Setting up a small business computer network has become easier over the years as operating systems and networking technologies have improved, and storage and networking peripherals have evolved to incorporate plug and play features.
What are the main reasons for having a computer network?
Setting up a network is a good way to get more use out of your computers and peripherals, particularly for small and home business users.
Networks allow you to share a single broadband Internet connection among multiple computers and PC users.
They are able to share files among computers more easily and also share software resources such as diaries.
Networking also allows you to use a printer connected to a different computer, and access media and other resources, such as images and music, which are stored remotely or across the office.
Should I go wired or wireless?
More and more small businesses are using wireless networking equipment, particularly since it has fallen in price and become easier to configure and use.
Wireless networking allows you to have a more attractive and arguably safer office environment with fewer cables around. It gives you more flexibility about where you locate your IT kit, and you can use your laptop from anywhere in your office.
It also allows you to offer visitors wireless internet access or hot-desk facilities.
However, Ethernet-based wired networking can still have the edge over wireless equipment in being more reliable, lower cost and offering faster connection speeds. Wireless signals on the other hand can vary depending on the layout of an office, the thickness of the walls and sometimes even the weather.
What equipment do I need to set up a basic network?
Operating systems like Microsoft Windows Vista, Windows XP and Apple Mac OS X have networking capabilities incorporated into them. This means that if you have a relatively up to date laptop or desktop PC, it should be fairly straightforward to network machines together.
Apart from the computers, you will also need some networking equipment, which may be as basic as having a single cable to connect two computers together.
For larger setups, you may require an additional wireless or wired router plus some Ethernet cables to link the PCs up.
To set up a wireless network, you will need a wireless router linked to your broadband connection, plus a cable that links the router to your main PC or server.
This will then allow other PCs and notebooks, which have wireless networking equipment integrated or attached, to pick up the wireless signals and join the local area network (LAN).
How do I secure the network?
After you set up your network, you should take time to protect it, and you can do this through the security settings in the router, or the operating system.
You can do this through technologies such as wireless encryption protocol (WEP) for a wireless network, which uses passwords to encrypt the network traffic.
You may also want to use Windows and network logins and passwords to limit access to the network to authorised users. You may also choose to use hardware security like fingerprint recognition, security and password keys, and full disk encryption to further protect the network.
When it comes to using the Internet, businesses should also check their browser security and privacy settings to ensure that the network is protected from from viruses, spam and hacking attempts.
You can add additional security packages to protect and maintain the network perimeters, checking for attacks from both the outside and the inside.
What else can I use my network for?
Apart from file and print operations, you can use your network to share other peripherals such as scanners and copiers.
You can also use the network to backup and store information on a network attached storage (NAS) device or through the web.
NAS devices often have their own hard drives and can be accessed via the network through a web browser, allowing you to configure and manage them and the way they backup information from your computers.
Wireless networks will also allow you to use wide variety of devices such as wireless cameras, and wireless digital multi-media receivers.