Understanding Networking for the Small & Medium Business

Networking needs have changed over the years and often times, picking up the first solution one sees at a big box retailer is not sufficient. With the evolution of VoIP as a replacement for traditional voice systems, the explosion of virtualization and the need for differentiated services, creating a stable and scalable network solution is not quite as easy as it once was. A common misconception is that “bigger is better” and throwing more bandwidth (or more capacity) was the solution. While that may work in corner cases or in the short term, it’s not a good long term planning solution. It creates unnecessary churn by forcing small businesses to replace equipment more often than needed or worse, reduces the quality of the network up to the point of suffering outages. When sensitive applications like voice and video are subjected to suboptimal network solutions, their quality degrades significantly and can be more trouble than they are useful.

While it is true that LAN solutions are significantly easier to integrate and manage than security, voice, Internet and other advanced technologies, it is actually the foundation by which these other technology works upon. Making sure your LAN can support these auxiliary (and often vital) solutions is critical especially considering the investment that goes into them. More often than not, the LAN can also augment these solutions. For example, when looking at security, LAN devices can be used to authenticate users, restrict network access or help identify potential outbreaks of undesired activity which can be used to fine tune the policy of other devices. When looking at voice, the LAN can make sure that voice traffic is preferred over internet bound traffic (such as Facebook or YouTube).

LAN designs do not need to be complex but they do need to be comprehensive. The needs of an office with 8 or 10 PCs and a single server are different than those with 100+ users, a handful of servers and an IP telephony-based solution. Choosing the right switches and routers is important to make sure that the business can grow, integrate new solutions and not get caught in an upgrade cycle more often than needed. At the same time, sometimes simplicity is the order of the day but understanding what options are available and how the right LAN can enhance the business is important and worth the time investment.

Businesses with multiple locations and trying to link them all together face a different set of challenges beyond just the LAN. Connecting the various offices over a private WAN, provider managed MPLS solution or an Internet based VPN solution are important discussion points. Self-managed solutions (such as IPSec based VPNs) are cost effective but require some degree of expertise to setup and troubleshoot where provider based solutions require little man-hour investments but carry a monthly reoccurring charges.

Wireless networking is yet another LAN technology to consider and carries a large security component with it as well. Wireless networks have changed how employees work and allow for more freedom in things like office cubical design, collaboration and how employees access and work with company data. Securing wireless should be a top of mind concern and does involve more than just enabling a particular feature on the access point.

At DataPath Solutions, we believe that investing in the LAN is an investment in the business as a whole. From single switch solutions to multi-layer, multi-switch campus designs, we want to work with you to understand your needs and challenges than presenting you with a design template that isn’t relevant to your business. We take the time to explain our recommendations and tie each solution back to a business requirement or need. We would welcome a chance to earn your business.