Having a computer network can go a long way to increase efficiency and security in your day to day business. But what does that mean? Unless you work in the IT field, most will be unfamiliar with what a network consists of and why each element is important. It can also be unclear what aspects of a network can be hosted in the cloud and which parts are best kept in house.
Every business has special use cases for certain network designs that meet specific needs of the individual business. That being said, businesses today operate in vary much the same way with respects to the technology that they use. For example, most businesses rely on things like email, phones, data, mobility and connectivity. When you look at the backbone that makes all of this possible, most networks operate in much the same way. If you are setting up a network for your business for the first time or if you are considering updating your current network, these are some considerations you will want to make.
The heart of every network revolves around a central point of management, usually a server. This can be a physical machine sitting in your office or it can be based in the cloud. Sometimes multiple servers or virtual servers are necessary to host individual applications that are core to business functions. A server gives staff members a single point of collaboration and data storage that they can work from very efficiently. With a server you will be able to control where your data is being saved. Instead of having data stored on each computer, it is more secure to save data from a computer onto the server. With this approach you will not have to worry about losing data should one of your computers fail. It also relieves the worry of having multiple copies of documents across several workstations making it easier for staff to work together.
As a point of management, a server gives a company the ability to control who has access to certain information. Management staff can be separated by department or individuals so that, for example, the accounting department has access to financial information but is not visible to the operations department. In most cases a network is based on a company domain that allows management to setup individual user accounts. This helps to isolate access to only those who have been given a user name and password. A server can have many functions but its core purpose is to give staff members a centralized means to collaborate while also keeping the company data safe.
NAS (Network Attached Storage)
A NAS device is a networks first line of defense from lost data. In most cases a NAS is set up to back up a server on an incremental basis. More so then a catastrophic hardware failure or ransomware infection, a NAS device is often used to replace accidentally deleted files. In the case of severe data loss the entire network can be restored from the last incremental backup. It is important to have a local NAS backup system because it allows you to get your team up and running in a matter of hours. If you are faced with having to download all of your data from the cloud, you will be at the mercy of your internet connection which can sometimes leave you stuck waiting for days before you are operational again.
A switch is the point of connection for every peace of hardware on a network. If you are going to save a document that you have edited to the server from a computer, the transmission of data will first need to pass through the switch to get to the server. The same is true of your printers. More then anything, a switch will offer a centralized point that each element of the network can talk through. When considering what type a switch you might want, there are a few things to consider. If you are using VoIP phones you will want to use a POE (Power Over Ethernet) switch. This allows you to power certain devices over your Ethernet cable. Devices such as wireless access points and VoIP phones can be powered this way allowing you to run less cabling in order to make your network run.
Wireless Access Points
In order to have effective WIFI coverage you will want to use a wireless access point. You can connect as many wireless access point to a network as is necessary to provide adequate coverage. For the best coverage it is a good idea to have more access points with the signal strength turned down then to have one access point turned all the way up. Having wireless access points also allows you to set up a guest WIFI network. This is a secure network that only gives your guests access to the internet. It also insures that your internal network will stay safe from malicious attacks over your WIFI network.
Computers need no introduction. Aside from what a computer is used for, there are a few things to know about how they interact with the network. Every computer should communicate with the network through the switch and not the WIFI network. This allows for greater reliability in the network as you will not have to worry about your computer randomly losing connection. If you have sensitive data then it is vary important to make sure that you have passwords for every computer. If you have a server and a domain this task is a breeze. Most businesses have a password reset policy set so that on a regular basis, every user on the company network is required to reset the password before they can log in.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the computer is not the computer itself but the person behind it. On the one hand this part of the network is the interface that keeps businesses moving forward. On the other hand it is the gateway into a network that, if not respected, can cause a company a great deal of grief. For this reason there are a few approaches to security and efficiency that can be implemented by management and by network policy. Acceptable use policies and user training are important for every business no matter the size. It only takes downloading one bad attachment or clicking on a link to bring your business to a grinding halt. For this reason we recommend enforcing policies that restrict access to certain websites or the use of company email addresses to subscribe to unnecessary mailing lists.
From a network management perspective there are a few tricks that can help secure a network. By installing a good firewall you can limit access into the internet and you can also limit access out of a network as well. This is important simply because if you cannot access malicious websites, you cannot download the content. This is the same reason for installing an effective add blocker across a company network as well. If you can’t see it, you can’t click on it. From an email perspective, there are certain attachments that are more prone to transfer viruses. For example, by restricting incoming .EXE files from being sent to company email address, you can limit your vulnerability to threats like ransomware.
The firewall or router is the first line of defense from the outside world. A good firewall is a great help to reduce your threat profile. Without a firewall, there is little to filter out the known threats that are on the internet. A good firewall also allows you to limit access to content on the internet. For example, if you want to limit access to websites pertaining to drugs and alcohol or other various categories you are free to administer that as you wish.
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Now that we are outside of the security of the private network there are a few things that need to be considered. People need to be mobile and your data needs to stay safe. Odds are good that you have a computer, a laptop and a smart phone that you use for work on a daily basis. If you are accessing your company network from any remote location you are opening a hole in your network for the world to crawl in and out of. A VPN is a secure connection that allows you to access your company network from anywhere that you have an internet connection. If it is important that you have access to your data while you are on the go then be sure that you are set up to access your data through a VPN.
Off Site Data Storage
In addition to having a NAS device, it is important to have multiple levels of redundancy for data storage. We recommend backing up data to a local NAS at several points during the day so that if you do lose data it will only be a few hours at most. To make sure that your data is safe, you should have the NAS backed up to the cloud on a nightly basis. In the event of a disaster such as a flood or a fire, your data will be safe. In this worst case scenario, you would have to work from a remote location but you would not be out of business.
Unless you are willing to buy an additional server to host Microsoft Exchange and then buy all of the Microsoft Office suite of applications, you will want to sign up for Office 365. This is Microsoft’s cloud based email and application service. For a monthly subscription, all of your Microsoft software licensing are covered and when Microsoft releases a new version you will automatically have access to it. What Office 365 really does for business is turn email and licencing from a technical task into an administrative task leaving the technical aspect to Microsoft which saves both time and money.
With the option to host almost every application in the cloud, Internet access has never been more important. The more you lean on the cloud for all of its conveniences the more you are relying on the internet to keep you connected. For those that wish to completely virtualize their network, redundancy is an absolute must. Having more then one internet connection can save you from frequent down time. In the event of an internet outage on one line, a fail over can be set up so that the second connection provides internet while the main line is down.
In summary, when setting up a network there are many things to consider and the solutions will be different for each business. When working with new clients, we find that these network elements are almost universal to businesses, no matter the industry. By following these basic guidelines, we are confident that your business will operate with greater efficiency and security. If you find yourself in need of advice, please don’t hesitate to contact eTop. We’re here to help!