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Small Business Network Setup (Part 1)

So you’ve started a new company, and you’re pretty sure you don’t need the geek squad to milk you dry to setup your office computer network. What do you need? Computers of course. And a network. Now what? What’s a network anyway. And what’s a server and why do I need one? In the modern office there are a few critical tasks that your employees will need to perform. This is a list of IT tools and equipment you will need to enable them to perform these tasks as efficiently as possible.

Network Infrastructure

In order for your computers to talk to each other, share files, print, surf the internet or send and receive email they need a network. An interconnected electronic pathway between the computers and to the outside world. In most cases now that consists of ethernet cables. They look like fat phone lines that plug into the back of your computer. They usually run through the walls of your office building and to a central location, usually a closet. If you are building out a new office, you probably will need someone to install these wires before they paint the walls. You can also have a wireless network instead of or in addition to your wired ethernet network. The advantages of a wireless network are there is no need for cables and you can have many computers or devices online without cutting up your walls to add more lines. The disadvantages are that it is less secure and could possibly be hacked and it is MUCH slower than a wired network. Besides the physical cables run through the walls and ceilings you’re going to need some equipment to get your network off the ground. The first piece of equipment is the data switch, the main device that allows the other computers to talk to each other and other devices (printers, routers, scanners, etc.) over the network. In fact you can think of this device AS the network; everything must plug into it. These devices usually come in sizes based on the number of ports. Each port supports 1 computer or device. So you if you plan on having 20 computers you are going to need 20 ports plus ports for servers, routers, printers or other devices on the network. So it is best to get more than you think you need to start with. For example if I know I needed 20 employees, I’d probably also need a router, a server, a couple of printers, maybe some wireless access points and even things like security cameras, IP phones and time clocks. Switches usually come in port sizes in multiples of 12, so I’d order at minimum 48 port switch or 2 24 port switches to cover all of my devices and allow for growth.

Internet Access

Now we need to reach out to the Internet. That requires a couple of things. The first is business class internet and the second is a firewall and router. When you order your internet connection there are several things to consider besides price, which is of course important. You also need to think about speed, and IP addresses. If you plan on having your own server, hosting your email and web page, as well as let your employees surf the internet you are going to need a lot of speed. Most business class internet providers offer tiers of speed and you’ll need to balance the cost against what you are going to need the internet connection to do. Your next critical device is your firewall/router. Firewalls and routers have traditionally been very similar devices. A firewall blocks access to your new ethernet network from the outside world while allowing you to get out to surf the web and do other things. It also allows you to determine what you want the outside world to see of your network. For example, if you have your own webpage or email server you would allow that information through your router by configuring your firewall properly. For small businesses, most firewalls are also routers which means they act as a traffic cop for your network and allow for access to the web for you users and servers.

In Part 2, we will discuss your server, what software you need to share files, keep your network safe from viruses, keeping things backed up and communicating with the outside world. Then we will discuss printers, IP phones, security and monitoring.

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