After analyzing the situation I have identified several key problems.
1. System Availability – Systems fail frequently due to hardware failures, DoS, and application failures.
2. Collocation is far and administration requires frequent visits
3. Mini tower servers consume space and the 1/2 rack space maybe reaching capacity limits.
4. Network lacks sufficient protection against malicious attacks.
5. Subnet is small and may reach IP assignment limits.
A) The culprit to system availability is the use of low cost hardware. Low cost motherboards and network cards can often fail as well as that different systems built during different time periods usually leads to a mix of components that may not be supported by Enterprise Linux.
RAM, CPU, Motherboard, power supply and Hard disk failures fail at different intervals with Hard disks failure being the most frequent. Most of this is attributable to combination of poor cooling and poor quality parts. As well as this, the power supply is a key component in a system that cannot be neglected as a low quality power supply can lead to more frequent component failures.
Recommendation 1 – Use enterprise grade servers such as Dell and HP rack mountable servers. Such systems are built of much high quality components and provide N+1 redundancy for components that fail often. Dual power supplies and Mirror Raid Hard drives are a necessity. It is important to use Hardware raid for added performance and to ease administration during a failure. Commercial servers provide enterprise grade device driver support. Search and recompiling drivers are a past. Furthermore, Dell’s DRAC and HP’s iLO are remote access tools that allows a user to remotely administer the system at a BIOS level. Using enterprise grade servers provide increase efficiency, speed and scalability for additional RAM slots and division of CPU cores.
Recommendation 2 – Embrace Virtualization. Virtualization allows multiple OS to run from a single system taking advantage from the systems unused resources such as CPU, HD and RAM by sharing them accross multiple Virtual instances (VM Guests). By combining VMWare with an enterprise server, system stability can be leveraged therefore increasing availability.
B) VMware addresses the need for on-site administration. It allows an administrator to remotely connect to VMWare server to control the guests, performing remote operations such as reboot, allocate additional Network interfaces, RAM, and Hard disk space. All of this is shared from a resource pool belonging to the underlying server. Other neat features include remote mounting external devices and creating a template VM instance allowing the administrator to stamp out pre-configured OS installations with minimal time. Another great advantage of VMware is it allows multiple different OSes such as windows and Linux to coexist in a single host. However, there is one disadvantage which due to the fact that all the eggs are in one basket. An entire system failure could cause all virtual instances to fail. To ensure this risk is minimized 2 or more hosts should be in place in case of failure.
C) By employing VMWare and DELL/HP rack mountable servers, rack space should be reduced significantly leading for more room for expansion.
D) As a secondary phase of the project a robust Firewall needs to be in place to protect against outside DoS and hack attempts. This is a vital piece of equipment which cannot be neglected as it will reduce or remove malicious attacks completely. It also helps hide the underlying network and can help map external IPs to internal IPs and allow only the ports necessary for access. By using a hardware firewall, the OS firewall can be switched off. As well as this, such appliances offer VPN capabilities for protected administrative access to the systems. Such a device is highly sophisticated and it is recommended to use no other brand than CISCO for it’s reliability and feature set. The Cisco ASA 5505 unlimited user license is a low cost entry point for such a scale of setup. Due to the price of even the lowest model, the second hand market may need to be considered.
E) By employing a firewall, NAT overloading and static natting can be performed to allow more than one system to use a single WAN IP therefore reducing the need for a large address space.
Note: Noting that the current administrator may not have sufficient knowledge to administer the device, my recommendation is to hold off on the purchase until the systems have reached a certain stability and scale. An experienced administrator needs to be hired to help configure and maintain the device.