The Law Office Network/Linux Server Trial - page 3
Getting Started with a Small Business
I started out by making a list of all hardware, software, applications, processes, people, and every conceivable detail that will affect your project. Be prepared to revise the list daily, check off what's done and review with the "client" every other day.
Make all the machines as alike as possible. You might want to do build images for your Windows machines and Linux server, once you get them running properly. This is tough to schedule, though for a small office that needs to do work Monday through Friday.
The network is the foundation for the rest of the system and needs to be working correctly. Obviously, your server should have a static 192.xxx.xxx.xxx IP address and all the Windows machines would be DHCP clients. In our case the router's DHCP server has a slick browser-based interface that's handy for configuration changes. We didn't really need DNS or a firewall, because we weren't hooked up to the outside world yet. In a Windows/Linux environment, you will probably run Samba for disk and printer sharing. Get Steve Litt's Samba Unleashed book. You will need to set up a workgroup and password on Windows machine with a matching workgroup and users on your Linux box. You should be aware that the Windows 98 machines sometimes take quite a while before they recognize other machines on their network, especially after rebooting. This time lag can have you chasing network problems unnecessarily. The default Samba configuration file was left unchanged except for the new share names and paths. Make sure to issue the smbclient, smbpasswd commands for new users and the rcsmb command for smb.conf changes. Overlooking these details can waste a lot of time, if you're not careful.
Current Linux distributions are getting pretty easy to install. I really like YaST2 on SuSE. It has almost every option you will ever need and keeps you from having to hand edit the configuration files. Redhat has a similar installation user interface. Check online hardware lists for your distribution before you buy your hardware. I overlooked checking the SIS ethernet controller, found out that it needed some patches and in the interest of time, ended up installing a 3Com 3c905 card. The on-board ethernet controller was disabled in BIOS. If you plan on installing a modem in your server, don't use a software or Win modem with Linux. They are too much of a bother. I've used US Robotics "hardware" PCI modems and they're very fast. Also, the modern motherboards rarely have ISA slots anymore, which negates using a classic old ISA "hardware" modem. One other area I had trouble with related to the CD writer. We planned to do our backups (using CD-Roast) on CD-Rs. We wanted to be able to take a backup CD to any PC in the office and restore files. The initial HP CD writer flat wouldn't run at all and the Sony replacement died after a day on the job. Do yourself a favor and get a Plextor CD writer. Your backup CDs have to be burned without errors. I configured it for SCSI emulation and have had no problems. A Linux server definitely requires more knowledge and time to set up than an individual Windows 98 workstation. You and your "client" should fully understand that fact.
The applications are the reason for the network and server. Unfortunately, since application operation can't be evaluated until everything else works right, you could get into some touchy situations.
- ProDocs ran from a shared drive on the server via a shortcut on the Windows desktops. The ProDocs folks suggested that updates would install from any CD reader on the network. Our latest ProDocs update required dual booting the server into Windows 98 to get it up and running correctly. Luckily, ProDocs is only updated once or twice a year. The attorneys are in the process of bringing the staff up to speed with the ProDocs networked version.
- Installing Timeslips created a similar situation regarding installation. Our gamble with this application really didn't pay off because the database went belly-up after two weeks. The Timeslips people told us that they had no experience running on a Linux/Samba server. Their help desk technicians were unable to recover our corrupt data for use on even a single user Windows 98 machine. The company would have been happy to troubleshoot our corrupt database, in their special data repair shop, for a fee. We sent the networked version back and got a refund. The attorneys are currently back to using individual Timeslips versions on their machines while searching for a better networked timekeeping application.