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File Servers for an Elementary School

By kmhs_sa ·
This year, my school has budgeted nearly $9000 for the purchase of a new server for my school. Our current server is a P4 2.4Ghz with 1Gb DDR Ram, and an 80Gb Mirrored Raid as well another 80Gb Hard. Looking at the board it is an MSI 6526 motherboard with a 3-Com offboard network card. It currently runs Windows 2000 Server brilliantly. Based on these specs, it is classes as a Glorified Desktop.

I have a problem though. It is getting towards the end of its 3 year life, and we have planned on its replacement later this year.

When we go to our panel to purchase a server, they keep returning $6000-$7000 servers. P4 Xeon, 2-4Gb Ram, SCSI Hard Drives (thought they had been superseeded by SATA).

The issue I have is that I now have 120 computers, including 16 ibooks and 3 emacs running off this server. They are starting to become a management hassle, especially when it takes me a day to image all 19 of them.

The thought I have is to purchase a considerably upgraded Glorified Desktop (P4 3.6Ghz Socket 775) to replace our current server and also purchase a MacOS X Server. This still adds up to about $6000-$7000 all up, but provides better flexibility.

My Co-ordinator is very keen to purchase the 6000 Single Server. I have managed to successfully delay it for another 3 months.

I look after an elementary school (K-7, of 500 students and 40 staff.

What should I do?

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I'm a little confused.

by apotheon In reply to File Servers for an Eleme ...

You say you're running a fileserver.

You then make reference to having to image a bunch of desktops.

I'm not sure whether you're talking about imaging their hard drives to return them to a base state on a regular basis or backing up the data on their drives to the server or, well, something else. What exactly are you talking about?

In any case, it sounds at the moment as though you're talking about rather more than a mere fileserver, but I don't have enough information at the moment to offer any advice at all on anything other than for a fileserver, because that's all you've asked about. Is the additional information you've included irrelevant to your question?

Windows and Mac server solutions tend to impose restrictions on the networking interoperability they provide with other systems. While there are certainly server tasks for which a Mac server would be better suited to dealing with Macs specifically, and a Windows server would be sufficient for dealing with Windows specifically, for a plain vanilla fileserver there's really nothing that compares to a low-end unix server (I say "low end" meaning PC compatible, as opposed to minicomputer, mainframe, et cetera, though a SPARC would do admirably well, too). A such, if all you need is a fileserver, you might look into a Linux or *BSD solution.

This would reduce administrative overhead by giving you the simplest system needed for the job and keeping you down to one primary fileserver, as well as allowing you to keep hardware costs low enough that you could get another system to act as its backup (or even just use the current, soon to be replaced, system as the backup for the main fileserver), introducing redundancy along with functionality.

Depending on further details of your situation, though, that advice might change in a hurry. As I said before, it's hard to give good advice without knowing the circumstances.

The reason for SCSI instead of SATA in a fileserver is hotswappable drives in greater numbers. With a SCSI interface, you can attach more drives than with SATA, and you don't have to shut the system down to swap them out. This can be quite preferable to an SATA system, even if you can get incrementally better performance out of the SATA drives. SCSI is far from irrelevant, especially in systems with a high storage capacity requirement.

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I re-read and confused myself too... Sorry

by kmhs_sa In reply to I'm a little confused.

I have a Single Windows 2000 Active Directory Server.

This inturn provides the DHCP and DNS for my network. From here, it also provide storage space for my users, and print services. All PCs are imaged with Windows 2000/XP and managed by Symantec Ghost Console on this server. Also hosted on this server is a Microsoft Software Update Server. (Simply it is an all in one). Along with Group Policies and internal McAfee VirusScan mirror, it doesn't really have to do much.

I have yet to have this server run at full capicity for any longer than 2 minutes. It is P4 2.4Ghz on an MSI 6526 Motherboard with 1Gb of Ram and 160Gb Combined Hard Drive Space on an IDE Raid. It is effectively a glorified desktop computer. It is happily supporting 90 PC clients (ranging from Celeron 466/128Mb to P4 2.8Ghz/512Mb) and handling all the task with ease. When purchased this server cost AU$2200

I have been told by my boss that I should get a new server this year as it has been budgeted for. The quotes I have received have been towards the AU$6000-7000 mark. Rough Specs include a single Xeon Processor between 2.4 and 3.0Ghz, between 1 and 2Gb of DDR ECC Registered Ram, 3 to 5 73Gb SCSI Hard Drives, and a SCSI DAT Drive, without including the OS.

What I am failing to see, I guess is the simple thing of when I need so much power for a server that is coping quite nicely now. I have all the power we need at the front end of the network, not the backend.

Part 2)
I also have 19 ibooks/emacs, which are independant but have their own script in order to connect to the users home drives. Periodcally, I need to adjust settings over all of them, as well as the security updates. In order to image them, I create an image and store it on emac hard drive with a backup copy on the file server. It takes me nearly a day with 2 firewire cables to image all of the macs.

I am wondering whether a MacOS X server can help better manage these macs, much like a Windows XP Client under a Windows 2003 server, including a Software Management or Symantec Ghost eqivalent.

Part 3)
What I am seeking direction on is:

A) Do I purchase this you beaut $6000 server and continue looking after my macs the way I have been?

B) Do I purchase another Glorified Desktop (Server) for about $3000, and purchase a MacOSX server to assist me in managing my macs.

C) Do I do something else?

I hope this clarifies a little, if not a whole lot.

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a bit clearer

by apotheon In reply to I re-read and confused my ...

Understand that I'm not there in person, and no amount of clarification in this forum is going to give me the same kind of eyes-on understanding of the situation as what you have. That being said, however:

1. You need to research what tools on a MacOS X server might help with what you're doing.

2. You don't need a bigger, better server so much as you do some separation of tasks.

3. You need some kind of backup capability for your server(s) in case something goes drastically wrong.

While your server is not running at capacity all the time (or even most of the time), it's nice to have some cushion between current loads and what it can handle. That being the case, it's a good idea to try to stay ahead of what the network will demand. Since you have run at peak capacity a couple times, it might be a good idea to start looking into getting more capability in your server setup.

If a MacOS X server will actually provide you with better tools for dealing with the tasks you describe, you should definitely look into getting one. You must balance that against other needs, though.

Whether or not you get a MacOS X server, you need at least two servers in operation that are not Macs: either one main server and one backup server to store important data, or two "main" servers that share network load and each of which can entirely take over the job of the other (including both having full copies of important data) if a server fails. If you go with a MacOS X server, you should probably make that second server a backup rather than a second "main" server, because the Mac server should be backed up as well.

Considering your circumstances, it sounds like the backup server option is the way to go for now, and you can always add redundant/parallel server capability later. With the already present server, you'd only need to buy two other servers to diversify your server base by tasks. Thus, you could have a MacOS X server and a Windows server, with the current machine turned into a backup machine to store data backups from which you can restore either of the other servers in case one of them goes down and needs to be recovered.

Since you're not in an environment where lives depend on 24/7 uptime, I'd recommend the above over going with an attempted redundant server setup first: for your purposes, splitting tasks among servers is probably the better way to go.

Since you're in a production environment, if you're not familiar with unix systems, I'd recommend going with a Windows machine, a MacOS X machine, and your backup server being set up on Linux. For a backup server and basic file services, Linux is fairly trivial to learn as a server environment, and the added stability and ease of maintainability of the OS will serve you well in that role. While Linux is fully capable of providing the services you need for both Windows and Mac clients, unless you are already quite familiar with unix systems, I would not recommend trying to replace all of your servers with Linux systems at this time.

The downside of this arrangement is that you'd then have three different OSes on three servers. The upside, of course, is that you've only got three servers to manage, and properly configured you'll almost never even notice the Linux server: it'll just quietly do its job and, barring hardware failure, will not require any management beyond the usual administrative log-checking tasks and the like.

One more time: Take all this with a grain of salt. I'm not there, so I can't give you perfect advice. This is all just based on what I know of your situation from here.

If you DO go with the "buy one huge, new server" option, don't throw away your old server. You definitely need to set up some kind of data redundancy, particularly when handling that many client systems. In case of primary server failure, you'll be glad to have the data saved somewhere for quick recovery. Again, Linux would serve admirably in that role, and with basic backup server functionality it's relatively trivial to familiarize yourself with Linux.

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Thank You

by kmhs_sa In reply to a bit clearer

Thank you for sharing your IT knowledge with me. It certainley give a lot of food for thought, and that what I really need at the moment as well as some reassurance.

With some of the arguements that we have had here, it has been interesting. I bought myself some time (12 weeks) so that I can properly research what I need to do so that way I can present what I believe is the best course of action.

Thank you once again.

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quite welcome

by apotheon In reply to Thank You

I aim to be helpful here.

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You Don't Need to Replace the Hardware Yet

by bkrpec In reply to File Servers for an Eleme ...

In order to increase the performance & capacity of your current system without going through the hassle of the upgrade, why don't you take a look at a product by Quickshift, Inc. called Server Accelerator. Not only will the product extend the life of the server but it will also increase overall performance & capacity through it's I/O optimization software. You're probably looking at spending around $500 and can spend the budgeted money or additional memory, etc. if needed. My two cents - Brian

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Infrustructure may need to come first.

by sakuhara In reply to File Servers for an Eleme ...

1. Get rid of the MACs replace the clients with xp machines (HPdc5000 about $500).

I am also in an elementary school enviroment 700 kids and 60 staff. 500 client pcs and many network devices. You really need to get an additional server to atleast split the DHCP, back ups, etc.

What runs your email apps? How many shares? Backups? Tape drives? I may be wiser to upgrade the infrustructure first. Get away from ghost..I used for several years and have found altiris to be the ticket! Waht is the ciriculm supported applications? Are there any new educational goals planning to be met with applications such as those from Scholastics?

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by apotheon In reply to Infrustructure may need t ...

I've gotta disagree with that. Discarding the Macs might sound good from a standardization perspective, but standardizing your platform must be weighed against vendor lock-in, licensing dependence, and flexibility. The very fact of the existence of another OS such that you don't rely entirely on a single vendor's software will help to ensure that you don't find yourself hostage to that vendor in the future. When working with proprietary commercial software, it behooves you to diversify if at all practical to do so. Obviously, that's not entirely possible when working with mainframe systems, but with low-end systems like desktops and PC-level servers it's relatively trivial.

Running single-vendor networks seems much easier in the short term, but it quickly entangles you in a situation from which it's extremely difficult to extricate yourself, and ultimately becomes almost unlivable in terms of hidden costs. It's all too likely that yours could end up being the next network to be featured in a newspaper article about some organization being audited by Microsoft and forced to pay exhorbitant fees because license keys were accidentally lost or replicated within the network, with no recourse to get out from under Microsoft's thumb. Worse yet, you might be one of those who never get as far as a newspaper article because you get quietly expunged by your bosses for getting them into that position in the first place, and they work cheerfully with Microsoft to avoid being featured in an investigative journalist's front-page feature.

Besides, the more you try to force the network away from diversity, the more you end up forcing the curriculum away from diversity as well: they can only teach the systems your network supports. The world is moving toward more technology being taught in public schools, not less, and if your decisions lead to students being taught they live in a Microsoft world, you're doing them a grave disservice.

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Site Description

by kmhs_sa In reply to Infrustructure may need t ...

1) I have no intention of removing the macintosh PC from my network. I have Windows Background, and have found the mac environment wonderful to work with. It may get a bit tedious at times, but so do Windows PCs. I quite enjoy the differences. Over the last lot of school Holidays, I had an ibook at home and found I was using it more than my Toshiba Laptop. The video editing tools I find are very simple to use, and that's what I end up teaching the teachers.

2) Email is either done through Outlook in Admin and Staff Offices, or using web-based email (squirrelmail, I think) client within IE/Firefox. I should point out that I am in an Australian School, and we mandated services. The web-based email is part of a suite called EduConnect, which recently supplied us SDSL (512kbps both ways). If you want to look at it, visit

I tally about 50-75 shares all up, account for all staff having their home drives, whilst the kids still use a classroom based login.

I have recently spent a substantial amount upgrading my switches. I now have a nicely spread cabinets of 3Com SuperStack 3 4400s, as well as a Cisco Router.

I'll have to detail the rest a bit later.

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