Now more than ever, businesses depend on networks. Between companies relying on the internet for customer interaction and interconnected system information shared among employees, networks are an invaluable resource that change the way businesses work.
Despite their essential role, many small businesses hope to use home networking equipment rather than the business-grade hardware they need. However, this can leave your network unreliable and unsafe, opening your system to cyber threats and instability. Slow network traffic and information vulnerability can cause chaos for any company.
Updating your network can be an expense, but leasing or purchasing refurbished network equipment can provide what you need at an affordable price. If your small business is still using consumer-grade equipment, it may be time to secure your connection and upgrade to a business network.
What Are the Differences Between Home and Business Networks?
At first glance, consumers and business-grade networks may appear nearly identical. However, there are substantial quality differences.
Business-grade hardware is designed to handle more traffic and usage. If your small business is running on the type of network you have in your home, you’re likely pushing it hard — which can lead to overheating, slow connections and device malfunctions. It’s essential that your equipment can provide enough access points and handle the constant traffic required to run a business. It may also be time to consider how an enterprise router might be needed to keep up with your internet traffic.
Moreover, business-grade networking hardware provides far more advanced security features. Victims have reported more than $1.4 billion lost to cyber crimes in recent years, and operating on a home network leaves your business — and probably your customers’ data — susceptible to identity theft, tax scams and credit card fraud. There are many essential aspects to increasing cybersecurity, and utilizing the correct network hardware is integral in keeping your network information secure.
Business-grade equipment offers more features in general, including an appropriate number of access points, enough broadband to handle typical business tasks and enough Wi-Fi range to connect your entire business successfully.
When Should I Upgrade to a Business Network?
Some signs are easier to identify than others. However, if these scenarios sound familiar, it may be time to upgrade:
1. Slowdowns and Crashes
When you’re experiencing network crashes and high maintenance costs, you might think you just need new equipment. If you’re still using consumer-grade networking equipment, though, consider that your company may be driving the hardware beyond its capabilities, causing overheating or premature breakdowns. The right device will keep your network functioning longer.
2. Anticipated Growth or Expansions
If your business is expanding, you’ll likely consider physical logistics and financial resources, but you might overlook how this will affect your network.
However, regardless of whether that growth is a physical extension or an increase in staff, expansions also impact your network planning. New employees will mean more traffic on your network, more data processed through your router or switch and more broadband to support those users. You’ll also need to consider how these employees will be connecting to your network. If you’re utilizing a bring-your-own-device policy, will newer electronics interact with your old network? Will you need VPN services to ensure data is encrypted for remote access?
If you are expanding your physical location, you need to be sure that wireless signals or other networking connections will reach all necessary locations. If you’re currently relying on consumer-level networking equipment, you may already notice that the signal does not reach all spaces evenly or is blocked by particular structures. Upgrading to a business-grade network can help rectify these issues.
3. Security Breaches
Unfortunately, a lack of quality security is something that is often not considered until after a breach. If you’ve been unlucky enough to have already fallen victim to cybercrime and you’re still using a home network, you may be setting yourself up for a repeat. Although many issues can lead to cyber threats, a secure network is a must for business to remain safe. Consider the privacy of your company documents and your customer information. While a consumer-grade router may provide some encryption and security options, business-grade devices generally offer more security features.
What Should I Know About Network Equipment Technology?
Even if you’re not the technology guru on your staff, it’s important to have a basic understanding of networking equipment and terminology so that you can be a part of the larger conversations.
No matter the computer network, you’re sure to start hearing about switches and routers. Even though these terms are often confused, they’re different devices. Your IT professionals and network equipment provider will undoubtedly know the difference, and you should, too, if you’re going to participate in conversations.
It can help to think of networking terms in relation to your physical work environment:
- Switches: Think of switches as the internal doors within your building. They connect all of the rooms in your building into one cohesive unit. That’s the job of a switch, to connect devices on your network so they create an infrastructure of your information.
- Routers: If switches are your internal doors, then a router is your external door, connecting all of the parts of your business to the outside world. A router allows your computers to access other networks, such as the internet. The reason for the confusion is that routers can function as a switch, acting as a dual device.
- Firewall: Firewalls are like the lock on your external door. They prevent other parties from accessing your network from the outside. Business-grade routers often have firewall configurations built in, and it is possible to also set up a firewall at most workstations, depending on the device.
- Server: The server is like the filing cabinet in your office that holds all of your business’s information. You might have an onsite server or utilize a cloud-based filing system.
How Can I Afford a Business-Grade Network?
While the benefits of a network upgrade are appearing, most small businesses aren’t in a position to pay upfront for brand new, business-grade networking equipment. The costs of building a new network can make even the most network-needy companies turn away.
However, there are strategies for getting the firepower you need at a price that works. In either case, you may be able to write off network equipment on taxes, making the transition even more affordable, though you’ll want to check with your CPA for specific tax advice.
If you’re looking for ways to afford that new network, consider:
- Leasing: Leasing network equipment can be a great option for businesses because it turns the cost into a predictable monthly expense. Like any other utility, you’ll factor that into your overall Cost of Goods Sold (CoGS) as you calculate prices for services or merchandise to offset the expense. When calculating this figure, be sure to read your lease carefully and ask questions about maintenance or early termination up front, so you will know if you’ll need to account for additional costs.
- Buying Refurbished: The idea of refurbished equipment might initially make some consumers uncomfortable, but careful consideration can lead to high-quality products at a significantly reduced price. However, some companies will offer a lifetime guarantee on pre-owned and refurbished equipment. These warranties diminish many risks associated with pre-owned products, which means you can get similar networking power at a fraction of the cost. Moreover, many off-the-line products may only test the specifications on one random router out of a batch of dozens, or even hundreds. Compare this to refurbished equipment, which has been individually examined and put through rigorous inspection before use.
Should I Lease or Purchase Equipment for a Business?
There are both benefits and drawbacks of purchasing or leasing network hardware for your small business. As a company, it’s important to consider the needs of your current and future business, as well as your current financial situation.
Leasing is a great option for a small business because it can be easier to install the business-grade network you likely need — that way you can afford the equipment you need rather than cutting corners with consumer-grade networking. Another benefit is that some leasing companies will provide a chance to upgrade after a certain length of time. Not only does this promise you’ll keep up to date as technology changes and your business grows, but it also means that once you outgrow your older equipment, you won’t be stuck with obsolete hardware.
Buying hardware might also be a good option if you have the money upfront and feel confident that your purchase will supply enough functionality to last the life of the equipment. You may end up paying slightly less if you pay for everything up front, and owning the equipment might be easier than working through the details of a lease. If you go this route, be sure to budget for necessary maintenance to your system, and plan when you will likely need to purchase equipment for the next network so you can upgrade before it becomes too late. Also keep in mind that once you own the equipment, you’ll be able to reclaim assets through trade-ins.
How Should I Decide Which Network Options are Right For Me?
Once you decide your network isn’t cutting it, the thought of an upgrade can be overwhelming. While your equipment provider or IT professional can handle the specific logistics of installation, having an overview of the planning process is crucial to all in the decision making process. By following an organized process, you can minimize potential difficulties.
These simplified action steps will help you establish a big picture idea of what to watch for:
1. Assess Feasibility
Among your first tasks will be deciding exactly what type of financial resources you’ll be able to invest and discussing your needs with your IT professional. If your business does not have a dedicated IT professional, you can contact Worldwide Supply to find the networking system that fits your needs. From these conversations, you’ll develop a more realistic look at the feasibility of an upgrade and the specifics of your technology needs. In addressing your needs, be sure to plan for both company size and cyber threats you may face.
It’s essential to establish a realistic budget and stick to it. Once you begin looking at features, it can be easy to get carried away. When you’re setting your budget and shopping options, it is imperative to consider the difference between price and value. For instance, the reason some businesses try to get by on insufficient home networking equipment is that it costs less. However, if a poor-quality network is costing you business, slowing your employees, limiting your potential growth, tying up your IT employees or draining cash through frequent repairs, that low price isn’t exactly bringing you value. Plan for the future of the company since you’ll hopefully use this network for a long time.
2. Start Tracking
Once you decide a new network is in your future, begin a tracking form to help you list all components and costs. It can help to color code “essentials” and “wishlist” items so that you’ll be able to arrange different scenarios and their possible outcomes. As you compare pricing features, be sure to consider not only the cost of the equipment and cables but the total cost of ownership (TCO). Include factors like installation, servicing and any staff training in your overview of the project.
Also, consider if your network will be down for any amount of time and how this factors into your costs. At this stage, you should also ask questions about what it will take to upgrade this network in the future. If spending a little bit more now will allow you to swap out components easily in the future, that may be worth the extra money. If not, calculate future upgrades into your TCO so that you’ll have a more clear image of your options.
3. Set Dates and Deadlines
Most small business owners have probably been setting timelines throughout the process already. However, now that you have a good idea of the components that best fit your needs, you should be able to receive specific feedback on how long installation and updates will take. Set deadlines for when you should receive particular equipment, complete construction or physical changes and otherwise prepare for installation. If it’s possible to install in stages, it’s especially important to ensure new pieces do not interfere with your current network. Obviously, consider any typically slow times in your industry to make any such moves, and if you can have equipment installed in off hours, that can work even better.
If off hours are not an option, weigh the benefits and shortcomings of a few days of continuous implementations over a more drawn out process in which your network is installed in pieces. While it may seem like trying to install small parts of the network over a few weeks will avoid substantial interruptions, the continued inconvenience may make it worth it to prepare a few days for installers to have free reign.
4. Plan Training and Communication
If you need to brief any of your staff on the new network, plan that into any task list or projects you’re assigning. If you know that your network will experience interruptions during installation, this might be a great time to address training.
Taking the First Step With Worldwide Supply
While it can be easy to neglect improvements to your network, your company growth, as well as the wear you put on equipment and the pace of technology, make future upgrades inevitable. The key is to implement the right equipment for a cost you can manage.
Once you recognize an issue — or even as you find you might be setting yourself up for major security breaches — contact one of our professionals to discuss what you can do and how you can make your network upgrade work for you and your budget. Aside from helping you purchase affordable business-grade equipment, we provide cloud-based storage solutions, network monitoring, professional field work and other essential services so that you can return your focus to running your business.
Network updates may be easy to ignore because the service they provide is invisible, but it’s also just as important to remember that the same service is invaluable.