A computer network, also called a Local Area Network (LAN) or a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), connects multiple computers and peripherals so everyone in the office can share the same Internet connection and resources.
Thanks to the plug-and-play features on current computers and peripherals, setting up a computer network for your small business is simpler than ever.
Assess Your Needs
Before setting up your network, assess your business needs as it will affect your network setup and equipment. A few questions to consider include:
-How many computers and peripherals need to connect to the network?
-What kinds of data and files are you storing and sharing?
-What applications will you be using?
-Will employees need/want to access the network from remote locations or using mobile devices?
Wired or Wireless?
In the not-so-distant past, networks had to be wired with computers and devices connected by cables. Today, wireless networks are more commonly used employees are able to access the network from anywhere the wireless signal reaches. As a result, flexibility across the office is enabled by the ability to connect to the network via mobile devices.
However, wired (or Ethernet) networks do have some advantages, including greater reliability and faster speeds. Wireless networks are prone to dropping out if too many devices use the network at once; even weather can affect connectivity. Many businesses incorporate both wired and wireless access into the network, such as using cables to connect critical devices and peripherals for a reliable connection.
Hardware and Equipment
The basic elements of a business network are a wired or wireless router (also called a gateway or access point) and a server or a computer to act as a server. Some small businesses use secure, cloud-based servers rather than a physical server in the office. If your business stores and works with sensitive data or if you have big growth plans, this could be a smart move.
Your Internet service provider may give you a router, or you may have to purchase your own. It can be tempting to buy a less expensive router meant for consumer use, but for the sake of your business running smoothly, a router is not the place to skimp.
In addition to the standard features of consumer routers, which are typically compatible with the IEEE 802.11ac wireless networking standard, have multiple Ethernet ports, wireless encryption and a built-in firewall, routers designed for business use offer more advanced features. These include intrusion detection, anti-spam and anti-virus features, more control over the firewall and the option to filter or classify network traffic. Business-class routers also typically allow you to set up a virtual private network (VPN) server, which enables secure remote access to your network and is essential if you or your employees plan to work from home or while traveling.
If you choose a wireless router, configure it centrally in the office so that everyone in the office is within range. Most wireless routers have a maximum range of about 100 feet. If Internet is spotty in some locations, you may need additional access points.
Follow the instructions and/or wizards provided with your router to set it up and link it to your broadband connection and to the server. Current computers’ operating systems, as well as peripherals like printers, have networking capabilities built in, so unless your devices are quite old (in which case, it’s probably time for an upgrade), networking the machines should be a simple matter of following instructions.
Keep Your Network Secure
Once your business network is set up, access the router’s administrator interface and adjust the security settings. Follow these steps:
- Change the default administrator password to one that is long and complex.
- Turn on the firewall.
- Turn on wireless encryption.
- Turn on VPN to enable remote access.
- If you want to limit network access to authorized users, you can set up network logins and passwords. Choose secure passwords and change them regularly.
- If you want guests to have access, create a secondary “guest network” with its own password that you change regularly.
- Consider installing third-party security software to protect your network.
- Physically secure the router. Internal hackers can physically reset the router and return it to factory settings, opening it to illicit access. Keep your router in a secure place.