The Internet is essential to the operation of any business.
When two or more devices, such as computers, printers and storage appliances, are linked together to share resources, a computer network is formed. Even the smallest of businesses can take advantage of the many benefits of having a computer network, and it is relatively easy to set up. A small business network, also called a Local Area Network (LAN), will allow companies to perform a variety of business-related functions including:
- Communicating with other computers in the office
- Sharing resources, such as printers, scanners and storage devices
- Accessing the Internet
- Video conferencing
- File sharing
- Instant messaging
- Backup and storage of information on a network attached storage (NAS) device or through the Web
Components of a Network
A network consists of two or more computers, an Internet connection, and basic networking equipment, such as a router and peripherals (i.e. keyboard and mouse).
Internet Connectivity: The Internet is the lifeblood of most businesses. A company can purchase Internet service from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for a monthly fee. The ISP can assist the business in determining what speed options are appropriate for the company. Bandwidth is typically determined by how many users and devices will be part of the network, along with the tasks for which employees will utilize the Internet. When the Internet service has been installed at the business location, the user can connect to the Internet using a computer or computer network.
Router: A router is required to connect multiple computers and assigns individual IP addresses for each device. Many ISPs provide a basic router as part of their installation. Business-grade routers are designed with advanced features for extra security such as a firewall, anti-spam, anti-virus, and wireless options. These offer more control over customization. This type of router also enables the setup of a virtual private network (VPN), which allows the company’s employees to connect to the network if traveling or away from the office. If the ISP doesn’t provide a router, there are several routers designed for small businesses or home offices that have special software which will guide the user through the setup – further simplifying the process of establishing a network. A typical router has several ports to connect multiple computers or other devices and allows the user to share the Internet connection across those devices.
Ethernet Cable: An Ethernet cable is needed to connect the router to the computer or to connect multiple computers. This type of network cable, such as Category 5 (CAT5), is commonly used in networking since it is a very simple way to interconnect devices on the network. Ethernet cables come in various lengths and colors so that the user can connect the router and other devices, such as a NAS device, to the computer. Ethernet-based networking offers several advantages as it often features more reliability and lower costs, while delivering speeds up to 1 Gbps at a distance of up to 100 meters.
Once a business has set up the equipment and the network components, a user can manage his or her network through the computer’s operating system (OS), such as Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. Most operating systems have built-in functionality for managing a small network, allowing the business to add users, files, and folders, and enable printer-sharing options. If the laptop or desktop is relatively up to date, then it should be fairly straightforward to complete the network set up.
Setting up a LAN can offer a business many expanded capabilities and benefits. To help get started, a business owner can contact his or her local Internet Service Provider or telecommunications company. The ISP can assist in setting up both the Internet connection and ensuring the right equipment is in place to support all of the networking needs and functionality required.