A few notes on the network setup...
ISDN Router - I wish we had DSL or cable, but neither of those are available where we live. I've heard a rumor that DSL will be available in the next month or two. Actually, it may be more than a rumor since I heard it from the local manager of our telephone company. He also said that we'd be first in line to get it since I've agreed to sit on the local telephone customer advisory board. This all came out of a series of calls I made to the phone company to beg for a static IP address for my ISDN setup.
Link Extender - Ethernet doesn't work on wire runs over 100 meters. At least, that's the spec. When I first set up the office/residence link a year and a half ago, I ran 400 feet of cat 5 cable, hooked it up, and up came the link with 100 mbps. Just like that. The logger idiots pulled that cable out of the ground and broke it in the spring. Since then, I've spent literally hundreds of dollars and tens of hours trying to reestablish the link. After running four or five sets of wire without success including setting up a midpoint repeater (a hub) in the tractor shed, I finally twigged to the fact that ethernet ain't supposed to be no good over a hundred meters. Why did it work before? Dunno... The cable I used must have had unusually low impedance, I guess. Anyway, I finally found these link extenders that run over regular station (telephone) wire up to a mile. They work quite well, except that the speeds are 'old' 10baseT speeds, rather than 'modern' 100baseT. Oh, well. At least the link works now, which means that we don't have to use dialup from the house. I managed to rip the station wire apart plowing snow with the tractor several days ago; I was able to find the two ends in the snow and splice them using trauma shears to strip 'em and and electrical tape to put 'em back together. Whew.
Computing hardware, in order of acquisition -
DTG02 - An old Dell, almost as old as O1. I use it primarily as a testing machine to test stuff written on more current machines. This machine's clock speed is about 500 mhz and I think it has 256 mb RAM. Served as the family machine until fairly recently. This machine happens to have a zillion gigglebytes of hard drive space; okay, only 200 GB. I'm pretty interested in video and non-linear editing systems and bought several large drives a few years ago for editing space. 140 GB was in the form of external firewire drives. Changes in the Windows architecture made the firewire adapters not work, so I ended up opening the external drives, pulling the IDE drives off of the firewire adapters, and 'mounting' the IDE drives in '02. I put 'mounting' in quotes since the box isn't actually set up for the four hard drives that are installed so the drives are stacked in the open chassis with a big 'careful' sign tacked on. I haven't had time for much other than work or volunteering recently so much of the video hard drive space is idle right now. Someday I'll be through the crunch and will have more time for fun stuff. That's the plan, anyway. In the medium term, this machine will be utilitzed as a file server to augment DTG03 as space needs dictate.
DTG05 - Also an older Dell, bought in '00. 1.48 ghz, 384 mb RAM, 38 GB hard drive. A very nice machine when new, this was my primary work machine until my consulting practice got going. Now this serves as the family machine. This machine must connect via wireless but happens to live in the one place in the house blacked out from wireless access; it sits in an alcove in the sunroom behind the brick wall that forms the original external wall of the house... So it has a remote wireless adapter attached by a USB cable that snakes into the main part of the house.
DTG01 - The first machine DTG bought; I picked this up in advance of a meeting with a prospective client as I realized that it would be unethical to bring the laptop the Red Menace gives me to work on to the meeting. This HP machine has 1.6 ghz, 1.25 gb RAM, 60 gb hard drive. The keyboard went bad in the first two weeks (the 'i' key, then the down arrow) but I can't afford to lose it for a few weeks. I need to order a new keyboard for it but haven't got around to it. The really annoying thing is that I alllowed myself to be talked into an extended service plan for this box; unless I'm willing to give it to the shop for as long as they want it, though, I'm on my own. If I want it fixed while I wait I have to buy the part at my expense and put it in myself. I'm not at all intimidated at working on PC gear except that my opening the laptop to replace the defective keyboard will void the warranty should anything really catastrophic happen (i.e., motherboard dies).
DTG03 - I (or, to be technical, DTG) initially bought this to replace DTG05 as my primary desktop. It's a Compaq with 3.0 ghz clock speed, 512 mb RAM (expected to double soon), 152 GB hard drive. When I bought a marginally nicer machine, I reimaged this machine as a Windows 2003 server. Now it serves as a firewall, mail server, shared file server, DNS server, DHCP server, and domain controller for all of the other machines. Having a real local server is quite useful in that anyone can log onto any machine and have access to the files, mail, and certain other resources that they are accustomed to on their 'regular' machine, so, for example, 01 can log onto my laptop and have the same things show up in 'My Documents' that he has (or apparently has, since it's actually a shared drive on the server) in that folder on the family machine. Rabid or I can log onto any machine and have the same email client, same settings, same shared calendar. This also really simplifies backups in that I only have to back up drives on the server.
DTG04 - My primary desktop; a Gateway with 3.2 ghz clock speed, 1 gb RAM, 100 gb hard drive. I have several video cards in this machine to support three monitors. Multiple monitors is a certain decadent delight that really makes a positive productivity difference. I keep my email/calendaring client open and maximized on the right-hand monitor, earmark the left-hand monitor for browser and other documentation use, and keep the middle monitor for whatever real work I'm doing. Despite being the best machine on the farm, '04 has a really annoying habit of drifting the mouse cursor to the left until it falls off the leftmost monitor.
The machines are named out of chronological acquisition order due to the order the machines were reimaged and added to the DTG network.
One really nice thing about running a local server 2003 setup is that I can experiment and prototype changes to be made on my client's system without affecting their service or fuctionaliity. The client has 25 or 30 client machines hung off of two servers (one running server 2000, the other server 2003), a bunch of printers and wireless barcode scanners, and two wireless access points. The really neat thing is that the client's setup reflects my own technical preferences (while specifically tailored to the client's business needs, of course) since I've been running their systems since before their last major system upgrade, which, of course, I spec'ed and managed.
I'm coming to the conclusion that I should study up and take a few Microsoft Certified Professional exams.
There is one other 'industrial' computer consultancy in my area that specializes in Microsoft stuff; in fact, my client is also a client of their's (for a specific and dwindling number of functions that I don't yet provide). The other consultancy sucks in that they appear to suffer from no competition; they are arrogant, they are unresponsive, they are unavailable before 0730 and after 1630 Monday - Friday, no support at all on holidays, they are expensive, and they are disinterested in supporting anything they don't sell and many things they do sell.
Me? I'm on call and available 24/7 at a single rate (exorbitant, sure, but similar to the other company's normal business hour rate), happily work weekends so the client doesn't have to be down during their business week, and support any computing hardware, software, or peripheral that the client may have on site. I also strive to understand the client's business so that I can more effectively advise on technology decisions. I also have forward-looking techniques such as online issue filing and tracking that the other bigger guys don't seem to think about (yet). I also understand productivity features of the software that the other guys push that they themselves not only do not use but do not introduce the client to.
What does the other company have that DTG does not? Microsoft Certified Professionals on staff. I think MCP certification is as bogus as a college degree (eh, scarecrow?), but whatever. So, I'm thinking that I should take the minimum and easiest number of exams that will enable me to tout myself as an MCP in marketing and advertising materials. I can already state that DTG is a 'Registered Microsoft Partner'. Sounds impressive, but really means that Microsoft has cut me a major deal on software for DTG to use in the short term while not requiring me to render my soul unto Bill for two years.
The major philisophical difference between me and that other company can be realized from our backgrounds. The other company started out as a teenager building PC boxes and selling them. I started out fixing electronics, went into programming, and spent several years supporting factories and distribution centers as an employee. The other guys think about computers while I think about shipping the client's product.
"Divergent Technology; we support your business, not just your computers."
My client has agreed to provide references. This is a company that has won an award for being Vermont's fastest growing manufacturer for the last several years. The company president gave me an excellent compliment a few weeks ago which I hope to use as a sound-bite tagline... I asked him if he was happy with the work that I was doing. He said that I was "great... You're responsive, and you understand." Ding, ding, ding.
So, all well and good, except that I've put a few hundred billable hours into my consultancy this year and haven't personally been paid a red cent. On the other hand, DTG does now pay its own way in terms of paying rent, insurance, and utilities on the office, and providing the nice computing gear that I'm using at present.
I'd like to think that this year I will get it going well enough that I can leave the Red Menace... We'll see. Before DTG pays my salary, though, it will pay for a marketing and sales person, an office manager/helpdesk provider, and a PC technician.