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Over the past few days I have had this strange idea in my head to own and operate an Internet cafe and gaming center. This is not aimed to be a post discussing the pros and cons of the business or anything like that.

What I am actually interested in learning from the community is if YOU were planning the infrastructure, how would YOU do it? This includes computer hardware, monitors, network hardware, and possibly floor planning as well. Floor planning could also involve non-hardware layout such as extra furniture if you wanted to set up a Wi-Fi lounge.

To make it more fun, I will list a series of options so that you could choose a specific "path" to take in your planning of your own Internet-cafe.

Options:

  • Simple Internet Cafe
  • Internet Cafe and Gaming Center (PC only)
  • Internet Cafe and Gaming Center (PC + Console)
  • Internet Cafe and Lounge
  • Gaming Center and Lounge
  • Custom Style (whatever you want)
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I switched it over to Community Wiki status so that perhaps the best of the best for each option can get combined into single "authoritative" answers. –  TheTXI Apr 30 '09 at 12:30

10 Answers 10

From the security perspective, here is something to consider.

Whilst I was in Japan, I noticed that all the computers in the school were 'reimaged' every time at boot, even before Windows started to boot. I am not sure if this was done over the network or if there was a static image the computer itself, but I thought the idea that the maximum amount of damage a user can do (to the software) is easily fixable by a restart. This could be mandated by having the computer automatically restart every time a user is finished with the computer.

The closest solution I found to this was Deep Freeze by Faronics.

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Deep Freeze will indeed do this! –  The Unix Janitor Mar 11 '11 at 20:39
  • Rent out hard disk space / provide off-site backup --- I have a couple of friends who take serious amounts of photos. They can't back them up onto the cloud, the internet's too slow. Much better if they can walk in with an usb hard drive and copy it over the local network

Assuming basic internet cafe:

  • I'd want the client machines to boot from the network and not have a hard disk
  • I'd look into having multiple consoles (monitor+keyboard+mouse) running off a single computer --- this might work out cheaper than giving each console its own computer
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Build machines that are able to handle the latest games. Don't skimp on the video cards. Use software that will skin Vista (gotta have DX10) to prevent low level access, only access to the games. I would be curious as to how many gamers want coffee when they are playing though.

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by the way, one of my clients is a large gaming company with a unique twist. their pc gaming side has about 25 machines running smartlaunch. they also offer wifi. around the pc's they have about a dozen current gen consoles on samsung lcd tv's and a "stage" set up for rockband/guitar hero. –  Keith Jul 8 '09 at 15:53

I have wondered about this myself and it is hard to perfectly make use of the housing, being attractive to gamers while maintaining an attractive 'café' appeal so the tourists won't run away.

Hardware
You have two very specific needs here. The gamers will need at least medium-grade gaming rigs while your 'café' type users couldn't care less about the hardware they use. They need email, browsing and messaging.

For the café types, I would just invest in Atom based mini computers and focus on the 'café' appeal in that specific area, this means more lightning that the gamers are used to.

For the gamers I would avoid always buying the latest hardware, it simply doesn't generate enough revenue to be affordable. Try medium-range stuff.

Software
Obviously, you don't have the time or money to keep installing the operating system from the ground-up whenever somebody breaks something. So un-attended installs and ghosting are your friend (ghost or partition image f.e.).

On the café machines I'd just install some light weight Linux window environment, like XFCE.

Final words
This is a tricky business because these two customer groups are extremely different in many ways. Gamers like to yell at each other while bouncing rockets in Quake Arena while tourists like their peace and quiet while browsing their email, blogging, etc. Gamers prefer dark areas where the glare doesn't mess with their 'fragging skills'. Tourists like open, bright areas.

The only thing these two groups have in common is that both groups will likely buy a lot of caffeine and food.

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To play up the Gaming aspect, I would invest in network cards from Bigfoot Networks. If you can provide the best experience possible, people will come back.

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Is there actually any performance benefit from these, say over Intel or Broadcom server platform cards? Or is it just gold-plated snake-oil, like the high-end hifi market is with their cables. That said, why not go the whole hog, and get gold-plated CAT7 cables. –  Tom O'Connor Oct 8 '10 at 8:43

-joshhunt...check out Windows Steady State

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One of the challenges will be keeping the computers secure from a hardware and software perspective.

Depending on the degree of supervision your hardware will have, I would expect that there would have to be a varying degree of physical security for your machines. Some questions to ask would be:

  • Will there be a security camera?
  • Is the place small enough and have ample supervision?
  • Are there any blind spots?

If the hardware is at risk of theft, it may become necessary to physically lock down the hardware with locks and cut-proof wiring to anchor them to furniture.

In terms of software security, again there are some points to consider:

  • Are machines from the outside allowed to connect to the LAN?
  • Are removable storage devices going to be allowed to connect to the machines?

If machines or storage devices from the outside is allowed onto the local network, this can be a breeding ground for viruses and worms. It would probably be a good idea to have up-to-date antivirus software (with automatic update) on all machines and firewalls with sensible settings for only allowing certain ports to pass.

Not to mention the need for security from the outside world, i.e. the Internet. This is something that can't be ignored, but probably could be performed by having an outward facing firewall that all systems can go through.

Security products which can be centrally controlled will probably come in handy when working with more than a few machines. Considering labor is going to cost money (and yes, your time is also worth money as well), so investing in some system with centralized control will probably make your life much easier.

If the systems are running Windows, I think that Windows Firewall settings can be controlled by Group Policy Objects on Active Directory. I'm aware that there are enterprise security products which allow central control of security software, but again, these two suggestions may be expensive depending on the scale of machines on a network. Again, weigh the costs and benefits.

Also, one additional risk to consider in the security is the danger of spreading viruses and worms through the LAN. This may become a liability if people complain that their machines was infected and caused problems. Perhaps having the patrons sign a waiver would get around this, but I'm not a lawyer, so it would be a good idea to consult a lawyer for legal advice.

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I think you should be mostly concerned about security. Anyone can drop a few thousand dollars on computer equipment and connections.

But what to do about possible trojans, sniffers, theft, etc...?

There are some commercial solutions to these problems, but this is definitely a hazard area.

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If you have areas for people with laptops don't forgot the outlets!!! The local starbucks has only 4 outlets that are accessible. As a result I found a coffee shop that has plenty of outlets.

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Building is the easy part. Maintaining will be the challenge. Real gamer types will find it hard to play on commodity keyboards, mice, and controllers. But when I've shelled out thousands for the good stuff, I'll find it hard to handle users destroying them.

I also haven't figured out how to handle those overstaying their welcome. If there are no time limits, the stations will all be taken by local kids who spend the least and take the most.

The business plan may need to factor in a time = money model, either by direct pay as you go, moral obligation to buy a beverage/snack, or maybe indirect temptation to buy something that looks good while you're there.

Sorry, I don't have answers. I only have problems. :)

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All of your points are very good. In general I was looking to see what type of equipment people would buy (which is very important depending on what type of cafe you want to run. If you simply want high volume of users browsing the internet, cheaper pcs would be in order, but if you were looking at going into PC gaming you would want to have much better monitors, higher end graphics and processors, etc. –  TheTXI Apr 30 '09 at 12:48
    
Yeah, but these risk factors will drive what you buy or it'll be a hard lesson when you have to redo it all at a loss. –  spoulson Apr 30 '09 at 13:07

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