Q&A Monday: Network Design


Hello Jim,
I have only been a network administrator for only a short period of time, and recently I’ve been asked by a friend to design a network for his new business.  I’ve only managed a network that was already in place when I accepted the job, and haven’t had much experience designing a network from the ground up.  I know the basics, but how do I find out what’s needed for a start up company?

Kerry Woodworth
Hastings, NE


This is a good question that many techs eventually find themselves in.  I would recommend taking some time with your friend and asking them some questions like.

  • What does their business need?
    Every business in general has their own need, find out how many people they are going to have, so you know what computers they will need.  Also find out their server requirement and what software they will need.
  • What is their budget?
    This is an important one, because this is the one item that will tie your hands on the above question.  Most small businesses don’t have enterprise budgets, so knowing what your spending limit is, will determine what software and hardware to get.
  • Find out where they plan to be in a year?
    I always want to make sure that when I design a network I leave room for growth.  You don’t want to design a network and have them outgrow it within a year.
  • Do they plan to host or outsource services?
    Find out what they plan to do with E-mail and Websites, if they plan to host them out, then you maybe able to save money on servers.  If they host them internally, then you may need to spend some money on security products to keep them safe.
  • Is the place wired for a network?
    I can’t tell you how many techs forget this question, and run into a problem on starting day.  If they are renting or buying a building does it already have drops for network or do they need to be run?
  • Are there remote users?
    Some start ups may not have all their users in the office, some may need to connect to information inside the office from remote locations.  If this is the case how do they get in?  VPN or is the information public facing?

This by far isn’t a complete list of things that you should ask, but these questions should spur on other questions that give you an idea of what is needed.  Unfortunately my bet is, is that like most small businesses they will want an enterprise solution for the cost of nothing.  There are some compromises that you can do, to save money…like instead of Microsoft Office, using the free version of Google Docs and multi-tasking a server for multiple roles.  Make sure to explain the plan ahead of time and let them know the limitations of what you can get for the money.

If  you have any questions that you want Jim to answer, from business servers to home computers, drop him a line at me@jimguckin.com, and he’ll try to answer your question.  Check back every Monday for a new Question and Answer session, and check back Wednesdays and Fridays for other technical insights.

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