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Setting up a small network

Small Business Network
With the introduction of internet connections using broadband services such as ADSL, most home users have fast and reliable access to the web. However, one area often neglected is internet security. Of course, some homes will have installed some form of anti-virus software that probably came with their PC when it was purchased. Beyond this first step, home users never deploy more sophisticated PC and network security, such as that in daily use by mid-size or large companies. This is obviously based on the deterrents of cost and complexity – but also because home users have little awareness of what really happens in the darkest corners of the internet.

Security Issues

The internet is a ‘wonderful tool' for business, with many small businesses finding email an important tool to communicate with customers and find new ones. More and more small businesses display their products or describe their services on a website, with some even taking orders electronically directly from a website. Back at the office, especially as the company grows, as more PCs are added and perhaps even a server is installed, it is inevitable that a ‘network' will be required to join things together and give everything internet access.

For small businesses operating from a home environment or from their own business premises, the temptation has been to use the same 'home grade' internet hardware and software to connect to the internet. However, the potential risk of losing vital company information, which might have catastrophic consequences, is a gamble probably not worth taking. Despite the day-to-day pressures of running and growing a business, owners and directors should carefully consider how they plan to secure their PCs and network from an ever growing list of threats all coming from that same ‘wonderful tool'.

Until the introduction of SoHoBlue, there hasn't really been an internet security device designed specifically for small businesses that offers all the latest and highest standards of internet security yet is both easy to install and keep running.

What are the main reasons for having a computer network in your office?

Setting up a small business computer network has become easier over the years as PC and networking technologies have improved. It is a good way to get more use out of your PCs and share other devices such as scanners and printers. Networks allow you to share a single broadband Internet connection among multiple PC users.

Very importantly, they enable to quickly and easily share files of any type among computers and also share useful information such as diaries

Networks attached to the internet also offers sharing possibilities with other offices, your home, or even your laptop when you are on the road.

Should I go wired or wireless?

More and more small businesses are using wireless networking equipment, particularly since it has fallen in price and become faster and easier to configure and use. Wireless networking allows you to have a more attractive and arguably physically safer office environment with fewer cables around. It gives you more flexibility about where you locate your IT kit, and you can use your laptop from anywhere in your office. It also allows you to offer visitors wireless internet access or hot-desk facilities. 

Wireless signals on the other hand can vary depending on the layout of an office, the thickness of the walls and sometimes even the weather. Wireless is also less secure. It is essential to install wireless networks with encryption of network messages turned on; without this enabled it's incredibly easy to hack into your network and see what's on your PCs.

However, wired networking can still have the edge over wireless equipment in being more reliable, easier to set up, lower cost and offering up to ten times faster connection speeds.

What equipment do I need to set up a basic network?

At the centre of a network you will require a ‘hub'. This maybe a ‘wired hub' for a cable based network with perhaps 4 or 8 sockets for cable connections to all PCs, printers and your internet connection unit. Obviously each of the devices you want to connect to the wired hub, must have its own wired network (or Ethernet) port into which the other end of the network cable is connected.

Alternatively your hub may be ‘wireless hub' typically with one or two wireless antenna aerials, again enabling connections to all your PCs and other devices. Obviously to attach to the wireless hub, all the other devices must have their own built-in wireless connection.

As time as gone on and devices have become cleverer, combined wired and wireless hubs have become available which aids flexibility. In addition devices used for internet connectivity often provide an integrated wireless hub. Such internet connection devices are also known as ‘broadband routers', which come in two major types: an ADSL router and a Cable router. These devices route traffic between your network and the internet.

PC operating systems like Microsoft Windows 7, Vista, and XP; as well as Apple Mac OS X all have networking capabilities incorporated into them. So if you have a relatively up-to-date laptop or desktop PC, it should be fairly straightforward to connect to a wired or wireless hub.

How do I secure the network?

Before going very much further it is essential to think about network security. There are three major areas to consider:

  1. Internet Security
    You should consider products such as SoHoBlue, which offer a full range of internet threat protection known as UTM for all of your networked PCs and other devices. SoHoBlue provides sophisticated firewall protection to stop anyone hacking in from the internet, plus a full range of anti-virus and anti-malware protection for your whole network - all in one unit. In addition SoHoBlue can stop most of the spam emails sent to your business and warn against security threats such a ‘Phishing' where attempts are made to obtain your passwords and other security information. If every user or PC on your network doesn't actually need internet access, this can be restricted by SoHoBlue. Very importantly, SoHoBlue keeps itself updated automatically.

  2. Wireless Security
    SoHoBlue also has an option for a built-in wireless hub – so keeping things simple and compact. Your wireless network components will offer various encryption options. Ignore WEP which easily hacked and enable WPA. Without wireless encryption turned on – your network is vulnerable.

  3. Individual PC Security
    You may want to use Windows logins and passwords to limit access to specific PCs. For two layers of protection, you should think about installing individual anti-virus packages on each PC and in a similar fashion most PCs will come with the Windows firewall turned on – which again adds more protection.

What else can I use my network for?

Apart from common internet access and security, file sharing and printer sharing, you can use your network to share other peripherals such as scanners and copiers. It's common for the growing small business to install a small server where all files can be held and shared centrally, thus making backup easier. A recent innovation which can also be used for backup and central file storage is a device known as a Network Attached Storage (NAS) unit. This is typically simpler and cheaper than a full server and undoubtedly easier to deploy.