What do I need for a small business computer network?

Your small business network setup is foundational.  Done right, it will be secure, and support your cross team and client communications securely, and without latency issues. Done poorly, and you could be looking at constant internet problems, VoIP problems, weak cyber security and even internal data loss, leaks or theft.

Of course we rarely think about possible bad outcomes when we are starting a new business – but these things do happen. That’s why it’s best to consult with an IT support services provider who can help you plan your setup, buy the right equipment, and who will set up everything for you.

This post will walk you through just what you need to setup a small business network well.


Replace Your All In One Device

Small business network components should be compromised of equipment suitable to the job.  All in one modems supplied by Internet Service Providers (ISP) are insufficient for business today.

All in one devices are a modem, a router, a switch, and WiFi all crammed into one box, using low quality components.

This gives you just enough technology to get online with, or get away with, but not enough to function well or optimally.

For good or optimal network performance, each component inside an all in one device should be a separate, more powerful device.

Here is a list of basic network components.


Modem

A modem from your ISP. Enables your business to access the internet. All other features should be disabled to allow the more powerful business class device to perform in lieu of the all in one device.


Router

A router is what shares an internet connection with multiple people. A dedicated router has more powerful range and features to improve internet connectivity for teams.


Power Over Ethernet (PoE) Switch / Network Switch

A PoE switch is what your cables plug into to allow power to various network components. Your switch size depends on the size of your network and how many components you require. Common switch sizes are 8 port, 16 port and 24 port switches.

A second switch may be used to power secondary components not directly related to the primary network, such as VoIP telephones. An alternative would be multiple cables running back to the main wiring closet in your office, and this is preferred from a technical standpoint, but from an aesthetic standpoint, a single cable connected to a secondary switch may be preferred.

Every network design is different. Your IT Consultant will guide you based on your team size, office size and layout, availability of cable drops, and technology needs.


WiFi Access Points

These are used to extend WiFi signal in an office, beyond the limits of what an all in one device can offer. is the two access points (UAP-AC-Pro), you would not be able to cover a space as large as the new one is using your Bell all-in-one modem.


Firewall

A firewall is an IT security device which filters incoming and outgoing network traffic for cyber threats, and stops threats from reaching your network.  A firewall is just one layer of good IT Security, and multiple layers are needed to screen for and prevent various types of internal and external cybersecurity threats.

The images below conceptualize how your emails and info interact with the internet with and without a firewall.

 

depiction of network without a firewall depiction of network with firewall


Rack or Wall Mount

Network components should be stored in a manner that prevents or limits damage from dust, flood, overheating etc. Networking equipment should be stored in a cool, well ventilated room, and be kept off the floor. There are endless models of network and server racks as well as wall mounted racks to house network and server equipment.  Your IT consultant can guide you based on your space and technology.


Uninterrupted Power Supply

AVR technology will boost or reduce power to your devices as needed, which helps to reduce associated hardware failure.

The cost for a good UPS can range from $250-400 and is a good investment to protect your technology. The CyberPower CP850AVR LCD Intelligent UPS System is a good model, and something similar will likely work well. You can search Amazon or your local Staples store for a UPS with AVR to find several models. Invest in a good quality unit, or ask your IT Consultant for a recommendation.


File Storage & Sharing

Depending on your needs, your file storage and file sharing solution will most likely either be:

  • a small business server
  • a Network Attached Storage Device
  • a cloud based file sharing solution such as Google Team Drive or Microsoft SharePoint

A small business server will cost several thousands in hardware and licenses, but is the best solution for any business running server based database software such as dental practice management software, medical billing software, legal practice management software etc.

If you do not have database software requirements, you can choose a Network Attached Storage Device to locally house files and share them with your team. You can also opt to enable cloud sharing as well.

Or, you can avoid additional hardware and go for a fully cloud based solution.  Google Team Drives comes with your Google Workspace subscription for business grade email. Similarly, Microsoft SharePoint comes with Microsoft 365 email subscriptions.  Your IT services provider can guide you on which is best for your needs.


Network Enabled Printers

To allow your team to share a printer, you will need to purchase a network enabled printer. Costs vary based on features, functions and print capacity. Heavy duty printing will require a decent investment in a fully featured printing station. Most small business can purchase adequate network printers to meet their needs at their local big box store.

Be sure to check the cost of replacement ink cartridges and printer drums for any printer model you are considering. These consumable replacement parts may cost too much on some models.


Additional Components

The above components are considered the basics for small and mid size business today.

Your business may also require:

  • a local backup drive (an external hard drive or a NAS can be used, however an extra layer of offsite or cloud backup is always recommended in case the local drive is lost or damaged)
  • additional cloud based cyber security software which filter for various types of threats
  • components to facilitate Disaster Recovery
  • network printers, scanners, workstations, business phones and end user devices to suit your needs

The goal should be to put in adequate components to allow your business a stable and secure connection to do business with, and to choose components that can allow your to scale as you grow.

Saving $200 on a network switch now, that you will outgrow in a year doesn’t make sense when the cost of replacing and reconfiguring a network switch is more than $200.  Buy the larger capacity switch now to allow for growth.

Think about your needs on day one and day 366, and make smart decisions. This is a big investment, and you want to balance budget with performance.  Take some time to think things through before you begin.

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