Considering switching your small business over to workstations/computers? This is actually an easy move to make, assuming that you have a decent understanding of basic computer components. In fact, it's much like setting up a home network, with the exception of better security, servers, and backup.
For this tutorial on how to set up a small business computer network, we will be focusing on creating a network that will work best with 1-25 workstations/computers. You can likely have up to 50 workstations, but any more than that may require additional networking, a different server, or more access points. The method that we will be using in this tutorial will be simple, efficient, secure, and easy to maintain. If you are considering making the move to computers for your business, this may be a good way to start. If you have hundreds of computers, read this tutorial to get a good understanding for networking, but do not use it for your business. If you have anywhere from 1-25 computers, and don't plan on adding more workstations in the near future, this is a great way to go.
To setup a basic small business computer network, you will need the following equipment:
- High speed internet connection (recommended).
- Cable modem with Ethernet out. Two Ethernet outs is even better.
- Wireless router with USB (FireWire optional).
- Ethernet Hub (optional)
- Wireless Adapters (optional)
- External hard drive of good quality and high capacity.
- Specialized Backup software (optional)
Setting the Cable Modem and Router
The first step is to get the internet up and running. The first decision that you need to make is, do you want your small business computer network to use wireless internet or tethered internet? Wireless internet has the distinct advantage of not having to run several wires and cords throughout the office. Wired internet, or a tethered connection, has the distinct advantage of speed. The majority of the time, wired connections are faster.
If you decide that you want to go with a wireless internet connection, you will need to purchase and install a wireless adapter for each PC that you want to have internet access on, and that you want to network.
If you decide to go with a wired internet connection, you will need to purchase several feet of Ethernet cord. Enough Ethernet cord to assure that each workstation can reach the spot you will be placing the router. You will also need to purchase an Ethernet hub if you are going to be using more than 5 computers per router/cable modem.
- Connect your cable modem to the router using an Ethernet cable. Place these two items in a centralized, easy to access location, because all of your workstations are either going to connect to this point with Ethernet cable, or access it wirelessly. If wirelessly, it should be in a center point, so that all workstations get a strong internet signal.
- If you are using a wired connection, connect your Ethernet hub/hubs into the open Ethernet ports in the back of the router. This will give you several additional Ethernet ports to work with.
- Run Ethernet cables from each workstation to the router and Ethernet hub. Connect the ether net cables.
For wired internet connections, make sure that the internet is working on your workstations.
If you want to network your small business computer workstations wirelessly, make sure that you have installed the wireless adapter/wireless card on each workstation. From there, connect to your wireless network to assure that you are getting an internet connection.
*Please note, you can also use a DHCP server, rather than a router. Some businesses prefer this method*
Setting Up Security
No matter if you are using wireless internet networking or not, you should still set security for your router, as it can still be used for wireless internet access. Each router has specific security setup directions. For an example, see Configuring a Linksys Router.
Assure that you use a strong network password. Use a tool like comparitech's password checker to see how strong your password is.
Also, many routers/servers give you the option to hide your network name. Thus, computers can only connect to the network wirelessly, if they know the exact name of the network.
Setting Up Backup and File Sharing
For this tutorial, we will be using external hard drives connected to the router for backup and file sharing. If you are using a server, you will not need external hard drives.
Connect your first external hard drive to an available USB port or FireWire port on the back of the router. This external hard drive will be used for backup. Likely, it needs to be 2TB or much higher, depending on how many computers you are using.
Connect your second external hard drive to an available USB port or FireWire port on the back of the router. This external hard drive will be used for file sharing between computers on your small office network. This hard drive does not need to have as much capacity, but should be able to store documents and other files that will be used by several people on the network.
If you are using a server, connect it to the wireless router or directly to the internet.
Setting Up Backup and File Sharing Software
Some businesses use special backup and file sharing software. However, if you are running a version of Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate, you can use the built-in network backup feature to backup workstations. You can also set file sharing permissions within Windows.
Most specialized backup software has specific directions for setting up backup and file sharing.
Summary and Conclusion
Although very basic, many small businesses with less than 50 workstations run on computer networks like this. You may have noticed that things like T1 internet connection were not mentioned, and server use was not covered in much detail. This is simply because the majority of small businesses don't need stuff like that. Schools, colleges, and communications technology companies use T1 connections to run hundreds of workstations. Most small businesses do not need this kind of internet speed, nor should they pay the high cost for it. There was not a lot of server information required because using network attached storage and external hard drives is simpler. In addition, setting up a server is much the same process, with some more specific steps required.