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Small Business IT Network Solution Case Study

Background

A five year old company specializing in custom medical devices sold worldwide. At the time 10 employees were employed full time. Five employees worked in the office on networked desktop systems.

The additional five employees were outside sales reps all using company laptops. Two of the sales reps came into the office weekly. Two would be in the office a few times a month. The fifth lives in another province and is only in the office once a year.

A CRM was installed on a desktop computer then shared via the network to the other users in the office.

Users had individual copies of pricing spreadsheets and quotes were each system if were needed by another user the file was either emailed or copied across the network to a shared folder on the desktop system.

A convoluted backup solution was in place but failed when a restore was required. The backup solution was never tested.

The office had a business internet connection. The connection was and still is satellite and is prone to disruption. Satellite is the only cost effective option at this point in time. Fibre will be available in the area in a few years. The office was hard wired with Cat 5 cable and two access points available for wireless connectivity.

Also installed was one network printer, one NAS (network area storage) and a standalone fax machine.

The client requested we keep costs to a minimum to keep within their budget. They did not require or want a large elaborate system and do not have the staff or resources to manage it after implementation.

Requirements:

Easily share files between in house users

CRM must always be available

Reliable backups

Optional:

Easy access of non-confidential files (mostly customized drivers and documentation) for the outside sales reps and clients.

Allow all employees access to the critical files and CRM from outside the office.

Solution

Requirements:

We installed a server operating system on a spare computer. This computer met the minimum requirements and had limited disk space. I expected this solution to meet their needs for 18-24 months. This was 3 years ago and we are only now looking at upgrading, due to hard disk space limitations. The server houses all the shared files and the CRM which all users can access depending on their permissions. All sales reps have an offline CRM database on their laptops which they update daily and then sync with the office.

Any files deemed critical on the server (in this case financials) are backed up an usb key daily and rotated off site. All additional server files are automatically saved to an external drive daily. A weekly backup is moved offsite. Backup software for the desktops was implemented using native OS backup software. These backups are kept on the NAS. Weekly a staff member manually moves the backups to an external hard disk and keeps it off site. This requires a few hours, which can be done in the background. Once the office has a faster more robust internet connection, I am recommending they move to cloud backups with a minimal off-site backup. Until then the current implementation has worked well and mostly importantly when files had to be retrieved we were able to do so.

All laptop users are responsible for their own backups on an usb drive.

Email and website hosting are outsourced. This option was chosen due to connectivity issues at the local site. It would have also added additional costs to host internally in both hardware and administration.

Optional:

The VPN was configured to allow the remote users access to the files and the CRM. Access is controlled via the server. Each employee has an account and permissions to various files and/or options.

An additional networked printer was added and a networked 3 in 1 device added for faxing, scanning and copying.

In addition a FTP server was added using an unused Windows XP system. The internal users can add non critical or non-confidential files to the ftp site for clients or other outside sales reps to access. Clients and outside staff can only download from the ftp server. Uploading is strictly controlled.

In order to keep the costs down we re-purposed older equipment where possible. Printers and a new fax machine had already been budgeted. Total cost less than $1000 for the server operating system.

Current Status

The users are very satisfied with the current implementation. As stated above, the hard disk space on the server is running low and we are in the process of adding additional hard disk storage to the server. We have looked into upgrading the current satellite internet connection, but due to location it is cost prohibitive. We will re-evaluate the connectivity issues in a few years when fibre will be available in the area. I suspect, within the next couple of years, the company may have move to a larger location in town as they keep growing. If a move and the growing trend continues it would then be a good time to re-evaluate their needs, which would probably include a new server with an upgraded operating system and a more comprehensive backup plan.

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