Archive for the ‘Networking’ Category

Windows Home Server for business

Friday, June 14th, 2013

This article is targeted to those clients requiring a modest network server environment of 10 or less clients.

In over 24 years of supporting network platforms many clients have requested an affordable total cost of ownership (TCO) server setup. This is subjective to the size of the organization and needed infrastructure, however, I am specifically writing to businesses of fewer than 10 employees.

I will typically talk to these small business owners (this process is referred to as a network discovery) before creating an Request for Proposal (RFP) outlining cost. Creating an RFP for a server environment utilizing typical server software would  involve costs of thousands of dollars for the hardware and software plus the charge for setting up, installing, configuring the system, and training employees how to  access programs and files.

Even with the most modest server implementation, a complete system can cost over $6,000. This price point often shocks many micro business clients. Often these are 3-10 users in a small startup service or retail industry. They need to share an accounting system, payroll and database system,  plus use internet and maybe a proprietary software program. These clients typically have tight budgetary requirements because of startup or upgrade budgets.

Microsoft Windows Home Server (WHS). When I first discovered that WHS Server was intended for the home user, but was, however, built on the Microsoft NT line of server software that  utilizes the same security features  the US Department of Defense uses, I knew there was plenty of power on this seemingly modest offering.

By comparison, Microsoft Small Business Server is a package suite of server products that many small businesses use. This software package averages $2500 depending on the number of users. WHS software retails for $100 but can be purchased with discounts online for about $58 including shipping. It allows up to 10 simultaneous users and it is designed to be installed on workstation hardware that can easily be hundreds, if not thousands of dollars under a typical server install. No need for expensive server grade hardware. Even though Microsoft has discontinued development of this product, the availability and price make it an excellent value. The current version for purchase is a fantastic value, even when future upgrades will no longer be available. If the system configured for your environment works correctly, who needs to or why would you want to upgrade the operating system(OS)?The WHS OS can continue with your company for many years. When, or if you expand, you can easily migrate to a more powerful server configuration.

Windows Home Server installs in under an hour. It is a simple, straight forward installation. I typically use the default setup. Once installed WHS guides you through setting up all the server functionality. An install takes about 10 minutes for each of your client computers,  you run the connection software from the install CD, log onto the server, and then setup nightly automated backups to the server. The setup automatically  downloads  Windows updates not only for the server but for each client.

WHS backs up the operating systems of each computer, the drivers and the data. It has an intelligence that only backups up each file only once, even if that file shows up on many separate computers. This feature saves space on the server hard drive because typically many files are common to more than one system and/or user.

You then add users, which takes literally less than 1 minute per user. I then make a private folder for each user similar to what happens with individual profiles in a Windows Desktop OS. The server has by default a public folder, music folder, videos folder, pictures folder and software folders, automatically setup. I then set up a data file sub-folder in the public folder so all users can easily share files in one location.

Next you go through the 3 or 4 wizards that finalizes the server configuration.

The user settings offer to:

  • Turn on automatic updates
  • Push those updates to the client computers on the network so you only need download each update once and then share the update across your network
  • Configure your router to allow port forwarding to the WHS which will then offer additional services from outside your network
  • Provide a domain name for the server
  • Provide remote access files on the server
  • Allow me to remote tunnel into my own computer on the inside of the network

You can allow WHS to modify the port forward settings in your router. This is faster and easier using the WHS wizard than if you log into to the router and configure the port forwarding separately. You do not need to know the ports or services because the configuration is automatic.

With router ports forwarded, you now press one button to turn on remote access. You then run through another wizard that sets up the dynamic DNS required for the local hosting of your own site. All that was needed is a Hotmail or Live mail account. With this turned on I can now test to see if there is access from outside the network to both the files on the server and the files/programs on each of the computers in the network. It works great.

After it was completely set up, I plugged in a second hard drive. WHS instantly recognized the drive and asked if that drive was for duplication or to extend the size of the data drive. Wow, how intuitive could that be? I then simply setup a RAID mirror. During installation, if using one hard drive, WHS takes about 100 Gb of your drive for the C:/ partition and puts the operating system on that partition. The remainder of of the drive becomes D:/ for the data drive. If you add a second drive for expansion, it can run both drives as a “just a bunch of drives” (JBOD), unless you configure the two drives with a RAID configuration. Configured as JBOD, and if there were a drive failure, you would be unable to access your data. You would need to restore your data after replacing the failed drive. However, you can better protect your data by using 2 hard drives configures in a RAID 1 mirror configuration. If one drives fails, your data is protected until you replace the drive.  The system can protect your data (this is called fault tolerance) even better if you use 3 or more drives. If you have 3 or more hard drives, you can use a RAID 5 configuration, which is has better redundancy that RAID 1. RAID 5 with three or more dives is typically utilized in server configuration requiring a high level of fault tolerance. This type of fault tolerance is included with WHS!

In less than 2  hours of installation, what do you have accomplished?

  • a secure file server with Users and Shares
  • A personal webpage hosted with dynamic DNS service setup and running
  • A remote access point to all files on the network and to all the files authorized on the server
  • Access to remote desktop on any computer on the network
  • an automated backup setup for every computer system
  • shared printer(s) to all network computers
  • a  JBOD or RAID disk drive configuration on the server

In my experience, setting up a traditional Microsoft Windows server can take anywhere from 6-10 hrs. So this is an amazing financial savings for a small, or micro business.

Once setup is complete you unplug the keyboard, mouse and monitor and WHS sits by itself. The server is managed with the remote desktop service. In other words, you manage server functions from one of the client workstations instead of needing a dedicated monitor, mouse, and keyboard for the server.

In conclusion, WHS is a cost effective solution for a small business with budget concerns. Please contact Cost Computing, 561.452.6132 for further information.

Open DNS

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Understanding Open DNS


First, let’s explain what is DNS. DNS means Domain Name System – the protocol that provides the framework for web browsing. It is  a system of computers located throughout the world that provides the infrastructure allowing browsing of the World Wide Web. When you enter, for instance,, DNS converts that easily recognizable domain name (called an ip namespace) to a numerical address that has been assigned to that particular domain name.
The problem with how DNS is configured is that it is typically set up by the respective ISP for a customer.

DNS, as configured by default, can have a negative impact on web browsing. These problems are a result from one or a combination of two issues:

Geographic location of DNS servers: This is becoming less of a issue today, but poses a problem when end users are making DNS requests over slower speed links. Not all DNS servers are in prime locations; this is a bigger issue for customers who are in rural areas and being served by smaller, regional, ISPs.

Over-burdened DNS servers: Again, this is more likely to happen with DNS servers hosted by smaller ISPs, but I’ve seen it within Southern Florida Comcast and ATT systems. If an end user’s router or home PC is pointing to DNS servers that can’t handle their request load effectively, overall response performance suffers and web browsing slows.

Changing DNS server settings is fairly easy for any home user or a computer technician from Coast Computing can help.

DNS adjustments should be made at the router. There are benefits to making DNS changes at the router level because:

  • Everyone will not have to adjust their systems; only the common router will need the adjustment.
  • It will speed up (and clean up) web browsing for all users on a given connection.
  • You can even offer further browsing redundancy by choosing primary and secondary DNS servers that span different providers (say, Google DNS and OpenDNS).

Some techs claim that ISP provided DNS settings work fine. Everyone’s needs from DNS and relative performance on a given pair of DNS servers will be different. Much of this stems from what was mentioned earlier regarding location, burden, and other factors. But it’s what you don’t know about alternative DNS solutions that get interesting.

While Google DNS provides a speedy alternative to what ISPs offer, OpenDNS takes this concept one step further. The company employs specialized technology that actually spans DNS requests to datacenters that are closest to your location geographically without any intervention. In addition, because they handle so many requests from different parts of the world, they have the most up-to-date single repository for where everything is on the web. This significantly reduces the need for them to “ask” other DNS servers where a website or file may be located.

Another key benefit is how OpenDNS provides malware blocking at the network level. This is accomplished by sifting out known-infected websites and files before you can get to them. This is beneficial because, by default, ISP provided DNS servers typically do not filter out the responses they provide. Even if you mistakenly type in the address of a completely known and virulent malware site, chances are your ISP will take you there.

One of the biggest contributors to the spread of malware today is that end users can’t always recognize bad links in search results, and are visiting pages on the web where they typically should not visit. OpenDNS takes the guesswork out of this process because it maintains a centralized blacklist of bad sites that is in effect for all users of the service. For customers of mine that have bad histories with such links, OpenDNS is always a good recommendation for a defense against sites containing malware.

In addition, OpenDNS offers paid levels of service for home and business customers. Home users can benefit from the parental control functionality via custom block lists and category-powered filtering of their home internet connection.

There’s no client software to install, no signature updates to worry about, and it affects EVERY device that wants to use internet in a home – which means any young visitors won’t be able to bypass filters merely by bringing their own computers.

The business level subscription to OpenDNS provides advanced logs, web access control for workers, strict malware and botnet prevention options, and website blocking.

If you want to switch to OpenDNS on your own, here are the two DNS servers that they publish Follow their instructions page for generic guidance; consult Coast Computing for in-depth configuration:

  • PRIMARY:   

I try to take a balanced approach in customers setup using a hybrid combination of OpenDNS as the primary server, and Google DNS as the secondary server. You don’t have to do this, but I feel that if for some reason OpenDNS has outages across both of their systems, at least your router can then tunnel DNS requests to a complete third party. For redundancy, this is a great approach. My preferred router configuration happens to look like this:

  • PRIMARY (OpenDNS):       or
  • SECONDARY (Google DNS):                  or

Give the above combination a try to see if your website browsing speed is improved. You will also gain the transparent malware blocking and phishing protection that OpenDNS utilizes.