Try to talk to most small business owners about setting up a computer network and their eyes will glaze over. Either they fear the complexity of the topic and the mysterious acronyms, or they simply fear the cost of setting up and maintaining one.

But computer networking isn’t as expensive or as complicated as it used to be. Lower costs and “plug and play” devices have made it extremely easy for even small Mom and Pop shops to take advantage of the increased speed, accuracy, and ease of doing business offered by a computer network.

What Is A Network?

A computer network is nothing more than a system of computers and computer devices (like a printer or scanner) that are connected together to share files, information, and resources. If you connect your computer with another computer with a cable, you’ve got a small, peer-to-peer network in place.

The most common network for small businesses is the LAN or Local Area Network. This type of network is usually connected within the same building via cables. Another common small business network is a WAN or Wide Area Network, which is a LAN extended to other geographic locations using the Internet.

Which Network Is Best For You?

If you only have two or three computers, you may want to start off only with a simple peer-to-peer network where all machines are directly connected to one another. However, there are drawbacks to this setup.

Peer-to-peer networks make it difficult to backup and manage files because everyone has to store everything – software and data files – on their own machine.

This type of network can also become sluggish and unstable causing unexpected downtime and makes it difficult to adequately protect against viruses.

A better option is the client-server network where a powerful computer called a server stores and “serves up” the information and software applications (databases, word processing, accounting, etc) to all the machines in your network or office.

This type of network configuration is much faster, secure, and stable. Backups are not only easier to perform, but they are also far more reliable and accurate. Security is improved because virus protection and Internet access can be managed from one central location.  Sharing software applications and large files between workers and offices becomes easier, and you can allow for remote access (people working from home).

There are other benefits such as lowered software costs, increases in productivity, and the ability to get practically any device (such as a printer or scanner) to talk to just about any other device, including your phone.

Of course, if the server goes down your entire network (and business) stops. Therefore you want to make sure you have a emergency plan in place (like a second back-up server) and a fast-response service agreement with a local computer support firm like the ones I offer to my small business clients.

Wireless Networks – The Next Generation of Small Business And Home Computing

Thanks to major advances in wireless technology, now even small businesses on a small budget can benefit from the new wireless networks. If you’re confused, just think of it as a computer that works like a cell phone (look Mom, no wires!).

The only difference between a wireless network and the “old fashioned” cable connected networks is that wireless networks communicate with other computers, devices, and the Internet without any messy cable installations.

This is especially popular in businesses that require mobile workers to enter and access data where wired devices would be inconvenient (or impossible) to carry around, such as a warehouse, a large store, or even in a hospital.

If your head is spinning from all this talk about networks and you just want all of this “computer stuff” to just work, then you can always give give us, good ol’ Intelecis, a call and we’ll make it all work for you.