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Questions for network gurus
Posted by: olnacl
Date: February 04, 2013 06:01AM
I volunteer at a no-kill animal shelter maintaining their computers. Over the past couple years, I've managed to get the computers updated to Win 7 Pro from a hodge-podge of XP and Vista home boxes. I talked them into buying an actual Dell server with Server 2008 software to serve the clients for their shelter software.

Now I'm thinking it's time to clean up the networking. Currently they have DSL service from AT&T running at 1.5 Mbps but I don't believe I can make them budge on that because of the telephone service needs, so all I can do is update the physical network which involves about a dozen workstations and the server. Most are on wired ethernet through an unmanaged 10/100 switch. A few machines are using wireless as provided by their AT&T supplied router at "G" speed - max 54 Mbps.

My question is - if I can get them to spend the money for a new "N" wireless router and gigabit ethernet switch, will the improvement in connection speed be significant? Do we need a managed switch? Most of the network traffic is between the server that holds all the sales and vet data and the 4 or 5 workstation clients running the shelter software. At least one of the wireless clients will be accessing the server, but most of those clients will be hard wired. There is also Quicken POS software running between at least 2 workstations (not through the server). Quicken records are held on one workstation - for some reason they think that's better than having them on the server.

Would it make any sense to replace the existing ethernet cable with Cat6?

Finally, if updated network hardware will prove beneficial, what wireless router do you recommend? It seems every time I read a review on a wireless router that seems favorable, I find customer reports of problems. I don't know if I could convince them to spend the money for an Airport Extreme base station when other brands are sold for half the price. Signal strength is also an issue as the building is old and of CBS construction. The rooms where the router and the wireless workstations live are adjacent and signal strength seems adequate with the AT&T router. Of course, that could change (I know - extend the ethernet cables to the adjacent room - easier said than done.

Thanks for any suggestions, especially from folks with real world experience.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/04/2013 06:02AM by olnacl.
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Re: Questions for network gurus
Posted by: ztirffritz
Date: February 04, 2013 07:26AM
For what they're doing I don't see a great benefit in upgrading to N. no streaming video or gaming, just DB calls and data entry.



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Re: Questions for network gurus
Posted by: Filliam H. Muffman
Date: February 04, 2013 07:42AM
Weekly backups of user files is the main thing I can think of.



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Re: Questions for network gurus
Posted by: Wailer
Date: February 04, 2013 08:02AM
Not worth it.

If they are doing large and frequent file transfers between machines or the Dell server's intranet bandwidth is constantly saturated (I hope that, at least, is 100BT), you won't see worthwhile improvement with only 4 or 5 workstations going to gigabit or N-based wireless.

I imagine at the shelter you have a lot of repeat vistors who are coming to visit a prospective adoptee for a 2nd time. I also imagine you have a lot of people who have recently moved to the area. That might make getting used equipment very easy as many have moved with their old stuff only to find they needed or wanted a new router and thus have a big supply of 100BT routers or 100BT DSL/cable modems. You can easily disable the DSL modem part of these and use them as a router and/or switch. Who knows, someone might donate an N based router or gigabit switch. It's nice having redundancy on that stuff so you don't have to run to Best Buy and pay through the nose for a quick replacement. I also keep a redundant backup DSL modem.
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Re: Questions for network gurus
Posted by: anonymouse1
Date: February 04, 2013 09:22AM
Ok, I'm not a guru, but I may know a thing or two that could help.

1. Most importantly, WHAT PROBLEM ARE YOU TRYING TO SOLVE? (sorry for shouting). Which workstations are having what problems? That should direct what you do next. It's hard to provide good advice in a vacuum.

2. Re managed switch--do some workstations need more bandwidth than others? If so, then a managed switch could make sense. And there are other benefits a managed switch could give you. See this for more info:[www.cisco.com]

3. Sounds like going to N won't gain you much, fi anything. If the WiFi workstations are receiving a weak signal, you might gain something by attaching higher gain antennas, if the wifi router will take them. Alternatively, there are routers that let you boost the WiFi power output. But if the workstations are receiving a strong signal, there's no point in changing anything.

4. Cat 6:Unless you have really long runs (longer than say 200 ft) or are in an electrically noisy environment, you probably won't get a speed increase, assuming the current cable is Cat5 or Cat5E
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Re: Questions for network gurus
Posted by: olnacl
Date: February 04, 2013 10:09AM
Thanks for the suggestions - sorry I wasn't clear enough on the environment.
As I mentioned there are four or five clients possibly accessing/ modifying the database on the server at any time. All but one (at the moment) are using wireless. The database holds all the veterinary, identification and owner records for all the creatures, past and present in the shelter; some 300 - 600 animals are there at any given time. They also maintain a database of contributors (non-profit shelter) and have a huge email database (Constant Contact) that's used to send event announcements, etc, many times a week.
Other records - Quickbooks POS software runs on one workstation but is accessed by another with the usual transfers and updating of the database held on the "master" workstation.

Oh, one ethernet cable run is long, likely a couple hundred feet on a convoluted path. The building is large.
The server is backed up redundantly, daily.
I guess, from the consensus, I don't really need to update the network. That's good - saves me a lot of work.

Thanks for the input.
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Re: Questions for network gurus
Posted by: Paul F.
Date: February 04, 2013 10:26AM
If you're going to replace a wireless access point anyway, replace it with an N.

If you're going to replace any network line anyway, replace it with Cat6 (well, Cat5e is actually "good enough", but Cat6 will further furture proof you).

If you're going to replace the central switch anyway, you might at least look at a managed, or gigabit, switch... but it's probably not necessary unless the site gets heavily into VOIP, and you expect multiple users at a time.

Sounds like you should be planning the same sort of upgrades I am; Slow, carefully planned, upgrades as time and money permit... take advantage of sales, used equipment, etc.
If you find a managed gigabit switch on a screaming hot deal, upgrade... otherwise hold.

It never hurts to be a little proactive in keeping a network if not "up to date", then at least not falling behind as quickly!



Paul F.
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A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca c. 5 BC - 65 AD
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Good is the enemy of Excellent. Talent is not necessary for Excellence.
Persistence is necessary for Excellence. And Persistence is a Decision.

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Eureka, CA
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