For home and small business users, network design has been pretty simple until recently. Now there are many more choices, more ways of doing things and more ways to mess things up.
The basic network connected to the Internet uses a router as a hub. The router is connected to the DSL or cable modem and all the computers on the network plug into the router. The 4-port router can be found at virtually all computer stores. If you need to connect more than 4 computers, you can purchase an 8 port router or purchase a switch of virtually any size and uplink it (connect the switch) to the router. Effectively, all the computers, whether plugged into the router or switch will be connected to each other and the Internet.
But what if the computers are all in different rooms and it isn't desirable to run wires throughout? What then? Wireless?
But before you think wireless is the solution to all your problems, be aware that it introduces several problems all its own. First, in stock form, anyone driving down the street with a laptop can hijack your Internet connection. Worse, they are inside your firewall and can play havoc with your network, dropping viruses and trojans on computers you thought were protected by your firewall. If you have wireless, security must be addressed. There are several possible solutions to this, with more coming every day. But however it is addressed, it must be addressed from day one.
Secondly, a wireless network is considerably slower than a wired one, from 1/10 to half the speed of a standard wired network. If you are connected mainly for Internet access, it's not much of a problem as all the wireless systems sold today are faster than any standard Internet connection.
Thirdly, there are situations where a wireless system simply won't work. There are three standards being sold today: 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n. VCC has installed and then had to uninstall several 802.11b networks in houses where the computers were only two rooms away. Fortunately, 802.11b is not generally sold any more. Currently, the 802.11g routers are sold everywhere while the newer 802.11n standard is in somewhat short supply and is, therefore, still more expensive than it should be. Also, only very recent laptops or wireless network cards are capable of 802.11n. But because all the 802.11 standards are backward compatible with older versions, it still may pay to get an 802.11n router.
Fourthly, how does your site print? If you weren't networked before, you probably had one printer connected to each computer. Since you can print to any printer on a network, it makes sense to install fewer printers and make them better quality. Perhaps you'll want a good laser printer for high-speed black and white and a good-quality inkjet for color. If you have the printers plugged into computers, you'll have to have the computer on to print, so you may be better off with either networked printers or network print servers that can handle your parallel or USB printers. Several are available at reasonable prices.
Fifthly, how are you going to manage backups? This is important enough that it merits its own page.
Most people will want to keep most of what they currently have but plan to migrate to a better configuration as peripherals and computers wear out. Just make sure you don't create any roadblocks to upgrades later.
These are the basic issues of network design for home and small businesses. VCC stands ready to help you work your way through the issues to arrive at a workable solution for you -- not only for today, but for years to come.