Building an Office Network from Spare Parts
When we moved to Switzerland in 1998, we joined an English church. Being a computer person, I naturally got involved with the church's so-called computer system. The system consisted of a Power Macintosh 7200/90, an Apple LaserWriter 360 printer connected via AppleTalk and a PC with Windows 98. The only way to exchange data between the machines was a “carpet LAN”, and the Mac was the so-called internet machine (only e-mail for the pastor).
During 1999 the office started to expand, and these poor little systems could not cope with the sudden increase in demand. The Internet also started to become a factor as everybody was using e-mail, and a web presence for the church was wanted.
Being a church, there was not a lot of money available to go out and buy everything we needed. We sort of planned what we wanted, and then we called on the congregation for donations of their old computers systems. In this way we got enough desktop computers for each of the administrators and an additional computer that could be used as a server. By continuing to ask for unused computers, we slowly built the office network to where it is today:
1. A main office network with two servers (main and backup), two LAN printers, six workstations and an ADSL internet connection.
2. A dedicated internet network that manages the internet services: Web, e-mail and VPN gateways.
3. A third network for development and testing that also serves as a remote backup facility.
All three of these networks, being 40+ kilometers apart, are connected to each other via the Internet and a VPN network.
Nearly all the computers and printers have been donated (everybody's old junk). They range from 133MHz to 350MHz Pentium machines with a maximum of 64MB RAM and 2-6GB of disk space.
The office network, being the main network, consists of six machines. With the exception of the server, they are all Pentium-based machines. Because the office staff is used to Windows, it was decided to install Windows NT 4.0 on all of their machines. We chose NT 4.0 because it is more stable and secure than Windows 9x, and it is small enough to run on the hardware.
The server machine is an IBM Pentium 133MHz with 16MB RAM and a 10GB disk. Installed on this machine is Slackware 7.1 with a 2.2.14 Linux kernel. Believe it or not, this machine is managing quite fine even though it functions as the mail server, internal web server, and library and address database server. It is also the firewall/gateway to the Internet, originally via a dial-up modem and now via ADSL.
Because the office network never previously had a dedicated internet connection, a separate computer was placed at an ISP to give the church a web presence. It runs the web server software, mail system and VPN dial-up services. The office server periodically connects to this server to download any waiting e-mail and to deliver queued outgoing e-mail. This server is a 266MHz HP machine with 64MB RAM and 15GB disk space. Because of the VPN network, this computer is really redundant, but we decided to keep it so that the mail, Web and other network services are separate from the office server.
The third network is the development and testing network. This consists of a server with the same software setup as the office server. This server is mainly used to test new software components before they are installed in the office. It also serves as a backup server for all the office computers and for the internet computer. This is a 300MHz Siemens machine with 64MB RAM and a 160GB disk.
Not having thousands of Swiss Franks to buy Microsoft software for all the computers, we decided to go for open-source and free software as much as possible, with the exception of the operating systems on the workstations. As mentioned before this is Windows NT 4.0.
The workstations use Netscape 4.76 for web browsing and Netscape's built-in e-mail client. We use Netscape for quite a few reasons, the main ones being:
1. It is more flexible than Microsoft Explorer and Outlook Express.
2. It is not prone to e-mail and HTML viruses.
As an office suite, we started off with StarOffice 5.1 and then moved to StarOffice 5.2. StarOffice works quite well, but we've had the occasional problem with Word documents saved in newly released versions.
The standard Slackware 7.1 distribution is installed on the server, along with some additional software packages:
Samba as a file and print server
Postfix for sending and receiving e-mail
Apache as the internal web server
MySQL for the database server
PHP 4.0 for developing browser interfaces and a standalone PHP executable for the automatic generation of daily and monthly reports.
StarOffice calendar server for meeting and room scheduling.
ipchains for firewalling and NATing to the Internet.
CIPE Version 1.6 for the VPN network.
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