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I am a programmer with zero sys admin skills. A friend of mine has a small business and he asked me to setup a computer network in his office with 10 windows 7 workstations.

He has 20 employees and each workstation can be used by different employees at different times. When a user logs in, no matter from which workstation, I want him to have access to a private area where he keeps his files, that no one else can change, in some cases not even view, and also a public area where everyone shares files. From searching I believe the technology I want to use is active directory? I have also seen a suggestion to use samba. Would you recommend that instead? I also want users to have their customized desktop shortcuts when they login. For server I must use a regular PC because he is not planning to buy a tower server yet. I know there are several other issues to deal with, even for a small network, but first I want to solve the problem of file access.

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Tell him to suck it up and buy Windows SBS. – JohnThePro Apr 19 '12 at 18:57
Maybe you should find a local IT Admin who could do all this for you. – uSlackr Apr 19 '12 at 19:38
Do I get points for good comments? lol. – JohnThePro Apr 19 '12 at 20:41
I like Standard. Comes with Exchange. shrug 20 employees, they should have their own email. Keeping it in-house allows them to archive it the way they'd like (which a service like Google Apps or Hosted Exchange would do as well). – JohnThePro Apr 19 '12 at 20:51
Lots of people are (rightly) suggesting an AD solution, but bear in mind that for Windows 7, it requires Pro, Enterprise, or Ultimate editions. The Starter and Home editions cannot be joined to a domain. – James Sneeringer Apr 19 '12 at 20:57
up vote 6 down vote accepted

You set up a server to run Active the small business server edition...and set up each user with their own login, and for a private share you create home directories.

Then you set up a file share on the server that is open to your users with whatever permissions you want to allow. Create folder, right click, share, configure permissions.

Custom desktops are achieved through profiles. Saves certain data to the server; icons on the desktop, etc. but if you're not careful you can have storage issues (large My Documents folder use if you don't redirect them, for example, causes prolonged login/logoffs).

Really, from the description, it sounds like you should hire a consultant to come work on this. The level of expertise isn't extremely high to create users and create some shares, but if you're out of your comfort zone you may end up creating some hassles and leaving misconfiguration issues. There are things you may not even have considered, like setting up DHCP for your workstations, and proper ACL assignments. If this is a business that has certain security needs (like customer data?) you really don't want to mess up your ACL settings.

Also...backups? Print serving? RAID? For a small business, contracting with a local consulting business would be a wise investment, as well as purchasing some support time from that business for incidental support. You said you're not well versed in admin work and doing this will create an albatross around your neck very quickly.

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+1 for getting consultant/help. If you don't know what you're doing, and take on a project of this size, you can create a lot of headaches [or worse] for everyone. – jscott Apr 19 '12 at 19:04
I'd also add that you really really need an actual server to do this. Running a workstation as a server? For 20 people? Sure, you can do it, if you don't value the business actually keeping their systems running. If downtime doesn't matter, go ahead... – Bart Silverstrim Apr 19 '12 at 19:11
We sure can hire a consultant to get things started, but I want to get into the trade myself. I want to learn how to do things from scratch. My friend wants me to become his network consultant. I am going to install SBS in a regular workstation. – Ian Apr 22 '12 at 11:02
If we really have to, then we'll get a tower server. Thank you all for your help. – Ian Apr 22 '12 at 11:10
Generally you don't want to learn from scratch when there's a business depending on you, and if you hire a consultant you can learn by watching and finding out why they did what they did. – Bart Silverstrim Apr 22 '12 at 14:40

The environment is too small for Active Directory's overhead. 10 machines is the limit for workgroups and I think this will work well in this situation. The "owner"'s machine could play "server" in so small an environment with some kind of versioning/delta backup utility like Crashplan to a local external hard drive or cloud hosted storage to protect their data.

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Small Business Server would get it done here, as suggested above, since I missed the section where each employee needs a "private area". – SpacemanSpiff Apr 19 '12 at 18:59
"Too small"? I disagree, and think 10+ clients is where you really start to see benefits from AD/SBS. – jscott Apr 19 '12 at 18:59
If you read the question, its not the 10 machines, its the 20 hot desk (essentially) users that want their 'stuff' wherever they log in who are the problem here. This is a classic case for a SBS rollout if you ask me. – RobM Apr 19 '12 at 19:25
Yeah, until your one copy of your Active Directory goes up in smoke. As someone who has to clean up Small Business Server messes all the time, I typically avoid promoting it. – SpacemanSpiff Apr 19 '12 at 20:55
I have to agree with spacemanspiff, sbs is a great concept but in practice putting all the eggs in one basket lends itself to disaster when the small business owner "forgets" to change tapes (or even run) backups. – Jim B Apr 20 '12 at 1:30

I'd set him up with an office 365 subscription or google docs (either one with the microsoft option costing 1 dollar more). You haven't said that there are any network apps. Over 3 years you'll spend about 4k (presuming 20 users) which may be cheaper than getting a server and hiring a consultant and performing maintenance (like backups etc).

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You should read the Office 365 packages carefully, though. For instance, there is a limit to the number of different email recipients in a day for the Exchange offering. Usually these thresholds are not a problem for most small businesses, but it's certainly something to be aware of. I've seen at least one place get bit by them. – MDMarra Apr 19 '12 at 20:55
Yes I've had folks running "questionable" marketing emails get bit by the 1500 per day limit, but we got around that by adding a few more mailboxes. – Jim B Apr 20 '12 at 1:34

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