In a previous post, we discussed the importance of internet circuits – the actual internet connection to your business. If you need a refresher, click here!
Moving beyond the internet circuit, your local network – switches, access points, and low voltage (data) cabling – provides internet and connectivity to all of your devices. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive guide, but we’ll cover some of the steps required to design and implement a network that suits your business needs.
It all starts with low voltage cabling. This refers to the actual data cables (Cat5 or Cat6 cabling, or sometimes referred to as ethernet) that connect your facility. A good low voltage cabling design takes into account all of the physical locations in your facility where you might need a data port. The most immediate things that come to mind are computers and phones, but this also includes devices like CCTV cameras, printers, lighting controllers, TVs, and even thermostats that might need to be connected to a data port. After considering the devices and locations that might need to connect, low voltage drawings can be generated – these act as the blueprint for the low voltage installation team on where and how to install your infrastructure. There are also some design elements to keep in mind as well; things like data port face plate color and height. Maybe you have a blue wall and the face plate should match, or maybe you need the data port at a specific desk height. Mapping these business requirements to the low voltage design is a critical step in ensuring your local network meets your needs down the road.
After the low voltage network is fully commissioned, network devices can be installed and configured. Switches, access points, firewalls, and other devices act as the “brains” of your network, allowing for the adequate WiFi coverage and proper network configuration. In another blog post we discussed the importance of WiFi heat maps (check that out here). Once a heat map has been generated, access points can be installed throughout your facility. This provides WiFi coverage for all of your users and devices. Switches and firewalls power those access points and manage your network traffic, largely in the background, and typically in your IT or server room. Each low voltage data port is patched to a network switch data port. This is how you determine the quantity of switches you will need – establishing a 1:1 ratio of data ports to switch ports. Switches bridge the gap and provide connectivity between your hard-wired devices on the low voltage network and your wireless devices on the WiFi network. Firewalls, network management devices, and even some switches also provide IP traffic management across your network. Some simple examples are things like VLANs for a private subnet within your network and traffic shaping. Perhaps the finance team needs a private VLAN; this can be configured. Perhaps you have a Guest WiFi network and you want to give them only a small slice of the network; a bandwidth cap can be implemented.
These are just simple examples; network management can be as complex as your business needs require, and some organizations are even under regulatory requirements for network privacy and security. With the right partner, your network design can be validated against your business requirements, to ensure that you have the connectivity you need to move your mission forward.