Networked computers present a more complex configuration than stand alone computers. A network involves two types of computers and a lot more peripherals and additional considerations. The two types of computers are WORKSTATIONS and SERVERS. The workstations will be the computers that you will actually be working on. The server will maintain the data files centrally so that all of the workstations can access it.
The server should be a dedicated data server. That is, this computer should be used exclusively for maintaining the data. This computer will not be used by anyone day to day.
Some of you may have heard of peer to peer networks where you simply connect two computers to each other, with one doubling as a server. This is not recommended and is usually the reason for flaky performance, program problems and frequent crashes. The server has 2 or more computers coming in and using the hard drive. Imagine if you're a server and one person is asking you to get a file for them out of the cabinet. That might be pretty simple. Now imagine that 2, 4 or 10 people are all asking you get not one but a number of files for them. Now imagine that they all want it NOW!!! That's the life of a server. It's hard enough just doing that task alone. Now what if one of the people asking for files jumps up on your back and demands to carried around the office while you fetch files. That's what is happening when you try to use a computer as a server and a workstation. It works, but not that well.
The server needs quite different considerations than a workstation and there are issues that differ. Here's the low down:
- The server should be a server class computer. The name brands will have just such a series of computers. These are built and geared to be server computers and are built for expansion.
- Intel Pentium class computers are recommended. A server should normally be a Pentium 4 class computer running at 3.0 GHz or better. Now, if the network is quite large, dual CPU's might be in order. That is two (2) Pentium 4 CPU's on the computer.
- 2 GB ECC SDRAM. The more workstations that you are running, the greater the amount of RAM you'll need. The more RAM your computer has, the better the performance.
- At least two (2) 73 GB Hard Drives. These day's hard drives have come down in price. The hard drives should be SCSI class hard drives. SCSI hard drives are made for networks. They are designed so has to efficiently handle multiple users all asking for files. The 2 hard drives allow one to be used to run the operating system, while the other stores the data.
- Servers don't normally need powerful video cards with complex drivers as they are primarily used for data handling. A server class computer will normally have very standard video cards built specifically for the server's basic requirements.
- Floppy Drive
- CD ROM
- 10/100/1000 mbps network card
Servers vary greatly in price and configuration. The simple fact is that buying a server requires some real expert advice from qualified network solutions providers. Your server may be a very simple, scaled down server or a very high end and robust system.
Servers can be configured with multiple hard drives for RAID compliance. That is where your hard drives are mirrored so that the data gets written twice to two separate hard drives. These kinds of features are set up avoid down time.
Another feature of servers is hot swappable power supplies and hard drives. This feature allows you to pull out a damaged hard drive or power supply without even having to turn the computer off.
Workstation's will follow the same rules as stand alone computer configurations. The same issues exist here:
The above configuration will get you by in running the program as well as other applications that you may purchase. However, there are a few other peripherals that should be on your list to be complete.
- Intel Pentium D dual core processor class computers are recommended. The Intel Celeron has been used, however, the increased performance of a Pentium class computer more than outweighs the additional cost. A Pentium D 820 with 2.80 GHz or better is recommended. The faster the CPU, the faster the application runs.
- MS Windows XP Professional ™ SP2 (service pack 2)
- 1 GB RAM. This varies greatly depending on the operating system that you are using. However new systems today usually have 512 MB as a bare minimum. The more RAM your computer has, the better the performance. Going to 1 GB or even 2 GB would be encouraged.
- 80 GB SATA Hard Drive. These days hard drives have come down in price. 80 GB is normally the smallest hard drive even available. Increasing to 160 GB or even 250 GB is not that expensive and will probably come in quite handy.
- Non-Integrated video cards. There have been issues with integrated video (that is built in video cards where the card shares system RAM). Go with a higher end video card with a 256 MB RAM. Dual monitor capable video cards should be considered.
- Floppy Drive. Still being used after all these years!
- Readable/Writable CD ROM. Consider adding a readable/writable DVD drive as well
- Gb (NIC) network card.
- Optical Mouse (better than track ball mouse). Avoid wireless mouse devices.
- Keyboard. Avoid wireless keyboard.
- Flat panel monitor (at least 17", but there is better viewing with 19")
Business class computers
Most name brand tier 1 class computers (ie; Dell, IBM, Compaq, HP) will have a business class line of computers. This is not just for show. For exampleDell has the Dimension series of computers that are geared more for home users, and then they have the Optiplex series geared at businesses. The business class computers are more robust, easier to maintain and run more silently. They are built for business use, that is, being used day in and day out on a regular basis. The components such as types of video cards and other peripherals are more limited in business class computers as the standards are higher.
Many no-name computer shops do not carry or don't distinguish between businesses and home users. As such these systems are geared for home buyers and are priced lower to appeal to that market. And in computers you DO get what you PAY for.
Networks communicate using RJ-45 (Category 5) cables. This is like a telephone wire that connects everybody together. All telephone wires go to a central operator that controls the communications traffic. Like wise with computer network's. The computers in a network are tied together by what is know as a HUB. This is a small box that connects all of the computers together. HUBS vary in price and performance. The cheapest HUBS are simple 10 mbps in performance. These are not recommended. We recommend at least a 100 mbps HUB. As well, if the HUB is switched, it better manages the network traffic and increases performance substantially.
Depending on the network configuration, you may have the backup device located on the server or on a workstation. We have recommended both in the past. That is, a tape backup on the server, but also an Iomega 250MB Zip drive on one workstation and even CD RW on one or more workstations.
There are various options when it comes to backing up your data files. The critical thing to remember is to simply ensure that backups are being done daily. In addition to backing up, it is highly recommended that you have multiple backups with at least one going off site on a daily basis. It is pretty useless having backups in your office only. In event of theft, fire or other catastrophe, your backup will be lost in addition to your computer. The type of backup depends on personal preferences and how much data you are backing up. The more common backup devices includes internal or external zip drives, readable/writable CD-ROM and/or DVD drives, thumb drives, external hard drives and even tape backup. Normally tape backups are very expensive and geared primarily for larger networks.
All backup devices can be somewhat automated. Tape backup devices usually come with backup management software. For other devices you can purchase commercial backup software such as Backup My PC or NTI Shadow. You can even write your own backup routines using simple batch commands or use the built in Windows XP Professional backup software. Regardless of what you use, back-ups need to be monitored daily. Don't assume that the computer just did it for you, even if it is automated. Back up software usually works, but it can also fail. Nothing can replace due diligence.
- A fast DAT tape backup on the server is recommended if you have a large network with fairly large data files. A network with only 2 workstations will probably not need a tape backup, however, a 10 workstations probably will.
- Iomega 250MB Zip Drive. This will suffice in most cases, but when it comes to back ups, it depends on the size of your data. You will probably want to back up other data such as word processing documents, spreadsheets, accounting programs, to name a few. If your data is quite large you can look at a 750 MB Zip Drive. It is critical to have a lot of Zip Disks on hand and two (2) backups done daily. One stays in the office (preferably in a fire proof and theft proof safe) while the other taken out of the office.
- CD-RW. A readable writable CD ROM. We don't recommend the CD-RW as a daily backup. The Zip drive is easier to use in circumstances where data is always changing. The CD-RW is great for mass amounts of data that don't change (ie; Microsoft Word documents, scanned images, etc.)
- External hard drives are now available with 40 GB and more. They are fairly easy to carry around and with USB 2.0 standards are quick and efficient. You should have two (2) external hard drives with one being taken out of office each day
- Thumb drives. These miniature drives have become quite common these days, and they are inexpensive. These thumb drives now come with up to 2 GB and Iomega even offers a mini 8 GB unit. Again, we stress that you should have a few of these around so that you can always have your data off site each day.
- One of the best things you can do is to have multiple backup options. That is, incorporate a zip drive with readable/writable CD-ROM and external hard drives or thumb drives. Some data changes regularly, so that data needs to be backed up daily. However, there is also static data (ie; scanned documents) that don't change. You add new documents, but older documents don't change. Performing daily backups of static data can be time consuming.
Get a good high uninterruptible power supply (UPS). This often gets neglected in most computer purchases, yet bad power, surges and spikes continues to be amongst the leading causes of computer crashes and computer problems. A cheap power bar is not adequate and is akin to buying a new car but not the insurance. The UPS should be powerful enough for a server
You will need printers for your office. We recommend several printers to do the job. For reports and sheet labels a laser printer is a must. Avoid inkjet printers for these tasks. For labels, you cannot beat a thermal printer. We support the Star Micronics TSP 743 and Star Micronics TSP 800 series, both with USB configuration. These thermals can also be used for prescription printing. The rule of thumb if printing prescriptions is one thermal printer for each examining room (assume computer in the room)
With internet access in your office a good router is recommended. Wireless routers can be used, but there are often spikes and dips in performance.
In addition to our programs, there are several applications that you might seriously consider;
MS Office products should be given consideration, especially MS Word, MS Excel and MS Outlook. These are industry standard with exceptional quality for word processing, spreadsheets and email management.
This is no longer an option. There are several excellent choices out there including AVG, McAfee and Norton Anti-Virus. All offer software based firewalls in addition to anti-virus, so your computer is well protected from unwanted intrusions as well as viruses.
Back Up Software:
Backup software is dependent on what back up devices you have. Name brands such as Iomega offer their own backup software. However, there are several excellent industry backup programs available such as Backup My PC, NTI Shadow, Norton Ghost, Nero and Roxio to name a few.
Compression software offers tools that allow you to compress you data files, making them easier to move around. WinZip and RAR are two good choices.
Depending on what features you are using, there are several excellent communication programs that impact on productivity. These include such programs as PC-Anywhere which is used to allow remote computer access (ie's from home to office or even for support tools). You might also look into fax software such as WinFax Pro to electronically fax your letters, prescriptions and other documents.
Conclusions and final thoughts
Every computer purchase is unique. There are rarely cookie cutter solutions when it comes to buying a system. How much RAM, hard drive and other options depends on what else the computer will be used for. More applications will push the computer's resources.
Another good thought to keep in mind is always buy for the future. Your computer is an investment in efficiency. Think back 2 years ago and compare to standards today.
When purchasing a new computer, talk to a qualified hardware vendor. Choose someone who has a solid reputation in the community and has experience with businesses, especially medical and other health clinics. Ask them about your options, tell them what you are doing with the computer and plan to do. We can supply you computer needs and that also leaves one support outlet.
In addition, don't cheap out on hardware installation, set up and support. Get the on site services from the dealer or manufacturer. As well, a hardware support contract will go a long way in providing peace of mind and proper hardware performance.