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Network Design:

Things to consider when planning or upgrading your network

Small to Medium Businesses (SMBs) increasingly rely on their business network to supply connectivity to their applications and files, along with the vast intellectual resource that is the Internet. With proper planning, intelligent design, and consideration of the needs of the business, a network can provide resilient, secure connectivity to all the resources that make business possible.

Connecting to the Internet

Understanding your Internet connection options, and choosing between them, is like untangling the entwined cables nested in most network closets – and doing it blindfolded, one-handed, and behind your back.  So what do you need to know to make this task easier?  First, check out AT&T Internet Data Calculator get an idea of the minimum speeds you’ll need to run your business.  Then go to BroadbandNow’s Bandwidth Calculator for a more detailed analysis of the types of services available.

The next important consideration is cost – or more importantly, cost-to-value: How much internet can your business afford before you reach the point of diminishing return? Get at least three quotes from local providers for service.  One resource for researching the contractors available and the actual speeds people are getting is Ookla’s Net Index Explorer,  which utilizes a drill-down map to show providers in the area.

The final two pieces are the Internet Service Providers’ (ISP) Terms of Service and the kind of customer service that can be expected from them. As with any contract, read the fine print of the Terms of Service to find any data limitations or caps that could possibly cripple business at a critical time. Note any restrictions on traffic that could limit remote connectivity. Always do your homework and consult other local businesses:  Who do they use for Internet service? How do they feel about the customer service they are receiving?  It doesn’t hurt to read online reviews from customers — and prior customers.  A wise method for screening reviews is to discount the worst five percent and the best five percent; with the remaining 90%, you’ll get an accurate view of a provider’s customer satisfaction factor.

Optimize Current Network

No doubt you’ve heard horror stories about tech firms promising unfettered assistance to a new client, only to immediately require a long, expensive list of upgrades.  This standards-based approach to Network Management only takes into account ease of management for the tech firm and ignores the customer’s bottom line.

Farmhouse Networking takes a balanced approach, using what the customer already has in place while proactively collaborating with the customer on a technology plan to guide future replacements. Current hardware settings are first optimized to meet industry standards and compliance needs.  Then, in accordance with your technology plan, outdated hardware struggling to keep up with increased needs is gradually replaced with business-class hardware.

Trade Analog Phones for Digital VoIP

The aging analog world is slowly dying as telephone companies like Verizon move from old copper lines to fiber optic for all their services and cellular carriers move from standard voice transmissions to the advanced 4G LTE network.

If  your company phone system is still based on analog copper lines with expensive components that are hard to find and no one knows how to fix any more,  then it is time to switch to digital Private Branch Exchange (PBX) or cloud-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system. Loss of connectivity was once considered a major for the popularity of old copper lines: When  the power went out,  so did a VoIP business phone.

With the advent of cloud-based services, however, power outages are no longer a concern, as calls can be routed to any other device (including cell phones) with no noticeable difference to the customer.  In addition, remote or mobile users who need to stay connected to the company phone system will see their phones treated like any other phone extension in the organization. These VoIP systems can also be easily expanded with simple software updates to add features and more bandwidth for handling additional physical phones on-site.

The final argument used by most to justify not replacing old copper systems is the need for reliable 911 call handling. With E911 this is no longer an issue, however, as the immediate physical address is mapped to the caller’s handset.

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Plan Future Growth

There comes a time in every successful company when, for the company to stay agile and competitive, growth must take place and technology must match that growth.   Company growth can happen in a variety of ways – expansion of current offices, moving to a larger facility, adding a mobile workforce, introducing a remote office, etc.  Regardless, the best way to handle future growth is to plan for it.  Farmhouse Networking will consult with management to discuss the future and build into replacements or new acquisitions the capabilities needed to expand with the future growth of the company. This makes growth systemic, budgetable, and much less painful when the time comes.

Take Your Show on the Road

For small to medium businesses (SMBs), taking business with them as owners and employees travel to client sites or work from anywhere along the way has become essential. The de facto standard has been to use remote connection software to gain access to company resources,  and over the years these standards have evolved to several distinct options.  Microsoft Remote Desktop and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

uses on-premise or cloud servers to create its highly customizable desktop experience while centralizing management of applications and consolidating data. It can also be used to centralize Line-of-Business (LOB) applications that can then be deployed to remote users and available from anywhere.

A more secure option is to connect remote users to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which provides an encrypted tunnel from their workstation to the office network. This keeps staff securely connected, compliant, and effectively working from any device everywhere. The cloud has become increasingly secure and reliable and is considered a viable means for agile businesses to remain within reach of their data from any internet-connected device. Software vendors have slowly been moving their products into the cloud and have made transitioning data into these web-based solutions easier than might be expected.

Equipment Lifecycle Management

Planning ahead for the end of equipment life can help keep the company’s bottom line healthy.  Decisions about acquiring, managing, and disposing of technology can be daunting — if not a waste of management’s valuable time. Using industry standards, Farmhouse Networking will do the heavy lifting by creating a technology plan and budget. By planning ahead, a company can intelligently budget for capital expenditures, get the most value from asset depreciation, schedule downtime for the replacement of aging hardware, and appropriately and securely dispose of sensitive information.

Server Virtualization

An old practice in IT was to have one server dedicated to a single application or network role like mail server, file server, DNS server, or Domain Controller Server. This made server closets quite large, and the expense for smaller companies was often prohibitive. Then came the ideas of server virtualization and server consolidation, which changed the way servers were created. A single piece of hardware could virtually “host” multiple servers, and those large number of old servers could be virtualized onto one piece of hardware. This decreased the expense and the space needed multiple servers on the network. Now, with the advent of  cloud computing there is no longer a need for server closets at all, as they are virtually “hosted” on servers in large datacenters around the globe.

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