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Nine Tips for Designing a Small Business Network

1. Plan for the software you will require.

The most important consideration for designing a small business network is the software the business will use. Many businesses use vertical market software that has been developed for and customized to a specific industry's needs. For example: A retail business may need point-of-sale software, or a doctor's office may need medical practice management software.

If you want to use a particular software package for your specific industry, you will need to plan your hardware and networking to meet the software's requirements. The cost of the systems required to support any software package should always be considered when selecting software.

Some vertical market software packages will require a database server and may only work with a certain types. If it will work with different databse servers, you will need to decide which one will fit your budget for hardware, software, and ongoing support and maintenance costs.

2. Plan for people.

You will need to know how many people need to use which software. You will have to plan for user licenses, storage requirements, network cabling and the devices each employee will require. You will also need to consider your customer requirements. Will they need to access your website or wireless network? Software licensing can be per server, per user, per device, for a number of concurrent users, or any combination of these.

3. Plan for devices.

How many desktops will you need to support now and in the near future? Will you support smart phones, tablets or wireless laptops? Will you need network printers, scanners, or fax? You will need to consider all of these questions in order to plan for network cabling, wireless access points or routers, and network switches.

4. Plan for remote access and telecommuting.

If you plan on hosting your website on your network or you have employees that will need to securely access sensitive resources on your network remotely, you will want to use a business class firewall and⁄or VPN access device.

Most small businesses do not host their own websites but, it can be done securely and may be a good solution for integrating a customer service or business application portal website with other locally stored data. This is an area where you will definitely need the help of an experienced professional! You will need to design for additional layers of security, use a business class firewall and set up alerts and monitoring.

5. Avoid consumer class hardware and software whenever possible.

Equipment and software designed for consumers is often used by businesses but can have limitations that will end up costing you more than if you started with business class products. Never use Home editions of Windows. They do not offer the security of Windows Professional editions and cannot join Microsoft Network Domains.

A good 16 or 24 port, business class network switch will offer more performance and reliability than a hodgepodge of small home networking switches. Business class server hardware can be configured with auto-failover and hot pluggable disks.

6. Determine your requirements for systems availability.

Zero downtime will never exist for any system! The dream of many IT executives is 5 nines, or 99.999% systems availability. That only allows for 5.26 minutes of downtime per year! As I said, it is a dream. High availability is also expensive. However, there are many cost effective ways you can build fault tolerance into your network.

To design your systems for the availability you need, you will first need to weigh the cost of downtime, with the cost of preventing it. You will need to plan for maintenance time as well. Maintenance will most likely be performed during non business hours, and you should be able to schedule for most of it. But expect the occasional need for unscheduled maintenance.

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