This past Wednesday was a big day for me. I’ve been building up to a big network migration for a business client for several weeks, and Wednesday was the day I pulled it off. OK, not really that big, it’s only a four-person office. But heck, it’s big to me. Let me ‘splain.

I’ve already written a little about this project recently in My Favorite Chili Recipe. I’ll come back to my infatuation with the Chilibox in a moment. But let me give some more background about the project first.

The client, for whom I’d done some residential PC work for, started this new business in Real Estate development, and turned to me to advise him on everything tech related. Early on, some of the things I worked with him on were picking and registering a domain name. Once the domain name was in place, next came e-mail. I convinced him that he should avoid simple POP mail and go with hosted Microsoft Exchange 2003 from ItÂ’s done a great job with this service, and its Web-based admin tool, called HostPilot, is very easy to use. I also recommended it because I knew it could support wireless e-mail, like Treos, BlackBerries, or Windows Mobile devices. After reviewing the various wireless devices, he went with BlackBerry 8700gs from T-Mobile. There was a bit of a struggle with T-Mobile and the reseller about getting him set up for Enterprise Activation so I could then get them linked to its hosted Exchange system. In the end, however, we prevailed and got them working.

Then I helped the client shop for PCs and printers. Then voice and data services. For the purposes of immediacy, we ended up going with POTS lines from SBC (or AT&T, or whoever it is this week) as well as basic DSL Internet service. This would allow him to quickly have these basic services in the office while we lined up something more industrial strength for the long haul. The Chilibox device allowed me to quickly give him basic file server capability, as well as DHCP, routing, firewall, and a Wireless Access Point. The Wireless functionality was key since the premise wiring in the office needed to be completely redone. Once I had the Chilibox setup, they had enough connectivity for their laptops, printers and the Internet to all work.

So the next step was getting a bundled T1 voice and data offering put in place from an outfit called CBeyond. This very competitively-priced package included up to six land lines, plus T1 Internet access (a few other back-end services as well). It provided a Cisco 2400 series Integrated Access Device, which then split up the voice an data functions to be handed off to our infrastructure. On the voice side, the client purchased an Avaya Partner PBX and phones.

So all of that stuff got scheduled and I diligently planned out in my mind how the cutover would work. It was a bit nerve racking because of all the players involved. There was myself, acting as overall owner of the project and responsible for everything on the LAN side; the voice and Internet provider (CBeyond); the subcontractor responsible for setting up the Avaya PBX and phones (Black Box); and last but not least, a voice and data electrician to rewire the office. I have to say I really am so happy to have formed a relationship with a highly-motivated and professional electrician. There’s nothing like having a good cabling infrastructure in place! It allows me to take on projects I really couldn’t have done by myself.

Can you see how this is part choreography – part technology – and part project management? So in rapid succession, things all started to happen. Last Friday, CBeyond pulled its T1 into my client’s office suite and plugged it into its Cisco 2400 IAD. Monday evening, I met my electrician to oversee the rewiring project. The cabling all got pulled into a closet that will house all the equipment and network devices (voice gets punched into some 66 blocks, data gets terminated with RJ45 connectors. Mind you – we did this in such a way so that the clients were still able to use their existing POTS lines, so we left the old wiring runs intact until we were ready to go live on the new T1. Workstation connectivity was still purely wireless at this point, although now we had the ethernet cabling in place. While he continued to work on the wiring, I did some on-paper exercises on how to reconfigure TCP/IP on the network once we make the move to the T1. Tuesday evening, my electrician came back to place some electrical outlets inside of what would become our LAN/Telco equipment closet. Wednesday, the cutover day, is nearly here! For some reason, I’m extra nervous. Not sure why.

Wednesday AM, I dropped my wife off at her workplace, then hit the highway to head north to the project site. I was running a little bit behind schedule and traffic was snarled. It was 8:30AM. I learned that the Black Box guy arrived at 8AM, before anybody was even there to let him into the office. Traffic began to clear, and I arrived at 9:15am, only 15 minutes later than I had planned. The Black Box guy had already wall mounted the Avaya Partner PBX and began connecting the lines that my electrician pulled from throughout the office. I dropped my gear in the conference room and mapped out my next moves.

I had wisely told the clients to expect disruptions to Internet and phone service during the cutover. But the beauty was that they had their BlackBerries for e-mail and phone. I started to disassemble the “interim” network I had installed. I moved the two HP printers (high-speed B&W LaserJet 4345mfp and a Color LaserJet 3000n) down the hall to what would become their permanent home and plugged them into the freshly placed RJ-45 wall jacks (and plugged in the phone line to the analog fax port on the 4345mfp). I also went ahead and changed the manual TCP/IP settings on each printer in anticipation of going up on the new LAN.

The CBeyond tech arrived. I’d already informed him that we needed the Cisco IAD reconfigured to disable DHCP and NAT, which I would be serving up from the Chilibox. And speaking of the Chilibox, it was time for me to log into its config pages and change a bunch of TCP/IP parameters. It was originally on a 192.168.x.x private subnet, but I had to move it onto the 10.0.1.x scheme that CBeyond’s Cisco was setup for. I gave the device itself a new IP, re-scoped DHCP, then plugged in the fixed public IP address assigned to us from CBeyond. Then I powered it off and placed it into our LAN closet, where I used a crossover cable to connect it to the Ethernet 0,0 port on the Cisco 2400 IAD. The LAN port on the Chilibox was then connected to one of the ports on a Linksys 16-port 10/100 switch, and all the Cat5e cables coming into the closet from the various wall jacks in the office were plugged into this switch. We had ourselves a new LAN!

A couple of times during the process, I got stuck with something on the Chilibox and called its tech support line. Being a smaller company, I got directly through to some people who actually knew what they were doing, and they got me sorted out in rapid fashion (thanks, Alistair and Adam, you guys rock!). So then I started to test everything. Printers worked. Internet worked. Chilibox worked. Fax worked. And the new phones worked (The CBeyond tech had made the call for the numbers to be ported).

I had a few moments to play around with a feature of the Chilibox called Chilidrive. With Chilidrive, you can remotely access files and folders on the appliance from anywhere on the Web without the hassle of setting up VPN! There’s still a ton of functionality in the Chilibox that I haven’t explored yet.

There are still some follow up things that remain for this project. We’d ordered McAfee VirusScan suite (the Enterprise version) from our reseller… it was supposed to be “electronic delivery” aka downloadable. We got the grant letter and faithfully followed the instructions to get to the point to be able to download the product. But something got messed up, and we were never able to get to a point to download it. I went back and forth with the reseller and McAfee, who acknowledged that something was clearly wrong, but never got it fixed. I finally threw up my hands and said we’re not going with McAfee anymore. If it can’t complete the simple transaction of selling us a product, what does that say about the company? Sheesh. I have the client’s PCs on an interim freeware A/V solution until I can get this sorted out.

I also have to tweak a little more on the Chilibox. The automatic backup feature isn’t quite working. It’s supposed to automatically back up to an attached USB 2.0 hard drive, but it’s misfiring. Next time I’m at the client site, I’ll get it sorted.

So folks, there you have it… a long and sordid tale of outfitting the small offices of a new business venture. But as they say, no rest for the wicked… new clients, new projects, including yet another small office client in the coming weeks.

[tags]blackberry,migration,wap,chilibox,cbeyond,chilidrive,microsoft exchange 2003,[/tags]