At the moment, I've got 2 workgroups consisting of 5 computers connected via CAT5 cable to a hub which is connected to another hub and the other group via 10m of coax. The other group consists of 4 computers on a single coax. Within this group, 2 computers connect to the internet via a USB connection to an external ISDN modem with two ports, another computer connects to the internet via a 56K modem. At the moment they are backing up data by a portable PATA HD which means each machine has to be turned off and on . It all seems a bit messy to me.
Roughly, how would you upgrade this setup and are there specific hubs, routers that you would recommend?
get rid of the hubs, and get rid of the coax. Replace any/all coax only ethernet cards in the computers with 100basetT or 1000baset ethernet cards. replace the hubs with a switch. if all the computers can be placed with
100 meters of the switch, just run 1 cat 5 cable from each computer to the hub - coonect them all directly to the same hub.
If that cannot be done because some of the cables will be more than 100 meteres, then buy 2 hubs that support fiber - connect them together via fiber and then plug the computers into the hubs.
get rid of the ISDN and dial up internet service. Get a DSL or cable modem service and a good NAT firwall that does statefull packet inspection.
Get computer with a BIG hartd drive (or better yet, a raid array) and back up all the computers to it via the ethernet. Or better yet, get a real server (like HP ml530 with a sdlt tape drive in it perhaps) and back up to that. You likely want some sort of automated backup software. Arcserv(aka brightstor)by computer associates is an industry standard and works well.
brand recommendations- for network cards, I am partial to intel. Fast and inexpensive. For switches, you don't need anything fancy or high end (no layer 3 switching, etc) but I do reccomend managed switches - i'd say get 1 or 2 Netgear FSM726s swicthes. Unless you want all 1000baseT - then get netgear GSM712 swicthes. for a firewall/nat box, i'd recommend a sonicwall tz170.
If money is an issue, and it sounds like it is if you are still using hubs and coax, that for the router, try the 3Com 3CR860-95. It lists for about $160 and gets you stateful packet inspection, VPN capability, and more.
I like the Sonicwall stuff, but it can be pricey and they make you pay more for so many connections required to the internet, whereas the 3Com does not.