It seems like there's no end in sight when it comes to the gloomy economic news we've all been seeing lately. On top of the grim headlines from the mortgage sector, Wall Street, and the auto industry, a steady stream of layoffs from the likes of Microsoft and Intel have signaled that the downturn-resistant IT industry is feeling the impact of the poor economy as well.

IT pros have also been feeling the effects of the economic slump, with many having to cope with the impact of losing staff while being asked by management to trim IT expenses even further. My colleague Caroline Marwitz has provided some useful advice on positive things you can do while tracking IT layoffs, but the trend is clear: Everyone in IT is being asked to do more with less. So how do you simultaneously cut costs while delivering the IT services that your organization demands?

If you're a small company looking to revamp your aging IT infrastructure (or build a new one) in these uncertain times, how can you do so without breaking the bank? That's a question many IT pros are faced with every day, and one that we wanted to explore in detail. So we decided to go about building a small internal network of our own in the Windows IT Pro editorial offices, based on the need to run the following applications:

  • Microsoft Windows Server 2008
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2007
  • Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008

We could potentially have a few dozen clients as part our network, and we may also need dedicated file and print servers.

For the heart of our SMB network we settled on the HP ProLiant ML150 G5 series (pictured, see specs here), equipped with a Dual-Core Intel Xeon Processor E5205 running at 1.86 GHz, a 1066MHz front side bus, 160GB SATA hard disk, and 1GB of RAM. We'll likely use virtualization technology extensively in our network setup, so we decided to upgrade the specs a bit: We opted for a Quad-Core Intel Xeon (2.33 GHz), at least 2GB of RAM, and 200GB+ of local storage. We'll post a full review of the ML150 in the near future, but for now it will serve as the temporary heart of our nascent SMB network.

As an aside, we briefly considered building our own servers from scratch, but nixed the idea. How much time does a harried IT pro really have to shop for motherboards, video cards, power supplies, and all the other bits needed to build a functional server? I've built a few PCs on my own, but relying on a ready-made system from a proven vendor seemed like a wiser choice.

Now we'd like to solicit your advice and input: What should our next step be? Should we start planning our network topology first, allocating our hubs, switches, and planning out our network infrastructure? Or should we start at an even more basic level, perhaps by deciding what we'd name our workgroup and servers? Do we need a domain controller? We also plan to leverage virtualization as much as possible, so we'll be looking for your input and advice on that as well: Would you go with Microsoft Hyper-V Server, VMware ESXi, or some other virtualization product? Feel free to vote in the poll below to help us chart the course our SMB network takes, and check back on March 4th to see our next installment.