Installation and Optimization - File Maker

We won’t go into detail about installing the FileMaker Server software (see your manual for that), but we will make a few comments about the best practices to follow when deciding how and where to install the software. Here’s what to keep in mind.

Hardware
Because FileMaker Server’s main job is to transfer information and data between the hard drive of the server it is on and the network traffic from all the database’s users, there are a few recommended hardware items for the computer you install FileMaker Server on. They are:

Network
If possible, ensure that all computers on the network use at least a 10 Base-T Ethernet network. If possible, get 100 Base-T. Have the network set up by a professional who knows how to recommend good products that work well with one another and don’t cost ten sacks of gold (but are of the highest quality).

CPU
Buy computers that receive high ratings for customer service and reliability. You don’t need some gigantically expensive thing; in fact, if the box meets all of the below requirements, you’ll be in good shape.

Hard Drive
The computer should have a fast hard drive, 7,200 rpm or faster (use an Ultra Wide SCSI type drive, or a RAID 5 array), as fast as you can afford. The speed of the hard drive is directly linked to the speed at which your databases run on every guest computer.

RAM
Whatever the listed minimum requirements are for FileMaker Server as far as RAM, you should double it just in case. Allocate 256MB to 1GB if possible.

Processor
Use as fast a processor as you can afford, though even for a very busy FileMaker Server, a 1–2GB Pentium II+ or G4 (Mac) seem to work quite well and are recommended.

Faster and cheaper processors come out all the time. Get the best you can. Because at press time FileMaker Server is not set up to take advantage of dual-processor systems, a dual processor is overkill.

Exclusivity
Try to use a computer that can be devoted solely to serving FileMaker databases to users. If you also use the same CPU as a fax server, email server, LDAP server, Web server, SQL Server, backup server, and file server, the performance of your FileMaker services will drop significantly.

Software
Here are some suggestions as to the software you use on your FileMaker Server computer and how best to configure it.

Operating System
The operating system you choose will depend on your budget and network. If you’re already a Mac only office, use a Mac as the server. Heck, a speedy 700 MHz iMac running Mac OS Classic can even do a great job at serving databases.

Whichever platform you choose, use the best computer in the office. Windows-based FileMaker servers seem to be speedier and more reliable than Mac-based ones, though Mac OS X (don’t use OS X Server, says FileMaker) might prove to be much better in this regard (time and experience will tell). The bad thing about serving on a Mac is that on a Mac, FileMaker Server is an application that can accidentally be quit out of or moved into the background (which severely curtails performance), whereas in Windows and Linux it runs as an always on service or daemon and cannot be accidentally quit out of, stopped, or slowed.

Don’t upgrade an operating system unless you’re sure that FileMaker Server supports it. For instance, Windows NT Service Packs 5 and 6A seem to work well with FileMaker Server, but other service packs don’t work as well. (See FileMaker, Inc.’s online KnowledgeBase for information on supported OS upgrade packages.)

Turn Off Other Software
On your server computer, turn off any application, extension (like AppleShareIP!), control panel, screensaver, or anything that could steal CPU time from FileMaker Server. In fact, FileMaker recommends that you do a custom reinstall of your operating system after your server CPU arrives and only install the basics to get the computer up and running without any extraneous services, tray items (AOL messenger, auto update, and so on) enabled. You can also make the desktop pattern blank and change the color depth and resolution to the lowest settings possible, all to conserve system resources. Every little bit helps when it comes to increasing performance.

No File Sharing!
Never have file sharing turned on such that users can log in to your FileMaker Server computer like a file server. For one, if FileMaker Server has to compete with the OS’s network traffic, performance may slow to a crawl. Also, you don’t want users to have access to the databases themselves via file sharing because that creates a security risk and might lead to someone corrupting a database by copying or trying to move it while it’s being shared. The only time to turn file sharing on temporarily might be when you’re copying new databases (or other items) into the FileMaker Server folder, but make sure you turn it off when the copying is complete.

Make FileMaker Databases Local
Keep the FileMaker databases you’ll be sharing on the hard drive of the FileMaker Server computer. If the databases elsewhere on the network, Server will work much more slowly due to the added physical distance that the FileMaker traffic has to travel between the database, the FileMaker Server, and the user. Too, there’s a file sharing risk if file sharing is turned on on the remote server that contains the databases.

Networking Protocols
Turn off any network protocols that are not in use by FileMaker Server. You should only use TCP/IP, anyway, which is fast and cross-platform and can make your databases accessible, if you wish, from anywhere in the world.

System Sleep
If your server has any auto-sleep or energy-saving software on it, turn it off. The last thing you want is for FileMaker Server to go to sleep and not be able to be woken up when you need to log in to your database to print your annual sales report for the chairman of the board.(However, having Windows NT or 2000 automatically log off an idle user account showing the “log back into Windows” dialog should not adversely affect FileMaker Server’s performance.)

Smart FileMaker Pro Database Design
It should go without saying that allowing users to do unstored finds on thousands of records or do sorts on unstored calculated fields (or similar) will adversely affect FileMaker Server’s ability to speedily serve databases to all users. So, if unstored calculations must be used, try to control a user’s ability to access and report on them by limiting the found set to a small size using controlled navigation, onscreen buttons, scripting, locking off the status area, and so forth.

Don’t Do Automatic File Compression
If FileMaker Server runs out of hard disk space when a hosted database exceeds the 2GB database size limit (or the hard drive fills up), it will automatically start compressing the database(s) as needed. Therefore, there’s no need to automatically compress files, and doing so will decrease overall performance.


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