Five Things to Be Considered in Designing a Network

By Finn McCuhil

Design a network to fit your needs.
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Designing a small business network isn't necessarily the daunting task it may at first appear. By building a network, you are simply providing a communications link for your business computers. Modern, network-ready operating systems eliminate much of the manual work once associated with configuring network hardware and communications protocols. As long as you are aware of your communication needs and have a basic grasp of networking technology, you can create the basic blueprint for an efficient, expandable network.


Equipment and maintenance costs are often the first consideration in network design. Fortunately, the cost of hubs, routers and switches are relatively low when compared to the early days of networking. Other items that need to be taken into consideration when designing a network include cabling and labor. For small offices, the cost of these may be negligible. On the other hand, even small manufacturing or warehouse operations may require a significant investment of time and cabling material to provide connections where they are needed.


Securing a network from outside intrusion or data theft is a primary concern for many companies. While it is possible to eliminate the expense of Ethernet cabling by opting for a wireless network solution, Wi-Fi networking is the least secure method of sharing data and connections. The encryption methods built into most commercial routers, Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP), Wireless Protected Access (WPA) and the more recent WPA2, can be cracked by skilled hackers. Designing a network with hard-wired Ethernet connections eliminates the risk of intrusion to only those with physical access to the network. Unfortunately, this risk expands dramatically when the local network is connected to the Internet.

Outside Access

Internet access has become all but mandatory for most modern businesses. It's a good idea to consider the type of Internet connection required and the amount and type of support you will receive from your Internet service provider before designing the rest of your network. Some ISPs will provide support and advice on connection speed requirements and security concerns for commercial accounts before installation. Keep in mind that connecting your network to the Internet exposes it, at some level, to attack from anywhere in the world. If you routinely send and receive sensitive data to and from remote locations, consider a virtual private network for additional security. When handling sensitive information on the internal network only, a firewall device or software implementation may be appropriate.


Planning for growth in the initial stages can save future expenditures. The price difference, for example, between a 16-port switch and a 32-port switch can be negligible when compared to the cost of purchasing an new switch to replace one that is too small. Most network devices are designed to provide several years of service. Buying equipment with an eye to expansion may delay the need for additional investment in equipment.


In most cases, the simpler the network design, the less technical support you'll require for both installation and maintenance. If you need a complex, high-speed network, consider the level of technical assistance available locally. Many small businesses can't justify the cost of full-time IT personnel. Designing a simple network that can be serviced quickly by local technicians should be a primary consideration. If your business demands a complex network beyond the capabilities of local service, design sufficient redundancy in critical network elements to ensure a minimum level of service until repairs can be made.