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Maintaining Your Shop's 'Circulatory System'

20 quick fixes to keep your network flowing smoothly.


By Stephen Beals

Router settings: Your router has an access control list that should be regularly optimized. Items not specifically deleted when computers, printers, or other devices are removed from the network will remain on the list, and your server can spend a lot of time looking for connections that no longer exist.

Optimize IP addressing: Unused addresses can slow systems down.

Multicasting settings: When multicasting is turned on, data streams can be sent to multiple recipients with less bandwidth.

Look for "chatty" services: Sometimes, individual client computers will have unneeded services turned on by default, or because of some old applications that are no longer running. Just checking the settings on the server may not be enough, particularly if employees are installing their own upgrades. Default settings may not be the best for your network.

Browsers, FTP, and e-mail
Change your browser: Those in the know believe Firefox is a leaner (and faster) browser than Internet Explorer, and operates with less system overhead. Both browsers support "pipelining"- reducing a processor’s cycle time-but I’m told that Explorer’s level of support is not as good.

Limiting browser access: A lot of very graphic-rich websites are out there, and these can take up a lot of bandwidth. It’s possible to limit access to approved sites-just keep in mind that you don’t want to prevent access to sites your employees need to get to in order to do their jobs.

Separate FTP hosting: Print shops often need to push large files back and forth over the Internet using FTP protocol. It may make sense to use a service that provides an off-site server to host these files. This way, your own server and network bandwidth are only tied up when you’re accessing the file-not when your client is accessing it. These servers can also be used for collaborating on files (editing and commenting) in production.

E-mail attachments: Products similar to remote FTP hosts will automatically re-route all e-mail attachments (or those over a certain size) to a separate server either on-site or offsite. In addition to avoiding clogging the network, these systems also help in virus control.

Hardware
Move to gigabit Ethernet: Many new computers have gigabit Ethernet as standard. But keep in mind that to really take advantage of this increased speed, all of the hubs, routers, clients, and servers must support it.Check wires and cables: A bad cable or wiring that’s not configured properly or is the wrong type can really slow things down at your operation.

How old is your hardware: Switches and hubs have become much less costly, and upgrading them can make a big difference. You can now install new and faster switches into existing hubs for a fraction of what they might have cost when you originally purchased the hub.

Keep your most demanding software on the fastest hardware: It doesn’t pay to run applications that are resource heavy on older machines. Put these on your latest upgraded hardware and move less-demanding applications to older machines.

Short runs: Conventional wires do have length limits. Keep your cable lengths as short as possible.

Adding ports: Sure, it’s possible to add network switches in the middle of the network, but it will also slow things down. If you are piggybacking to open more ports, you might be much better off springing for a new central hub with more ports. It might also be the time to go with a gigabit hub.

Unix/Linux and Apple Mac OS X server: Many print providers are regularly using Apple OS X client computers, so one solution might just be using an OS X or other Unix flavor for the server. All current Apple computers and servers have gigabit Ethernet standard, and OS X is a true Unix server with far fewer protocols and services to conflict. They also accept Windows clients. There are several other Unix and Linux servers available.

Windows Vista: I know of no one who is recommending Vista for print providers at this time. Several sources have urged users to "wait and see" before installing the new OS. There are several current applications commonly used that do not work as expected with Vista. Once those issues are resolved, Vista is said to provide greater security over networks. Note that older machines may not be able to run Vista.

Stephen Beals (bpworkflow@verizon.net), in prepress production for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.


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