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Concordia...41
12-17-2009, 07:42 AM
Second computer issue for the all knowing ones:

The office I attempt to manage has a CPU that serves as a server running Windows Server for Small Business 2003. We have Outlook 2003 (exchange server for e-mail) and XP Professional on the workstations.

This wasn't so much a system that we designed, it's just what we've grown into/adapted over the last decade as we went from one computer (mine) to connecting two to today with the stand-alone server and nine users. Seriously, it wasn't that long ago - maybe 5 years - that things were all hooked together with Cat 5 cable...

The system is growing more antiquated by the day, but functions fine as far as the workstations that are hard-wired in, but several of the attorneys are using laptops and the VPN system created for that seems to be problametic - and then there's the iPhone issue discussed on a separate thread.

My thought was to limp along for another six months or so - primarily to let the new Windows OS get the bugs out - and then using a local company - do a complete upgrade as to the server, operating systems, and supporting software.

Just the Microsoft and other software licenses (x 9) I figured to be about 10k, plus the hardware, plus the server... :( But it's what it is and what it takes to run a business in this world.

I've got a company now pitiching hosting everything on a cloud server and using godaddy.com for e-mail. This company is out of state and would manage everything through LogMeIn, which has already been installed so they could review our current system.

I'm all for hosting stuff offsite and have no problem with that. My main question and where I'm getting conflicting advice is that possibly some of our software programs - PCLaw for one - will run more efficiently off a server inhouse. That would mean e-mail and storage through the cloud server and still maintaing a server in the building? I guess I can call every individual vendor and check, but thought I'd get advice and comments here because I've got a lot of things to check on.

Thanks (again)!

- M

Woxbox
12-17-2009, 07:59 AM
I come at this from the client side, not the tech side. I've been involved in a comparable project for some time. The only way to know for sure is to set it up and test if very, very thoroughly. How are you linking to the cloud? Citrix? Does PCLaw have a web client that can be used? There are dozens of ways to get tripped up. But certainly, if you can get it working properly, it will save you a lot of headaches long term. Just take the vendor's claims with a grain of salt.

C. Ross
12-17-2009, 08:11 AM
You can start by moving email and documents to the cloud using something like Google mail, calendar and docs. All of it is free. I would not waste time with godaddy.

The challenge will be that most proprietary software like your PCLaw program will not be cloud-ready. I would check with the vendor of that program and ask them where their program is being hosted as opposed to running on a LAN. Be sure to ask about bandwidth requirements. Renting a T1 or two would be more expensive than most local file server/app infrastructure costs.

You also need to think about the connection between your basic office automation and your PCLaw program. If for example you need to store Word documents in PCLaw, and the program only supports Word documents using a .doc extension, you're going to have a hard time spoofing it into accepting Google docs attachments. Finally, a lot of apps use Active Directory for security, and use than mechanism to link LAN-based apps to Exchange. Active Directory works fine over a distributed environment, again, you need to know if PCLaw uses it and if so how.

The revolutionary step, of course, would come if you find that PCLaw ties you to a 1990s architecture, in which case you might think about converting off it. Painful. You might look at Thompson/West...they are building apps in this space for exactly this purpose.

Rich VanValkenburg
12-17-2009, 08:39 AM
I've been out of the mainstream of this for a few years but we always had a question about putting a critical application on a long distance server. The data transfer speeds were always faster with an in-house cpu than our T2 or even T3, and that's what you were asking, right? The other thought is that you don't want a mission-critical system going down because of a contractor that inadvertently digs up a fiber bundle, or for any reason that you don't have control over. If you have a local failure it's still something you can put your finger on and have a good idea when it'll be back up.

Concordia...41
12-17-2009, 09:05 AM
That's kindof what I'm thinking. Right now I have functionality as long as I have electricity. If I loose the Internet with everything hosted offsite...

I'm also not comfortable with an offsite IT company.

Just last weekend we just had a situation where the cleaning crew bumped a Lynksys plug on one of the workstations. I'm smart enough to check plugs and whatnot when it says a LAN connection is off, but the vacume cleaner had jammed it just a degree off to where the connection was compromised. No one but the physical body of the guy that set it up would have caught that.

I'm sure there's no right answer and am getting ready to call PCLaw now. That's our major software, and after more than a year of researching the various products on the software market, spending 3k+ on the licenses, and going on two years of mastering it, I'm pretty much married to it at this point. Obviously our other marriage is to Microsoft, but you gotta be in bed with someone and Bill Gates was our choice from the get go.

Keep bringing on the input. I appreciate it.

On the other thread it mentions the time wasted sorting this stuff out and making things work. I know that just since December 2nd I have greater than 20 dedicated hours on the server and iPhone issues, so yes, the time element is huge!

Concordia...41
12-17-2009, 10:16 AM
Cloud servers are a no-go with PCLaw.

I'll hear the guy's suggestions on off-site hosting for Exchange and maybe documents, but it seems what I was told and what Chris says above about propriety software and cloud servers is spot on.

Cheers!

- M

Uncle Duke
12-17-2009, 10:17 AM
Other questions to ponder during decision-making:

You should also think about the data itself - is any of it confidential, such that you might have liabilities if the off-site storage is compromised?

And - if you decide after a year to bring it back in-house or go to another off-site vendor, what is the level of pain associated with that?

Concordia...41
12-17-2009, 10:59 AM
Other questions to ponder during decision-making:

You should also think about the data itself - is any of it confidential, such that you might have liabilities if the off-site storage is compromised?

And - if you decide after a year to bring it back in-house or go to another off-site vendor, what is the level of pain associated with that?

Well I have always wondered about the security of our VPN and figure that would be the weakest of the links. Our existing IT service will be on site today installing a new workstation and relocating another and my afternoon is actually cleared for the single purpose of addresing some things that I've just kindof assumed were fine - like the offsite back up. I'm actually going to make them run me through a restore as well as showing / explaining the firewall and other security things that I've just taken for granted.

The second question is very valid and one I hadn't even thought of.

Unfortunately this has descended into a personality thing with some folks wanting one service and some wanting another and me not really wanting to change. Everyone brings their own arguments to the table and makes them sound really plausible, but you-know-who will be mopping up the mess if the system melts down.

Such is what is.

Continuing thanks!

- M

marshcat
12-17-2009, 02:42 PM
Can't help you with the cloud stuff, although I too am nervous about lost network connectivity bringing us to a screeching halt. I strongly second your inclination to have someone run you through a full restore. Not just to make sure your backups are sound, but to become aware of all the little problems you will encounter and tricks you need to bring the system back up.

In one of my current lives I administer six thin client workstations RDP'd in to a MS Server 2003 server, and I made our vendor walk me through a real recovery on a real server. I took notes the whole time and made myself a script. My environment is pretty simple, just one main vendor app and a few other little things.

Don't settle for them just telling you the steps - make them bring over a server (or use an old one) and actually run through the restore. If you have an old server, you can restore to it and then use it as a little development environment to screw around in.

Nicholas Carey
12-17-2009, 04:00 PM
Just the Microsoft and other software licenses (x 9) I figured to be about 10k, plus the hardware, plus the server... :( But it's what it is and what it takes to run a business in this world. You might want to take a look at other options...like moving out of Microsoft's playpen.

A Mac Mini, built out as a server (with OS X Server) and including a 4x1Tb NAS/RAID box will run just under $2400 the way I configured it (loaded for bear).

As a replacement for PC Law, LawStream (http://www.lawstream.com/) is practice management software that runs on both OS X and Windows. It incorporates time/expense tracking, daybook, accounting, billing, document management, word processing, contact management, scheduling, etc., etc. It runs $5000 for 8 concurrent users (plus $400/year for maintenance)

That's $7500 for both hardware and software.

OS X Server incorporates email and web servers, and all the usual daemons that *nix boxen run. iCal Server provides group Calendar standards-based group calendaring, if what Lawstream offers doesn't work. OS X Servers can operate as either a primary or secondary DC (domain controller) for Windows Networks, providing authentication and networking services for client Windows boxes as well as for OS X clients.

The kicker is that you'd want to upgrade the workstations as well, to make it clean. Figure $1500 and up per workstation, including both hardware and office software -- iWork will do pretty much anything attorneys would need MS Office for (word processing, spreadsheets and presentations -- Keynote is actually far better then Powerpoint). If you need personal database functionality, Bento will give you that. iWork and Bento 3 are $50 each when ordered with a 'puter. And if you actually want/need MS Office, the OS X Business edition will cost you $350 per seat.

Including sofware (iWork and Bento), I figure a loaded laptop for each attorney at about $2300 per, with an iMac for the admin at about $1500.

Since OS X server works with heterogenous networks and Lawstream runs on both OS X and Windows, you could get away without upgrading workstations.

And...these are all retail prices, of course. I'm willing to bet that deals could be made if one were to walk in to a dealer with the shopping list.

The up side of converting to OS X across the board: a much more secure system. Far lower exposure to virii. Lower support costs (for the most part, stuff just works). Time machine will get everybody's workstation quietly backed up as they go)...and lower software costs down the line. The downside is the upfront cost of the upgrade and data migration, plus getting everybody up to speed on the new system.

Nicholas Carey
12-17-2009, 04:06 PM
One other thing: if you move stuff into the "cloud", Rocket Matter looks nice.

http://www.rocketmatter.com/

And at less than $50/month per seat, that's an awfully attractive price.

I would worry about data security, though. Another thing to consider is what might happen if the company providing the service folds? What happens to your data? Also, if they folded suddenly, you'd be left spinning in the wind.

Henning 4148
12-17-2009, 04:40 PM
What actually are the problems you are having with your system?

Ok, you seem to have a VPN issue - is that linked to processing power or the communication bandwith that connects you to the outside world or is it the program not playing nicely with the operation system?

What else? System working slowly or many hang ups or ??? Or storage space issues? Or do your colleagues need flashy new laptops every two years to keep up with the Jones?

I am not an IT expert - but although an "all brand new" approach sounds charming, a "do a little every year or every two years" approach also might be in order - and it would spread the investment much nicer. But - to know where to start, you need to know where root causes for the biggest problems are - and what remedy will do the most to improve the overall system issues. In the company where I work, we get new PC's every 4 years or so but the investment in the server infrastructure is decoupled from the roll out of the new PC's. I'd actually guess, that they are doing very little work on the server infrastructure in the years where they roll out new PC's with the latest generation windows software etc. In between the roll outs - lots of work on the server infrastructure, net design, virtualisation in the last two years, ... . So - you (or somebody who is good at this) needs to analyze your system and define a way forward to a system that should meet your requirements better - in a way, that you can complete the change in say 3 years with starting with the most important points this year. Then, in 4 years, you'd start with analyzing again and define the next 3 year plan. Something like that. There will be issues in between, but there should always be a target towards which you work.

Regarding external services - you are in a legal environment, start by reading the general terms and conditions and especially the warranties. What are they offering to you and your customers in terms of compensation if they are loosing your data or if your data ends up with third parties? Are they offering any guarantees (insurance backed or with bank guarantees) for such cases? It is your customers with their confidential information that you would process off site - and you have hardly any control over what is happening at the data processor. If you should loose your customers information or your business information, chances are, that you will have to shut down - because you will loose confidence from your customers into your ability to do business for them. Its not a decision for the cheapest bidder, its a decision for the most trustworthy provider. Chances are, that you come to the decision that you yourself are the most trustworthy provider when it is about your and your customers data.

By the way, I never understood why banks were outsourcing data processing ...

Last point - iphone - as great as an iphone is - and the apple fans may think different - it's not really designed for "corporate" business men and women, for integration into existing networks etc. The Blackberry and the Palm are more "corporate" business orientated - as far as I know.

WX
12-17-2009, 04:41 PM
If you know a Linux sysadmin talk to him about a Linux file/mail server. Ubuntu put out a server version with plenty of online help. As the software is free to use you will cut out some big costs. You can still use your Win workstations. I run a Linux (Debian) file server for a community centre.

P.I. Stazzer-Newt
12-17-2009, 05:02 PM
......
I'm all for hosting stuff offsite and have no problem with that. My main question and where I'm getting conflicting advice is that possibly some of our software programs - PCLaw for one - will run more efficiently off a server inhouse. That would mean e-mail and storage through the cloud server and still maintaing a server in the building? I guess I can call every individual vendor and check, but thought I'd get advice and comments here because I've got a lot of things to check on.

Thanks (again)!

- M

I would be really nervous of running the email archival storage for a law firm off-site - the security and privacy issues would have the fingernails chewed about back to the elbows.

There are lots of options for handling the mail - on Windows the age old Mercury/Pegasus combination does a good job - some people even like exchange server - under linux there are a veritable hoard of possibilities.

The top tip is to sit down and make a list of the real day to day problems with your current setup - and then set out to prioritise the problems and then solve them.

Flying Orca
12-17-2009, 05:57 PM
You might want to look at FirstClass (http://www.firstclass.com/Divisions/FAV13-0024FC6F/Open%20Text%20FirstClass/?Plugin=FC). Much better TCO than the Exchange stuff, easier to administer, and should integrate well with your PC Law setup. One nice thing about FC is that it can handle at least 10x the traffic Exchange can handle on a given server. The automatic archiving and unified messaging options are good too.

(Disclosure: it's my brother's product, but I am not financially involved in the company.)

Concordia...41
12-17-2009, 10:28 PM
OK, well the 3 pm meeting went through 5:30, but a fair bit was accomplished.

To answer a previous question, the problems were the peripherals - laptops and iPhones. Some machines were slower than others, but it coincided with the age of the machine, number of programs running, etc.

However, I'd lost sight of that and had frankly been worn down by the pissing and moaning - some times legit - some times just someone melting down because a web page won't load fast enough to suit them... :rolleyes:

So interviewed an IT guy that proposed the cloud server and some other things - hence my interest and researching.

I still have some things to check - security, cost, etc. but the general agreement is - keeping our current IT company (which I've been perfectly happy with), who basically echoed what the new guy said except what I'd already found out about keeping PCLaw, Word, Excel on the local server and using GoDaddy as a host for Exchange Server.

Current guy says by moving Outlook and it's related functions to an outside host we should be able to extend the life of the current server by years - maybe indefinitely. I forget his estimate on the size of the data, but when you think about 8 of us - calendars, contacts, inbox, deleted items, sent items - it's a lot!

He felt like the security provided by GoDaddy was sufficient, as well as superior to what we have - which I realize now with the iPhones is Nothing for the e-mail. The VPN is a Hitachi {sp?} program with 256 bit encryption so if they login through the VPN to check their calendars or e-mail that's fine, but the iPhones and some of the other forwarding programs work outside of the VPN.

It makes sense, I just hadn't really given it much thought.

I also have a triple assurance that the iPhones will work with the off-site Exchange hosting.

The new workstation they put in today (to pacify the guy who thinks the Internet loads slow) has Microsoft 7 and Office 2007. Once again, I had the mistaken impression that we all had to be using the same operating system and thus we'd be in for some massive budget breaking comprehensive re-do. Turns out the IT guy preferred XP Professional and never wanted to move us to Vista. Somehow I got the impression we all had to have the same OS.

We'll see how the new computer with 7 works integrates. The IT guy says he's real pleased with 7 so far.

The other recommendation that's good is to just replace the workstations as needed and gradually upgrade the software. So that was good news. It's still money and always will be, but some software here and there and a couple of workstations a year is a LOT easier than a whole new system.

I'll spend some time over the next couple of weeks double checking the notes I took and researching anything that I don't understand or that doesn't make sense.

We saw today how long it took this guy's heavily laden inbox (he NEVER deletes anything), five years of contacts, and the like to be copied to the new machine. No, he didn't need it and he realizes it now, but the IT guy knows and has a standing order from me to copy everything and do whatever is necessary, because God forbid the guy can't find some joke his brother sent him last Christmas...

So we all have standing orders to archive or delete as much as possible to make the upload to GoDaddy easier.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some details but everyone was so great with the help - and PM's Chuck ;) - so I wanted to take the time to let you know what we're leaning toward.

Tomorrow, after I do all of the things I didn't get done today and Friday's stuff, I'll put another couple of hours into analysis and re-reading the last few posts.

Good night gentlemen. I can't thank you enough!

- M

paladin
12-18-2009, 08:40 AM
The 256 bit encryption is virtually worthless these days.....any one that's serious can crack it in about 10 minutes with a couple of 2 gig machines. One of the machines that I designed for a client uses 2024 bit encryption and it's only good for a few hours in a tactical scenario.

P.I. Stazzer-Newt
12-18-2009, 09:02 AM
CloudServer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcTrCXVrsPk) << 37 seconds in

Canoez
12-18-2009, 09:13 AM
I gotta tell ya, when you posted this about "Cloud Servers" I was thinking about the computer equipment we use for this:

http://i50.tinypic.com/9hhq39.jpg

Which is used to look for this:

http://i49.tinypic.com/2wec4r5.jpg

Henning 4148
12-18-2009, 02:08 PM
Last point regarding service providers - from about 1 or 2 % of their turnover onwards, they start to take you serious. Beyond approx. 25 %, they depend on you - which is also not desirable for various reasons.

There is a lot to be said for small local service providers who do take you and your needs serious.

Nicholas Carey
12-18-2009, 02:55 PM
We saw today how long it took this guy's heavily laden inbox (he NEVER deletes anything), five years of contacts, and the like to be copied to the new machine. No, he didn't need it and he realizes it now, but the IT guy knows and has a standing order from me to copy everything and do whatever is necessary, because God forbid the guy can't find some joke his brother sent him last Christmas...

So we all have standing orders to archive or delete as much as possible to make the upload to GoDaddy easier.With Exchange/Outlook, you really need to set up server-side retention policies (the Exchange admin can do this) for both email and calendar items -- for instance, emails older than 6 months get automatically deleted.

In conjunction with that, users need to know that anything they want to keep must archived on their desktop, or on a shared network drive in a "personal store"
(PST). Users can do this manually, or client-side rules can be set up on each desktop to do this -- or instance, configure the archive setup to automatically move anything in the inbox that's older than 60 days to the PST. I believe that with a little work, a standard archiving policy can even be set up on the server.

This isn't just for performance reasons either. If you have no retention policy in place, all that 5 year old email is fair game for discovery in a lawsuit -- ask Microsoft about the importance of email retention policies. Their lack of same is essentially what got Microsoft convicted in the DOJ's antitrust proceedings against them.

As far as Exchange performance goes, the data store underlying Exhange is...shhh!...a MS SQL Server database. It needs a certain amount of TLC from the Exchange admin and a SQL Server DBA to keep running in tip-top shape. If you've got , say, a corrupted index or bad execution plan cached that's causing table scans, performance can/will tank.

Just for the record, Microsoft's Small Business Server is architectually a Bad Idea. It forces you to pile on to a single box the PDC (primary domain controller), the Exchange Server and SQL Server -- these are all , from the POV of resource consumption, fairly heavy duty daemons.

One last thing with respect to network performance: unless there is an actual need to differ, every network user should be set up with "local" rather than "roaming" profiles. A Windows user's "profile" is more-or-less equivalent to a *nix "home directory" -- it's where all the per-user settings, configuration, etc. live. This includes things like the user's desktop, the contents of the start menu, the web browser's cache of pages, the Outlook personal store (PST). User-/app-specific caches are also supposed to live there. If the user is set up with a "roaming" profile, the profile lives on the PDC, not on the user's workstation. "Local" profiles live on the workstation.

The supposed advantage of roaming profiles is that the user will get the exact same desktop, etc., regardless of the workstation they log into. The disadvantage is much slower login times and decreased performance overall due to the increased network traffic. Moreover, unless every workstation is set up identically, roaming profiles simply don't work as desktop/start menu shortcuts contain workstation-specific information in the form of local drive/path specifiers.

The only conditions under which I would consider roaming profiles are:


LAN-only; no logins across a WAN
Users have essentially read-only access to the workstation; all user data kept on a standard per-user network share.
Each workstation is identically configured and stood up from the "standard" workstation image.

All this requires a pretty high level of customization to the stock Windows environment and will almost certainly break applications when they make assumptions about where things live and where they can write data to.