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Computer networking — what is it and does my business need it?

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  • Publish date: 02 June 2015
  • Archived on: 02 June 2016

Creating a computer network connects together all your computers, plus other equipment like printers. An effective computer network will allow people in your business to easily access data, share resources, get online and communicate effectively.

Small Business Update

This update was published in Small Business Update - June 2015

Small Business Update from Atom Content Marketing is a monthly magazine for people running their own business. Articles vary in length and cover 'hot topics', issues of importance, and current affairs.

If you've already paid for your computers, the additional cost of a computer network can be negligible. Up to 20 computers can be combined into a simple network for a few hundred pounds — or even less, if you're happy with a wireless network.

Because your computer network costs can be kept low, at the very least it usually makes sense to create a simple network.

Computer network basics

It's much easier to get started with computer networking than it used to be, especially if you're dealing with a simple computer network.

Because it's easy to get going, simply being able to share your business internet connection between staff is often enough justification for a computer network.

However, if you're getting started with a computer network, there are lots of other functions you might require too:

  • Remote access. This allows your staff to connect to your computer network when they're out and about, so they can access central files and applications.
  • Central file storage. Once you have set up your computer network, you can save everyone's work to a central, secure, regularly backed up disk.
  • Centralised applications. Programs used by several people at once — like CRM software — work best when you have a computer network.
  • Shared resources. Having a computer network makes it easy to share hardware like printers and scanners between everyone in your business.
  • Permissions control. Computer networking lets you increase security by restricting access to files, folders or software.
  • Collaboration tools. You can use your computer network to work together more effectively. For instance, several people can view and edit a document at once.

There are some drawbacks to running a computer network. Principally:

  • You may need to install network cables into your building which can have significant costs. Alternatively, you can create a simple wireless network for the cost of a wireless router.
  • The extra complexity of managing a computer network may require specialist computer knowledge — especially if you have a central file server.

It's worth getting advice from an IT expert like an IT supplier or consultant to really understand what you need to build a computer network and what benefits you can expect to see from one.

Other computer network considerations

When planning your computer network, it's important to think about whether you need a server. These high-powered computers give you flexibility to run centralised applications, but can be complicated to manage and can drastically increase your computer network cost.

If you don't fancy the extra effort and cost of managing a server, you may find that cloud computing services let you achieve the same things but with less hassle.

Cloud computing allows you to access IT resources on the internet, rather than managing them in your business. For example, instead of running an in-house customer database on a server, you can sign in to a service that's provided for you online.

Think about network security too — after all, you don't want a hacker breaking into your systems and stealing your data.

Make sure you take key security precautions: install a firewall when you set up computer networking, keep valuable hardware physically secure and make sure everyone uses strong passwords.

Ensure every computer in your business is running security software from a reputable company like McAfee, Kaspersky or Bitdefender.

Business computer network costs

The costs of your computer network will depend on your situation: how many computers you have, the physical area in which you want to create the network, and the complexity of the network itself.

As a guide, expect to pay your IT supplier about £1,000 to build a simple network of ten computers with no central server. A more complex network — to connect 50 computers, with a server — could cost £5,000-£10,000 in total.

Computer network management

All computer networks require some network maintenance. For small networks, someone in your company should be able to take on the job as part of their role. Managing big networks can be a full-time job.

Again, if you don't have computer network management expertise in your business, it can be best to contract this out to your IT supplier.

Disclaimer: This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.

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