Building a small business network allows your coworkers to share resources, such as an internet connection, hardware and data storage, streamlining your daily tasks and saving the organization money. Although building your network can seem complicated, creating the perfect network design for your business is easier than you think. If your company is one of the many transitioning to a work-from-home business model, now is maybe the perfect time to assess your current and future business network options.
Determine Your Needs
Before you can create your network design, you need to get a clear picture of what your company needs to maximize operation efficiency. Start with your budget and set a reasonable amount to invest in your new network. Evaluate your workspace to decide if there are any physical issues, looking for ample floor, wall or ceiling space to run network cables and identifying any areas that could block wireless signals. If you already have network infrastructure in place, decide whether you can simply build on that or if you need a new setup. You’ll need to know the number and type of devices that will be operating on your network, the applications your organization uses most and its bandwidth needs. Finally, make sure you are aware of any planned growth for your organization. If you know you will be bringing in more employees and devices in the near future, set your network up to include them now. If you foresee growth further down the line, lean toward flexibility when designing your network so you can easily add to it when needed.
Evaluate Your Options
Once you’ve determined your immediate and future needs, take time to research your options to get the biggest impact from your budget. For smaller-scale operations, you’ll likely need to set up a local area network (LAN) that is designed to handle the connectivity needs of one building.
Wired or Wireless?
Your hardware needs will depend on whether you choose a wired or wireless network and how much you’re willing to invest. Depending on your building design, a wired network can be more budget-friendly and offer better security, but they can get complex in larger buildings because every device will need to be connected through cabling and a hub, switch or router. This can get tricky with a high number of connected devices, depending on how spread out they are and the wall, floor or ceiling space available for running the connections. Choosing a wireless network may need a higher investment but offers a much cleaner look and more flexibility with device location.
For wired networks, LAN cables must connect devices through a central device, such as hubs, switches or your router. Wireless connections require a wireless router but eliminate the hassle of cable installation. It’s also important to note that wired connectivity is more reliable and consistently faster than wireless options.
Network security is also an important factor. Wired networks cannot be hacked wirelessly. Investing in a broadband router offers firewall capability from the router but is a more expensive option. A wireless LAN (WLAN) has firewall capability built-in but will require the use of encryption protection to enhance data security.
If you have employees working from home, either option will work, but you will also want to invest in a secure remote access virtual private network (VPN). This gives remote workers access to office resources through the internet using their personal or company devices. IPSec and SSL are the most commonly used, but other options are available. For any option, a VPN Gateway hardware device will need to be installed in your office location. This device can be a firewall, server or router that offers data transmission or internet.
Decide on a Support Plan
Once you’ve determined your ideal computer network design, determine your support plan should something go wrong. If you don’t have the benefit of an onsite IT department, you’ll need to know who to call for technical issues. If you have the budget to hire professional installers, you may be able to rely on them for support. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to choose a IT technical support service or find a reliable consultant before issues arise. This will reduce business disruptions when troubleshooting is necessary.