Got a few computers in your office and you’re wondering how to share files, printers and internet between them? You need a network! No longer will you have to walk over to another computer just to share a document or wait for someone to get off a computer just to use the printer. There are other advantages too, like centralised file sharing and easier backups.
While it might be tempting to dive headfirst and set up a office network yourself Anthony Hill, Head of Technology at Geeks2U “certainly recommends network setup be done by a specialist. By default, Windows comes with a local user account, but it doesn’t configure all the settings to properly secure a local network and shared files”. An improperly configured local network can be more of a burden than a benefit, but after reading this article you’ll have a better understand of what to ask an expert to implement in your business.
The first step in setting up an office network is determining how many devices will be on this network. If you have under twenty or employees, each with their own computer, this is considered a small office network. Once you go above a dozen but under one hundred computers, that’s a medium sized network. Anything over 100 is relatively large. This article will focus on small office networks.
Next you need to figure out a way of physically connecting the computers. Wi-fi is popular and easy to set up as there’s no need to lay cables but can be slow if there’s a lot of activity on the network and unreliable if you’re in an area with many other wireless networks. Getting a qualified data cabler in to wire up Ethernet sockets doesn’t cost as much as you think and will ensure reliable and fast networking. The most flexible solution is to connect stationary devices like desktops, printers and NAS units, but also have a wireless network (backed up with Ethernet) for laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Terms like router, switch and access point may come up in your research about networks. What are these things and why do you need them? Chances are you’ve already got all three devices in your office. The box with blinking lights used to access the internet is typically a combination router, switch and wireless access point!
A router is what connects you to the internet. It allows data to go from your office network, out to your ISPs network and from there, out to the big bad internet. A switch sends data within your office network, from computer to computer, computer to printer, or even computer to wireless network. A wireless access point acts like a switch, sending data around your local network, but does it without wires (hence the name wireless access point!).
All-in-one router, switches and access points are quite powerful and full of features these days, particularly the higher end business focussed units from ASUS and Synology, but Anthony Hill says that “depending on how many people will use network determines if you need a separate switch or router and if you’re in a large space, or in a building with lots of walls between devices, you might need a multiple wireless access points for sufficient network quality”. It really is an area where expert advice is needed.
A popular addition to an office network is a NAS – network attached storage. These little boxes contain hard drives and store files in a central location everyone on the network can connect to. Access to the data on the NAS can be finely configured to only allow specific people access to certain files (e.g: pay roll, corporate strategy, etc.), as well as wide open for other files (paperwork templates, active projects, etc.). You can even make these files available remotely so with the right authentication, they can be accessed from home, at a client site or on the road.
A NAS is not only useful for sharing files, but also for backing them up. Copies of data kept on individual computers can be automatically sent to the NAS every hour (or any interval you wish) over the network, so if a computer dies, catches a virus or, a file is accidentally deleted, the lost data can be retrieved from the NAS and business quickly returns to normal. Imagine if all the files your business uses to generate income were lost – it would be a disaster! Including a NAS as part of your backup regime makes sure the backup is automated.
Finally, sharing a printer can mean that instead of buying multiple cheap printers for each computer, everyone can share a single high-quality printer. Most printers are available in models with built-in wi-fi or Ethernet, making connecting them to your office network relatively simple.