Demystifying networks for small business

Centralizing your network can help with productivity, security, and remote worker support, so include it in your growth plan.

A business may start off with only five employees and quickly grow to 25, so it's just as important to think about your network as it is to think about data storage and management. 

As a company grows, the technology infrastructure will change. The number of endpoint devices (computers, printers, routers, storage) will increase, and many will overlap and interconnect. With growth comes complexity, but the network must be a top priority, because you can't afford to have business-critical applications and workloads suffer from poor performance. 

Having a centralized network allows you to share resources like printers, scanners, and copiers, reducing the need for additional peripherals. In addition, shared internet access gives the business control of that access through a firewall or a proxy server, helping protect the business from outside threats and potential misuse by staff.

An office with 25 workers could require a more intermediate level network to connect the users with resources like an entry-level server or shared storage device, allowing file sharing and backup of important file.  The company may also run a basic, centralized customer database.

Centralizing the office technology may also require the use of an authentication server and dedicated enterprise-level access switches, which can facilitate the administration of user IDs and passwords to govern access control. You'll want to set up a policy whereby employees are only able to access the data that they need to perform their jobs.

A centralized network can also facilitate remote access, which is critical in the pandemic era. This allows anyone with a user ID and password on the network to establish a secure link through a virtual private network (VPN). 

Having a VPN gives the user a private network that encrypts and transmits data from point A to point B via the internet. It's essentially the difference between sending files in a manilla folder or putting those files in a sealed envelope. It offers remote workers a secure tunnel through which to access and save files that sit on the office network. 

Building blocks of a network

Building a centralized network is like building a house. For the foundation, we need to have switches and routers (in layer 3 in the seven-layer OSI model of computer networking), where switches will meet LAN connectivity needs and routers would primarily be used for internet connectivity only. Understanding the difference between the two can help in choosing the right network hardware.

 An Ethernet switch creates networks, and the router allows for connections between networks – tying together different nodes both inside and beyond the physical space of an office network. There are different types of network connections, but the two important ones to focus on for a small business are local area network (LAN) and wireless local area network (WLAN). 

LAN refers to computers and other devices that are relatively close to each other (in the same office) and are part of the same network. These computers can share printers, servers, and documents and are connected through ethernet cables. These cables converge into a switch or router -- which then connects to the Internet or a server. 

A WLAN is very similar to a wired network, however devices don't use any cables to connect to the internet.  They use wireless connections and don't need any ports - just antennas, which are usually hidden inside the devices. The WiFi signal is sent through the air, anybody with a WiFi device can connect to the wireless network, which will require strict security passwords. 

For a small business, LAN is great if all workers are in the same space and don't require much movement. However if the business requires staff to work from remote locations and use mobile devices, a WLAN will be the better option.

Regardless of which network a small business chooses or if they go with both, they are going to need dedicated wired switches, plus wired and wireless networking equipment.

Connecting to storage

Once the network has been established, it's critical to think about the data storage. According to the US Small Business Administration, data storage requirements are growing by about 40 percent each year. It's imperative that your storage solutions are designed for growth and security. Having a centralized network will ensure all critical data is stored in one location and gets backed up on a predetermined schedule, which can be automated -- so that no user intervention is involved other than someone checking the logs each day. 

Not all storage devices are created equally, though.  Here are the broad categories:

Network Attached Storage (NAS): Network storage is a file-level computer data storage server connected to a computer network providing data access to a heterogeneous group of clients. NAS is specialized for serving files either by its hardware, software, or configuration. It allows a small business to consolidate storage, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing costs. It also simplifies storage administration and data backup and recovery. (See 0611 for more on NAS)

Direct-Attached Storage (DAS): This storage is attached directly to the computer accessing it. Hard drives, solid-state drives, optical disc drives, and storage on external drives are all examples of DAS. 

Storage Area Network (SAN): Storage networks are computer networks that provide access to consolidated, block-level data storage. SANs are mostly used to access data storage devices like disk arrays and tape libraries from servers, and they may require additional networking, including dedicated back-end switches.

When you're considering a network buildout, it's important to connect with expert guidance. Dell Technologies Advisors can help you learn about infrastructure options and services, so you can focus on growing your business. Call at 1-855-404-4427 or Chat Now