Small Office (Solo Practitioner) Network Setup

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums TECHNOLOGY Small Office (Solo Practitioner) Network Setup

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    I’m returning to landscape architecture after a few years off, thanks to the real estate…adjustment. 

    I most recently co-owned a 7 man firm where we all used store bought HP desktops and had a Dell Server and a Dell Switch. Before that I was at a 25 man firm and I have no idea what their server setup was. I had a Dell pc there that was ordered online.

    Today, a store bought Dell desktop straight up died on me. I spent hours on the phone with India. I reinstalled Windows 8 which I was guaranteed was the solution to my problems and no luck. I have a deadline tomorrow. And another on Thursday. If someone dropped a brand new PC in my lap right now, I’d have to put a good 6 hours into it just to get it to the point where I could work efficiently. I could maybe hobble my way through it with 2 hours of setup, but the wasted time using something half setup would negate the saved hours. You know the drill. And it sucks. And my client, as understanding friends/colleagues as they are, have to turn in drawings themselves and don’t give a fuok about my computer problems.

    Luckily, my Cad / Office / Jobs folders are in Dropbox, so I didn’t lose any valuable data, although I’m sure there’s stuff that got saved locally that’s gone forever.

    ….ok, ok, enough back story…just relaying some relatable frustration….

    I work with AutoCad 2013 and run LandFX with it (get it if you don’t have it yet – it’ll pay for itself in a month). I do my renderings in Photoshop CS6, use SketchUp and Adobe Lightroom. 

    I have a two monitor setup and, as I mentioned, keep my work files in Dropbox.

    After some late night research I decided I should probably be running a workstation, like the Lenovo E31 with Windows 7, instead of a PC. (I suppose if there’s another lesson I learned today it’s that I should repair this Dell piece of shlt and have it available in the event of emergency. 

    Is anyone else using workstations?

    Does anyone recommend one or have an opinion about the E31?

    Is anyone on their own and using an actual Server? Recommend it?

    I could always go with NAS and create my own cloud.

    I could keep it all on Dropbox.

    Then there’s Rackspace…? Google Drive?

    While I’m always the first one to shell out the extra money for the right gear, I realize we’re not talking about a Marshall stack or Ping irons or an in-dash Spotify player (which I’d be ALL OVER), and that the only tangible improvement to my life via these extra dollars spent would be the security I’d presumably feel (or hopefully not even think about). 

    So please, give me your thoughts. Hopefully on these questions and not on how I’ve stolen the past 2 minutes of your life. But fire away. I’m sure my ex-wife would say I deserve it.

    Seriously, thanks!



    Jim……………….after reading YOUR story here.  NOW, I realize WHY (for my entire 36+ year LA career have relied on ONLY 100% “hand drawn” plans)…..prelim. color renderings, sketches, construction details and even final contract documents.  I only use my computer for e-mails, Google research and to type of things like design proposals, preliminary cost estimates and plant lists.  I keep it simple and it has ALWAYS worked for me.

    Best of Luck to you!


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    That’s helpful?


    Why complicate things?


    I am a solo practitioner as well with a store bought desktop (windows 7) and a store bought laptop (for portability, redundant data storage, and as a backup). Both are set up with the same stuff on them. I backup on a portable hard drive (drop box sounds even better). If/when my desktop dies I will get by with the laptop on the short term (I keep a real keyboard and can plug in the second monitor to duplicate the desktop experience for the event) until I replace the desktop and get it setup.


    The way I see it is that if you had taken the steps that you outlined above you’d still have the exact same problem – you’d need a desktop that is set up to run your software. What do you gain for all that expense and complication?


    I’d buy a second desktop and set it up as a backup before I’d by a server for a one man office.



    You certainly have lots of options, I think you are going to have to lose Windows 8 from your computer.  Land FX recommends against Windows 8 and encourages the use of Windows 7. Given that you are running Autoca13 and LandFX you probably will need a pretty robust computer.  Our office has a central server located in another city and we are working on Dell Desktops, Civil 3D and Land FX, (at least on my workstation) unfortunately the RAM hasn’t kept up with the software demands and I get a lot of Fatal Errors….I am currently having a new workstation built with stronger bells and whistles.  Not a solo practioner here, crashing computers can happen anywhere to anyone.  Good Luck.

    Tosh K

    Is there a PC version of ‘Time Machine’?  Apple has ‘Time Machine’ as a way to restore your set up from a backup.

    I’ve used Dells a fair amount in various offices, but their lifespan seems to be 3~5yrs (they run too hot at the higher end machines, and end up frying one component or another).  One choice may be is to get a Mac machine but run it on Windows – their hardware, at least for the desktops, is more reliable and they, in my experience, have been pretty good with troubleshooting.

    For file storage, DropBox is great (I’ve used other FTP/cloud servers, but they seem to be on par with the competition while maintaining flexibility and reasonable security).

    best of luck,



    P.S………………Well, I apologize for maybe being a bit disrespectful with MY earlier response….being a bit insensitive.  I just sometimes think “some” LA’s were more suited to be Professional IT experts than Landscape Architects.  They’re so wrapped up in all of the “computer hardware – software” technology and HOW to produce the design work…….that they sometimes tend to forget….we are in a very “creative” design profession…we’re artistic, graphic…we solve problems & create fantastic people spaces. 

    No, I’m not a “computer software-phobic” LA…but, at times, it just seems we have allowed the IT industry to pull us too far from our creative – design roots….that’s all.

    Tosh K

    I suppose the follow up to all the small firm owners is ‘is it worth it to hire an on-call IT consultant’?

    Jason T. Radice

    I agree, go back to 7. As for a workstation, it isn’t all the necessary if you buy a high-end PC from the manufacturer. They tend to use better components in the better PCs. (HP has their Envy or Pavilion Elites – Dell has their Inspiron- the cheapest, the Optiplex – the middle of the road business machine, and the Precision-their workstation). With a Dell, I’d go with the Optiplex…never had an issue with them, but the precisions were always crappy. Right now I’m running a HP Pavilion Elite with Win7 and have had good luck with it, but I do need to upgrade the video card, which I would suggest. You don’t need a server for just one person, a NAS box is fine. I would also not rely on the cloud except for backups, but I backup locally, so no need for the cloud. I also have a laptop running XP and my old scratch-built machine running XP and my SCSI scanner that I use for a back-up and long term storage. I use cheap thumb drives and a portable drive for long term backup in a fire/water/theft safe that I get out and update once every few weeks to a month.

    You can also find a product called “ghost” that will make a bootable copy of your drive so you can reload-setting and all- very quickly should a complete breakdown occur. Mind you, all data will be lost, but that should be on another drive anyway.

    I would also suggest the OS and program files be put on a solid state drive (ssd) which is faster and more reliable than a magnetic disc drive. Put your data on a larger magenetic disc drive because they are easier to recover. A simple wifi router should afford you all the connectivity you will ever need, and a network printer has made my life so much easier (its hard wired, not wifi), I can even print to it from my tablet and phone with no problems.

    Alan Ray, RLA

    That’s funny, I was just now listening  to “Time Machine” by Grand Funk RailRoad….

    Talk about a rockin album! I can’t believe those guys are not in the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame.

    So, yes, I totally endorse Time Machine for all Ya’lls ills……



    You people are unbelievable!!!  Are you kidding me???

    All you guys are ABOUT here is “computer software, computer hardware, file storage, computer problems, etc., etc………

    I know, WHY don’t you guys just go back to COLLEGE and major in “Computer Science” and go to work for MICROSOFT…..I’m sure that company would love to have you guys onboard.

    Yes…….I realize that certain aspects of “computer software drawing” programs have become a PLUS in the Landscape Architecture profession……but, IF I were reading some of the comments in this discussion and did NOT realize this website is LAND8 (a Landscape Architecture) website……I’d think it was a website set up for IT pros and computer geeks.

    Last night, I was enjoying DESIGNING……free-hand.  Coming up with creative ideas for one of my client’s…..I wasn’t wrestling with computer problems or IT issues.  I was actually doing “Landscape Architecture”.

    I really believe……that many LAs today are WISHING they had a “computer software program” where all they would have to do is push ONE KEY on their keyboard…..and that would create the DESIGN and PRODUCE all the drawings “automatically”…….send those drawings to the clients and then, mail out the invoices…..job done!

    I’m afraid what’s going on….is all of this IT – computer software is just DUMBING DOWN the “creative design process”.  I mean, there are LA grads coming out of schools with degrees who can’t even DRAW…..really?!

    OK….I’ll leave and let you guys discuss your “computer problems” further.  HAVE FUN!

    Jason T. Radice

    You do understand that computers, like a pencil and a drafting board with a parallel or drafting machine.. are just TOOLS. It is how you use them. They are just a different means to the same end. No different than a framer asking if a certain cordeless reciprocal saw is good or not…moving well on from a handsaw and making the job easier, faster, and more productive. you have to know your tools to be able to use them correctly to get the most benefit out of them, be they hand tools, drafting tools, or electronic ones. In the end, it is about speed and precision.

    If you don’t like to use a computer, thats fine. No need to be a Luddite about it. Most clients DEMAND it. Do you use an abacus for calulations? No? How about a slide rule? Even though I have both of those tools, I tend to rely heavily on my ProjectCalc to quickly and accurately get an answer. I still do mostly hand rendering because of speed, but for drafting….but you just cannot beat CAD for efficiency and precision. And for communication as well. FedExing a tube of drawings for overnight delivery at the last possible second to meet a deadline is uber-expensive (I’ve sped off to the airport to drop of drawings many a time). Hitting a little button that says ‘send’…priceless and near instantaneous.

    Just because somebody wants to set up a network in thier home office does not make them the subject of ridicule. I’ve had one for over 15 years. It is necessary, and NOT just for CAD. Storing pictures, scanning HAND drawings for electronic transmission, hosting e-mail or a webpage, or simply to make life easier by being able to share one printer or to move things between computers for backup and security. It doesn’t mean that everybody uses the computer for EVERYTHING in their design. Back in the day when I worked at a firm that did a lot of stuff by hand, we still used computer networks and gargantuan scanners to make digital copies in case the orginals got ruined and for archiving and transmission. And as for the schools…you can still teach the computer stuff AND teach good design…it is more a function of the quality of the school than anything else. If somebody isn’t very good about designing by using the computer as a tool, chances are they wouldn’t be very good using a pencil and some trace paper either.



    Jason T. Radice

    Its called ‘ghost’ for PCs from Norton.


    Jason…….of course, I  understand that “computer software” is just a new-age version of the drawing board & hand drawings. 

    I KNEW I’d push some people’s “hot buttons” with my comments.

    LA’s should use the drawing tools & support programs that work for them…..I use a computer for research, writing proposals, communicating with clients…..scan documents.  But, I choose to (and am perfectly comfortable with “hand drawings” and have been for over 36 years).  And Jason, with all due respect to you…I do have over 22 yrs. on you & feel my Portfolio stands up VERY well to your’s…and your Portfolio appears to be 99% computerized. Every color rendering or sketch in my Portfolio is 100% “hand drawn” and every photo of every project was designed “by hand”…and interestingly enough…..they all got built just fine.

    I don’t have a problem with the METHOD that any LA uses to produce color renderings, sketches or even Contract Documents……but, they STILL should be “very professionally produced”.  Not just great design, but outstanding graphics….and line weights for Contract Documents are important to ensure those documents “communicate”.  I’ll put my “hand drawn” Contract Documents up against any LA’s “autoCAD” drawings.  I’ve been drawing architectural drawings since I was 12 yrs. old…I understand “line weights” and how to make them “read” well.  An awful lot of the autoCAD contract documents I’ve seen produced….just don’t have appropriate “line weights”…they don’t “read all that well”.

    I realize the “vast majority” of LA’s utilize “computer software” for 95% of their LA work these days…..but, that doesn’t mean that the work is “outstanding”….it just means they know how to use “computer software”…..because, the truth is, many LAs really can’t “draw very well by hand”….period.

    No, I’m not ridiculing any LA for using “computer software”…..but, if they’re going to use it…..LEARN HOW to use it well….and that goes for ALL types of “computer software”.




    I believe the only way to solve this computers vs hand drawing debate that seems to surface anytime anybody mentions or insinuates anything about computers is to change this internet discussion forum into a chain letter.  We can all be pen pals!

    Jason T. Radice

    Or maybe buy a tablet so you can hand draw on the computer?


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