Once you've decided you need a business IT network, it's important you plan and build one that's appropriate for your business needs
To start building a network, you must first define your network requirements. These describe why you need a network, how it will be used and enable you to establish some priorities.
If you lack networking experience, a good IT supplier will be able to help you at this stage.
How to network an IT system
Once you've defined your network requirements, you can use these to create a specification for your network. You'll need to answer a few key questions:
- Do you need a server? A network server is a powerful computer at the heart of your network, installed on-site. It provides strong control and enables you to run centralised software such as customer relationship management systems. However, it also increases the cost and complexity of your network, and cloud services are becoming far more common.
- Wired or wireless? Wired networks are fast and reliable, but require cables to be run throughout your premises.
Wireless is versatile, but sometimes less reliable. Many companies use a mix; cables to static computers at desks and wireless for smartphones, tablets and ad-hoc access in meeting rooms.
- What internet connection do you need? A standard fibre broadband connection is usually suitable for smaller companies with up to 30 employees. Larger companies may need a faster, more expensive connection such as a leased line. Don't skimp on your internet connection, particularly if you intend to use cloud computing services or VoIP services.
- How will you keep your network secure? It's very important you take key security precautions to protect your network from hackers, viruses and other online threats.
- Do you need extra software? A network is more than the equipment that links your computers together. In addition to any on-site server operating system, you may also need network security software and a device management solution.
Typical IT networks
A cloud-hosted network, suitable for a small and medium sized business which uses a combination of Software as a Service apps, remote file storage and hosted email. For such networks, the only hardware required on-site would be user devices and a router capable of connecting to the internet.
A basic network, suitable for a small company with five devices, might simply link the five devices wirelessly, without a central server. This would enable everyone to use the internet and share files. You could set up a network like this for £100 or less.
An intermediate network might consist of 15 devices, connected by cables. An entry level server would create shared file storage and allow important files to be safely backed up. The company could also run a basic, centralised customer database. A network like this could cost around £2,000.
An advanced network might include 30 devices and a powerful server, connected by cables. The server would enable the company to run its own intranet, customer relationship management system and collaboration software. A number of shared printers could also be installed, and wireless access offered in common areas and meeting rooms. A network like this could cost £5,000 or more.
Buying equipment and building an IT network
If you decide to head down the route of building your own IT network, you'll need to purchase the equipment required and install it on your premises. This job can be physical and fiddly, so get help from your IT supplier if you lack the necessary experience within your company.
Installing cables is usually the first task. It can also cause the most disruption. Then it's usually a matter of plugging everything in, setting up your server (if you have one) and installing any other necessary software.
You should be able to set up a simple network without having to delve too deeply into complicated settings. However, setting up a server is particularly tricky, and must be done correctly to keep your data safe from hackers. If you don't have experience of server management, leave it to the experts.