The cheat sheet for small business networks

The key steps to setting up a small business network

It's a great time to set up a small business. The Web gives even the littlest operation enormous reach, while vendors now sell small-business technology that delivers unbelievable bang for the buck.

At the same time, to get the most from all this new tech, you need more technology smarts than ever before. Many small businesses just starting out can't afford a full-time IT person, instead relying on consultants and a full-timer pulling double-duty. Therein lies peril, especially in the initial phases when technology choices may have all kinds of downstream implications. When things go wrong (and oh Lord, they do), those early decisions may make the difference between quick recovery and a devastating blow to the business. Here's a quick guide to making careful investments upfront.

1. Virtualize

In nearly all SMBs, server virtualization can handle nearly all server resources. If an organisation finds that they need the full horsepower of a modern dual-CPU quad-core server for a single task, they're either doing something wrong, or they're not an SMB, regardless of the number of employees. The choice of hypervisor is dependent on budget, but if at all possible, stay away from OS-based virtualization like VMware Server and Hyper-V. Spend the money for a solid solution and forgo the high-end features. It'll be worth it in the long run.

2. Buy only the Microsoft products actually needed

If the business is small enough, Microsoft Small Business Server might just do the trick, but if it intends on growing in any relevant capacity, it won't last for long. If it's too confining, buy licenses for two Domain Controllers (they're virtual, after all) and an Exchange license. If you can, buy licenses for an older version of Microsoft Office -- it's probably more than you need anyway. Alternatively, OpenOffice might be just the ticket.

3. Invest in a software PBX and SIP trunks

Whether open source or commercial, Asterisk-based PBXes can save plenty of money. SIP or IAX-based phones are cheap and feature-rich, and the PBX itself can be run as a VM, depending on the hypervisor in use. If an organisation forgoes landlines and gets a SIP trunk, they don't have to pay $US50 per month or more for each business line, and they don't have to worry about outgoing line use. Fax-to-e-mail gateways are functional, and if you need a physical fax machine, they can be adapted to use analog adapters. Don't try a VM PBX with landlines, however -- get a physical server to run the PBX and use ATA linecards.

4. Storage is cheap

A small business doesn't need Fibre Channel, and it probably doesn't even need iSCSI. Most SMB-aimed storage devices like the Synology DS509+ [2] pack more than enough features, reliability, capacity, and horsepower into a small, cheap box.

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