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
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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
- Invest in a router to allow your computers to connect
- If you want more control and improved security, invest in a
- Ethernet connections are faster and more reliable than wireless
- If you decide to use a wireless connection, make sure it is
How many computers will my wireless router
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
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
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.
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.
FAQ - everything you could ever want to know about setting up a
- How to
set up a LAN - a step-by-step guide to getting your LAN set
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