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Case Study 2 Part 1 - Network Rebuild - Intro and Workstations

Very occasionally, you get to do a job which you really enjoy. Being able to put lots of things that you have learnt over time in a single client deployment and make a very satisfying job. 

At the end of 2010 I completed just such a deployment.  

I could go on for hours about this deployment, as there are so many little things that were done, which I haven't had the chance to do before, or just make it a much better network. As I have complete control over the network, and have done for some time, I can ensure it runs exactly as it should. 

Only 40 users, so enough to use networking kit with. 

First, some background. This particular client is my oldest client. I have had them since about week six of my company. 

Just over 5 years ago I rebuilt their network, replacing their servers with a new domain, and all workstations were rebuilt. This was the first time I could try the locked down workstation method, as they had no proprietary or awkward third party application that "required" admin rights to run correctly. All desktops, and the one laptop didn't leave the building. 

Windows 2003, Exchange 2003 at the back end, on three servers, two HP and a very old clunky IBM which died last year. 

Clients were Windows XP, Office 2003. 

However it was starting to show its age. Three hours to setup a new workstation was becoming a joke, and the cost of server maintenance was getting higher all the time. 

Therefore it was decided that it was time to change the lot, all in one hit. 

Yes, you read that correctly. On the Monday they had the above, by the end of the week it was all changed. 

The first question then is how we could get away with doing a big bang change like this. 

It wasn't the original plan. I was looking at maybe changing the servers this year, then the workstations next. Office 2010 had just been released when planning started. However there was a keenness to do more, introduce laptops for some mobile workers so it was decided to make the change all at once. 

Furthermore, because the workstations were locked down, and were a basic build (Windows XP, Office 2003, AV, and a terminal application), with all relevant data redirected to a server, the amount of work that the move required would be minimal. The key company application is a database system that runs on Unix (which fortunately I have nothing to do with). The workstations are basically an office document and web browsing station. 

Then in a planning meeting I just happened to mention that we could replicate all of their data off site in real time for a lot less than they thought. So replacing the two servers became three, with replication thrown in as well. 

So this and the next two blog postings are a quick overview of what was done. If you would like to see it in action, and want me to do the same for your company, please let me know (UK Only). 

I am going to divide the rest of this blog in to three - workstations (below) and servers and networking which will have separate posts.


This is quite easy. 

During the last 12 months of the previous XP/2003 based network, all replacement workstations were bought with the upgrade in mind. Minimum of 2gb of RAM and Windows 7 licences where possible. 

However a number had to be replaced, plus for the first time an active laptop fleet was introduced. 

This initial preparation work though made the initial deployment much easier. 

Desktops were Windows 7 Pro, Office 2010, Adobe Acrobat Reader, AV. The flash player was installed fresh, plus the terminal application. Installing off a memory stick, I was turning each machine around in about 45 minutes. 

Laptops were Dell Latitude, software as above. However we also added built in 3g cards so the users could work anywhere. Part of the plan (which I am not involved in) is to provide a web based access to their core database and inventory system. 

I also suggested, and was taken up, that every user, from the CEO down, was given a mandatory training session. So each staff member did a half day on Windows 7 and Office 2010. We found a local trainer, who created a bespoke course for the client. I explained what I wanted them to know. 

It should be pointed at this point that a large number of staff in this client are rather mature - I think I am still one of the youngest in the building when I go to visit. A change from Windows XP to Windows 7 would be quite different. The training was not only to show them how to do things, but also to simply give them confidence that they wouldn't break it. 

Therefore they were trained how to change the wallpaper, jump lists, gadgets. A brief overview on internet security and the like. They were trained on their actual workstations, so after the training was complete, there was a frantic period of machine change rounds. This meant that when they returned to their desks, things that they had done during training were still there. I felt this was important for adoption of the new platform. 

The new laptop users were given a slightly different course, which gave them a grounding in looking after the laptop. For most of them, this was the first time with a laptop. 

The client operates a conveyor belt system with desktops. New desktops go to the power users, with the slower ones going down the food chain, before eventually being removed. Therefore we started training with the power users on new desktops, while their older machines were rebuilt for the next session, and so on. This meant that during the training sessions I was rebuilding machines the users had just left. It got rather frantic. 

I rebuilt 9 machines in one day at one point, and put in 11 hour days four days on the trot. 

The end result though is that the client now has a complete desktop and laptop fleet that is on the latest OS and Office version, locked down, with the benefits that brings from a management and security point of view. 

In Part Two, I shall go over the server configuration. 

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