A data network is an electronic communications system linking all of your devices to the Internet and to each other. A data network can utilize both wired and wireless technologies, connecting all devices to a central point called a hub or a switch.
In this way, the devices can communicate with each other. For example, computers can access files and printers on other computers, televisions and displays can play media content or other media stored on your computers, and Internet-enabled devices can connect to programs and services outside of your business.
Benefits of Setting Up a Network
A network provides you with time efficiency, organization, accessibility, and cost savings. It allows you to utilize a single Internet connection to power a variety of devices while also allowing those devices to effectively interact with each other.
And in what is a surprise to many people, beyond computers, there are all sorts of devices that can utilize a network. For example, we currently use our network for our Voice Over IP (VOIP) telephone system, our business security system, our CMS and media network, and our Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. Other products that can utilize a data network include digital video recorders (DVRs), Internet-enabled Blu-ray players, video gaming consoles, business automation systems, and networked printers.
1. Internet Modem
Whether you use have Internet service from your cable company or DSL service from your phone company, the Internet modem converts their raw signal into one that you can use throughout your business.
Just like your fuse box connects your business electrical system to the grid, your Internet modem will connect your business network to the rest of the world. With service from your cable company, their coaxial cable connects to your cable modem. In the case of DSL service, their Internet modem connects to your phone line.
Keep in mind that you do not have to rent your Internet modem from your provider. You are free to buy one of your own. Internet modems can be purchased online for $20-$50 and are designed to be user-installed with support from your Internet service provider.
2. Ethernet Hub or Switch
The Ethernet hub or switch is the heart of a network with numerous Ethernet ports so that wired components can gain access to the Internet via the hub or switch. Think of this device like the power strip you use to connect all of your electrical devices; you will need one port for each device you wish to connect.
Once you have acquired a hub or a switch, you merely need to plug it in to the electrical socket and connect the Ethernet cables from the devices on the network. Virtually every computer sold in the past 10 years comes equipped with an Ethernet connection and the cables are so ubiquitous that you can even buy them at The Home Depot.
What’s the difference between a hub and a switch? A switch, sometimes referred to as a “switched hub” has a far more efficient design than a traditional hub because it only routes the necessary data to the device that requests it. I would highly recommend a switch as traditional hubs are now obsolete with very little difference in cost.
While many of your network components will be able to connect wirelessly, there are still some that require the traditional Ethernet connection to your hub or switch. For example, most cable and DSL modems, voice-over IP (VoIP) devices, and desktop computers do not have wireless capabilities built in to them.
3. Wireless Router
Unlike your plumbing and electrical systems, a data network can be extended to places without a physical connection. To connect your network to devices without running cables, a wireless router is a popular addition to any business network. In fact, a wireless router may have multiple Ethernet ports as well, combining the functionality with that of an Ethernet hub or switch.
Once you plug the wireless router into an electrical socket, you must then configure it though your computer. Configuration is a simple task where you give the router a name and enable password authentication.
Wireless connections do have some disadvantages. A wireless signal may not penetrate all of the areas of your business, and you therefore may need to deal with weak signals in different parts of your business.Finally, wireless networks need to be secured, which requires some additional setup.
When evaluating routers, the wireless signal will be shown as 802.11 followed by a letter. The higher the letter, the higher the bandwidth (e.g. 802.11n is better than 802.11b).
4. Access Points (APs)
If the existing router doesn’t accommodate wireless devices, or you need to expand your network covrage by adding a wireless AP device to the network instead of adding a second router, while businesses can install a set of APs to cover an office building. Access points enable Wi-Fi infrastructure mode networking.
Although Wi-Fi connections technically do not require the use of APs, they enable Wi-Fi networks to scale to larger distances and numbers of clients. Modern access points support up to 255 clients, while old ones supported only about 20. APs also provide bridging capability that enables a local Wi-Fi network to connect to other wired networks.
5. Voice Over IP Telephone (VoIP) Interface
Voice transmissions are just data. A VoIP device connects from your business telephone system, through your business network, to the Internet. The result is that your telephone calls are routed through the Internet by one of the many affordable VoIP providers that can offer service for far less than your telephone company.
Vonage and RingCentral are two of the more popular VoIP providers, and cost around $40-75 a month, including a full range of features that would cost much more if provided by a traditional telephone company. Like the router from your Internet service provider, your VoIP router may need to be configured through your computer with the assistance of your VoIP provider.
6. Business Security Systems
Traditional alarm systems contact a central dispatch station through your telephone when your alarm system goes off. Since this is probably the worst possible time to tie up your telephone line, most systems can also route data though the Internet by way of your business network. Some systems will even allow you to monitor and control your security system through the Internet or through a mobile device. Your security monitoring service should assist you in configuring your connection to their system. If you want to install video surveillance cameras, these too would transmit their images through a home network that can be viewed on the Internet.
7. Network-Attached Storage (NAS) Devices
The latest addition to your network is a small box called network-attached storage (NAS). This is a standalone unit that contains several inexpensive, internal hard drives. It offers the advantages of greater capacity and redundancy over the hard drive in your computer. Each drive contains a small copy of the data on the other hard drives in such a way that the failure of any single hard drive does not result in the loss of data. This setup is known as RAID, or a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Discs.
Combined, this device can hold far more data than any one hard drive can. You can use it to securely store files, media, and documents. You can also use it to back up files from your computer automatically. It connects to your business network just like any other device and the files can be accessed by your computer or media extenders.
As a separate device, I can also locate it in a more secure part of my house than my computer. Basic NAS devices start at about $150 (e.g. Western Digital My Book Live Home Network Attached Storage Drive), and can be wired or wireless. A well-designed NAS device should be easily configurable by computers though a simple interface.
8. Networked Printers
Traditionally, business printers have attached directly to computers, but many new business printers are network enabled. Both wired and wireless networked printers can be accessed by any computer on the network. Unlike a traditional printer, a particular computer doesn’t have to be present or running in order for other computers to print.
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