What sort of server & network setup would work for a small design business?
July 21, 2012 3:06 PM   Subscribe

What networking or server (NAS?) equipment do I need to set up a small design business that will use a lot of fairly large CAD, Rhino, PSD, AI, and other design-type files?

I am in the process of setting up a small design studio. It will most likely be me, and just a handful of employees at the most. However, I will need a few different machines in various locations both for me and my coworkers, but also connected to machines in various odd places hooked up to fabrication equipment. So, I am trying to figure out if I need to set up a small NAS system as a centralized location for all these files. I just read about NAS systems, so assume I know very little.

I currently have a Macbook Pro laptop, and I run XP on a bootcamp partition with a bunch of older software (I am afraid to upgrade because if it doesn't work I couldn't afford to buy some of that stuff again). So, I imagine I will need the system to work for Macs and PCs, running a variety of operating systems, and due to the spread out nature of the machine, it will likely need to work wirelessly. So, here is what I was thinking -- I want to know if this set-up makes sense, and if anyone can give me any ideas/guidance:

- SERVER: Something like a 2-Disk Synology NAS. I just learned about these. I guess the other computers could connect to this over a local network or wifi? I would get two 1TB WD 3.5" drives for this. I would probably also buy a third, so I could swap one off-site regularly. Would the other computers be able to work on files directly off of this? Would a service like Dropbox be a better idea than buying a NAS?

- BACKUP: CrashPlan Pro. I would then back the data on the NAS up with some service like CrashPlan. I guess if I am doing the off-site backup, this may be overkill, but it might be convenient and more fool-proof then relying on regular swapping out of drives.

- NETWORK: Can this all work over wifi? Do desktops these days come with wireless networking capabilities, or would they need some sort of additional wireless component (dongles, cards, etc)?

- COMP 1: My current Macbook Pro laptop. This will just stay the same for now, as I already have it.

- COMPS 2-3: Some sort of new, cheap desktop PCs with Windows 7 that will be able to handle CAD Programs like AutoCAD, 3DSMax. These may also be tied into some fabrication equipment, which rarely uses software (like Mastercam) for the Mac. What is the cheapest processor/setup nowadays that could handle software like that? Would one of those barebones/mini PCs work instead if I am going to store a lot of things on the NAS?

- COMP 4: Eventually maybe a Mac Mini or an Air, if I wanted to get an additional affordable Mac. Are there cheap displays from other companies, that I could use with all of these different computers?


I guess that is a lot to ask, so the most important question is what would people recommend for the file server/NAS question, answers to the other topics would be super helpful too as I am dazing over staring at desktop specs on NewEgg.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can't answer the question per say, but I can provide some info.

Synology solutions range from Home Office to more higher end. If you want to have a 3rd HD to swap out... This isn't for you. If you concerned about securing and backing up important work, it can involve a lot more resources and work. If you like... please look at Dropbox or some other Cloud solutions. They are more affordable then they used to be.
As a complement to a cloud solution or just a local layer for access though, you can definitely use a Synology. It is friendly to all OSs and works very well (I own one myself). In this way you won't be restricted to a internet connection for copies of files and you can keep a local layer from which you can re-upload at the end of day perhaps back to the cloud solution (just an idea).

In terms of backup, you can consider what you have on the Synology first layer... and then what you upload to Dropbox etc, as the 2nd layer of protection. This however is up to what sort of backup/disaster recovery plan you put together. This is very important. Automating is cool if you can, but may not be possible in all cases.

Wifi is not fast in any respect... For the type of files you would like to have, please try to hard wire as much as possible. It is likely you do your design work alongside bigger monitors and such at work stations. Such a setup is still very friendly to cabling.

For your computers, you can probably get a hold of cheap machines that probably only need a video card upgrade in order to work sufficiently with what you want them to. I fear barebones/thin-client PCs will probably not be able to cut it... Remember that System Requirements for a lot of software... are minimums at best and may not guarantee good performance. Go ahead and look at made-to-go business machines (HP for example) instead of NewEgg if you like... Or heck refurbished Mac Minis!

In terms of displays you may wish to look at a variety of display makers and see if you cannot get a particular model with inputs possible for all your computers. However having Macs sort of changes this...
For example: Macs in particular have changed display outputs a number of times over several years. I believe most recent generations are HDMI (older Mac Mini), Mini-Displayport (older MB Pro) and Thunderbolt (latest?).... You may need to see what your current set of computers support... Since your COMP 2-3 will be PCs, you may want to coordinate how they will end up with what you purchase with as your monitors (especially if video card upgrades are needed). For your Macs you'll need to consider an adapter to the input you mean to mass buy monitors for. Of course you can buy them all separately too if you like...
posted by Bodrik at 7:17 PM on July 21, 2012

Best answer: You may want to browser around through some sites such as smallnetbuilder.com . They've got lots of reviews for various sizes , prices, speeds etc. 2TB disks seem to still be the sweet spot for price/TB

I'd second comment above to go wired rather than wireless. The cost of gigabit ethernet is not that expensive and so much faster and more reliable than wireless. It is a bit expensive to get each outlet installed, but well worth it.

Use Crashplan for backups - you can set up backups between your own computers, and/or back up to a computer off site (eg one at home perhaps?) and/or back up to Crashplan's servers. Once you've set it up, the software is automatic, and emails you if a computer isn't getting backed up. If backing up offsite, the files will have to be sent out over your Internet link, so you'll need to check how much data you change each month against your Internet plan. If you can get an Internet plan that doesn't count uploaded data, that would be better.

Having the files stored on the NAS won't really change much about what Windows 7 desktop you need to run AutoCAD. It would just mean that you don't need a large SATA disk in each desktop. Get a 60GB or 120GB SSD boot disk, along with something like a core i5 processor. You want the fastest CPU speed rather than lots of cores. Memory is fairly cheap - get 8GB, 12GB or 16GB, and run Windows 7 64 bit. You'll want a good graphics card - perhaps check the Autodesk site for supported cards.
posted by sandycooper at 2:49 AM on July 22, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks -- this is a lot of helpful info.

I think I will try and go with something like a small Synology system, and then keep all the computers that need to do heavy lifting hard-wired in. That way, those machine that are working with larger files won't have to wait for Dropbox uploads/downloads. The computer that is in a different location that can't be hard-wired won't be dealing with some of those larger files and rendering/3D stuff anyway. Then, I'll do a cloud-based backup like Crashplan.

I didn't even think that if I'm doing a lot of the file storage on that NAS, that I don't have to get enormous hard drives on the machines -- I was thinking it would be good to go with an SSD, but couldn't afford it. Now, I realize that I could probably go that route with a small SSD, since I won't really be storing much of anything on the machine itself.

Ok, a lot of this is making more sense now.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 7:55 PM on July 22, 2012

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