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Server in a small office: How it can save time and costs

Sunil Kumar Gaur 
on 15 September 2012

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This is in continuation to my earlier article on use of IT to increase productivity by using Dual Monitors Using IT to Increase Productivity 

Small firms with 1 to 3 partners and not with big budgets are not in a position to employ or hire costly software professionals and thus cannot reap the benefits and facilities that are available to them within their computers.

There are generally 2-3 to 8-10 computers in small offices depending upon the size of the firm. Staff and partners are working on different computers either as standalone computers or as in a Local Area Network (LAN). Even in LAN usually people are not working on a common database and people are creating different directories and files at their choice. There are many problems associated with this

1. Usually we find that staff saves file to their own "My Documents" or at any location of his choice and if the staff is on leave or otherwise not available that file become simply inaccessible or cannot be traced.

2. Different users on their computers keep on loading various versions of same file. At a later stage it is difficult to find the correct and final version.

3. Files are stored at office computers and when the staff or the Partner is visiting client office or otherwise is not in the office he cannot access the information. Even in those cases where laptop is available the required file or info may not be available on it and getting it from the office may not always be possible.

4. Client cannot access his information which is at your office's information system.

REMOTE DESKTOP CONNECTION

An easy way to address these problems is using Remote Desktop Connection. In this one can access the office (or Home) system sitting anywhere. There are a few third party RDC solutions and some of them are free like Logmein Free, Team viewer etc.

Though these are good but these require that either someone is available at the office to attend to such a request or otherwise the system is used by RDC and others cannot use that system.

Windows XP, Windows 7 (In addition to Windows server editions) has an inbuilt capability of Remote Desktop Connection which can be used to log into your system either by other users from your LAN or through internet from remote Locations. And unlike Logmein etc more than one 2, 5 or 10 users can log onto the system without any problem and the office user can keep using the system.

One can use any Computer with a good processor and 4-8 GB of RAM ( A core 2 Duo with 4-8 GB RAM should be enough)  with Win XP but preferably with Windows 7 Ultimate as operating system and with a fast internet connection (4mbps or more).  If one can afford one should have a Static IP address (ISP’s sometimes charge for this – Airtel charges about Rs. 5000 but MTNL can provide Static IP free of cost). If you do not have a static IP then the problem is that every time you want to log onto the system you will have to enquire someone using the system at office to get the IP address which keeps changing being dynamic and not static. This can be enquired by simply opening websites like http://canyouseeme.org/ or http://whatismyip.com etc.

Figure 1

As can be seen in the diagram attached people can log on to the same system

1. Sitting on that system

2. Login from other office computers connected via LAN

3. Login via internet from remote locations

If you want you can even provide access to clients also for them to have their information. This way you need not to visit client offices for discussing things and asking for information or clarifications from them. You can even save client Balance sheets etc in PDF also for them to take printouts. You can even host client’s Tally which both you and client can work upon simultaneously if you are doing Bookkeeping for some client.  

Configuring Windows 7 for RDC

Certain changes are to be made to the standard windows to enable Remote Desktop Connection.

1. Change the local IP of your computer to a specific and fixed IP like 192.168.1.2 instead of auto/dynamic IP.

2. Enable Remote settings at Control Panel\System and Security\System.

3. Add users for whom RDC is enabled.

4. For allowing RDC open RDC in your Firewall at port 3389 (default RDC port).

5. Forward port 3389 in your Router to the IP specified at point 1.

To connect from a remote computer to this system click all programs ->Accessories->Remote Desktop. Put the IP address obtained through http://canyouseeme.org/ or http://whatismyip.com or the static IP taken from ISP. If you are logging in from LAN then you have to use the IP as configured at point 1 above. It will connect to your Server. Provide user name and password and Bingo!

You are done.

With a server in place with RDP enabled your existing computer systems can be used to log on to the server. These computers could be running on any operating system and need not have much processing power since all the processing has to be done at the server level. But the real gain would come in if you start using Thin Clients. Thin clients are the small units of system not bigger than a Modem and have practically no processing power. You only have to add KB, Mouse and Monitor to it to start working. No installation of any software is required. A thin client costs about Rs. 2,500/- and onwards. Add to it KB, Mouse and Monitor and your system is ready for Rs. 8,000/- whereas an ordinary computer costs about Rs.15,000/- upwards. Moreover a thin client does not require any maintenance.  

Of Course to really reap benefit of centralized database a proper filing policy should be in place and staff must be trained and forced to save file only at the designated directories and folders. In this way even the mail etc can also be configured for each user.

CA Sunil K. Gaur

(Author is FCA with 20 years of experience in Indian as well as Australian taxation, accounting and bookkeeping practice.)




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