BUSINESSES can benefit from joined-up thinking in their IT strategies but is it the WAN that you want?, writes business editor David Tooley.
A WAN is a Wide Area Network that connects different Local Area Networks (LANs) together in a more complex set-up.
So a WAN is not what you want if you run a company based from one location.
But the point beneath WANs and LANs and other forms of computer networking is getting a system in place where all parts of an organisation talk to each other.
It’s a silicon-based equivalent of a water cooler, which is, as everyone knows, the best office communication system known.
And it’s not only about getting employees to be able to talk, suppliers and customers too can have access.
The government’s online help organisation Business Link reckons companies can improve efficiency by sharing information such as common files, databases and software.
Time can be saved by information not having to be keyed in multiple times. And staff, by having access to shared customer data, can provide a better standard of service.
But there are different ways of implementing computer networking solutions.
For many businesses, the first computer network they need will be confined to a single building. This type of network is called LAN. There are two common kinds of LAN – peer-to-peer and client/server.
Peer-to-peer networks connect two or more computers directly, allowing them to share files or programs. They are suitable for collaborative work and fairly straightforward.
However, peer-to-peer networks can be much slower than server-based networks and are unsuitable for very complex systems.
Client/server networks use one computer as a server and all the other shared files and programmes are stored there. This central machine can be a normal PC, although it is best to use a powerful computer or a purpose-built server computer.
Client/server networks have a number of advantages. As files are stored centrally, these systems are more efficient at backing up and handling data. For example, users cannot modify files simultaneously. You can also link to different types of computer, and support more users more reliably than you can with a peer-to-peer network.
Unlike peer-to-peer systems, a failure at a single point in a client/server network will not affect other computers on the network, as long as the server remains intact.
Other types of computer network include virtual private networks (VPNs), where users can log in by using the internet from home or remotely, internal network intranets and extranets, which are intranets opened up to outside clients.
It probably goes without saying that before plumping for any particular system, it is well worth looking at the issue in depth.
But, Business Link advises expressing requirements in terms of what a company needs and letting those with technical expertise sort out the nuts and bolts.
And, Business Link advises thinking about how networks will be maintained and developed. A small network can mean appointing an administrator, who can be a member of staff given additional training, covering issues including security and disaster recovery planning.
One potential pitfall in businesses connecting their systems is that is one has a problem it may affect everyone. There’s a greater potential for data loss, security breaches and viruses when creating a network.
So putting in place practices to ensure only authorised personnel have access to network infrastructure is vital, as are steps like having protective firewalls and anti-virus software.
Useful sources of information include Business Link and the local chamber of commerce.