Special Report from Tech Guru and Business Strategist Asish George who dispenses money tips for life at Money Tips For Life
You’ve heard that cloud computing is great and it is.
But it’s also important to look at your computer network and ensure it’s able to grow with your business, is secure and optimized to handle the growing traffic (videos, telephone traffic, images and more) that it needs to carry.
In this article I want to give you the foundation for a solid small business network and share with you five network devices we used to build a test network.
Thanks to Buffallo, ZyXel and Netgear for proving network equipment for the network. See full details below.
Most of you know this, but in case you don’t, a network connects multiple electronic devices (such as a computer, printer, scanner, etc) so that they can all “talk” to each other or be accessible by anyone on the network.
This network is called a LAN (Local Area Network).
Why is a LAN important?
A LAN is designed to not only allow communication between devices but also to make the sharing of resources between users easier.
This sharing results in your investment in computing and technological resources being shared by multiple users resulting in a better return on your investment. A LAN will allow for organization wide localized data storage and backup, printer sharing, and deployment of security resources. Regardless of whether you invest in cloud based solutions or not, you should also invest in the basic building blocks of a LAN.
What are the key components of a good small business LAN?
- Router – Many small businesses are content with using the router supplied by their ISP not realizing that these “default” routers tend to be very limited in capacity. Purchasing a good full featured router will not only give you a more reliable connection to the Internet but will offer you a whole slew of added features that will make running your business easier.
- Switch – Most routers contain only 4 – 6 Ethernet ports for you to attach network devices to. If you have more than that many devices, you can purchase a switch to add more devices to the network. Switches come in two flavors – managed and unmanaged. A managed switch has a web interface that will allow you to customize and control the traffic passing through the switch. An unmanaged switch has a default set of configurations and can not be modified. For most small businesses, the low cost option (unmanaged switch) is more than adequate.
- Firewall – Most routers have some level of pre-built security features that may be sufficient for home owners and even small businesses. However, businesses with more complex IT infrastructure should consider adding a Firewall to their infrastructure. The firewall will keep your internal network safe by not allowing dangerous data packets from the Internet (spam, viruses, etc.) through. When purchasing a firewall, note that some features – virus detection for example – are sold as subscription services.
- VPN Gateway – Some full featured routers also have VPN capability pre-built however, for a more comprehensive solution that will allow multiple users to securely access your network remotely, a physical VPN appliance should be purchase. I recommend a physical appliance over software based solutions for SMBs.
- NAS – Network Attached Storage devices are a great way to securely backup your data. Since these devices can be connected to your LAN, it can also be used to backup multiple computers. A good NAS also comes with software that will automate the data backup by allowing you to set the backup methods and schedules.
With these devices, your business can have a secure, reliable local network.
We wanted to build a small business network for a Smallbiztechnology.com and for this project reached out to vendors asking them to provide the products for us to evaluate and implement in our network.
We’ve successfully tested these products in our network for 2-3 months and feel that they are great solutions for the needs of small businesses.
We evaluated and implemented the following products:
- Netgear N900 dual band router – With features such as simultaneous dual band offering up to 900 Mbps throughout, gigabit LAN ports, advanced QoS, and guest network access, this router is a steal at around $150. We are especially impressed with the signal quality and strength as well as the ability to set up a separate secure guest network (easy to do via the web management interface). This router is a beast and can easily support all your wireless devices.
- Netgear JGS516 gigabit switch – Our test LAN consists of multiple PCs, an Ubuntu server, and a NAS. To support all our devices, we chose the Netgear JGS516 16-port Gigabit Switch. This unmanaged switch offers 16 gigabit ports with each port delivering up to 2000 Mbps throughput. It also has other standard features for this price point (about $160) such as auto uplink technology to adjust for straight-through or crossover cables. This is a simple business class plug and play device and plays nicely with the Netgear N900 router’s gigabit ports.
- Netgear ProSecure UTM25 VPN and firewall - Rather than buy a separate firewall and vpn gateway, we chose this combination device from Netgear’s Unified Threat Management suit of appliances. This device is price at around $415 and has features that you would expect in a comprehensive security appliance. The beauty of this device is that it protects your network from web, network, and email vulnerabilities using multiple state of the art technologies and partnerships with leading security firms. Being a VPN appliance, it also allows remote users to securely connect to your organization’s network. Many VPN appliances geared towards small businesses require remote users to download and configure the VPN software but that’s not the case with the UTM25. Configuring the appliance does require some know-how (even though the user interface is intuitive and setup is wizard based) but I’ve always found Netgear’s phone support to be helpful. Lastly, the ProSecure UTM offers Web and email protection subscriptions with no “per-user ” licensing and come with 30 day trials of their subscription services. This appliance is a great solution for growing SMBs with a significant IT infrastructure and multiple remote users.
- ZyXEL ZyWALL USG20 Internet Security Firewall – For our satellite office, we deployed the ZyWall USG20 by ZyXEL. This security appliance also serves the dual purpose of firewall and VPN gateway and is a great solution for SOHOs and small businesses up to 5 PC users and is a value at around $145. For this price point, it offers a ton of features including packet inspection to protect your network from security vulnerabilities. Some features are subscription based but what you get out of the box is pretty impressive. We were particularly impressed with the ability to create VLANs and the ability to control bandwidth and network access based on user login. In addition, as part of advanced QoS, we can prioritize traffic for mission critical applications and VoIP. The VPN features are also relatively easy to configure and remote users can connect to the network through a web browser.
- Buffalo LinkStation Pro Duo 2-Bay 2 TB NAS – Every business needs a good local backup solution and the LinkStation Pro Duo is simply great. Priced at $240, this NAS is a bargain considering that it offers 1 TB of storage with RAID configuration (2 X 1 TB hard drives) to provide data redundancy and protection as well as many advanced features. I want to note that the NAS arrives with RAID 0 configuration instead of RAID 1 but you can (and should) easily change it in the web management tool. This NAS is also blazing fast making backup and restore a simple process. There are 3 features of this NAS that make this an excellent buy. First, you can remotely access your files on the the NAS via the Web and Web Apps. Second, it comes with data backup software for both PCs and MACs to ensure that all your devices can be backed up properly. Third, it has a USB port on the back that you can use to attach a hard drive or camera to easily transfer files or you can even connect a USB printer and turn it into a network printer. With a simple intuitive user interface, a small form factor, and lots of great features, this is a great investment.