Here’s a network management crash course for small businesses owners. For your employees, customers, and contractors to communicate effectively, it usually means setting up a local area network (LAN) that allows computers and devices to communicate with your business systems. It is not enough to simply link various computer systems together, however. You do not want everyone to have full access to all the data housed on your systems.
If you are not an IT expert, or your business has not yet reached a size that warrants the hiring of a full time IT staff, it can be quite a challenge to get your internal business set up and configured properly. This page will give you a few important tips on how to get their computer systems talking to each other in a secure fashion.
Do not overcomplicate your network management
One of the most common mistakes that small businesses make when setting up their computer systems is making things more complicated than they need to be. For example, a company may try to use network switches and business routers to create multiple LANs, one for each system they are looking to set up. While network segmentation like this can be smart in some large-scale systems, it is really overkill for the vast majority of situations.
In most cases, you’ll start by connecting all your devices on one local area network. Having a multi-port router will allow you to connect quite a few different computers and other devices together so that they can share resources and communicate. You can also add in a hub or switch if you need a larger number of ports to ensure everyone is able to connect.
Avoid overcomplicating your network configuration with equipment that requires manual configuration. While this type of equipment makes sense on larger network environments, it only adds unnecessary complications to a small network. Instead, use a smart switch that can automatically learn about the network to allow the various devices to interact without any advanced knowledge.
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Consider using cloud solutions
Cloud-based network management solutions are the latest trend in wireless connectivity for businesses. One example is Aruba Networks Instant-On. There are and are geared specifically for personnel without formal IT training that to take control over one or several wireless networks.
Cloud solutions are great way to provide your teams with access to advanced systems without having to buy server hardware and set everything up on your own. Using software as a service (SaaS) solutions from major cloud providers like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure makes it fast and easy to give your employees access to the latest software.
For example, rather than setting up your own internal Microsoft Exchange servers to have access to an internal email system, you can use a cloud-based solution like Microsoft 365. You simply select what type of email systems you need and how many accounts your company will have, and the cloud provider will take care of it from there. As long as your employees have access to the Internet (either directly or through your network) they will be able to access their email systems.
Stick with the same operating systems
Most people are familiar with the Windows operating system from Microsoft because it is by far the most popular. Many people are also aware that there are a lot of other options including MAC OS, Linux, Citrix, and many others.
These alternative operating systems can provide you with some significant advantages when running certain types of systems. While these types of advantages are nice in some situations, you also need to keep in mind that you need to manage and support every OS that is running in your company.
While it might seem appealing to skip the Microsoft licensing costs, for the vast majority of small companies, the business case isn’t there. Instead, run all your systems on Windows (or whatever OS you are most familiar with) even if it is slightly less efficient. The time and effort you will be saving by only having to support one type of system usually far outweighs the associated costs.
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Plan security from the start
Digital security is one of the most important facets of network management. Today more than ever there are hackers and other criminals who are constantly trying to gain access to business networks to steal various types of data. When a company experiences a security breach where customer data is lost, they are often directly held liable for any losses that are generated from that breach.
A large percentage of companies that go through this type of breach end up going out of business within a year or two because they lose the trust of their customers on top of having to pay the costs associated with the breach.
When setting up your network, make sure you think about how you will keep your systems safe. If you are keeping sensitive data on systems physically at your location, for example, make sure you have a good physical firewall in place to prevent unauthorized traffic from accessing your network. If you are using cloud-based services, make sure you are following their recommended requirements for things like IDs and passwords to keep the data safe.
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Scale for the Future
One last thing to keep in mind for your network management is that you want to think not only about what your needs are today. Instead, ask what will your computer needs be in the next 5-10 years?
While you may be able to save a few thousand dollars by buying an inexpensive device that will meet your needs today, will you need to upgrade next year to meet your growing needs? If so, it may make more sense to purchase higher end equipment now if you know it will be sufficient for several years to come.
Of course, you also need to keep in mind that all technology is rapidly being advanced, which means you cannot expect computer equipment to last for 10 years without being replaced. Buying cutting edge systems today may actually turn out to be a waste of money if changing technology makes it obsolete in just a year or two.
Taking the time to think about what type of hardware and software you need, and what changes will be coming in the next few years, will help you to make the right decisions regarding how and when to invest your money.