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Networks - From My New Book - iSAFE Managed IT Service Provider

Networks – From My New Book

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Hello Everyone.  This week I wanted to share with you a excerpt from my new book, “Small Business Technology Simplified.”  This section is all about networks and the hardware that make them work for small businesses.  If you would like a copy of the book you can pick it up on Amazon HERE. 

Here we go….


Let’s jump right in and talk about networks. A network allows devices, software—and most importantly—team members to communicate with each other and the rest of the world. For example, the Internet is one huge network, comprised of many smaller networks that are administrated by thousands of servers, routers, and switches located all over the world. Without that hardware infrastructure, the Internet could not exist.

You will eventually want to establish a network for your business that will allow your computers, printers, and mobile devices to communicate with each other and the rest of the world through the Internet. However, if you are a small, one-person, one-computer business, you may not need a server, multiple switches, or wireless access points. Most businesses will at least require an active connection to the Internet.

Internet Service Provider

Assuming that you need an Internet connection—the most basic of network connectivity that provides access for online ordering, email, and other communication with vendors and clients—you will need to choose your internet service provider (ISP) and establish service with that vendor.

There are several different types and options available for business Internet access. The two most common are a digital subscriber line (DSL), which is provided by your analog phone service company, and cable Internet, available through your cable TV service company. Other connection options may include wide area network (WAN) or point-to point-wireless connections, satellite, or fiber optics.  A fiber optic connection is generally the most stable and reliable connection but is also much more expensive than DSL or cable Internet. Satellite and wide area wireless-only connections can be good options but should generally be a last resort (when other services are not available at your location), due to their speed and consistency drawbacks.

Currently, most wide area wireless and satellite services are “metered”, meaning your provider will charge you for the amount of data you use. We have found that for most small businesses, the amount of data included in their package is not enough for day-to-day needs. This means that you will be paying extra each month for additional data, plus your speed may get throttled during the month to reduce the amount of data you use.

In addition, satellite service, while advertising great speeds, must literally travel to outer space and back on each upload attempt. That equates to a considerable and noticeable delay when you click on a link or start uploading a file. This delay might be acceptable if you have no other option, but it should be avoided if at all possible.

Point-to-point wireless and fiber optic connections can be extremely fast and reliable. Although the costs of these types of connections are considerably higher, don’t necessarily rule these out if they are available, particularly if your day-to-day business operations depend on excellent Internet access.

We have found that for most of our customers, cable Internet is the best deal for the price and is a great place to start. Packages in our area start at less than $100 per month through Spectrum Business. If cable Internet is available in your area, we recommend that you start the ordering process today. The first step is to request a “site survey” for your location, where the provider will send out a representative to determine if your location is serviceable or if there are any “construction costs” required to establish service. If your location comes back “on network,” then you simply need to confirm your speed requirements and place your order.

How Much Speed Do I Need?

Most businesses will have more than enough speed with the basic package, plus you can always upgrade as needed. Keep in mind that the download speed in most business packages is much faster than the upload speed.  When you see numbers like 100mb x 10mb (the base package with Spectrum), it means you can download files from the Internet at speeds of up to 100 million bytes per second.  However, you can only upload files at 10 million bytes per second. If your business depends on uploading large files to the Internet on a regular basis, then you will want to maximize the second number.  For example, if you are planning to implement a complete cloud solution where you will be opening and saving documents to the Internet as a part of normal daily activities, transferring these files could be a bottleneck if your package offers lower upload speeds.

Another benefit of fiber optic Internet connectivity is that it usually offers the same upload and download speed. When shopping for a fiber optic connection, you may see options like 25mb x 25mb, 50mb x 50mb, or 100mb x 100mb.  The upload and the download speeds are “symmetrical” in that case, which is ideal for an all “cloud-based” system.

Static IP Addresses

If your business has multiple locations that need to communicate with each other over a VPN (virtual private network) or will be hosting application servers such as an email server, then you will want to request at least one useable static IP address.  The IP address acts in a similar way as a phone number does for your business. It provides a static, identifying number that represents your location and provides an entry point for other computers to connect to your network over the Internet.

Bundle Packages

It is getting more and more difficult to order “just Internet” these days, since both DSL and cable providers offer so many other services. The only bundling option we recommend is cable TV and cable Internet if you need both at your business location. We do not recommend bundling phone service from either type of provider. You will want to get your phone service through a complete VoIP solution provider.  Despite what DSL and cable company representatives will tell you, going this route will be cheaper and provide much greater flexibility than their bundled phone lines.

In addition, it is misleading when cable companies try to sell their VoIP as “analog lines.” They don’t and can’t provide analog lines because of the local contracts established for the use of telephone lines. Cable companies are selling you a VoIP line, which they in turn will connect to your existing analog lines so you can use your old phones. This solution costs more per line and offers very few if any of the benefits of having true VoIP service for your business.

The Modem

When an Internet service provider installs your Internet service, they will almost always install an Internet gateway at your location. We generally refer to that device as a “modem.” It will sit at the top of the network diagram as your network’s entry and exit point for the “cloud” or Internet.

By the way, “cloud” is just a marketing term, used to describe the Internet or third-party servers and software accessed through the Internet. When you hear someone say, “We’re moving to the cloud,” all they are saying is that instead of maintaining their own servers and software, they are going to rent someone else’s and access them through the Internet. Historically, the Internet was represented by a cloud in network diagrams, which is where the phrase “the cloud” was derived.

The Router

The next device in the network is the “router.” This can be a specific device, or just a function that is performed. Much like the name implies, a router directs or “routes” traffic (data) from one location to another or from one device to another. In some cases, the modem provided by the ISP will have a router built into it.  If it has more than one port for you to connect your devices to, then it does have routing functions built into it.

We recommend that you do not use your ISP’s modem as a router, but rather request that your ISP turn all routing functions off on the modem and pass all traffic to your in-house router. Your router should be managed by you or your technology service provider and have firewall features built into it.  This allows for much greater flexibility and control over your own firewall, port forwarding, VPNs, and other features that are usually not supported, or not supported very well by the ISP’s modem.

The Switch

While many routers will have a built-in switch with a limited number of ports, you may find that you need to add a switch to accommodate the number of devices that you have. A switch is a device that connects multiple devices together so they can communicate with each other over a network. This switch will general look like a rectangular box with several network jacks on it. Anything you plug into the switch will be able to communicate with other devices also plugged into it.

All your computers, VoIP phones, wireless access points, and router will connect to a port on the switch that brings the whole network together into one “network” of devices. There are “smart” switches that have the ability to prioritize types of data and give favor to particular ports, but for most small businesses a standard “dumb” switch will suffice.

Access Points

Finally, if you have devices that need to wirelessly access the network or Internet, then you will want to add one or more access points to the network. These access points connect via cable to the switch and allow devices to connect to them wirelessly.

We always recommend installing access points separately from your router, although many consumer and some small business routers do include a wireless access point. These devices are sometimes referred to as a “wireless router,” which is a little misleading; it is actually a router with a wireless access point built into it. Installing these devices separately allows for better placement of the access point (for better reception in different locations) and greater reliability (if one device fails, it doesn’t mean your entire network is down).

In larger buildings or warehouses, you may need to install several access points to get good wireless coverage. A common mistake we see is that users will purchase several “wireless routers” and install them on the same network, hoping to fix their wireless coverage issues.

What they end up with are several routers trying to route traffic and assign IP addresses on the same network, wreaking havoc on the speed and reliability of the network. Instead, you should have a single router along with multiple access points configured as a “cluster.” This setup will allow your devices to roam from one access point to another, automatically switching to the access point with the strongest signal.

Wireless Security

Keep in mind that while wireless access is extremely convenient, it also creates additional security concerns. You are creating a virtual entry point to your network that could allow hackers, or even just a savvy competitor, to connect to your network from the outside—without having to make a physical connection or even come into your building. Therefore, it is important that you enable the strongest security encryption that your devices will support and use a long and difficult wireless key.

We have seen many wireless installations with no security whatsoever, also known as an open network. Often business owners will use their address or phone number as the wireless key. This is an extremely risky practice and should be avoided. On most devices, you only need to enter the key once, so take a little time to come up with a key that no one will be able to figure out on their own.  We also recommend changing the key at least every six months or whenever an employee who has access to the key leaves the organization.

Guest Networks

If you have a retail area where customers can enjoy your goods or services on-site such as in a restaurant, coffee shop, or spa, you may want to set up a “guest” network for them to use while at your location. This practice has become so commonplace that it is almost expected in these types of businesses.

It is important, however, that the setup is done correctly. You want to allow your customers easy access to the Internet while not also giving them access to your local network.  This is relatively easy to do if your access point supports multiple networks with “wireless isolation.” If it does, then you would just create a “guest” network and enable the wireless isolation on that network to prevent communication between the two networks. Customers who connect to the wireless guest network will be able to access the Internet, but will not be able to connect to your internal network or other wireless devices.

Protecting your available bandwidth is another issue to address when installing a guest network. Imagine that you have a “full house” of guests on your network, with some watching YouTube videos, several checking email, and a couple uploading files back to their office. Suddenly, you notice that your credit card transactions are taking a long time to process and your VoIP phone calls are breaking up. You realize that your customers are maxing out your Internet bandwidth, not leaving enough available for your business to function properly.

To prevent this, you will need to limit the available bandwidth used by the guest network. Some access points have this feature, but if yours does not, then preventing this issue involves setting up a couple of virtual networks and limiting usage on the router.  This is a fairly advanced networking task, so unless you have an experienced IT professional available, you may want to consider other options.

One of those options is to check with your ISP to see if they offer hotspot service.  If they do, they will install an access point for your guests that uses a completely different modem. Spectrum currently does this for free.  Basically, you will be getting two service accounts—one for your business and one for your guests. This option means you have no control over the guest network, but it also means that the use of it will not affect your business.  If this service is available from your ISP, it may be the best option for your small business without using a managed IT service provider.

I sincerely hope you found this information helpful.  Again you can pick up a copy online Here.


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