Why a network is an essential productivity tool for any small business
Effective technology is essential for small businesses looking to increase the productivity of their people and processes. Introducing technology such as computer networks can help them to stay competitive, by simplifying collaboration and reducing hardware costs. Even simple networks make sharing information and resources easier, provide better security and enable easy backup facilities for any small business.
Why a network is essential for your small business
One of the primary challenges small business owners face is getting the right technology into their organizations on an affordable, scalable system. For example, a business may have started with a single computer and printer but as the business grew, more PCs and other peripherals are added. As a result, the demand for printers and other hardware devices increases and sharing becomes more problematic. Rather than purchasing separate hardware peripherals for each computer, a network provides the solution for a single printer to be shared among computers, which is essential as the business grows larger. If the small business has more than one computer, networking the computers can make the difference in smoother operations. In fact, a network becomes the foundation for a productive and secure small business operation.
What is a network?
A network is a system containing any combination of computers, printers, fax machines, data storage, audio or visual display devices, or telephones interconnected by cables used to transmit or receive information.
Two Types of Networks: Peer-to-Peer and Client/Server
A peer-to-peer network is the most basic type of network that allows multiple users to share information or resources such as printers and scanners. In a peer-to-peer network, each computer is connected directly to the other computers with each treated equally on the network. Each computer can share resources or information with any other computer on the network without a centralized computer or server. In this type of network, each connected computer has an equal responsibility and role.
In a client-server network, all computers are connected to the server or centralized computer. A single computer called a server is used to man- age the entire network and stores shared information in a central location. Servers are run with specific server software designed to manage the computer network and serve as a central place to store data. The clients in the network can be an individual computer, printer, scanner or any other device. The server software performs specific tasks such as file sharing, printer sharing, connecting multiple users to the Internet or sending and receiving emails for each of the network’s clients.
Peer-to-Peer vs. Client/Server Network
Both of these networks serve the same purpose of allowing multiple users to share and exchange information and resources with each other. But the functions and benefits differ greatly.
Peer-to-Peer networks are simple to configure, easy to install and are certainly a low-cost solution; but they are very limited in the functions they can perform. For example, peer-to-peer networks have no centralized lo- cation to store the information because the information and resources are shared from one computer to another. In the event one computer shuts down, other computers cannot access the data stored in that computer.
One major downside of this type of network is that it has no centralized security safeguards so it is relatively insecure. Anybody connected to the network can get access to PCs with few security concerns. Plus, if you have more than five or so PCs on the network, performance dwindles and things have the tendency to move slowly.
Client/Server networks can remarkably improve business performance because of the different functions it can perform. The server can back up information, saving time and preventing data loss as well as providing security for information. A server acts as the single centralized unit for the whole of the network, so Internet connectivity can be easily monitored and controlled. Another advantage is that performance of computers improves because computers aren’t bogged down by functions such as storing large amounts of data for other computers. This allows the client computers to run faster. Besides this, in a client/server network there is a single point of access for the entire network – so users are not dependent on each others’ computers as they are in a peer-to-peer network. Servers also increase the security of vital data like financial information, by allowing controlled access to different users. So, if the small business has more than five computers, then centralizing the network on a server allows the small business owners to have tools and services that can help to attain impressive time and cost savings.
Ways a Network Can Influence Small Business Performance
Collaboration: A network allows employees to share and exchange information. A network provides access to variety of tools by which employees can communicate with each other. It also offers collaboration features and allows multiple users to contribute to a single document, which is otherwise not possible with individual computers.
File sharing: A network makes it possible to access a file stored on an- other computer. Multiple users can share same files so it eliminates the need for creating and managing multiple versions.
Printer/Fax sharing: Several computers can share the same printer or fax machine if computers are connected through a network. As a result, there is no need for buying and connecting separate printers and devices to every company computer.
Data protection: Backing up data is essential for a business to prevent the loss of valuable information. With a network, it becomes routine and secure to back up the company data – which is ready for retrieval when necessary.
Shared Internet access: With a network it becomes possible to share a single Internet connection among multiple computers. In-house email systems can also be easily implemented with a client/server network.
Increases the productivity, reduces costs and saves time: When a small business has a computer network, it increases the productivity of employees and reduces costs. With a network, multiple employees can share company resources such as printers, fax machines or any other hardware devices. Plus, multiple users can access the Internet at the same time. Consequently, the hardware costs of the company are reduced and the productivity of employees is increased. A network also helps save time by providing easy backup solutions.
Payback Period of Network
Small business owners can reap enormous benefits by networking their computers. But sometimes concerns about hardware, software and installation costs of networks (particularly client/server networks) become a main deterrent in the adoption of this technology. But the network technology starts paying for itself quickly in the form of increased employee productivity and reduced operating costs.
According to a study conducted by Forbes*, small business owners are quickly recovering investments and realizing enormous benefits from server technology. Small businesses using server networks find that their employees can now perform an average of 20 percent more revenue- producing tasks. The study has shown that the average payback period of server network ranges from 2.4 to 4.9 months. Most small businesses were able to recover their hardware and software investments in less than
2.5 months. The survey concluded that server networks are helping small- er firms extend their geographic reach, find new customers, and increase revenues while holding costs steady or decreasing them.
In conclusion, peer-to-peer networking is cheaper and easier to imple- ment and maintain, but client/server networks can be much more useful for a small business as it leads to greater productivity, security and lower costs.
Check out the following before you invest in network solutions:
1. A network can make a difference if your small business has more than one computer and your employees feel the need to share printers, scanners etc., share an Internet connection and computer files.
2. It would be more feasible for you to establish peer-to-peer networking
if you have five or less than five PCs in your office.
3. If you more than five PCs, the client/ server network is likely suitable
for your company.
4. A Small Business Server can be an affordable network solution for establishing client/server networking in your company, if you have two to 75 computers. It provides you file and printer sharing facilities, Internet connection-sharing capabilities, secure Internet connectivity, support for your mobile devices, easy backup and restore facilities and many other advanced features.