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LowlyLawyer

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I am considering going out on my own and setting up my own law firm. At the outset, we will be operating a pretty lean financial ship, for background.

The office space has a T1 line running into the building. I'm looking at setting up a (very large) external storage drive, hopefully with remote access, print server, as well as wireless (and wired?) networking to at least 3, but up to 9 machines. Additionally, I may run VOIP phones.

At home, I just use a wireless router and print server, but I'm wondering what I would need to do in order to run the office. Security will be an issue, and reliability will be paramount. I'm not concerned with space to grow, buying new equipment won't be a problem if/when we need to move to a larger space.

If anyone has any suggestions about how to set it up, or which products to buy, I would greatly appreciate it. I'm pretty quick with things, I'm just wondering if I'm overly simplifying what I really need.

Thanks in advance.
 
Are you running any of the common law firm apps...such as PCLaw, Sanctions, or Needles?

How many staff/computers?

I have a few law firms clients...I have most of them on Microsoft Small Business Server. This does their file storage (which as you know in a law firm...you get quite a large amount), print serving, internal/external e-mail, hosts their business software (Needles/Sanctions, PCLaw, etc), and gives them secure remote access to their e-mail and desktops through the Remote Web Workplace portal.
 
I currently work at a very large (1000+ attorneys) law firm that uses Worksite, Deltaview, DTE, but I'm not sure that we really need it. My work/clients are purely transactional, and I have all of my own forms, so that part of it isn't necessary. I will be running document management software because it's a giant pain to try and adopt it after the fact, but haven't made a decision on what (looking for the most simple for saving multiple drafts, file tagging, etc.).

Initially, it will only be 5 stations (attorneys/staff) and a conference room that need service, with potential expansion to a total of 3 more attorneys/staff before we'll need to move space.

My work is highly collaborative (a lot of complex tax planning) so flexibility/mobility around the office would be a nice luxury; which is why I was thinking about just doing an N wireless with a print server and external storage drive in the office, but I don't want to sacrifice security. Also, everyone but the reception station will be using laptops with docking stations, so we'll have the same equipment anywhere we travel, if that makes a difference.
 
I'm still a fan of using real servers at a business network..versus little NAS boxes. You get the security of domain authentication, built in backup, ease of controlling accounts, access ,etc.

I tend to focus on Microsoft Small Business Server also..since it has so many built in features that a small business uses.
*Windows Server, for your users, file print sharing, basic infrastructure
*Exchange server for e-mail, sharing/collaboration with public folders, calendars
*Sharepoint, for collaboration on documents, calendars, etc
*Shared faxing
*Built in backup
*Remote Web Workplace for remote access

Security is pretty simple..keep your business network behind a business grade router, it hides your network with its NAT firewall. Open/forward only the bare minimum of ports necessary for any services you wish to have public...such as remote access, etc. Use a good Administrator password, don't leave the local Administrator accounts <blank> on the laptops, and have good passwords for your users.

As for wireless security...WPA or better yet..WPA2, with a good security key. Change it a few times a year if that helps you feel more comfy.

For rough budgeting....you can get into a decent 3 year warranty server, including proper RAM, hard drives setup with RAID, backup device, battery backup of 1500 size, Operating system and CALs..for starting around 6K...(5K if you shop hard)..such as a Dell PowerEdge T500 or 2950 III.

Laptops, I'm a fan of Lenovo T400 and T500 Thinkpads...very durable business grade laptops, Vista Biz, Core 2 Duos, 4 gigs of RAM, docking stations, 19" LCDs, keyboard/mice kits, MS Office 2K7 SME OEM..for approx $2,200 each...shopping hard and catching a good sale can find for under 2K per.

Dells Latitude series are decent too.

I'd recommend the 14.1" screen models, since you plan on docking stations at the office..you can get your 19" screens on those, and maintain nice portability with 14" models. The 15.5 widescreen models start to get away from being nice and portable, IMO.

Business Grade antivirus for server and workstations

LexisNexis may have some line of biz software you can skim through (such as PCLaw).

I don't have experience with indexing software, don't have any clients that use it. I have seen some of Googles search appliances..they have several models for small to medium to enterprise biz. It's an appliance you put on yoru own network.
http://www.google.com/enterprise/gsa/


As for wireless, I have some HP ProCurves at my lawfirm clients...nice solid business grade wireless that can handle the loads. As, IMO, if you stick home grade wireless units in a business office..and hammer them with steady heavy bandwidth usage from a bunch of clients...the random disconnects and lockups are a pain for a business. IMO, better to spend 400 or so on a good biz grade wireless AP, rather than 150-200 on a home grade one that frustrates you.
 
Thanks for the info, this has been really helpful.

I've looked around some today, configuring servers online and such. And I have a couple more questions... if you don't mind.

What is preferable between Windows Server OS 2008 and Small Business 2003. I know there has been a lot of porblems iwth Vista, so is the prior version preferable. Also, I need licenses for each machine that will be hooked up to the network, right?

We've got laptops and docking stations covered, but in terms of the server:

1.) I was configuring a Dell system earlier and started thinking about how much storage I would need. 1TB would be plenty to start for a small office, right? Also, since it is multiple drives, could I dedicate a drive to be open to the public in order to give clients passworded access to recorded data tracks of conference calls and videos of presentations?

2.) Am I giving up much security and/or speed if we just go with hardwires out of the wall and to the server and just use wireless in the office? Or now that I'm thinking about it, we'd have to run wires for VOIP phones anyway, right?

Once again, thanks so much. I really appreciate all your help.
 
I also agree with StoneCat's recommendation of the SmallBusinessServer. I've used it with a few clients too, and is a great product. The reason you'd want to go with SBS rather than the standard server is because it includes exchange email, as well as a bunch of management wizards and tools specifically designed to make management easier for small businesses.

If you are buying new equipment, there is no reason to not go with Vista Business. Microsoft is desperately trying to end-of-life XP, so unless there is a specific business application that doesn't run on Vista, I'd really suggest Vista. Most of the reason Vista got a bad rap initially was because of poor driver/hardware support, and that many applications were not written using good coding practices, and Vista's security features forced the issue on this.

I also strongly recommend wired connections if at all possible, especially with businesses. You don't have signal interference, authentication difficulties, and you get much faster connection speeds. Wired connections pretty much work without any issues.

It sounds like you want to do a few other things with your network that start to take it to a more advanced level, with the having separate sections for non-employees, and making certain things available. Not as an insult to you, but more of a caution, if you do intend to open up portions of your network and server, I'd get a professional to help make sure you don't inadvertently open up too much and create a security hole.

Also, for your internet connection, A T-1, while not slow, is not fast compared to high-speed cable business packages or top-level DSL packages. The biggest thing you get with a T-1 is a better SLA than cable/dsl. But if you can tolerate a little more potential downtime, the price difference is significant. And I second the recommendation for business-grade routers, wireless access points, and switches. So many times, I've had a client with a cheap router or modem or device, and they had to reset the thing every few days. Once it was replaced by a true business-level device, uptime was measured in months.

Best of luck, and feel free to keep asking questions. StoneCat has been doing this thing for a long time, and me, a few years.

Tamarin
 
Comparing plain Server 2008 against Small Business Server 2003 R2 isnt' really a comparison...it's not comparing apples to apples...(or oranges to oranges since we're talking Microsoft and not Apple. :p )

Comparing Small Business Server 2008 against Small Business Server 2003 R2 would be a better question. 08 is being slowly adopted, but 03 is still being widely deployed, esp when you have existing software and workstations that may not all be the latest version. Having possibly a version or two old of your primary software, and mixed XP or 2K clients...many people have better luck putting a new server in with 03R2. For most of our existing clients, we're still deploying brand new workstations with XPp, and many new servers going in with 03R2.

Since you're starting from scratch, assuming with the latest versions of line of business software, as well as workstation/clients and printers and other peripherals, I'd probably lean towards 08, with Vista Biz clients. It's a tough time right now with Windows 7 on the horizon....I'm still not crazy about Vista clients....I run a few of my own rigs on Vista and have no problems...but now and then get some oddball compatibility issues with Vista at clients with existing networks. Vista is similar to Windows ME...not very loved, and being quickly replaced. Windows 7 by end of year...and wow is it nice. :cool: But again, with W7 on the near horizon...and you having an all new setup..makes little sense to downgrade new workstations with XPp this late in the game.

As for hard drive space, a few things regarding a server. You want RAID on your server. I usually do a pair of 74 gig drives in RAID 1 to install the OD, and 2 or more drives in RAID 1 or (more commonly) RAID 5 for the data partition. So you're talking usually 5 drives minimum. I also do not like SATA drives on servers...especially Small Business Server. They're OK for light use terminal servers, and they're OK for a secondary data storage...but for your primary server, especially one that has the load of SBS....I don't like SATA drives. I prefer SAS...15,000rpm if possible. So going a TB of storage for this gets pricey. I'd start looking at 3x 300 gig drives for the 2nd partition of your server. This would net you roughly 600 gigs of usable space once RAID 5 kicks in. Purchasing a good server that allows for room to grow down the road...if that 600 gigs gets limiting...purchase a couple of more drives and slap them in and stretch the RAID. I kinda doubt a small law firm would consume that kind of drive space...IMO 600 gigs would me way more than enough.

I agree with Tamarin with his comment on wiring..since you're most likely going in and re-vamping the office space with rennovation work prior to moving in and opening the office....have an electrician do ethernet runs to each room. Don't forget a few in the common areas where you foresee yourself having a big printer/copier and/or a few networked workgroup printers. Have all the ethernet runs come together on a patch panel in a closer or some space, where your internet connection comes in. You'll want an electrical outlet nearby also for your switch and firewall...plug them into a small battery UPS too. Wireless is fine to add on later, but not as your primary connection for everyone.

Speaking of the T-1 coming into your building...is this a building with several other offices? If so, I'm guessing you'd all be sharing this..and it could introduce problems...you may not be able to put your firewall on a public IP address. I'd ask that you find out about this ahead of time...it would bring up several Q&A points to find out how to make this work for you. The use of the word "T-1" is often loosely used...I rarely see it be an actual T-1 these days, often it's just a cable or DSL connection, or Motorola Canopy, or some other flavor of T..like a 2 or 4 meg fractional DS3 in larger office buildings. Regardless...important to find out early if that connection is all yours..or shared with others.

Remote access for clients....I am not fond of making your business network accessible to non employees. SBS does come with Sharepoint bundled with it...which does give you an excellent medium to do what you wish. If you learn Sharepoint, you can do some neat things to collaborate with others outside your office. If you only have a small number of people you need to share with outside your office...it may work well for you. If you have a large amount of people you deal with, I'd recommend looking towards a hosted service. If you do choose to use the Sharepoint built in with SBS...I recommend learning it well and learning how to keep it secured..separate your office site from the site you may for the outside people.
 
Wow, thanks for all of this. This will give me some things to think about. I would love to just drop the money and hire someone to take care of this for me, but we're still discussing whether or not that's in the cards financially right now.

Those are some really good points to think about with the software and the connections, and I really appreciate it.

The line into the building is actually multiple T1 lines. The building is a 40 story high-rise that is occupied by a number of law/accounting/professional services firms so I guess I really just didn't think to ask. But thanks, I will be sure to do so. And will probably then come back with more questions later in the week.

Thanks for all of your help. I really appreciate it.
 
The line into the building is actually multiple T1 lines. The building is a 40 story high-rise that is occupied by a number of law/accounting/professional services firms so I guess I really just didn't think to ask. But thanks, I will be sure to do so. And will probably then come back with more questions later in the week.

Wow...yeah, I'd say it's shared. :D Probably 15 megs worth of bandwidth feeding all that.

For a smaller office, that would not run it's own mail server, or have it's own remote access server, VPN, etc...sharing that connection would be fine. And there are certainly ways to make this work if you want to remote access your network from away/home/on the road....such as sign up for a few LogMeIn accounts.

But, if you want your own local mail server, such as with SBS, or to run your own Sharepoint server at the office, or have remote access to the RWW included in SBS...you want your own firewall/router to obtain a public IP address on the WAN side.

Now...it's certainly possible that that you may be able to get your own public IP address even though that 40x story building is fed by a few T-1's....it depends on their setup. The bandwidth provider may have a good block of IPs reserved for use at that building. Most likely an optional cost.

Is the basic bandwidth already included in your lease? Or...is the ability to use the bandwidth of the T-1s an add-on cost? If so...it may be roughly the same price to have your own business grade DSL or Cable internet run into your office...that way you always have full control.

//looks a clock..sips last cup of coffee.

Time to hit the road...have to make a few onsites...nursing home, womens shelter, physical therapy office, home nursing agency...and my last stop for the day...a law firm! :D
 

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