An IT network connects all your devices, plus other peripheral equipment such as printers
To build a network you will need a range of equipment including the following:
- Cables and connectors. These link together the computers, printers, servers and other equipment on your network.
- A router. This manages network traffic, ensuring devices can communicate with each other via both wired and wireless connections, and provides internet connectivity.
- A wireless access point (optional). This will extend your wireless network if the router is incapable of offering coverage in certain parts of the building.
- An internet connection. This could be a faster fibre connection or dedicated leased line.
- A hardware firewall. This creates a secure barrier between your network and the internet, blocking security threats. Networks sometimes include an on-site network server which runs central applications, acts as an email server and provides file storage.
Network hardware building blocks
Some businesses still build their network with cables because they're very reliable and fast. The most common type is Ethernet cable, which is rated for speed. Cat 6 cables can carry data fast enough for any business purpose.
When building their network most businesses install network sockets at convenient locations in their premises, so computers and other devices can be plugged into the network. The sockets cost about £3 each.
The router: a vital network component
The router acts as a signpost, indicating where data on your network should go and enables devices to communicate with one another.
Routers also connect directly to the internet and share the connection via cable or Wi-Fi with devices on the network.
A basic router with four wired connections will cost from £70. A more advanced model, with 24 connections, could cost £150 or more.
Routers also include Wi-Fi capability, enabling people to connect laptops, smartphones, tablets and other devices to the network wirelessly.
Wi-Fi is ideal for providing network access to staff with mobile devices and in meeting rooms or common areas. It's also useful for offering internet access to visitors, with many routers including a separate 'guest' network for the purpose. Wireless routers start at around £70.
Network equipment speeds
Most network equipment complies with common standards, so you can combine routers, cables and firewalls from different manufacturers. However, the speed of your network might be governed by the slowest element. For example, if all your cables and computers are rated to Cat 6, make sure your router is rated to Cat 6 too.
There are a number of wireless networking standards to take into account, although the majority of modern devices will include support for the latest versions. Try to get a wireless router or access point rated to 'Wireless n' or '802.11n'; it's the fastest type available, but will still work with older wireless equipment, too.