Buyer's guide to Servers & Networking

A network can be as simple as one desktop PC or notebook computer attached to another via a wireless connection, network cable and networking hub, or via a broadband wireless router that allows you to share a connection to the internet. This type of network allows you to swap files and access the internet, and is ideal for small, ad hoc networks and if you make use of cloud solutions. However, to get the most out of a network, you need to look at a slightly more sophisticated setup.

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Added extras

The next step up in the network world is to have a dedicated network server, some network hardware and applications, and peripherals – these will give your business a real advantage. Most small office networks use one computer as the main hub, which acts as the principal controller for the network. Other devices such as printers, scanners, network storage, broadband connections and users then connect to this host computer.

This is done using a router, a device linked to the network by an Ethernet cable, which transfers data at high speeds – normally up to 1 gigabit – referred to as GigE. The router is capable of speeds of up to one billion bits per second but the very highest specification routers can reach 100Gb. The router will either allow other devices to be connected via Ethernet, or it might be a wireless router – or a combination of the two, in which case the data is sent cable-free.

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Wireless network

For computers to access a wireless network they need to be equipped with the ability to pick up wireless signals. Most laptops have this facility built in, but desktop PCs generally need an additional antenna device that can send and receive wireless data.

The main advantage of a wireless network is that it offers considerable flexibility. You and your staff can get all the benefits of a network wherever they are in your business (within range of the wireless router) on whichever device they’re using – laptop, tablet, smartphone or desktop PC. More and more small businesses are using wireless networking equipment, particularly since the price has come down and it is far simpler to configure and use. Plus, many devices aimed at small businesses feature Wi-Fi Protected Setup, which allows you to connect devices to the network with a single press of a button.

Wireless networking results in a less cluttered and, arguably, safer office environment. It also offers greater flexibility in terms of where you locate your devices and means you can use your laptop from anywhere in the office – this has the added benefit of being able to offer visitors wireless internet access and hot-desk facilities.

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Plugging in

Despite all the advantages of wireless networking, Ethernet-based wired networking still has the edge in terms of reliability, cost and offering faster data throughput speeds. The strength of wireless signal can vary depending on the layout of the office, how far the user is from the router and the number of walls between the router and the device – although wireless extenders can relay the Wi-Fi signal and reduce ‘not-spots’ where the signal is reduced.

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Wireless challenge

In the past 10 years, practically every computing device has become able to connect wirelessly, from printers through to laptops, tablets and network devices, including hubs and routers. Being able to connect wirelessly has real advantages. Employees can have access to email and files while they move around the office, and can access peripherals such as printers without having to go back to their desk.

However, there are certain challenges with mobile networking. Security can be a problem, particularly if the wireless network isn’t set up correctly. The placing of wireless devices needs to be considered carefully otherwise there will be areas within the office where wireless connections are hard to make and where connection speeds are slow – this is sometimes termed a ‘not-spot’.

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Security settings

One of the many problems with wireless security occurs when businesses accept and then don’t change the default settings for wireless devices. You should always change the administrator’s password. Hackers know the default passwords for all the major brands of hardware and if it’s not changed they can gain access to your business network. Additionally, always use the highest level of security your hardware supports and, where possible, use passwords with mixtures of characters and numbers and change these passwords regularly.

To avoid not-spots you should have a wireless site survey to identify the best places to place your wireless access points, antennae and other devices.

In conclusion, wireless networking allows you to have a more attractive and, arguably, safer office environment as there are fewer cables around. It gives you greater flexibility in terms of where you locate your devices and you can use your laptop from anywhere in your office. It also allows you to offer visitors wireless internet access or hot-desk facilities.

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Opening up networks

Traditionally, networking has been a fairly static market. The same networking configurations that applied at the start of the 90s still hold true today, although the connection speed may have improved. What has changed, however, is what passes over the network and the need to connect to it at any time, from any place; and this necessity has brought with it numerous security issues.

Connecting to the internet opens up the traditionally closed company network to the outside world, and with that has come a need to maintain security. The average time between opening up a connection to the internet and a threat arriving through that connection can be measured in seconds. Therefore a network needs to be protected against threats – and threats that change on a second-by-second basis.

There are many different types of threats, with the most common being:
  • Viruses, worms and Trojan horses
  • Spyware and adware
  • Zero-day attacks, also called zero-hour attacks
  • Hacker attacks
  • Denial of service attacks
  • Data interception and theft
  • Identity theft
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Sustained threats

Although numerous different types of threats exist, you’ll find that most of them are rare. Hackers like to experiment with new techniques so the types of threats alter. In the past, hack attacks were done to promote the hackers’ ‘skills’ and were largely benign. Now, however, hacker attacks are aimed at deriving revenue. Hacks are less likely to be the result of a password hack – although this still happens – but are now more likely to be ‘Phishing’ attacks where a particular user is targeted over a period of months, bank and password details are taken and the systems are subsequently used to infiltrate all the other businesses it has links with.

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Security levels

There is one fundamental premise to understand about security and that is that no single solution will protect your business from the variety of threats. You need multiple layers of security, which means that if one fails, others still stand.

Network security is accomplished through hardware and software. The software must be constantly updated and managed to protect your business from emerging threats. A network security system usually consists of many components. Ideally, all components should work together, which minimises maintenance and improves security. Technologies for protecting your business are numerous and include:

Identity management tools:

These sit on top of applications such as Microsoft’s Active Directory to control which individuals and devices can access your network. Identity management can vary from a simple password and username, to two-factor authentication, which may include mobiles, security tokens, smart card readers and security devices, such as fingerprint and iris recognition. Windows 10 includes a number of features that can aid identity management and allow a more secure and streamlined approach to collaborative working.


Firewalls sit between your network and the outside world – or between a specific device such as an email server or a web server – and block unauthorised network access from – or to – the internet. Administrators can create rules on the firewall to deny unwanted access to your network from the internet: they can log data on IP addresses used to access the internet, and can access white and black lists of safe and potential threats to the network. Additionally, firewalls can control what sites your employees have access to. So, for example, Facebook can be excluded between 9-5pm or heavy bandwidth-using sites such as YouTube or Spotify can be excluded altogether.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs):

VPNs allow workers at home, at remote sites, or travelling, to securely connect to your network on any type of device by encrypting the data that travels between the network and the device. VPNs can either be provided as software or as dedicated hardware solutions. Software VPN connections are widely used but can be slow, especially if the device connecting lacks processor power. A hardware solution that’s designed specifically to do encryption and de-encryption can speed up a VPN connection.

Virtual LANs (VLANs):

VLANS can be used to segment access within your network. For example, switches and routers can restrict the use of financial applications or customer files to specific users.

Anti-Virus (AV) software:

AV software can be used to scan and to prevent malware from entering your network and devices. One of the drawbacks with AV software (particularly signature-driven AV software) is that it requires regular updates to cope with new threats. A central AV application can reduce bandwidth use, manage updates and add AV to applications running on the server and can scan all of a business’s incoming emails to block malware.

Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS):

IPSs are dedicated hardware devices that enable a business to detect and protect against specialist attacks such as malware – including zero-hour attacks – before they do harm. Additionally, the IPS will examine network traffic to identify threats that generate unusual traffic flows, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

Spam filtering devices and software:

These will sit in front of the email server and will remove spam email and quarantine suspected spam email before it gets onto your network.

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Network security benefits

With network security in place, your company will experience a great number of business benefits, including protection against business disruption, which helps keep employees productive. Network security also helps your company meet mandatory regulatory compliance. As network security helps to protect your customers’ data, it reduces the potential risk of legal action from data theft.

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Physical Server and Storage Installation

With our Physical Server and Storage Installation we make sure that your systems are installed in your premises and are hooked up and working with your existing equipment. The service includes everything you need, from building and installing the equipment, integrating the new equipment into existing equipment through to completing a basic test plan.

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Windows Server Installation

Once your server or storage installation is complete and a base Windows operating system has been installed on the server, advanced features and customer-specific configurations can be applied. Additional services include installation of Microsoft Exchange, Dynamics, SQL, Lync, SharePoint, Microsoft System Centre and Desktop Virtualisation.

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Server Configuration

The server is at the heart of your network; it runs your business applications, allows you to share files and handles your calendars and email, so it needs to be just right. With our server configuration service we can specify the right server for your business and configure it to your exact requirements, and deliver them to you, ready to power up and get to work.