How to set up a new business network

Building a new network can be complicated, but IT teams can ease the design process and future management by choosing the right architecture and documenting each decision.

Do you need to create a new network? Perhaps your small business is growing beyond just a few employees, and your current operating mode doesn't scale. Or maybe your division is being spun off from a larger organization, and you can't continue to rely on that organization's network.

Determine the network architecture

The first step to setting up a new business network is to determine your company's network architecture. To do that, you must understand what your employees do and where they do it. The answers to the questions below are a major factor in designing your network architecture.

  • Do your employees primarily work at a central office or from home?
  • Do you have one central office, or are there branch offices?
  • Do some employees access the network from customer locations using mobile devices?

Central office. If employees work at a central office, your network will consist of a server surrounded by a LAN, either wired or Wi-Fi. You will need a connection to the internet with protective devices that surround your network.

Work from home and mobile users. If employees work from home or use mobile devices from customer sites, nearly all access will be through the internet. Therefore, the capacity of the devices that control access from the internet must increase, but the office LAN can be limited.

Remote or branch office. Remote offices raise a number of other questions. Each needs its own network, but consider whether each network has a server or simply accesses the central server. In either case, each office needs a connection to the central office, but the capacity of the link depends on whether most accesses are to a local server or are all to the central site.

network topology
Network architects typically design networks using a traditional network topology, such as a star network or mesh network.

Consider email and website requirements

Next, consider how you will provide email and a website. Many services are available that obtain a domain name for your company, provide email for your employees and maintain a website. Or you can maintain an email server and a web server on your own premises, but you will need to add protective devices -- such as firewalls and secure gateways -- to provide access to email and web, while protecting the server and local network.

Build a network diagram

Making these decisions will be a wasted effort unless you carefully document each one. Network diagrams are an effective way to record your decisions. Many sources of sample network diagrams are available, including those you can modify to your chosen network.

As your networks grow and equipment is updated, it's just as important to keep the diagram up to date as it is to create it. Software is available that will scan the network periodically and update the diagram.

Planning and setting up a new business network are major undertakings. Consider alternatives at each step, and most importantly, prioritize architectural decisions. A network that fully meets your company's needs is critical to its success.

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