Thursday, 28 Sept 2023 | 8 min read
How to set up a small business network
These days, a business is only as good as its network.
No, we're not talking about BNI or traders' groups (although that statement would also be true!). We're, of course, talking about a computer network.
What is a small business network?
A network is the infrastructure that connects a business's people, devices and systems. It includes all the connected devices used by you and your team: Computers, printers, routers, data storage, and the like.
The ideal network for your business will depend on your size and connectivity requirements, so every business network will look different. If you're running your business from home, your network might be almost identical to a home network, only with added business-grade features. But you'll need a more extensive network operating from a large office or warehouse space with multiple staff.
For your business to function at its best, your network must be able to meet its specific needs. In this article, we'll walk you through the steps to set up a network for your small business.
Set up the perfect business network
For advice on a network tailored to meet your business's needs, get in touch with our expert team.
Should my business have a wired, wireless or hybrid network?
In short, you can configure a network in three ways:
Wired network: All devices in your business connect to your network through wired cables.
Wireless network: All devices in your business connect to your network via a wireless connection
Hybrid network: Some devices connect to your business's network via wired cables, and others connect through Wi-Fi.
Through our home networks, we've become accustomed to the convenience of connecting our ever-growing list of devices to Wi-Fi. And with today's Wi-Fi speeds more than fast enough to handle our typical browsing habits, you may think a fully wireless network is a viable option.
But wired connections still come out on top when it comes to speed, bandwidth and reliability. Here's why:
Bandwidth interference: Things can get crowded on the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi spectrum. Your Wi-Fi should run on unoccupied channels that don't overlap. We recommend downloading a free scanning app to check for the channel with the least crowding.
Compatibility issues: It only takes one device that isn't capable of fast Wi-Fi speeds (such as older devices built for outdated Wi-Fi technology) to slow down your entire network.
Interference: On their way from the source (i.e. your router) to your device, wireless signals are prone to interference from several sources, such as building materials in walls and floors.
So, a wired connection is best for workstations that handle much of your business-critical work, such as office computers. Of course, that's not to say you should avoid wireless connectivity altogether. You'll still need Wi-Fi to connect devices that move around with you, such as laptops, smartphones and tablets. Wi-Fi is also great for setting up a guest network for people who visit your business so they're not interfering with your business's network capacity.
So, it's best for your business to use a Hybrid network - wired connections to your primary workstations and Wi-Fi as a convenient secondary connection.
How to set up a small business network: 7 tips to build a thriving network
Though every small business is different, there are a few general pointers we can give you to help make the process of selecting and setting up a network as easy as possible.
Set your business up for success by following these best-practice network planning tips
1. Get the right hardware.
What products do I need to set up a small business network?
Here is the list of the devices you'd need for a typical small business network. Remember, this is not an exhaustive list, and you may only need some of these devices in your small business network. However, these devices are a great starting point for determining your business connectivity needs.
Modem: A modem connects your network (Local Area Network or LAN) to the internet or a Wide Area Network (WAN).
Router: A router allows multiple devices to access the same internet connection simultaneously and manages traffic flow between devices connected to the network.
Most, if not all, hardware providers also offer modem routers - devices that serve as both a modem and a router.
Switch: Switches help organise and direct traffic within your business's network, keeping your connection running smoothly. Think of a switch as a traffic light system for your business network. That functionality makes switches particularly useful for networks with multiple devices connected simultaneously, ensuring they efficiently allocate bandwidth.
Can a router and switch be the same thing?
A router and switch can be together in a single device in a home network with only a handful of devices. In some cases, this device can also be a modem, firewall and Wi-Fi access point. However, you'll want to diversify your technology to make your business network more reliable and fit for purpose.
Firewall: Firewalls monitor incoming and outgoing internet traffic against predetermined security controls. They will be your first line of defence against cyber attacks.
LAN cable / Ethernet cables: LAN (Local Area Network) cables and ethernet cables are often used interchangeably, but they're slightly different. Ethernet cables connect devices to your network, enabling a wired connection. LAN cables connect one network device to another (e.g. a computer to a printer).
Access Point: An access point is a device that creates a new wireless network when connected to your router. Access points also allow for a wired connection to a device. If you've got a large workspace, access points mean people working far away from your router can still access its benefits, such as a wired connection and optimal Wi-Fi signal.
Extender: As the name suggests, extenders extend your existing network. While commonly associated with Wi-Fi, extenders also allow for a wired connection to a device. Extenders don't need a wired connection to your router as they work through a wireless signal. If you've got a large workspace, access points enable a strong connection in places where your router's signal is weak.
Patch Panel: Setting up all of the above requires a lot of cabling, which can get messy quickly! That's where a patch panel comes in. It states that patch panels are physical panels used to organise and store connected cables on a network efficiently and conveniently. Patch panels allow you and your team to quickly identify which cable is which, leading to more efficient troubleshooting and network maintenance.
2. Invest in business-grade hardware
When budgeting for your small business network, allocating funding for business-grade hardware is crucial.
Many small businesses make the mistake of thinking they can run their operations in a similar way to a home network. While the underlying principles of network layers might be the same, consumer technology is not up to providing quality service for a business day in and day out.
(CTA: Looking for business-grade hardware? Our range of hardware is built for business and backed by our 100% Australian-based support team. View business-grade network devices https://www.aussiebroadband.com.au/business/internet/network-devices/)
3. Create a network map
What is a network map, and why should my business have one?
A network map is what you think it is: A visual representation of your business's network. Just like a road map, a network map shows you how the devices in your network are connected and how they communicate with each other.
Like a road system, networks are only as good as their weakest point. A six-lane highway will only get you so far before you run into a choke point and have to take an off-ramp. It's the same for networks. And the good news is that it's much easier to fix a network than a road system! And when it comes to identifying issues that lead to choke points, a network map is a powerful tool.
Making a map of your technology devices and how they relate will help you identify chokepoints in throughput. Your network map will also act as a reference guide for future maintenance and upgrades.
4. Build your network to scale
What is network scalability, and why is it important for a small business network?
New devices, updated software, and the shift to hybrid or remote work will all impact your network. And they're not the only things either. Every change in your business will have implications for your network.
So, when setting up your small business network, don't just consider your business's current requirements. It pays to be forward-thinking and build a scalable network to meet your future plans. Quality, business-grade hardware can last a decade or more. If you plan to double or triple in size over the next few years, investing in switches with more ports will make it easier to connect new devices as you grow.
Tip: Be savvy and creative with your network plan. For example, use switches with in-line power. Doing this will allow you to place wireless access points anywhere there is an Ethernet port without needing a power outlet.
5. Consider cloud or hybrid setups
As the cloud's capabilities increase, businesses are taking advantage of the flexibility and convenience of cloud storage.
Cloud storage can involve third-party vendors or setting up your own private cloud using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Are you thinking of migrating your business to the cloud? We can help! Read our three-step guide to a seamless cloud migration.
You need to be cautious about how you store your data, though, and not just in regards to third-party cloud security.
Time to upgrade your data storage?
Learn how to choose the perfect storage solution for your business.
6. Have a disaster recovery plan in place
What happens if the office burns down? Or a fallen tree knocks out all communications? While those are worst-case, black-swan scenarios, you must have a plan to deal with such disasters just in case. It could be as simple as switching to a temporary 4G/LTE connection or as complex as relocating the entire staff.
Having disaster recovery plans in place will be a godsend should something happen. Just make sure to store a copy of the plan offsite!
7. Have a secure backup policy
Data is the new currency of business. Losing your company data is almost akin to losing the money in your bank account. That's how important data is and why it's crucial to back it up regularly.
You should back up all business data according to a strict policy. The easiest way to do this is to set up an automatic backup every weekend (or whenever you're away from your business). That way, the backup process won't disrupt day-to-day business operations.
You can bolster your data further with smaller, differential backups overnight. "Differential" refers to a backup program that makes copies of any changes since the previous differential. It's faster and easier than a full backup.
However, many small businesses make the mistake of storing their backup data in the same place as the original information. That's not secure. Instead, consider storing your data with a certified backup provider or on a cloud service.
Editor's note: This article was updated on 28 September 2023 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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