Networks and communications

Setting up a network in your office will allow your employees' computers to talk to each other, as well as allowing your staff to share documents and software, print and scan easily, without having to save documents onto external hard drives or USB sticks.

Local area networks (LANs): the basics

  • A local area network (LAN) connects two or more computers within the same physical space to allow them to share software, hardware, documents, and an internet connection. This can be done wirelessly, or by cable.
  • Most new computers come with the capability to share documents with others in the same space relatively simply. This is called 'ad-hoc' networking. All you need to do is make sure both computers have a wireless internet connection, and they will detect each other and form a network.
  • As well as connecting computers and allowing users to collaborate, networks also connect hardware such as printers and scanners, allowing your staff to work more effectively.
  • At the centre of all networks is a router or switch which all the computers are connected to. This allows the computers to communicate, and can be connected either with cables or wirelessly.

Servers

  • If you want to create a more permanent solution, you might want to consider investing in a server. This is a piece of hardware which can store data in a central location, rather than on disparate computers.
  • While it's technically possible to use a spare computer as a server, it's best to use a machine designed specifically for the purpose - it will be faster, hold more data and, most importantly, will have built-in security and backup features.
  • One of your server's functions will be to protect your network from outside threats such as viruses or hackers. Strengthen your network's security by installing a firewall on your server, and controlling how and when your staff have access to the internet. A server can also process all your incoming emails and scan for viruses, as well as controlling who has access to your internet connection and network.
  • A server gives you more administrative control over your business' computers. By using a server, you can ensure all your business' data is backed up regularly and ensure all your computers' software is kept up to date.
  • If you choose to have a server, you will probably be required to install an operating system designed for a server such as Windows Server 2008 or Apple OSX Server. You will also have better control over the computers on your network if you install 'professional' software such as Microsoft XP Professional or Vista Business, which will allow your staff to hot-desk and connect from home.
  • If you buy a server and you're not an IT expert, make sure it is installed by a professional, who will help you set up your network properly and be on hand to offer advice if you have any problems further down the line. They will also advise you of the best place to store your server - having it in the middle of the office, where people could trip over it, might expose your data to unnecessary risks.

Wireless vs. Ethernet

  • Most LANs are wired using Ethernet cables. Ethernet connections are reliable and fast, and mean once you're connected, you won't have to mess around with passwords or login details.
  • If you decide to connect using Ethernet cables and you want all your computers to have access to the internet, chances are you'll have to buy a network switch, which allows you to connect several computers to the router using a single cable. This is important as most office routers only have 4-8 Ethernet ports.
  • As wireless technology becomes more reliable, more and more offices are choosing to connect wirelessly, rather than having to deal with piles of tangled cables.
  • Wireless networks are usually connected through a wireless router, which 'stitches' your network together and gives it access to the internet. If your router's signal isn't strong enough in the far corners of the room or on other floors of your builder, you may want to invest in a wireless bridge to boost it.
  • While the technology is developing rapidly, wireless networking still isn't at the stage where it's entirely reliable - most offices using wireless networks will experience frustration at some point. Wireless technology also can't deliver the speed some businesses need from their internet connection - so if you need fast access to the internet, think about using  an Ethernet connection.
  • If you're using a wireless connection, make sure it is encrypted. This protects your network with a password and prevents unauthorised people from gaining access, which could put your business at risk.

Checklist

  • You will need a local area network if you want to connect two or more computers
  • Most computers are able to form ad-hoc networks relatively easily
  • Invest in a router to allow your computers to connect
  • If you want more control and improved security, invest in a server
  • Ethernet connections are faster and more reliable than wireless connections
  • If you decide to use a wireless connection, make sure it is encrypted

FAQ

How many computers will my wireless router support?
For some reason, wireless router manufacturers have picked 254 as the standard number of computers most routers will support. Arbitrary but true.

Will I need a second router if I want to expand my network?
No, not at all - although you may want to add a bridge or a switch to your network if there are more people joining to prevent the connection from slowing down.

How do I connect my printer to my wireless network?
When you're buying a printer, look for one which has wireless capabilities, then follow the instructions in the box. USB-only printers will not work on a wireless network.

Jargon buster

WAN: Wide-area network. This is a network owned by a business generally based in more than one location. In contrast to a LAN, a WAN allows employees to access the network from different locations.

Encryption: The process of using algorithms to convert data into a code, used by IT experts to make your network more secure.

File server: A computer attached to a network which stores data files and is accessible by other computers on the network.

Resources

  • LAN FAQ - everything you could ever want to know about setting up a LAN
  • How to set up a LAN - a step-by-step guide to getting your LAN set up

Smarta Business Builder

To help you on your business journey, we've created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online tools package for growing your business. Website BuilderBusiness PlansAccounting SoftwareLegal Documents and Email - all in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out today.

We use cookies to create the most secure and effective website possible for our customers. Full details can be found here