How to make sure your network is future-proofed
If you invest in a network you want to be sure that it can grow with you and, when you want to make use of new technologies, you can do so without throwing the whole set-up out and starting again or incurring any major costs upgrading.
The first question you should ask when looking at a network is of course, “what is it going to be used for?” Usually the reason for linking up all your PCs in a local-area network or LAN is quite simply to share resources and software. Printers and Internet connections, accounting and office software and of course files and information, are easier to share when you are networked.
But the second question should be “what will we want to do with it in a year or two from now?” This is not so easy to answer without a crystal ball but it is important to try. If your business is growing, you might be expecting to expand the network so buying a switch (the central control point of the network) with enough capacity to cope with the extra users might be worthwhile.
On the move?
If you are expecting to re-locate you will almost certainly be better off with a wireless LAN as this is relatively easy, compared to a wired network, to move to a different location. You might need a wireless network anyway if you are in an old building and is difficult to lay cable or there are other restrictions – thick walls, listed status etc.
You may however, want to run high speed video or audio across the network or ensure that you can transfer very large files between users and if this is the case, a wired network might be preferable. While the wireless LAN is perfectly good for everyday use, if you need assured top performance and reliability the good old Cat-5 cabled network is what you’ll need.
If performance is not too much of an issue now but is likely to be something you want in the future – if you plan to host your own web site or ecommerce system for example – then you will want to make sure that your switch and all the network cards and infrastructure will support the speeds you need.
Mix and match
Most wired networks today offer a mix of 10/100 or 10/100/1000 capability. These figures refer to the megabits-per-second (mbps) performance of the network. Older networks ran at 10mbps but this speed was increased to 100Mbps some time ago. Many companies though wanted to still use their 10Mbps networking interface cards (the NIC is the card that you put in a PC to connect it to the network) while they used the wider 100Mbps bandwidth on the main backbone of the network. This meant that they got maximum value out of the old 10Mbps equipment but on the main belt of network traffic – which used to get clogged up at 10Mbps – they had 10 times the capacity.
Since that time 1000Mbps or 1Gbps (gigabit-per-second) networking has come along so now many networks are moving to using the 100Mbps capability at the PC and the 1Gbps on the backbone of the LAN. If you want to make sure that you’ll be able to run video-streaming i.e. live video or television on the network or video-conferencing over the network later on, you might want to have this capability.
That said, you can run Voice over IP and even video conferencing and collaborative working applications, where groups of users work together on a document even though they are in different offices and perhaps miles apart, today on 100Mbps LANs and higher performance wireless networks are also coming – 64Mbps is pretty standard now and there are wireless networks offering 125Mbps. But if you do expect to want VoIP, check that the switches and routers that you buy will support this capability first.
But whatever you do, always listen carefully to the advice your supplier gives you and do your homework. If you are unsure, seek out an accredited reseller for one of the leading networking technology providers and ask their advice.