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Designing and Building the Best Small Office Network From the Ground Up


By Marshall Breeding  This chapter guides you through the process of designing a network for a small business or an independent branch office. A typical network of this sort includes one to two dozen or so computer users (and computers), a server or two, some networked printers and access to other networks, particularly the Internet. Our aim is to design and build the best network for these organizations, with the highest degree of functionality at the lowest reasonable cost.

Small businesses generally lack support from a corporate IT office. The ideal network for such an organization therefore must be straightforward and easily managed. No two organizations have the same needs, and complications will always arise. One of the guiding principles throughout this chapter will be to follow the simplest approach to achieve the desired results.

No matter the size of an organization, it must address the provision of computer support. A small business may have only one person dealing with computer issues-and then often on only a part-time basis. Many organizations hire a consultant to establish their computer environment, and then rely on in-house staff to keep it going.

Small Office Computing vs. Enterprise Computing

Small office computing has a character quite different from the computing environments that support large organizations, often called enterprise networks. Enterprise networks may have thousands of users, and involve a complex array of servers, mainframe systems, wide-area network links and the like. An enterprise network may serve multiple geographical locations and multiple buildings at each location. It is not unusual for an enterprise network to include several thousand devices. Such a network relies on a backbone network that channels data among locations and local area networks at each site. An enterprise network includes sophisticated equipment that must be maintained by highly trained network administrators.

Smaller organizations have more modest computing and networking requirements. They might have a dozen or so computers and a few laser printers. The network for the small office must allow members of the organization to share information, as well as printers and other peripherals. The computing needs of most small organizations can be met by a single LAN with one or two servers, using off-the-shelf components. Unlike the enterprise network, a small office LAN usually can be managed by one person with only moderate technical knowledge and experience.

While the small office network doesn't match the scale of its enterprise cousin, many of the same issues apply to both. The design of a small network must be simple, yet functional, secure and scalable. As the business grows, the network must easily expand with it. Even if the scale of the initial environment is small, avoid making technology decisions that might limit your company as it expands.

Marshall Breeding can be reached at breeding@library.vanderbilt.edu


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