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Short of setting up an Active Directory; What improvements can be done in a small network in regards to windows shares/device discovery?

I have a small network.

  • ADSL Modem/Router/WiFi (gateway, DHCP, DNS) (+ 2 gigabit switches under it)
  • 2 almost always on desktops (Both Vista Business, one may upgrade to win7 soon)
  • 2 laptops (always on during the day) + 2 laptops that come into play every other day (OSes vary: XP, Vista, Ubuntu netbook. -- all those windows laptops carry the 'home' version of windows--)
  • guest laptops frequently come into play also (usually XP or Vista)
  • a small NAS (Muse X Duo Raid)
  • a file server PC hidden away in the basement (new addition, Ubuntu)
  • a print/fax/scanner device
  • an HTPC under a TV in the play room.

There is no guarantee all of them sit on the same Workgroup (ie. the guests).

For the most part I don't have any serious issues with regards to file sharing.

The most often glitch we get is a machine not 'seeing' another in 'Network' under it's file manager. Users can manually enter //machine-name/ or //ip/ to get there, or, you know, call me and complain and I go and do that for them ...

Current setup:

The ADSL router currently has DHCP, gateway and DNS duties.

Everything uses DHCP.

Not all machines use file sharing.

If we have any shares on the desktops/laptops they are read-only for 'Everyone' and we're not sharing anything important there (just music, pics, silly stuff).

The Muse X Duo raid NAS device, and the Ubuntu box in the basement are both set up with account shares in mind and we do use that for important stuff and private backups etc. That NAS is slow (<5Mbyte/s read-write speed), but we're starting to use the Ubuntu box for storage more and more lately.

I don't plan on setting up an AD/PDC since only part of the hosts would use it anyways and it'd be an administrative headache we (I) don't absolutely need.


Any suggestions that would improve the setup?

Would I see any real improvement if I moved the DHCP and DNS duties to the Ubuntu box in the basement? (Something else too maybe? .. WINS? or does that not matter in such a small network?)

What would improve connectivity/device discovery/whatever you want to call it, for the permanent machines that are always here?

Same question for the guest laptops that occasionally come here?

Update: If the ubuntu box was to take over DHCP duties, and DNS duties, would dhcp and dns talk to one another to keep the local ip/names updated? Would that translate to some actual difference on the windows machines?
ie. How would a windows machine ask a local dns server something like 'give me all known local host ip/name info'? or is that something else (ie. WINS? or is that too archaic?)

share|improve this question
What issues are you having with this set up? – uSlackr Jun 15 '11 at 16:41
Nothing too serious. mostly discovery issues (It's mentioned in the post see undr: ''The most often glitch we get...'') – DM8 Jun 15 '11 at 17:13
Just a general comment... I used to have a lot of random, strange network issues when running Vista. They all disappeared when I switched to Win 7. – Joe Internet Jun 15 '11 at 20:25
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Set up an internal DNS server that has your local machine entries in it and forwards any unknown requests off to the Internet (ie: the ISP's name servers).

Check out MaraDNS it's free and open source, and runs on Linux and Windows:

MaraDNS is supported on two platforms: CentOS Linux 5, and Windows XP (via MinGW32). Other systems can be easily ported to, but are not supported. This means that, while it should be fairly easy to port MaraDNS to another platform, you will have to port it yourself or pay me to port it for you. The Windows XP port does not support all of the features the CentOS Linux version has.

There's probably others out there for you to choose from as well.

share|improve this answer
"Set up an internal DNS server that has your local machine entries" <-- would that entail having static IPs on all the machines connected? ... updated post/added a question related to your suggestion. – DM8 Jun 15 '11 at 17:43
You'd either need to have them be static IPs, or you'll need a DHCP server that can update the DNS server dynamically/automatically either directly, or you may have to script some stuff. Depends on the server-side software/platform you choose to go forward with - but here's some related MaraDNS info (under Linux) -… – Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Jun 15 '11 at 17:51
I'd like to continue using dhcp ips on the various windows boxes. Also, I'm using ubuntu on the basement box so MaraDNS is out (I have searched and found articles to do something similar there tho, so that's covered). My one question I have not yet found an answer is: Would the windows hosts get all the local ip/name info from a DNS server? or do they need something else? like a -insert-name-here-of-windows-protocol/service/something- – DM8 Jun 15 '11 at 19:43
Once you set up the DNS server, add entries (either manually or automatically via DHCP), and tell the Windows (etc.) devices to use the DNS server for their DNS resolution requests, they will use the that DNS server to perform DNS resolutions via (just) standard DNS protocols. :) I think you need to go try a few things and come back with separate, specific questions, as this one is turning into a laundry list of several, very broad questions. – Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Jun 16 '11 at 2:50
Maybe I wasn't clear. I am aware a DNS server can give a name if it's given an IP, and vice-versa, That's what DNS is for! ;) ...However that still does not answer the question, how would windows 'know' the hosts to look for? granted that in a peer-only network (no AD/PDC) the system it uses (netbios?) is not 100% reliable all the time. To dumb it down I want the windows machines to ask 'something': 'Give me all info about all hosts in the local subnet that you know about Mr.Server'; hope that's clear enough. – DM8 Jun 16 '11 at 15:26

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