Networks provide the ability to share an individual internet connection across multiple users, have access to shared company documents, applications, printers and other resources.
If you’re getting a small business off the ground, one of the first things you’ll need to think about is determining which small business network solutions will work best for your needs.
Wired or No Wires?
When considering your solutions options, you'll most likely think about whether you’ll set up a wired or wireless network. There are benefits to both.
Wireless network equipment is affordable and fairly simple to set up. It allows you to take advantage of a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device Policy) and there's the added bonus of fewer unsightly cables. A downside to the wireless setup is that connection strength can be compromised due to things like thick walls or bad weather. Wireless networks can also be more vulnerable to security threats, so if opting to go wireless it will be crucial for someone on your team to stay on top of network security.
Ethernet-based wired networks can be less costly to set up and allow you more control over which devices have access. The speed and security of a wired network is also an advantage over a wireless network. On the downside, wired networks can be more complicated to update and maintain, your team has less mobility and of course, there are those cables.
A lot of organizations today use a combination of wired and wireless networking.
What Equipment Does Your Small Business Network Need?
Beyond the wired or wireless decision, you’ll most certainly need hardware for your network.
As many as 20 computers can be networked together while still maintaining a relatively simple local area network or LAN. Aside from the number of users, the size of your office space, the types of applications you run and the specific data you store, there will be more to consider aside from just sharing an internet connection.
Some hardware purchases you will need to consider for your small business network solutions:
- Router - A router bridges your LAN, or your networked devices to the internet.
- Switch - A switch allows all devices connected to the network to talk to one another.
- Server – Servers can serve different purposes – at the most basic level a server “serves data.” As your business grows in size, you might want to think about if you need a server for shared storage or to run apps that are centralized. This can get a bit more complex without some expert assistance. If adding servers sounds like more than you have the expertise to pull off, cloud computing might be a simpler and less costly option.
- Firewall – Firewalls help protect your business and its data from spam, viruses and unwanted visitors. Some routers have firewalls built into them. Just make sure you have firewall protection that is sophisticated enough for your network needs – types of data, number of users, etc.
- VPN – A Virtual Private Network gives your team members the ability to access company data remotely (and securely through encryption) via the internet.
- WiFi Range Extender or Access Point – A range extender can lengthen the reach of your existing WiFi network and help with possible dead zones. Depending on the size of your business location, adding Access Points may make more sense. They can create a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), extend your networks reach, broaden the bandwidth and handle multiple users.
In today’s business environment, the security of your network & your data must be a top priority. In addition to installing a firewall, make sure that every computer is running security software. Ensure that all security settings in routers and operating systems are engaged, and use wireless encryption protocol (WEP) for a wireless network. Research shows that 81% of all security breaches occur within small to mid-size businesses. Read our article on protecting your business from cyber attacks.
When designing small business network solutions for your company, look at the big picture, plan for growth and carefully consider your specific business needs. To learn a bit more about the different types of network solutions, click here.
When you have the right network solution for your company’s needs in place, you can be confident that your business is poised for future growth, your employees will have access to the information they need to work efficiently and provide excellent customer service, and it can be managed and securely maintained without being overly complex.
Keep in mind that networks of any size still require maintenance. You may want to reach out to a qualified IT solutions provider to guide you through the sometimes complicated process of designing, maintaining and securing your small business network solutions.