Once you’ve decided you need a business computer network, it’s important you plan and build one that’s appropriate for your business needs
To start building a computer network, define your network requirements. These describe what you want to do with your network.
They are your chance to articulate why you need a computer network and to establish your priorities.
If you lack networking experience, a good IT supplier will be able to help you at this stage.
How to network a computer 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. It gives you strong control and enables you to run centralised software like a customer relationship management system. However, it increases the cost and complexity of your network too.
If you don't want to commit to buying a server, you can still get many of the benefits via cloud computing services, which you access over the internet.
Wired or wireless? Wired networks are fast and reliable, but mean running cables throughout your premises.
Wireless is versatile, but slower and sometimes less reliable. Many companies use a mix: cables to network computers at desks and wireless for ad-hoc access in meeting rooms and other areas.
- What internet connection do you need? A standard broadband connection is usually suitable for smaller companies with up to 30 employees. Larger companies may need a faster, more expensive connection. Don't skimp on your internet connection, particularly if you intend to use cloud computing or VoIP services, for which a reliable connection is essential.
- 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. You may also need network software. For instance, if you buy a server, you also need specialised operating system software for it.
Typical computer networks
A basic computer network, suitable for a small company with five computers, might simply link the five computers 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 computer network might consist of 15 computers, 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 computers 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 a computer network
Once you’ve planned it, building a computer network is a matter of purchasing the equipment you need and installing it into your premises. This job can be physical and fiddly, so get help from your IT supplier if you lack the necessary experience in 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 right to keep your data safe from hackers. If you don’t have experience of server management, leave it to the experts.