Networking Basics [Advanced Windows Small Business Server 2003 Best Practices book excerpt]

Hiya folks – I am the publisher of the above tome and the author of the newly released SBS 2008 Blueplrint book. I like to hold virtual book readings – here you go:

Networking Basics

Though not an active part of building a server or configuring a workstation, implementing a fully functional network with ample bandwidth capabilities is nevertheless an important part of your SBS deployment. As they say during marriage counseling (or so I hear), communication is of utmost importance in a healthy relationship, and the same holds true for networked devices in the office.

Gigabit Ethernet: Been There, Done That

It doesn’t get much more vanilla than Gigabit Ethernet these days. If you’re chuckling to yourself remembering back to when 10 Mbps adapters seemed fast, keep in mind that nowdays almost every mid-range motherboard and above includes an integrated Gigabit Ethernet adapter as a value-add. Moreover, you can find Gigabit Ethernet switches for less than $100.

The most difficult step in installing a Gigabit network is running the cable. “But wait,” you say, “I already have copper CAT5 running all over the place— I don’t need new cable.” Fair enough—test the line for crosstalk, continuity, and signal loss. If it passes all three exams, your existing cabling will probably suffice. More often than not, though, you’ll want at least CAT5e to realize the best performance with Gigabit. Just remember that older cable, poor splices, and runs that exceed CAT5’s 1 00m limit will all degrade performance.

Even your platform will have a big impact on network throughput. PCI Gigabit cards in your workstations might operate without issue, mostly because they probably won’t be pushing the PCI bus very hard, but this same kind of card on a server could be choked for bandwidth by its aging bus and an inundation of network requests. The advent of PCI Express is already seeing a new generation of Gigabit adapters with wider pipes over which to communicate. Plus, specialized Gigabit applications (such as NVIDIA’s nForce3 250 Gb on-chipset


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solution) realize in excess of 800 MB per second of bandwidth thanks to well- engineered avoidances of PCI.

Wireless: Exoticism and Trepidation

You already have enough to worry about when it comes to dealing with security, so why add another potential point of entry into your network by going wireless? It’s all about risk mitigation, baby. Twice I’ve proposed a network topology to clients who, say, run an architectural firm from the top floor of their house, or who live in the back room of their storefront (both true scenarios). After looking at wired and wireless designs, both clients chose to shed the cables in favor of proprietary variants of 802.11g that deliver performance close to a 100 Mbps wired connection. Despite their initial nervousness about broadcasting invoices through the air, I walked the clients through the wireless setup wizards to enable Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), and verified that the processors in their wireless gear would support an upgrade to 802.11i, the upcoming standard for wireless security.

In both instances the clients highly valued flexibility, expandability, and availability. The architect wanted online access from his bedroom downstairs without having to run cable through the house, while the businessman wanted room for growth, responsive performance, and the ability to connect from his room across the shop. An 802.11g router with a four-port 100 Mbps switch was more than enough for each client, saving money that one client instead used for LCD displays and that the other client used for deluxe small form- factor platforms.


Networking Summary

Wired or wireless, Gigabit or 100 Mbps, new cable or old—decisions, decisions. To help you better evaluate your networking hardware situation, take a look at the current implementation, if there is one. Make a list of what the new setup will need to achieve, and take note of how many of those goals the current network may fulfill. If it looks like you might need to scrap the old and lay bigger pipes to contend with expanding throughput, go back to your list and determine how wired or wireless would suit your needs. Consistently large file transfers across the network favor Gigabit, while flexibility and ease of implementation make wireless attractive.

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BEST PRACTICE: It’s important to map out how you’ll install your network, and though it wouldn’t seem so, this is especially true if you choose wireless. For example, if you connect a wireless router or firewall to the Internet and directly attach your SBS server, with two Ethernet cards for added security, realize that broadcasting a wireless signal might be providing unauthorized access around the server’s firewall and back into your network. Instead, consider connecting a broadband modem to your server’s external NIC and connecting a wireless access point to the internal NIC so you’re better protected from external attacks.


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