Understand Your Options
Choose the Network You Need
Understand the Technology
Prepare Your Business
Choose Your Software
Why Do You Need a Network?
Do your employees need to communicate frequently with one another or with customers and suppliers? Are you concerned about reducing capital costs, such as computer hardware? Does your staff work with large documents or files, or need frequent access to accounting data, inventory information, or customer information? Do you want to make sure the information you rely on everyday is safe and secure? Do you want to get your business on the Web?
If any of these questions elicit a "yes" from you, it's time to invest in a computer network for your business. Regardless of size, your company can benefit from the ability to share files and resources, access information more readily, and ensure security and reliability of data.
This guide is designed to help you understand how to get started with a network, and work with your technology provider to make the right decision for your business.
Step 1: Understand Your Options
The type of network you need depends in part on your company's size and your business needs. Regardless of where you start, you should consider a solution that can easily upgrade with your needs.
In a peer-to-peer network, PCs are connected to one another via cables and can share files and peripheral devices such as printers. Each PC on the network is an equal or "peer" of the others, and there is no central repository or control of the entire network. This is an easy to setup, low-cost solution typically recommended for companies with fewer than five PCs that don't use large files or need to share applications.
In the client/server network, "clients" (standard desktop PCs) are connected to a "server"-a more powerful PC that "serves up" data, devices, and software applications to clients. The client/server network provides several advantages to businesses with five or more networked PCs. The server is typically a high-performance machine that will support sharing of even very large files, or allow large numbers of users on the network without suffering slowdowns or other performance problems. It also enables centralized security and backup. Finally, it provides a platform to run shared applications such as accounting solutions or line-of-business software (such as manufacturing or inventory solutions).
Step 2: Choose the Network You Need
To determine what is best for your needs, follow this checklist:
Choose peer-to-peer if:
You have fewer than five PCs on the network AND you don't plan to grow in the near future AND you don't use large or graphic-intensive files You want to share documents and printers
Choose Client/Server if:
Your business is any size and you share large or graphic intensive files You need to connect more than five PCs to the network You want to access your network remotely You want to share applications as well as files, printers, and other peripherals You plan to use the Internet regularly
Step 3: Understand the Technology
When moving to a network, it's helpful to understand some of the basic software and other resources you'll be investing in.
Local area network (LAN): A group of computers connected by a communications link that enables any device to interact with any other on the network.
Network operating system (NOS): An operating system installed on a server that coordinates the activities of providing services to PCs and devices attached to a LAN. Microsoft® Windows NT® Server is an example of a network operating system.
Server: A computer running a NOS that controls access to the network and its resources.
Client: A PC that accesses shared resources provided by the server.
Server-based applications: Applications that run on a NOS and are designed for multiple users.
Network interface card (NIC): A card within the computer that provides communication between the PC and the network. PCs that will be connected to your network will need these.
Network Cable: The physical wiring connecting all PCs in the LAN.
Hub: A device that provides a common connection to all devices on a network.
Modem: A communications device that enables a computer to transmit information over a standard telephone line.
Step 4: Prepare Your Business
These are just some of the key things you should think about in planning for a network.
Find a consultant. Today's networking software is much easier to set up and manage than in the past. However, it's still advisable to find a technology professional who can help ensure your network is set up correctly and for optimal performance. This consultant can often help you with issues like choosing hardware and installing network cabling as well.
Identify who will manage your network. This person will maintain security, add new users to the network, allocate shared resources such as printers, and manage other issues.
Determine who will need network access. Identify the employees in your company who will be accessing network resources so that you can establish the appropriate access and security levels
Consider your peripheral devices. Because a network enables you to share peripheral devices such as printers, you can sometimes afford to upgrade to higher performance hardware that is shared by multiple people. For example, you may want to invest in a high-quality color printer.
Plan to backup and protect your data. Even though a server-based network is a great way to back up data on local PCs, if you don't back up your server and store the tapes in a safe place, you risk losing everything. Be sure to do regular server backups and find a safe location (outside your office, in case of fire or flood) for your data stores.
Step 5: Choose Your Software
Depending on what kind of network you opt to install, consider your networking software choices. Microsoft offers a range of operating systems and application server suites designed to meet the needs of businesses of all sizes. For most small businesses, the common choices include these:
Microsoft Windows NT® Workstation: Windows NT Workstation is the ideal operating system for business desktop PCs, offering performance, security, and reliability, as well as extensive application support. It also supports peer-to-peer networking. Choose this for very small networks, as well as for the operating systems on client PCs on larger networks.
Microsoft BackOffice Small Business Server: Designed for networks of 25 PCs or fewer, BackOffice Small Business Server integrates the core networking applications small businesses use most: file, printer, and application sharing (Windows NT Server); a messaging server (Exchange Server) for managing e-mail; network faxing (Fax Server); a database platform (SQL Server); modem sharing; secure Internet access (Proxy Server); and web site management tools (FrontPage). Most important for small companies, it's designed to be easy to manage, offering a Web-based management console, integrated setup, and an Internet Connection Wizard to make getting online easy.