Setting Up a Network for Your Small Business: 7 Tips for Success

May 12th, 2017 - Get new posts sent straight to your inbox, click here. AussieBB

Setting up a capable network for a small business is a balancing act of budget and performance. You want to be forward thinking without overspending, with a solid recovery plan in place in case anything goes wrong. 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.

1. Ethernet is king

While advances in wireless a/c speed standards have given WiFi the potential to compete with wired ethernet, real world application still has ethernet ahead of the curve. Here’s a few reasons why you’ll want your primary workstations plugged directly into a router or switch:

  • Bandwidth interference: On the 2.4 GHz spectrum things can get pretty crowded. Your WiFi should run on channels which aren’t occupied or overlapping. We recommend that you download a free scanning app on your phone to check for the channel with the least crowding.
  • Compatibility issues: 5 GHz has a broader spectrum and faster downstreams, but you’ll need compatible devices and it only takes one non-compliant 2.4 GHz device to connect and drag your bandwidth speed down.
  • Interference: Wireless has to compete with interference from building materials in walls and floors, for example.

That’s not to say Wireless should be avoided. It’s great for guests, and can be useful for meetings and get-togethers, but reliance on WiFi for your business’s critical and heavy computing will leave users wanting.

2. Make a network map

Functioning networks are all about throughput. Like a road system, they’re only as good as the weakest point. To continue the road metaphor, a six lane highway will only get you so far before you have to take an off ramp and run into a choke point.

While there’s only so much that can be done to improve a road network, making a map of your technology devices and how they relate will not only help you identify chokepoints in throughput, but will also act as a reference guide for future maintenance and upgrades.

3. Know your terminology

Networking is one area of IT where the terminology can get pretty abstract. While standardisation helps, this is essentially the foundational level of how all networks run, from small businesses to the internet. It can be a little unfriendly to the layman.

If you’re not sure of what something means, just google it. Taking time to learn the basic terminology of networking now will help you build a smarter business network that is future-proofed and adaptable. Knowing the difference between a switch and a router, for example, is crucial to setting up and troubleshooting your network.

What’s the difference between a switch and router?

Knowing the difference between these two similar pieces of technology could be the defining factor between a cost effective, speedy network and an sluggish, underperforming workplace.

Switches

A switch provides physical connections to multiple devices to the same network. Anything with an Ethernet port, from desktops and laptops to printers, scanners, wireless access points and servers can be connected to a switch.

Routers

A router is a device for connecting different networks. In a small office, you’ll need at least one router to communicate between the premises and the internet, which is the most common use for a router.

A router can perform many other functions, including prioritising bandwidth allocation and acting as a barrier to cybersecurity threats.

Can a router and switch be the same thing?

In a home network where there are only a handful of devices, a router and switch can be together in a single device. This same device can also be a modem and a WiFi access point in some cases. In business networks you’ll want to diversify your technology so it is more reliable and fit for purpose.

4. Invest in your company’s future

When budgeting for your small office network, it’s important to allocate funding for business grade hardware.

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 simply not up to the task of providing quality service for a business, day in, day out.

  • Be forward thinking in your network planning. Quality 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.
  • Be savvy and creative with your network plan. For example, use switches with in-line power. This will allow you to place wireless access points anywhere there is an Ethernet port without the need for a power outlet.

5. Consider cloud or hybrid setups

Cloud storage can involve third party vendors or setting up your own private cloud using VPN. You need to be cautious about how you store your data though, and not just in regards to third party cloud security.

6. Have a disaster recovery plan in place

What happens if the office burns down, or a falling tree knocks out all communications? It could be as simple as switching to a temporary 4G/LTE connection or as complex as relocating the entire staff. Having plans in place to deal with possible disaster scenarios will be a godsend should something happen. Just make sure to store a copy of the plans off site.

7. Have a secure backup policy

All company data should be backed up according to a strict policy. The most common is a full weekly backup over the weekend with differential backups overnight.

“Differential” refers to a backup program which 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. Consider storing it with with a certified backup provider or on a cloud service.

Setting up a fast and reliable business network

Whether you’re a coffee shop, a graphic designer or an accountant, computers are essential to any modern business. A network allows you to connect to the web and communicate with other computers and devices on the same network. Getting set up correctly will ensure smooth, reliable connectivity that is able to expand and adapt with your business.