While small and mid-sized businesses are smaller than enterprise companies in terms of their headcount or their gross revenues, they not always tiny organizations that occupy a small space. In the past, I worked for two small businesses: one that spread over a large factory compound with clusters of small departments; and the second firm had offices that were located on more than one level within an office complex.
Given that a wireless network will not work due to the sheer area and obstruction outlined in the two real-life scenarios above, what other network options can small businesses consider? This article highlights three commonly available networking options to wire a network for a large compound.
The fastest and most convenient method of wiring a large compound is by using tried-and-tested Ethernet cables. You can purchase Gigabit Ethernet switches relatively cheaply these days, and they offer up to 1000Mbps of throughput up to 100 meters over a single cable; that's more than enough for a small department to share. Of course, the inherent 100 meter limitation may not be adequate in truly large compounds. If that's the case in your situation, you'll need to use Ethernet repeaters to increase the range.
In that case, you would use Power over Ethernet (POE) extenders, which are both readily available and easily deployed. The extenders run on power that's transmitted over the Ethernet cables, which eliminates the need for messy power plugs. And you can even daisy-chain the extenders to increase their range to 500 meters.
Another way to network a large compound is to use fiber optic cable. Depending on your situation, you may prefer using this option over multiple Ethernet extenders for mission-critical networks because it involves fewer components.
Moreover, you can buy a fiber optic transceiver (for short range of between 500 and 2000 meters) rather cheaply, and it's immune to electromagnetic interference. The downside though, is that fiber optic cable is prone to damage if installed incorrectly, it costs more than standard Ethernet cable and it requires engaging the services of vendors who specializes in it.
Internet with VPN
Finally, there will be times where standard point-to-point physical cabling just isn’t possible due to physical obstructions, or due to the objection of the building's management or owner. The worst case scenario: subscribe to separate broadband Internet service to be delivered via phone lines (ADSL) or coaxial (cable) to the two offices you intend to network.
You can deploy a firewall or VPN appliance at the gateway of each location, and then set up a permanent VPN with encryption configured between the two nodes. Obviously, this recommendation is based on the assumption of no bandwidth cap for Internet access. Do note that this method may not work well in locations without high-speed broadband, or if you frequently transfer large data files between the networked offices.
Paul Mah covers technology for SMBs for Small Business Computing and for IT Business Edge. He also shares his passion for and knowledge of everything from networking to operating systems as an instructor at Republic Polytechnic in Singapore, and is a contributor to a number of tech sites, including Ars Technica and TechRepublic.
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