Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The State of My Company's Network Infrastruture

Ok, so I can’t blame my company for the state of their network. We are a very small company with limited resources. But, our network is getting ridiculously old. Let’s give a quick rundown of what this network is like.

  • A Compaq Proliant 5000 series server with:
    • 4 x 200 MHz, 256KB Cache, PentiumPro processors
    • 256MB ECC, Registered, Bufferd SD-RAM
  • CAT 3 cable plant
  • Microsoft Windows® 2000 Professional clients (one is still running Windows 98®!)
  • Microsoft Office 2000/2003
  • Trend Micro OfficeScan, Corporate Edition antivirus software
  • 8-port 10Mbit Hub
  • 4-port LinkSys Cable/DSL Router (one of the old ones)
  • 4-port LinkSys WRT54G Wireless Cable/DSL Router
That about sums it up. So this is a pretty old setup. But hey, it was pieced together from about 1992 until about 1999. We only recently (about two years ago) "upgraded" to Windows 2000 on the desktops. For some reason, Windows XP is not liked. I think it’s because it looks radically different from Windows NT/2000. But no matter the case, it’s a moot point now.

A Bit of Momentum

Well, we bought 5 new machines a few years back. I was trying to automate the installation of the client desktops, but it’s so difficult with Windows 2000 (without having Microsoft® SMS, which is too much for our size company anyway). Since it's nearly impossible to completely automate Windows 2000 (from the installation to client applications) without something like Microsoft® SMS, I didn’t get very far before the older client machines started dying, one by one. Eventually, all but one of the new machines were put into production loaded with Windows 2000 Professional (manually).

Now, as you can imagine, this has caused lots of problems:

  1. Each system’s operating system configuration is slightly different (thankfully, the hardware is all the same)
  2. The machine is locked down with Local GPOs since we do not have a Windows 2000 Server Active Directory domain.
    1. The disadvantage here is that even local administrators have the GPO applied to their account, locking me out of the system (unless I undo the GPO while I work on the machine and then put it back on).
  3. As alluded to above, there is no real central administration and management of the workstations, making my job 10 times harder.
  4. I no longer have enough computers to have a good test network for the new infrastructure being planned (more on this later).

As for our Compaq Proliant server, we call it the Clydesdale. It’s a big old horse that just keeps going and going, even though it’s battered, bruised, and broken. It’s quite a worrisome thing, actually. Recently, we had to invest in some new (well, not new, but procured from eBay) fans since most of the fans on the server are shot. If the server loses power, sometimes it doesn’t start back up because of a missing (read, not working) fan. Next time it goes down, some new fans are going in that sucker. With those spare parts in hand, we’ll be ok until the migration is complete.

So it’s obvious that that server has got to go, and so it will. About three years ago this coming October, we bought a new Dell PowerEdge 860 server.

The Tipping Point

So the last critical client machine died and I replaced it with one of the new boxes with Windows 2000 Professional. No more than two months later, one of the executives says, "I'd like to run the new version of ACT!" Not only on his desktop, but also on the inside sales desktops. I thought, no problem. So I did my research. Turns out, after getting most everyone upgraded to Windows 2000, the latest version of ACT! does not run on Windows 2000. It requires at least Windows XP. And by this time (late 2007), Windows XP was going to be no longer supported by Microsoft® in 2009. This was the tipping point.

Up until this time, software was acquired as needed, paying full retail price (or finding legal copies on eBay or at computer shows). After doing some math, I proposed that now is the time we go all in. I learned that you have to play by their rules, or you end up losing big time.

A Philosophical Break

I prefer Microsoft® products. I don’t love Microsoft®—I’ve had my share of headaches when it comes to their products. But by and large, they work well. However, I don’t dislike Linux. I think it’s a great and viable OS, just not right for our company. I believe in using the right tool for the right job, and evaluate these criteria on a case-by-case basis.

There are studies that show that even with licensing costs, Microsoft® software has a lower TCO than Linux (because of having to find someone with the technical acumen to administrate it, and despite claims to the contrary, at some point in time, it will need administration and management). But more importantly, we have software in use that can only run on Microsoft® platforms that is critical to our business.

Not to belabor the point, but if you have the technical expertise and the system does what you need it to do, who can argue with free software? So I am not against Linux, it’s just not right for us in this instance.

Back to the Story

So after evaluating our options (Linux included), I decided it was best if we entered into a Volume License agreement with Microsoft®. A new project was born. More on that in my next post.