Some clients of mine have a small consulting business that is rapidly expanding. What started as 1 desktop computer has turned into 4 desktops, 4 laptops (and recently 2 iPhones), and they'll soon be adding some more desktops. They're moving some of the computers out of their home office, and into a "real" office next week and I'm really trying to nail down a good setup for them. I'm looking for your advice on how you've organized a smallish network of Macs, allowing anywhere access of Files, Email, Calendar and Address Book.
posted by jeffxl to computers & internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ever since this network started expanding, they've wanted the same thing: To access their files and email from anywhere, and to have a common Calendar, and to have a common Address Book. By "common", I mean, able to be accessed from any computer (laptop or desktop) whether online or offline, and whether on site or off. This had been a little tricky to handle, and has turned into a nightmare since I moved across the country (read: has turned into phone-tech-support hell).
First, a brief (well, I tried to be brief, anyway) background of the last 4 years, so you know what I've tried:
I used to have them all set up with IMAP accounts on the hosted web server we use, until that web server crashed, losing all of their mail, which really upset them (sensibly). I switched web hosts and downgraded them to POP accounts, so they'd always have a local copy of their mail (which proved useful when they wanted to access things offline). This was fine, until they started complaining that they couldn't tell if someone in the organization had responded to an email at another computer. For this, I set up a Gmail account for them, and had all of their email forward to it. Then I set up accounts in Gmail so they could respond from the appropriate account, while having all their mail in one place, accessible from anywhere. They used this occasionally. At some point, I tried switching them over to Google Apps for your domain, which sounded perfect for managing things, but it ended up not working due to weird POP access issue, where GMail would only download messages once, meaning only one computer got the message, instead of all of them. Apparently this is a known issue, but was not known to me until it was too late, and I ended up wasting a weekend switching them over and back. I have since read about the "recent:email@example.com" trick to prevent this, but have not decided to switch them over to GAfYD, again.
I first had them set up on Entourage/iCal/Address Book. They all used Sync Services to sync the Address Book and Calendar to .Mac, and all the other computers got the information from that. This worked pretty well for a while, aside from when they decided to turn sync off (and then complain to me that it wasn't working). But then the Calendar cancer started: at first, one computer started getting many duplicate events. This was easily remedied by finding valid data, and reseting the sync with .Mac. This happened every 3 months or so. Then, a month ago, something like 15,000 duplicate calendar entries propagated to other computers, and all hell broke loose. I ended up finding a script to clean out all the bad data, and fed up with sync, I thought I'd get them to give Google Calendar a try. This has been working fine as a calendar, but now they're not sure what to do with their Notes/Tasks that Entourage used to handle.
I got all their data into GCal, and they seem to be satisfied with it, aside from the fact that it can't be accessed while not online. This was further complicated when they went early adopter on my ass, got an iPhone before I did, and wanted their calendar and address book to sync to it via iCal. I assume they can point their phones and other computers at Google's Private iCal feed to get all that data, and it will stay available. I assume this will work, but it has yet to be set up. I suppose the Address book will still have to do the sync via .Mac.
Initially, I had their computers networked using their main workstation (G5 Tower) as the central-file-server, and had the others automatically mount the G5's hard drive for file sharing. This got confusing for them, as their computers are a mess, with folders and files scattered everywhere and structures duplicated between machines. They'd get messed up figuring out whether the files they were looking at were on their computer or on the G5. Also, from time to time the computers would just lose contact with each other, which would require a phone call to me to get them back up. (It was nothing too odd, just rebooting, typing in the address of the computer again, etc, aside from the time the ethernet cable got moved from Port #1 to port #2 on the G5, and the static IP settings I set up got messed. They still don't know how it got switched. Unreal.)
When the latest Airport Extreme came out, I thought AirDisk would be the ultimate solution, but it turned out to be nothing but trouble again. First, the speed was horrible (even wired into their network), and second, MS Word bombed every time you tried to save to the AFP disk. This was apparently a known, fairly common problem with AFP disks and word, so I tried connecting via SMB instead, which worked for a while. That failed in the end, though, since the easy-peasy Airdisk shows its seams when trying to use SMB instead of AFP. They had so many connection problems, that we finally ditched it and went back to our previous solution.
Based on the information I've given, does anyone have any advice? Do you see completely boneheaded things I've set up? Better solutions? What do you use?
Also, would OS X server make their lives (and mine) easier, in any way, or is that just adding unnecessary complexity to the equation?