Every network requires the foundations of routers and switches – the essential pieces of equipment. Although they look pretty similar, they actually have different functions in the very network. Small business (SMB) owners often confuse the two, and fall at the first hurdle. Well, do not make the same mistake and remember that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. That being said, you should strive to make informed decisions, pick hardware which supports your specific business needs, and stay on the safe side.
The state of interconnectedness
Switches connect different devices like computers, printers, network-attached storage (NAS) and servers that are on the same network, and possess an Ethernet cable port. They basically make the communication and sharing of information possible. On the other hand, routers are used to tie networks together. In fact, these devices connect computers (networks) to the internet, and allow them to share one internet connection. A router also acts as a dispatcher, choosing the way your information travels, repelling cyber-attacks and assigning priority orders.
Note that, apart from switches and routers, there is some additional infrastructure at play here, such as electrical outlets and wires. However, if you go for switches with inline power, for example, you can avoid this altogether and place wireless access points (WAPS) wherever there is a network wall jack. Furthermore, bear in mind that the hardware you purchase today may become outdated in just a few years. Hence, it pays off to design the network with this redundancy in mind, and stay flexible to future changes.
In any event, for flawless communication, it is advisable to invest in business-grade switches and routers. Consumer and home networking products do not cut it, especially not when business starts growing. You do not want to outgrow them before they become obsolete, do you? Many business owners add Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIPs), video surveillance, integrated messaging and other features. It also goes without saying that you must choose the best data cabling for copper or fiber connectivity and Ethernet networks.
Now, many entrepreneurs opt for switches and routers that are easy to install and manage. For obvious reasons, functionality and simplicity are two guiding principles. A bulk of small organizations is not eager to pay dearly for IT technicians. Therefore, one has to comprehend the difference between unmanaged and managed switches. The former is a more likely choice for an SMB, as it works out of the box, providing only the basic configuration features.
As for the managed switches, they give users more control when it comes to modifying how the internet gets consumed. They demand a higher level of technical aptitude, and usually have a proprietary graphical user interface (GUI) for programming and monitoring. In both cases, however, the scalability of the device can be determined by simply looking at the number of ports they have and identifying the number of devices you need to connect.
Lay the network groundwork
There is no going around the fact that you must grasp the basics of networking hardware. Your goal is to tie the devices together with switches, and utilize routers to connect the computers to the internet. The aforementioned tips and practices are a good starting point to build a network capable of meeting the needs of a growing company. Remember that the choice of products depends on how you plan to use the network, features you want, your tech capacities and at last, tolerance for risk.
Dan Radak is Hosting security specialist. Currently employed as a consultant in couple of Web Hosting companies. Lately, he has been interested in web design. You can reach him on Twitter.