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A Guide To Networking Options For SMBs

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You may just be starting out, or you could be looking at expanding your business. Either way, you will need a reliable network so that all key operations can run smoothly and efficiently. The best way to achieve this is probably to opt for a solution known as a Local Area Network (LAN). These networks can be either wired or wireless. 

Wired Networks.

A fast and reliable internet connection is crucial for any successful business. For that reason, a wired network (also known as Ethernet) may be the best solution for you. In general, Ethernet connections are able to offer higher speeds and greater reliability. 

With a wired network, you can choose either copper or fibre optic cabling for your office. Copper cabling is readily available and affordable but has limited bandwidth. In contrast, fibre optic gives 1,000 times more bandwidth, over considerably longer distances. 

Structured cabling solutions, as the name suggests, provide a robust and carefully designed solution to physical cabling in a building. Choosing the right structured cabling infrastructure can ensure that your business benefits from a high quality and extensible solution, supporting future change and growth. 

Wireless Networks.

If your employees will need to regularly connect to the network from mobile devices, you may want the extra flexibility that wireless networks (Wi-Fi) offer. They also eliminate the need for cables, thus reducing the installation costs. However, some Wi-Fi networks can suffer from reliability issues and interference/weak signals over distances. 

Key Elements of a Network.

Servers.

At the centre of every network, you will usually find a server or series of servers. These can be physical machines on your premises, or they can be virtual (based in the cloud). Sometimes, specific applications are allocated to their own servers, especially if they are business-critical. Data is actually more secure if it is saved onto a central server as opposed to onto each individual computer/device. 

This ensures that if one device fails, the data will not be lost and backups can be used. It also means that you can avoid having multiple copies of the same documents, making it easier for staff to collaborate and offering the ability to control who has access to what. Certain information can be segmented on the server and access can be granted on a per-user basis. 

Switch.

A switch is the key point of connection for every piece of hardware on a network. It is crucial to all sorts of tasks from sending an email through to printing a document. It allows each element of the network to talk to the others. If you are using or planning to use VoIP phones, you will need to opt for a Power Over Ethernet (POE) switch. These allow you to power devices such as wireless access points and VoIP phones over your Ethernet cable, meaning that less cabling is needed overall. 

Wireless Access Points.

These are important if you want to provide Wi-Fi coverage throughout your premises. You can connect multiple wireless access points to give greater coverage. You will also be able to set up a guest Wi-Fi network. 

Devices.

Every endpoint device will communicate with the network. All devices must be password protected, and all users trained in password hygiene and cybersecurity. 

Firewall.

By installing a good firewall, you can limit access to the internet and to the network as well. Without this, there is no way of filtering out the known threats that are found on the internet. A good firewall also allows you to limit access to certain websites (for example drug-related, gambling, or adult). 

VPN (Virtual Private Network).

A VPN allows you to access your network from anywhere (provided that there is an internet connection). This is far more secure than using public Wi-Fi and helps keep your data safe, whilst still being accessible when needed. 

NAS (Network Attached Storage).

A NAS device backs up your server on an incremental basis. A NAS device can even restore the entire network in the event of catastrophic failure. Having this locally is recommended and ensures that you can be up-and-running again quickly. 

Offsite Data Storage.

In addition to a NAS device (which should make several backups a day), you should also back up your data to the cloud on a nightly basis. This protects you in the (rare) event that your NAS device is destroyed.

Internet Connectivity and Redundancy.

If you rely on the cloud for your apps or want to virtualise your networks, it is crucial to have fast and reliable internet connectivity. Redundancy is an absolute must and you should consider having a ‘spare’ connection to protect against outage. This can be set up as a failsafe so that your systems stay online (automatically switching to the spare) should your primary connection go down. 

In summary, when it comes to setting up a network, there are numerous considerations, and the solutions will vary by business type. The elements discussed above, however, apply to almost all businesses, regardless as to the industry.