An excellent computer network is the lifeblood of any SMB. That's because a carefully arranged network can help speed communication among disparate parties, increase employee productivity and reduce travel costs.
1. Keep it simple. When it comes to selecting a computer network's hardware and software components, don't be lured by a solution's bells and whistles. Although plenty of state-of-the-art tools are available, it's best to stick with what you know. "Going with standard solutions like Microsoft Exchange for email, for instance, is usually a better idea for a small or medium-sized company," said Joe Kelly, founder and CEO of Business Network Consulting, a tech consulting firm based in Denver. "Industry leaders such as Microsoft offer solutions that are easy to support and [that] deliver the highest ROI [return on investment] for the business." What's more, standard solutions require minimal training — an important factor if your organization is prone to high staff turnover.
The same rule applies when selecting connectivity. "A classic cable network is more reliable than wireless ," said Kelly, highlighting the importance of taking a practical approach to setting up a computer network. "As far as Internet connections are concerned, fibre is probably the cheapest route to go and will give you the most bang for your buck," he added, noting that the majority of his clients still rely on T1 lines for connectivity.
2. Don't cut corners. Kelly said he sees it all the time: Companies try to save a few pennies here and there by introducing a non-business-class, non-standard solution into their computer network. It's a big mistake, according to Kelly, who warned, "The 10 or 20 percent they end up saving on hardware will bite them really badly on the labor side if a problem arises." For example, Kelly said it's not uncommon for companies "to try to save some money by going with a freeware application for critical network services or backup." As a result, he said, "Typically, only one person knows how to support that freeware application. If he's ever sick or leaves the company, it's a lot more expensive for an organization to have to hire [a third-party provider] to clean up the mess."
Rather, Kelly recommended spending the extra money on network solutions from Dell and IBM — industry giants that offer excellent customer support and ensure that their solutions are properly tested before going to market.
3. Turn to a third-party provider. Enlisting the assistance of a consultancy or systems integrator can certainly increase the cost of setting up a computer network, but experts agree that it's well-worth the expense. Kelly said that's because, unlike many small businesses, "We've set up networks so many hundreds of times across so many businesses, we can really go in and do it right the first time."
4. Invest in training. According to Kelly, at least 20 percent of a company's computer network deployment budget should be dedicated to training. More than simply a means for teaching employees how to fix glitches, proper training can also impart "best practices, backup information and storage strategies," said Kelly.
Although some companies opt to receive training directly from the vendor, Kelly said, "If you can receive local training on a particular software application, that's better because then that training organization can come back at a later time and answer questions. It's a better relationship than having someone fly in just that one time."
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