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Success Story

By scott ·
Warning: Long read

You can create your own success story with careful planning and persistence.

After four years of supporting and creating a network environment, I had all but given up on being able to maintain and support and grow the network that I was hired to maintain.

Like many people I became in charge of a network that doubled in size virtually every year. Upper Management never forecasted the growth and mandated that I just make it work. When I was first hired four years ago, I had to support 12 users on 1 server and by the end of last year there were 120 users at 4 locations with 12 servers. Now there are 5 offices and we will be reaching 200+ users. To make matters more interesting the facility utilizes all Neoware thin clients on Microsoft Terminal Server and a couple software packages that are not supported on Terminal Server.

I had reached my wits end. Then, things changed.
I hired another staff member to help support the servers and set out to research how we could correct the network. Four consulting companies had been brought in and none could provide us with a solution that was a cure all. Three of the companies actually said that we were supporting the environment better than they would be able to. That we were attempting to wrap a pc in a thin client and were using Neoware thin clients on network in ways it was not designed for. (Upper Managements mandates that we will be using thin clients) The third offered glimmers of hope but could not substantiate or guarantee the work they wanted to charge us for.

The problem I was facing was as that we are a mortgage company who utilizes a software package called Calyx Point. It is a software packages that integrates with individual flat files for each applicant. It also embeds itself with Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, Adobe Acrobat and Internet Explorer. The software also creates a single master record file that all users access to look up the loan. All of our users connect via RDP connections both onsite and from our satellite branch offices in WV, AZ, RI, and two MA offices.
Each facility has their own internet connection to their facility most with T1 connections, one with a cable connection. Each facility needed to be able to connect and then be able to print to their local networked printer. Many users also connect from their homes or client locations to update and sometimes re-print documents in from of their clients.

Our biggest issue became that the servers would hang and because of the pause our remote users and offices would disconnect.

Needless to say, it was a nightmare and the users would rightfully complain that they could not work. As you would expect, upper management would get upset because of the complaints and lost revenue that was caused because of network downtime.

At that point, I was forced to re-evaluate how our business operated and look at what was available as off the shelf products and consider what they advertised verse how I knew it had to operate in our environment.

After documenting the flow of our office I was faced with the following business criteria that had to be available at all times to our users:

12 Websites routing leads to our lead contacts and databases
Corporate email
Inter-Office Instant Messaging
Intranet Services
Public Folders/discussion boards
Public Calendars
Microsoft Office Suite
Calyx Point
Adobe Acrobat
Act
QuickBooks
Norton Antivirus software

Needless to say, frustration had set in but I still felt that there had to be a way to make the network operational. With all the technology available, there had to be a way to get things to work right? Of course? but the problem I was faced with was what we all face.
A budget.
A budget, that could not break the bank and systems we had in place.

In inventory we had 8 dual processor servers ranging from dual 400 MHz servers with 512mb RAM to 1200 MHz servers with 2 GB RAM. Also available to us were our Cisco routers, watchguard firewalls, and our coyote point load balancers.

Looking at the available hardware the following redesign of our network came to fruition:
We built our own NAS box to use as a file server
Bought two more dual processor servers
Created virtual VPN tunnels with our Watchguard firewalls to our satellite offices
Shifted DHCP from the servers to the Firewalls
Implemented Coyote Point Load balancer instead of Microsoft Load Balancer
Upgraded Windows 2000 to Windows 2003
Upgraded Office 2000 to Office 2003
Upgraded our servers to Gigabit Network Cards
Upgraded our backbone switches to Gigabit
Made sure all of our servers had at least 1 GB of ram
Re-designed our file locations for all of user data
Kept our Mail server on Exchange and Windows 2000

That being completed we used our most powerful servers as the Terminal servers for our users to connect to and then designated based on need. Our mail server (MS Exchange) and user data servers were the next priority.
I decided that our company would not upgrade to Exchange 2003. (I couldn?t justify having to purchase Communications server just for Instant Messaging.) We then segmented the servers via processes: DNS server, Active Directory Server, Print Server, Intranet Server, application server, etc etc.

The most critical piece for us was finding the amount of users per server and discovering what we could give up. In order for our network to function smoothly our group policy was set to prohibit users from keeping data on their desktops and to delete cached copies of user profiles on exit. While this does lose histories of files that were recently accessed, as well as histories of Internet Explorer sites, it does allow the server to run at optimal performance and leaves space available on the main partition. We also determined that the most users our servers could support were 33 users per front end terminal server. Yes, I know Microsoft states that we should be able to support over 100 users. However, we aren?t Microsoft and use applications that Microsoft and other industries don?t.

Instead of frustration, I have a company that is able to work everyday and minor hiccups that occur on every network. While this may not be ideal for most offices, we have found that our network is more stable than it has ever been. The users also have a lot more functionality and applications available to them then ever before.
We have found our niche.

As a side benefit, at least to upper management, my IT staff consists of 3 people. Two of us support all of our users and applications and a web developer, who also does scripting and form development.

It is understood that video conferencing and phone integration with the users via their computer will not come to light. At least in the near future? and I know that there are sacrifices that will forever have to exist on a terminal server environment, but overall, the system works better than it ever has and I know that success stories can be made. Not found.

If you have any questions or comments? drop a note.

Scott A. Miller
Scott@alliedfamily.com

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Good work

by Deadly Ernest In reply to Success Story

Ahh a story from a TRUE professional for a change. Bugger what it should be lets get on with making it work, well done. I hope your management have given you and your staff good bonuses, and that you are on a 6 figure or near 6 figure salary as you deserve to be.

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Thanks

by scott In reply to Good work

Thanks for the feedback.
My staff and I got the satisfaction of knowing it could be done and a lot of alleviated stress.

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Seeking success story

by rmaki In reply to Success Story

Scott, I am faced with nearly an identical problem and am currently developing a system exactly as you have done, However we are still in the begginning statges of development we will support 400 + users and we want to use encompass instead of Calyx because of the flat file system of Caylx. However at corporate level Caylx is still the LOS of choice. Can you offer any ideas?

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