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Small Business Computer Network Setup

Small Business Computer Network Setup

The networking services and solutions we offer will enable communication across your office locations. Nicolet Tech can streamline your network installation. With the right design for your unique business environment, you can be up and running on your new network sooner.

Our installations are meticulously handled to maximize uptime and ensure scalability for your business’ future growth. You will be able to seamlessly add new employees, run more applications, and maintain operations of advanced voice, data, and wireless services faster.

Our managed network security service brings together the industry’s leading security technologies in on simple, yet comprehensive, service. Using our powerful easy-to-use dashboard, Nicolet Tech provides complete layered protection, from your network down to the employee inbox. With Nicolet Tech, you can be assured we see and protect everything.

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Considerations For a Small Business Computer Network Setup

An AT&T Business Global Survey revealed that 77% of IT leaders understand that the success of digital transformation depends on their network.

Transforming your small business to a medium-sized operation, or even larger in the future, will require a strong, secure, and up-to-date network. But, what is a computer network, and how is a small business computer network setup? We'll answer those questions and more in this detailed overview.

What Is Computer Network? 
What Businesses Need to Set up Reliable Computer Networks 
Why SD-WAN Is Popular
Auditing Your Existing System Architecture 
Challenges With Small Business Computer Network Setups 
Setting Up Computer Networks 
Company Policies To Protect Your Computer Network

What Is a Computer Network?

The simplest definition of a computer network is two or more interconnected computers. The reason for building a computer network is to communicate data between different storage spaces.

Building a good network is not as simple as just connecting some computers though. A complete network has an architecture that is a combination of hardware, software, and storage. That storage (usually servers) might be on-site, off-site (for example cloud-based), or co-located.

A good computer network for a small business should provide seamless connectivity to the internet. It should also create a smooth connection between the networked machines.

There are two popular system architectures for building networks. They are ISO Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) and IBM's Systems Network Architecture (SNA). Both of them provide excellent foundations for the two most popular types of computer networks.

The two most common network types are local-area networks (LANs) and wide-area networks (WANs). LANs are important for small businesses because they provide offices with an enclosed network that is secure and self-contained.

A LAN usually has a lot of physical elements we all recognize. For example, cable connections or WiFi routers and integrate two or more computers, a printer, and more. Servers are also commonly located on premises for medium or growing offices. They're essential for businesses that require more computational power and storage.

Sometimes LANs are configured to tap into larger WANs. Wide area networks are typically less secure than LANs, and as their name suggests, they cover larger areas. They're also often public. For example, coffee shop WiFi is likely part of a WAN.

The key purpose of WANs is to connect all those smaller LANs and individual computers to the wider collective WAN known as the internet. They push data out over continents, across oceans, and interlink the world. The largest WAN is the internet itself.

Growing Businesses Need to Set up Reliable Computer Networks

Businesses that are growing can be held back by out-of-date network infrastructure. They often don't have the in-house expertise to modernize though.

According to the aforementioned AT&T Business Global Survey, only 8% of IT leaders have a clear road map to guide their digital transformation, and that's the IT leaders. So, it's easy to understand how SMEs might be left behind.

Without a clear strategy for a modernized and reliable computer network, small businesses may find themselves experiencing a range of IT problems. Insufficient bandwidth, poor connectivity, slowed computers and security breaches are just a few potential issues.

Without a clear strategy for a modernized and reliable computer network, small businesses may find themselves experiencing a range of IT problems. Insufficient bandwidth, poor connectivity, slowed computers and security breaches are just a few potential issues.

There are three very clear signs: it's time to consider network virtualization. Small to medium companies should ask these questions:

Does the business run on the same router it always has?
Do you know how your technology will remain up-to-date in the next six months to six years?
Are your company's data and infrastructure fast enough and secure enough?

If the answer to those questions raises alarm bells. It's time to invest in managed IT services and address the network currently in place with a roster of changes and renewal activity.

The truth is, due to the constantly evolving tech landscape, most network hardware only has a life cycle of about five to seven years. After that, it becomes outdated and unsupported.

Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) is one solution to that problem. SD-WAN can help SMEs because it needs fewer continuous hardware upgrades. The software-first approach has become so popular that, in most cases, it's considered an IT industry standard.

If your IT team is concerned about security, or you don't even have an IT team, it's time to improve your network infrastructure. Small to medium businesses are ripe for exploitation by cybercriminals.

Enabling smooth, seamless connectivity for remote workers is another benefit of a strong, up-to-date network. As Covid-19 and the shocking number of members of staff who needed to be furloughed indicates, the option of working from home is becoming a future-proofing requirement.

Companies who offer employees the flexibility to work from home, based on specific circumstances, can also cut back on the number of employees' sick days throughout the year. In employee surveys, slow computer performance is a top pain point that inhibits smooth workflow and productivity. So, there are operational benefits to IT evolution, not just technological benefits.

If your company leadership team doesn't know how to improve the IT tech stack in the coming months or years, investing in that knowledge is key.
Good computer-based solutions, applications, dashboards, and industry software can create incredible efficiencies for a business. But, the business needs the IT infrastructure to host that software ecosystem to take advantage of that.

Cloud computing is becoming an emerging success for small to medium businesses. So, finding an IT management service provider who can help support cloud migration becomes a high priority.

Although the cloud is wonderful for a lot of applications, hardware data storage that is on-site or co-located is still a cheaper option in many cases.
Perhaps the only exception is software-based, public cloud storage with a provider like Google or DropBox. But, then companies sometimes have concerns about the ease of employee access and security.

For a smooth migration to a more up-to-date network and style of working, SMEs should find bespoke LAN solutions that are perfect for them.

Auditing Your Existing System Architecture

The first step to ensuring that you have an up-to-date network is a thorough audit. Start with how you use the network now and want to use it in the future.

Make an itemized list of functions. These can include storing confidential customer data. What about providing secure access so employees can work from home?

How about uploading or downloading large files from the internet and more? Managing databases or solutions such as SalesForce and CRMs or financial software like Quickbooks might be on that list.

This can act as a first-principles list of essentials. You can also add things that might be nice to have in the future but might not be needed right now. That's the way to ensure the network you build will be ready to take your business into the next five years.

You can choose whether to migrate to the new, improved network gradually or in one powerful switch. However, it might be a lot easier to do the latter.

That's because gradual network improvements can be more disturbing to business continuity. Taking one day to install hardware, software, and present employee policy could be a more efficient plan.

Some IT firms will be more than happy to work through the night to get your network in place before your employees get to work the next day. There should be minimal disruption to mission-critical operations.

Common Challenges With Small Business Computer Network Setups

If you want to avoid common pitfalls and mistakes when setting up a new computer network or improving your existing architecture, there are certainly some things to consider. Internet speeds vary.

At home, you might be used to a certain internet speed. If you have been running your business for a while, you might have noticed that commercial business internet suppliers charge a premium.

They also tier their speed based on pricing. A larger network with more computers requires faster internet speeds to fuel that workflow. Faster speeds from your internet service provider can cost more money.

Factor a business internet upgrade into your costing for the network modernization you plan to undertake. Switching internet providers could even save SME money.

Some SMEs may also switch from cabled internet to WiFi when they upgrade their network. This can be great for hotdesking and carrying around laptops. However, WiFi can provide lower internet speeds and spotty connectivity for video calls.

Retaining some cabled internet and also providing WiFi for people who want to roam the office more freely is a way to get around that problem.

Security is also an issue with some small business WiFi networks. The in-house admin team must understand how to keep passwords and access to the WiFi secure. That way, they can prevent people from breaking into their local area network.

Do's and Don'ts of Setting Up Computer Networks

When you are setting up a new computer network, and at regular intervals, while using your updated network, there are a few things you should do.

Regularly checking for vulnerabilities or security weaknesses is important. Penetration tests enable you to check what devices are on the network and also identify weaknesses so they can be addressed in advance of any issues occurring.

You can use Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) or Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS). You can also use Firewalls and Demilitarized Zones (DMZ) and WiFi Intrusion Prevention Systems (WIPS). These will help to test your systems and keep your network protected.

A well-managed network needs regular software updates and patches. These are not because of anything the SME is doing, but because they fill in the gaps that cybercriminals find.

Patches and updates are made by major software companies and can automatically be triggered or manually applied to systems to keep them safe. Sitting on updates and delaying them is something a lot of employees are guilty of, but it can lead to major system vulnerabilities.

As soon as a notification or alert indicates a software update or patch is available, an administrator should update the network to keep it safe from attacks.

Even big businesses need to be wary of updating systems as soon as updates become available. Famously, the US financial company Equifax fell foul of not updating their network with patches and was victim to ransomware attacks by a criminal group.

Create Company Policies To Protect Your Computer Network

The weakest link in the chain when it comes to a computer network is not the hardware or the software but the human beings that use it. To make the most of your network, you will need to put policies in place to keep it secure.

It's a good idea to have a list of policies that employees are legally obligated to sign when they join your company, or if they have been working with the business for a while when you upgrade your computer network.

These policies should include clear guidelines on using computers, using mobile devices, if any are provided.

A social media policy and password policy can also be included. Policies on opening (or not opening) attachments in emails and a business continuity plan in the event of system outages should also be covered.

All businesses should have a disaster recovery plan (DRP). Selecting which of your employees will play a part in Data Backup and disaster recovery procedures and listing their roles and responsibilities is also an important piece of policymaking.

As aforementioned, the largest security risk is the employees that use the system. So, it's important to have very strict and clearly outlined rules for password storage, use, and password updates.

It's very good practice to change passwords at least every three months. System prompts can ensure employees do so. Alternatively, you can ask IT team members to generate passwords randomly and then supply those passwords to your employees.

It should be clear that storing passwords in a single easily stolen document or sharing passwords on messenger software is not allowed to prevent fraud and vulnerabilities.

Our Final Thoughts on a Small Business Computer Network Setup

Transforming your small business into a medium-sized operation, or even larger in the future, will require a strong, secure, and up-to-date computer network.

By partnering with the correct IT team, you can ensure that your company's small business computer network set up provides the security and functionality that your business needs now and well into the future.