I got a Best Buy gift card from my parents for Christmas and needed to buy some network and systems equipment, so I went online and got an order together last Friday. They have a nifty feature where you can place an order online (and pay online), then go pick it up same-day from a store. Best of both worlds: online convenience; same-day delivery.

So it sounded like a great idea, and I’m impatient so same-day delivery (and not paying for shipping) had me sold. I ordered two Seagate 400gb Ultra/ATA hard drives, a Linksys 802.11g wireless router, and some DVD+RWs. About an hour later, I received an email telling me that my order was ready for pickup in Fair Lakes.

I was working from home that day, so my plan—and it was a good plan—was to grab some lunch at Subway, run to Best Buy and pick up the order, and head home all in about an hour. Subway went fast (as usual), and I arrived at Best Buy right on schedule.

I made a bee-line for the “in-store pickup” desk with my order printout in-hand and asked to pick up my order. The guy behind the counter looked confused, then scanned the bar-code on my printout. He spent about ten minutes looking around behind the counter for my order, and eventually produced the Linksys 802.11g router. Then he said, “I’ll be right back,” and took off into the store. I didn’t see him again for 15 minutes.

When he finally came back, he had several different packages of writable DVDs in his hands. He compared them to the details on his screen, then set the DVD+RW pack I had ordered on the counter next to my router (placing the other writable DVDs under the counter somewhere). Then he printed out my receipt and asked me to sign it. I said, “Uh, where are my hard drives?” and pointed to the two 400gb Ultra/ATA hard drives listed on the receipt.

He looked confused again, then started looking around under the counters again. After a couple minutes he produced two Seagate 400gb hard drives. I reached for the pen to sign my receipt, but—thankfully—noticed something that didn’t seem right. A second look at the boxes revealed that both hard drives were Serial ATA (a newer, faster standard that’s incompatible with the years-old machine I wanted to install the drives in).

“These are Serial ATA,” I told the guy, “I need Ultra/ATA.” Again, I pointed to the printed receipt, which clearly said “Ultra/ATA” on it.

“Oh. I’ll be right back,” he said, disappearing into the store for another ten minutes.

He finally returned, this time with the two Seagate 400gb Ultra/ATA drives I had ordered, and I signed the receipt and left the store.

Now, the whole reason I opted for in-store pickup is that I wanted this to go quickly. All-told, I spent about 45 minutes in Best Buy for an order that, supposedly, was sitting behind the counter waiting for pickup. With one of the four ordered items missing and another two being the wrong item, I can estimate Fair Lakes Best Buy’s in-store pickup accuracy at 25 percent. Pathetic.

What’s worst is that I had to stand there at the counter with nothing to do for most of that 45 minutes. It would have taken me about the same amount of time to peruse the store and pick out these items myself, but at least I would have been moving. 45 minutes in motion beats 45 minutes standing still.

Anyway, moving on, the reason I wanted all this stuff is I made a drastic network upgrade over the weekend (the apartment network is now ‘small-business’ grade, rather than ‘home’ grade). If you’re not interested in the technical details, you can stop reading now.

I wanted to add some extra data-redundancy and flexibility to the network (for my data and Melissa’s). Previously we’d had a Belkin 802.11b wireless router which handled pretty much everything itself, and there were no real ‘servers’ on the network. I wanted to upgrade to a serious server-based network with a faster wireless router (since a lot of data will be flying between the workstations and the server).

So I pulled the old hard drives out of our old Dell Optiplex (Pentium III 667mhz) and replaced them with the two 400gb drives, each one residing on a separate IDE bus. I configured the drives as a RAID 1 array (the two drives together act as a single 400gb drive, and all data is mirrored to both disks . . . this way, in the event of a hard drive failure, all the data remains intact on the other disk).

Then I installed a basic Ubuntu Linux 6.06 setup and configured it to act as a network file server (with accounts for me and Melissa), as well as an SSH and VPN server to give us a couple methods to access our data from remote locations. It also acts as the DHCP server for IP address assignment inside the network (taking that off the router’s hands and giving us more configuration options for static IPs and such). Finally, I connected my printer to it so that we can print to it from any computer on the network.

After all that was done, we had a dedicated network, file, and print server for the apartment with 375gb of redundant data storage. It’s a network-nerd’s dream.

And, after configuring the Linksys router replacement we have good throughput even on wireless (for the machines that are 802.11g capable, anyway—we still have a number of older Macs on the network that continue to use the older, slower 802.11b protocol).

If that all made sense to you, you might have what it takes to be a small-business network administrator :-).