View Full Version : On-topic request for network advice. No missing planes here!

Billy T
08-08-2002, 12:03 AM
Hi Team

My local High School is looking to get some independent professional advice on their computer network hardware and software.

There are approximately 200 computers on site, all running Win98 on a Novell network. I don't know what the server software is but it will be a MS product for sure. The School recently spent a substantial sum on its servers (added a mirror server as well I think) but staff are complaining that the computers/network are too slow. Like most schools, the network has grown like topsy and was never properly planned.

Most computers are fairly new and apart from some limited serious graphics use in some areas, the rest should be able to handle anything that the average class throws at them. School-wide network cabling is also mostly new.

We have just one computer person on site and he is originally from a teaching background. He is run off his feet much of the time and we want to help him as much as possible by having a professional analysis of the system (looking for hardware & software bottlenecks).

We would also like to implement an image restoration facility allowing computers botched by enthusiatic hackers (pupils!) to have their hard drive remotely restored without need for the tech to go to the computer. We envisage holding a library of drive images for the various configurations and software packages, and choosing from a menu according to computer location & spec to restore individual computers to health. New profiles could be developed in the IT dept when upgrading etc and rolled out over the network. Oh yes, forgot to mention, I'm a Ghost fan :D

Some time ago a contributor described just such a system that he developed and manages at his job (I think it was one of the Grahams but I could be wrong).

We do not really want to get tied up with a major consultancy as we are not made of money but we would like to find a smaller (or even one man) professional outfit who can examine our system and advise us.

Location is Auckland (North Shore) and professional rates will be paid for professional services.

Any recommendations welcome. Self promotion is ok too but will have to be backed by suitable credentials and CV indicating successful experience on 200+ networks. It's not a honeypot guys 'n gals, but would be a nice little earner with prospects of ongoing work from time to time as we can't afford to put on another full time tech (though that could change if a real good one came along).

This is a serious request so give it your best shot team, our kids are depending on you!


Billy 8-{)

Heather P
08-08-2002, 12:33 AM
Er, Billy...

Novell IS the server software. And it's not Microsoft.

There is a similarly sized network in a West Auckland high school with a similar configuration. Again their sys admin is a teacher who is run off his feet. For larger tasks he has called in consultants. If you wish to email me I can ask him for consultant recommendations.

Alternatively, this project may be a little big but if costs are a consideration Unitec students have to complete a Project for their Bachelor in Computing Systems. Currently in the Project Management paper we are designing a theoretical network for a smaller school. This paper is a pre-requisite for the Project itself. Projects can range over a number of areas but I believe a number have been done on school networks.

Students may not be CNA or CNE trained but they could help with analysing the situation and establishing what is required.

Heather P
08-08-2002, 01:02 AM
Novell, a clarification.

Back in the days when Microsoft were still dreaming up Windows 3.1 Novell were the domininant network providers. A very secure Network system. Microsoft eyed up the Novell scenario, said "we want a bit of that", and created NT. Followed by 2000, followed by XP...

By including it in their bloatware they have now taken over a large part of the market (says she who is Novell trained and likes Novell).

To create a Novell network you take one nice clean empty server, create a small DOS partition then turn Novell loose to deal with the rest of it. No NTFS or FAT 32 partitions - they are Novell partitions with Novell software.

You then take your miscellaneous collection of windows machines (and Macs), throw in a few network cards and cables, and add a few Novell files to each machine allowing them to log in to the server.

It is also possible to set up complex networks. Peer-to-peer, Novell AND Windows (on different machines) that all talk to each other.

08-08-2002, 01:34 AM
There is nothing wrong with a Novell Network. Just finished doing a network management paper. It was predominantly done with Novell.

Pity we didn't learn how to install and configure it though. Just all manipilating the NDS.

Elwin Way
08-08-2002, 09:35 AM
This seems to be a common problem at schools. Slow, poorly planned networks with little or no upgrade and maintenance plan run by overworked teachers.

I remember reading in PCWorld (I think it was Juhaa) saying this would happen.

I have applied for a network management position at the local high school. They are running 3 networks and had recently installed a whole bunch of Sun machines. The problem was the whole lot was being looked after by an Executive Officer who admitted that he was learning on the fly. He also said that he wasn't sure whether to contract an outside company or hire an individual as staff.

3 Months later (and 2 'well get back to you soon' emails) I still haven't heard anything...

08-08-2002, 09:53 AM
<plug> try Elite Systems (http://www.elitesystems.co.nz) </plug>

Billy T
08-08-2002, 10:43 AM
Well guys 'n gals :8}

You can see why I'm not trying to help! I wouldn't know my Novell from my kneebone and my favourite server used to be a waitress at the local restaurant (before I met Mrs Billy of course).

I will follow up all ideas and suggestions but more would be welcome. We have good relationships with other schools and I'll send you an email Heather to get the name of the West Auckland High.

Seems to me that if you use a "learn as you go" internal IT resource person they will hit the wall very quickly once the network size explodes and then they are run off their feet with routine maintenance. The environment is quite distinctively different to a commercial or corporate network and the problems reflect that difference. Budget is also a major issue as state schools don't have endless dollars.

Thanks for the help

Billy 8-{)

To me, apart from ensuring that the right specifications are used for the technology, the key is to devise and implement maintenance systems that automate regular functions. At present the system is only checked over during holidays and obviously we don't have a help desk function. Since no student work is stored on the individual computers, remote re-imaging is the fastest and lowest effort way of keeping the individual network components running smoothly.

The IT dept can then focus on improvements instead of firefighting all day (and half the night). All enhancements and upgrades can be prepared in the IT department, tested on selected computers then rolled out to all.

08-08-2002, 10:54 AM
FYI <plug> Elite Systems are Novell and Microsoft certified partners/solutions providers </plug>

Billy T
08-08-2002, 11:51 AM
Sorry Honeylaser :(

If you are personally associated with Elite Systems then I suggest you take a close hard look at their website from a user's point of view.

Firstly, although I only use low level security because my surfing habits are safe, I couldn't get the site to go past the opening screen until I closed ZoneAlarm. Literally no other site has given me that problem, apart from getting the Press F1 pop-ups active.

Also, I will not download programs or plugins just to look at a commercial website.

BTW, my definition of safe surfing is determined by virtually zero spam on my email addresses after several years on line and only five or six incoming virus detections over that period, with zero infections)

Secondly, arty-farty miniscule "grey on grey" text is hopeless to read even on a 17" screen and with (modestly) good eyesight.

Thirdly, any site where I can navigate through three layers and still not find any worthwhile information about the company or its services is not going to encourage me to dig deeper. When I did dig deeper (to References) the page was under construction! X-( , That sends bad messages to potential customers, like what other services do you have that are still "under construction"?

Tell customers what you can do, not what you can't, and of all pages, references from satisfied customers is one of the most important. They are your corporate success stories and if the page isn't complete, don't even mention it. Never never NEVER put up a "References" link if it goes to a dead end like "under construction". It says terrible things about the organisation, i.e. you haven't had any success stories or satisfied clients yet.

Fourthly, flashy opening screens that then invite viewers to "enter our website" are a total waste of time. I want to read intelligent information about a company and what it can offer me right there on the opening screen then go straight to large clear links to select my primary interest areas.

If the site was developed in-house I would go get professional help. If it was developed externally, I would first review the brief the developers were given and if that did not request a frustrating and user unfriendly site I would sack the company and look for somebody who could design a site that would attract customers and hold their attention. If it did specify the frustrating and user-unfriendly site that I saw, then I'd sack the person who prepared the brief.

You see Honeylaser, websites reflect the company philosophy. That site is Elite Systems window to the world, and it is not a "cut to the chase and get the job done" image that is presented. It is a woolly, fuzzy "look at how clever we are" image that suggests long winded solutions at high cost. I am on Jetstream but the site was slow and time wasting. On dial up I wouldn't have gone past the first page. Web designers should assume their most valuable potential client is out there on the end of a 28.8 connection.

That's the way I read it, and as a potential customer and specifier for a reasonably valuable job with ongoing business potential, I won't be back. That's a potential loss to both of us.

No offence is intended, but I heartily recommend this site to other Press F1'ers as an excellent example of how NOT to do it. A second example of navigational confusion is the Xerox Direct website. Enter at your peril.

Of course, I could be wrong.


Billy 8-{)

08-08-2002, 12:14 PM
The site is currently being redesigned and rebuilt with help by yours truly. Your input is appreciated, contructive criticism is not such a bad thing. I'm going to pass your comments on to the powers that be (with your approval, of course)..

08-08-2002, 12:41 PM
and out of interest, what do you consider a good site? Whats your comparison?

08-08-2002, 12:47 PM
We may be able to help B-)


08-08-2002, 12:49 PM
one small thing i personally dislike is waiting for the intro to load BEFORE the skipintro sign comes up......grrrrrr........the wole idea of skipintro is so you don't waste time downloading it.

i liked the background but the blue writing was far better than the grey.

Elwin Way
08-08-2002, 01:01 PM
The Topic Police are here!

> and out of interest, what do you consider a good
> site? Whats your comparison?

Not mine (http://design4web.co.nz). It sucks.

Heather P
08-08-2002, 01:05 PM

My permanent student status (it takes a l..o..n..g time to get a degree part-time) came about when I was working at said school running the database and acting as helpdesk, network backup. That was when I did the Novell training. Tell me about the budgets!

Heather P
08-08-2002, 01:09 PM
Oh, and one small point on the difference between Novell and Microsoft networks.

Novell do not install "Pinball" by default on the server!

Billy T
08-08-2002, 02:39 PM

That's a relief honeylaser. After I sent that missive I suddenly had a serious touch of the ta ta's, like: "what if this is honeylaser's pride and joy I'm shredding here"? :8}

It was certainly intended as constructive criticism and please, by all means pass it on, just don't let them sue me. :_|

Re good examples? problem is they don't stick in the mind as well but i'll have a think and post a couple of URL's later if I can.


Billy 8-{)

08-08-2002, 03:15 PM
&gt; Whew!!
&gt; That's a relief honeylaser. After I sent that
&gt; missive I suddenly had a serious touch of the ta
&gt; ta's, like: "what if this is honeylaser's pride and
&gt; joy I'm shredding here"? :8}

Not a problem. You'll notice the site was designed by Greenwood Technology (http://www.greenwood.co.nz/), rather than someone from here, and we are making moves to update it and make it more user friendly. No more grey on grey, the flash intro is still there, but its all in a single window. No more "references" page either. Just more product info, and less speel about stuff which isn't as relevant as it used to be.

Graham L
08-08-2002, 06:19 PM
The fact that this 200+ node site at a school is running "slowly" is an indication of how good the Novell system is. An MS system would be down. I bet that most "business" MS networks have users who will be sacked if they mess with the system.

Novell NW isn't easy --- but no network system is.

One thing worth looking at is the physical network. What's the collison rate? If all the files are on the servers, you will need to have fast network cards on the servers. Replacing hubs with switches might help.

But it's going to be hard to keep such a big network going without money.

Heather P
08-08-2002, 06:38 PM
Who says Novell isn't easy??

Agreed I worked with Novell and only met Win 2K in a learning environment but Windows seemed far fiddlier - with more security holes.

It sounds like time for a full System Analysis of the network conducted by people with the appropriate skills.

It is also worth looking into Government grants for IT upgrading.

Craig Bellhouse
08-08-2002, 10:21 PM
If you are still looking for ppl with some knowledge in this area, try checking out local polytech's / uni's and find students who have completed a CCNA. As part of this training, a network design process is undertaken from the ground up.

You may find some students who are willing to come along and give you some tips, even set up your network from scratch.

<plug>I certainly would, but I am in Palmerston North</plug>

Billy T
09-08-2002, 10:02 AM
Nuff said honeylaser!

Six layers down and still nothing of value to prospective clients, impossible-to-read tiny orange-on-red text, what little information provided is in miniature text, their showcase websites roll across the screen like movie credits and are so small you can't see what they are about, but at least I didn't see any references (though I didn't hang around very long).

I could go on (and on and on) :(

Perhaps I should cut and paste my comments on the Elite site to them and just change the names and colours! Their own site is actually worse because even the colours are over the top. At least Elite's site was moderately tasteful, even if not helpful, legible or informative.


Billy 8-{)

09-08-2002, 06:03 PM
Hi, Not normally one to respond to personals, but since you so accurately described my business I thought I should ;-)

I have recently re-located from the Hibiscus Coast to Millford and I am now looking for some more local clients. I have several years experience with school computer systems and have become very good at providing solutions that fit a budget.

Feel free to contact me and I would be happy to discuss.