case studies

Case Study – Server Replacement and Upgrade

We were recently approached by a solicitors, based in Staines, Middlesex. They asked us to perform a full review of the network, and make suggestions on how to improve the existing setup.

The Problem

The customer was worried the server was out of date, and was running slowly. They had to reboot the server frequently when there was access problems, and they thought that there was a problem with the hardware as a result. The server room was untidy and there were lots of computers setup and running in the room.

Review: Hardware

The customer was using an outdated HP Proliant ML350 G6, and the warranty for the server had expired a number of years ago. Although properly specified, with enough storage space and system RAM, if this main server failed, there would be a long amount of downtime until it could be returned to proper service.

In addition to this, the customer had two physical machines setup for remote access. This was because their LOB (line of business) applications did not support remote access with Microsoft Remote Desktop Services. The machines that were being logged into were also old, and were slow to access.

We recommended that the server be replaced with a newer model, with next-business-day warranty. This would mean that if the server failed, a technician would be on site from the manufacturer the next day the replace any faulty parts. In our opinion, this is absolutely mandatory for the main server in any business.

After reviewing the amount of storage space required, we suggested a Dell PowerEdge T130. These are inexpensive servers, which can still be well specified for small business use.

Review: Operating Systems

The server was running Windows Server Standard 2008, with although out of date did not need to be completely replaced. This is still supported by Microsoft until 2020.

The remote access machines were running retail copies of Windows 7 Professional. Again, these did not need replacement, as Windows 7 is still supported by Microsoft until 2020.

We suggested no change to the operating systems that are in use, but to purchase the server with Windows Server 2012 R2, to allow for a future upgrade of the domain.

Our Solution

It was clear that virtualising the existing environment was the correct way to go. The old hardware being used could be eliminated, saving space, maintenance overheads and energy. The server room would be much tidier also.

Work Carried Out

We installed Windows Server 2012R2 on the new Dell server, and the Hyper-V role was installed. We were then ready to virtualise the existing physical devices.

Working with the customer we identified all of the user accounts and computers that were still in use on the server. We renamed all of the existing client workstations from the automatically generated DESKTOP-3847393 type names, to easily identifiable DESK-1, DESK-2 etc. These computer names were updated in Active Directory, and were physically labelled on site.

Once this cleanup task had been complete, we were ready to virtualise the server. Once this task was complete, the existing server was powered off, and disconnected from the network.

We then had a virtual copy of the server running, with the existing server intact, as a backup of the configuration and data before the work took place. In a worst-case-scenario situation, this could be reconnected and the server returned to service.

We then cleaned up the server, removing HP drivers and proprietary monitoring utilities. This left a much cleaner installation of Windows Server, with just the key software installed to allow the server to function.

After this second cleanup task, we then virtualised the two remote access machines. The physical machines were then turned off, and decomissioned.

So – from 3 physical devices, all unmaintained and out of warranty, to one new physical server, with more memory and storage space.

I am most proud of the fact that all of this work was completed with zero downtime in working hours for the customer. As soon as the server was virtualised, it took over from the existing server.

Improvements made

  • Improved flexibility. If the customer has need for another remote access machine, one can be setup in matter of minutes by remote access, with no need to go on site.
  • Significant energy savings. Only one device needs to be running instead of 3.
  • Improved disaster recovery. If there is a hardware fault with the server, this will be repaired by the manufacturer, next business day.
  • Better Upgrade Path. Additional RAM and storage space can be more cheaply added if required.
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DamianCase Study – Server Replacement and Upgrade

Case Study – Router Upgrade – from 8Mbps to 200Mbps

We were approached by a client in central London to help with their internet connection. Although they had upgraded to Virgin Media’s 200MB/s DOCSIS3 service from a standard ADSL connection, they were still getting poor broadband speeds.

Old Hardware

As soon as we visited the site, the problem became apparent. They were using a Netgear FVS318v3 – this is a very out of date unit, that has a maximum throughput of 11.5Mbps. See the technical specifications here for a blast from the past: fvs318v3

Here is the speedtest with the Netgear FVS318v3:

It’s clear that this Netgear firewall/router is a real weak link in the chain.

We have seen many clients using older networking hardware – especially older firewalls, routers and switches. The problem is, that just like PCs, Laptops and Servers though, the performance of newer hardware is light-years ahead of the older equipment. Keeping old equipment in place can therefore be a false economy.

To compare: the Netgear FVS318v3 has a 200MHz CPU, and 16MB of RAM. It has 10/100 network ports, which limit the maximum connectivity speed. Newer firewalls and routers have much faster CPUs, more RAM, and tend to have 100/1000 network ports, which means more advanced functionality can be built in, and faster connectivity is available out-of-the box.

In this client’s case, the solution was clear – replace the firewall/router with a more modern unit.

New Hardware

We immediately thought of the MikroTik RB2011. However, this has recently been replaced with a newer model, the RB3011. See here for more information:

The throughput is much, much higher for this unit, compared to the Netgear. It maxes out at more than 3000Mbps – or realistically with firewall rules in place, around 800Mbps. This is more than ample for a 200Mbps connection, with space for future growth.

Here is the speedtest with the MikroTik RB3011:
wan-speed-test-afterA massive, massive improvement. The cost of the new firewall/router around £140 is well worth it for the leap in performance.

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DamianCase Study – Router Upgrade – from 8Mbps to 200Mbps

Case Study – Office Move

Over the otherwise quiet Christmas period, we completed an office move for a design company, from their offices in Brixton to new offices in Clapham.

Office moves are a great oppurtunity to make changes to the way a network is setup – almost starting from a blank slate at the new offices.

The new offices were to be completely refurbished, save for data cabling.

Before the move took place, working with our colleagues at West Installations, the existing data cabling was tested, and all faulty network sockets were reterminated and tested. Some new network sockets were also installed for Video Conferencing/Presentation equipment.

A new VDSL/FTTC service was installed on site by BT Openreach (to run in parallel with the old office connection, to prevent downtime). Once installed, we then went on site to complete the Router and Switch setup.

A not-so neat network cabinet before we started:

Empty Cabinet

Note the dust sheet – the building works were still ongoing!

Unfortunately, there was no budget to re-terminate the cables at the patch cabinet end, leaving a lot of too-long cables in the cabinet.

We decided to upgrade the network infrastructure as part of the works, with a new MikroTik Router installed, along with a managed TP-Link 24 Port Gigabit network switch. This would allow for improved network performance at the site, with better security than at the old site (which used the ISP provided modem/router).

Unifi Access Points were installed throughout the office to allow for perfect wireless signal in all parts of the new offices.

Once we completed the equipment install (before cable management is installed):

All powered and live

One thing we always do when on site is label cables/power plugs as we go along to make identification easier when there are 100 more patch cables in the cabinet:

Detailing of Labelling

Detail of Cable Labeling:

Detail of Labelling 2

It’s all in the detail!

Of course, at the new offices, we kept some things the same – the network SSID and Key for example – this meant the wireless was working without any configuration changes on the laptop machines.

Also, the network subnet was kept the same, so that any devices with static IP addressing would work immediately when connected to the network.

Once all of the equipment was setup and installed, we then assisted with the relocation of the desktop machines and NAS device from the old office between Christmas and New Year.

Thanks to the works before the move date, there were no issues whatsoever on the move day itself. All setup and working for the 4th of January!

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DamianCase Study – Office Move

Case Study – Network Upgrade and Tidy

We recently completed a network upgrade and tidy for a training company in South London.

The problem points:

  1. Poor performance of the internet router – often crashed
  2. Poor wireless signal
  3. No VPN access, or unstable VPN access
  4. Messy network cabinet, making diagnosis of faults difficult.

After visiting site, we found this:

Network Cabinet 1

Even though the customer had a rack cabinet, the equipment was laying on the bottom, and the wireless access point was inside the cabinet – that explains the poor wireless signal!

After discussing the requirements with the customer, we decided to consolidate some of the networking devices (router, network switch) and replace them with rack mount items.

We went with a MikroTik Cloud Router Switch – allowing fast ethernet connections in the office (gigabit ethernet) and a powerful firewall/router, to allow for remote monitoring and management. Of course, all of the usual VPN protocols are supported.

For the wireless connection, the existing TP-Link wireless access point was replaced with a Unifi UAP, to again allow for easier remote management of the wireless network that was in place.

A guest network was setup for the client, so that the main working network was isolated from visiting clients who needed wireless access.

There was a significant improvement in the network cabinet alone at the mid-way point:

Network Cabinet 2

Note this is before we ceiling mounted the access point!

Once this was completed with the Unifi supplied mounting brackets (made easier by the suspended ceiling):

UAP Ceiling

In the the customer ended up with:

  1. Improved signal strength for the wireless in all areas
  2. Improved security for the network (as the guest wireless was isolated from the main network)
  3. A tidier network cabinet, with more easily managed connectivity
  4. A powerful, remotely managed router/switch to allow reliable VPN access
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DamianCase Study – Network Upgrade and Tidy