Network performance can be a challenging area for many small businesses. A slow network with insufficient bandwidth impedes production, delays receiving important files, and causes problems transmitting data not to mention security issues and data loss.
Small business networking solutions offer many different grades of service and speeds, but which one is right for your business?
As with most complex technologies, there's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to networking. The needs and resources of each unique organization will correlate to a different set of networking solutions. That means that your management team or IT manager needs to know their organization and what needs are most important. Then they need to carefully consider the situation and determine the optimal network design for their situation. Look to a consultant help you decide on the best solutions.
Here are some best practices:
Business Internet vs Consumer Internet
Internet Service Providers (ISP) offer business packages similar to their consumer-grade packages but they are not the same. Business grade internet is dedicated bandwidth both up and down. Consumer internet is best effort variable speed, more unreliable and that is reflected in the costs. Any provider that tells you otherwise is feeding you line of BS.
A retailer for example might be drawn in by an ad for a cheap wireless Internet connection that falsely advertises high speeds only to find that reality is less than half what is advertised. In addition to the poor performance which degrades even more as soon as the kids in the area get out of school and start playing video games, the support is not business grade either. You find yourself dealing with a call center and less than knowledgeable personnel who don't understand the urgency of a business. With ISPs you get what you pay for when it comes to support.
Business Internet does come at a premium but is well worth the peace of mind that consistent bandwidth and a higher level of support provides.
Another option if reasonably priced business grade Internet is not offered in your area is SD WAN (software defined networking). SD WAN is an equipment solution that places a device on your network which can manage and failover multiple Internet sources. It allows you to purchase say a consumer grade wireless Internet and DSL for redundancy and then the set specific parameters around performance so that the box will automatically detect poor performance and balance between both connections to deliver one solid connection or fail over completely if one connection fails.
Private connectivity vs Internet connectivity
Private connectivity comes in several different offerings such as Metro-Ethernet and MPLS. Private connectivity is network connectivity using the secure carrier backbone rather than the public Internet. Private connectivity is faster, more secure and allows for great quality of service (QOS) controls. For financial institutions, wholesale suppliers, medical facilities and any company that puts a premium on customer data security should consider a private network transport to simplify and secure connectivity between branch offices.
Internet or public transport connectivity can be used as a cheap alternative to private networking but requires firewall encryption for VPNs to allow site to site connectivity and to ensure security. This adds complexity another cost component, and an extra device that must be managed and maintained at each location. Internet can still be a good choice depending on your industry such as retail or companies with many locations that cannot cost justify private connectivity. For such businesses we recommend business grade Internet and or SD WAN.
Cloud Solutions vs Local and Data Center servers
This area could get complex but for the sake of this article we are focused on small business so I won't get into hybrid clouds, private cloud, AWS or any of that sort of thing. As far as best practices go, consider using cloud solutions for voice, desktop applications, and data backup.
A small business with several locations and a single IT manager historically has had central servers for email, Microsoft Office, accounting software, phone system etc at an HQ or data center then some kind of connectivity be it private or public VPN to connect to those servers. The problem with that solution is that it is difficult to keep up to date, and can be difficult to manage, especially if your sites are geographically dispersed and expensive to get to. If a there is a phone issue, network issue or a computer issue the IT guy has to make arrangements to visit that site and then coordinate local vendors etc to fix the issue.
With cloud solutions most of that goes away. A cloud based small business phone systemallows the vendor to manage the system in his own data center and simply provide IP phones at all your branch offices. The IT manager can administer the entire system through a web portal from his desk. If a phone goes bad a new one is shipped out. If there is a software upgrade it is pushed out automatically, eliminating all kinds of brain damage for the IT department of dealing with software upgrades and network issues.
Most businesses use Microsoft Office for spreadsheets, email and word processing or something similar from a competitor. Office 365 moves that software from your local server to the cloud and can often be purchased through subscription from the same vendor providing some of your other services.The applications can be downloaded locally but the server is managed by professionals in a secure environment and those applications can be accessed from anywhere at any time. No more complicated upgrades and licensing, no more server crashes to deal with.
Accounting and other applications are now typically offered as cloud solutions as well with similar benefits.
Fordata backup solutions companies have traditionally used tape backup or some kind of nightly backup to servers managed at the HQ. Today there are several good carrier provided cloud backup solutions that replicate data in real time and can be failed over to in the event of a crash. They are cost effective and more reliable when it comes to restoring and recording data.
Data networking in today's world can be so much better with the use of cloud technology solutions and IP technology and that is why we recommend it as a best practice to small business. Any small business with limited resources should look at moving to the cloud. Larger companies can benefit from cloud as well and the industry is only moving further that way so its worth looking into.