Help for Buyers in Need of a Networking System

By Brian Boguhn
Updated: July 08, 2011

You’ve decided that it’s time to build a network. Perhaps you work for a small company that is just beginning to expand and hasn’t dabbled in networking before. Or you may work for a startup that is building from the ground up. Whatever the case may be, you’re in the position of getting a network in place for your employer. If you’re a seasoned networking professional, no problem. If this is your first foray into networking, though, it might seem somewhat daunting. The purpose of this article is to provide a little guidance and help make the process a little bit easier.

Where to Start

The best place to begin is to try and have an understanding of the basics of networking. If you can grasp these basics, the steps that follow will make more sense to you. You’re going to need to do some diagramming along the way. Being clear on the basics will make this much easier. There are some good books available to help get you started. The Internet has a wealth of information as well. Remember, you’re not trying to become an expert at this point. You’re simply looking to glean some information that will help you to make sense of everything as we move forward.

An Intranet Only or Connected to the Internet?

What are you trying to accomplish? Is your network going to be a very simple isolated one where only the PCs within your company communicate with one another (intranet), or are you looking to connect to the Internet as well?

These days, most everyone is looking for an Internet presence, so it would be a surprise if you weren’t looking to connect your company to the Internet. To do that, you’re going to need to work with some sort of a network provider who will bring an Internet connection into your company. A variety of connections exist these days, all functioning at various speeds and offering various benefits. Work with your provider to determine the connection that is best for you. As long as you can explain what you’re trying to accomplish, the provider should be able to offer you a connection that works for you at a reasonable price. Keep in mind that there are multiple providers out there all trying to get your business. Be sure to shop around for the best deal.

Firewalls, Switches, and Routers

Networks can be very complex animals. For the purpose of this article, we’ll keep things on the simpler side. Just realize that you can make your network as complex as you want it to be. Once you have an Internet connection coming in to your company, you’re going to need a firewall for the main point of contact between the outside and the inside. The firewall is going to protect your company by making sure that no unwanted visitors make their way inside your network and start poking around where they shouldn’t be. A firewall isn’t an option. You need one to protect your company’s data…and business.

Do you need switches and routers? Again, it depends on the complexity of your network. In the case of a small network, you’ll at least need a switch to handle the communication between the computers on the network and traffic to and from the Internet. If your network is more complex, meaning that you have various subnets that need to communicate with one another, and you need to establish the best routes for this communication to occur, then you’re going to need at least one switch and one router (or at least one piece of hardware that handles both switching and routing). If you’ve got a small network with just a handful of PCs, a single subnet is going to work just fine for you. If you have various departments with multiple PCs in each department and the need to make sure traffic within the departments is confined and nothing goes out unless accessing a server or the Internet, then multiple subnets is going to be the answer for your and routers and switches are going to help you accomplish that.

Confused yet? Remember, knowing the basics will help.


Switches will also help in the speed with which your computers talk to one another. Gigabit speed is the popular choice for most of the industry today, although faster speeds are available and are making their way into the business world. If you have your switches and the ports on them set to communicate at gigabit speed, then your computers can talk to each other at that speed. This does not mean, though, that you have a gigabit connection to the Internet. You’re a slave to the speed of your outside connection when it comes to the Internet.

For a Basic Network, That’s It!

With everything discussed above, you now have enough information to build a basic network. You’ll find that this is a good learning process, and you’ll become savvier and more interested as you dig further into it. One last thing to keep in mind: however you design your network, design it so that expansion can be accomplished without tearing the whole thing apart. This won’t always be possible if you’re doing a major hardware upgrade, but do the best you can. It will save you headaches in the long run.

Good luck!

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