enough that the cost of hosting more than covered any potential failure.

Again, buying the cable made up, and getting it fished professionally through the office can be a great time-saver. I've made cable before, and bought it. In the server room buy lots of short ones, in the office get it installed properly.

24 port switch - Going to need all 24 ports? The all metal NetGears are pretty reliable and simple to use.

Last time I checked SBS wasn't upgradable if you ever grow, you'll need new licenses. We always tried to avoid it as a product.

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There are a lot of variables in there, but yes, your shopping list looks fairly complete.

Your internet provider will provide a "router" for you. We use our firewall/VPN to replace that router and be the gateway from our switch to the internet.

I would get a Layer 3 switch such as one Cisco or NetGear provides which gives you some flexibility with regards to your ports. This is basically a router as well. You can get a switch that has the firewall/VPN built in as well but I would recommend against that as it makes that part of the network hard to upgrade.

Finally, the firewall you get should also be your VPN provider. No need to get 2 devices.

And yes, your UPS should do the surge protection as well.

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My thoughts ...

1- SBS 2008 sounds like an excellent approach.
2- You should consider having your servers hosted in a co-location center. Jeff talks a bunch about this in the stackoverflow blog. Then you don't need a cabinet (or cooling, or a UPS), will need less bandwidth at the office, and will get better performance on the website.

Other stuff ..

  • 1 x router - do I need this?
    If you are connecting to the internet, you need a router. In a small office, this will typically be provided by the ISP.

  • 1 x hardware firewall - what should I be looking for?
    I like Astaro, but there are a zillion small office solutions. You want VPN. You may also want remote access. Astaro is inexpensive, and the interface is relatively good.

  • 1 x tape drive
    I would go with online or cloud backup (for instance, Iron Mountain or JungleDisk). It costs. On the other hand, tape drives and tapes are not cheap, so starting from scratch I suspect it pays off.

  • Plenty of cabling ...
    Hire someone to do this, particularly if you want it run through the walls and looking good. If you are OK with it on the floor and tucked into corners, buy pre-terminated patch cords. Cat5e is fine.

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