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A network is essentially a way to
share resources across your office. Check out my amazing drawing below, and
you'll see how.
Your Internet leads in to a "switch"
which connects everything in your network. Your desktop computers, file server,
wireless access point, and a data backup device — if you have one — all connect
out from your switch.
With a network, five colleagues can
read and edit the same document from their own computer, plus you can
develop shared folders to store joint resources and back up your files. Networks
also enable resource sharing, an important consideration in all
Rather than buying one printer for every
employee and replacing them when they wear out, an organization with a network
can buy a single printer, connect it to the network, and configure it so every user
in the organization can print to it.
In addition to those basic
advantages of a wired network, your organization could become even more
flexible with a wireless access point. With a wireless network, your staff and
volunteers can stay connected to the Internet anywhere in the office.
about the thousands of schools, hotels, cafes, and other public places with
wireless connections. These free you from having to be at home or at your desk
to access information online.
At TechSoup, we're a larger
organization that operates in more than one building. We can work at our desks
and then take our laptops to meetings without dropping our Internet connection
or access to our email.
We've also set up file servers and backups to help us
share files and protect our data in case of a system crash. And speaking of
servers, we've integrated ours into our phone system, so if someone leaves me a
voicemail, it appears in my email as a message.
All this is possible thanks to our
wired and wireless networks. But, like with any complex technology, there's no one-size-fits-all
solution when it comes to networking your nonprofit, charity, or library's
While developing a network, choosing a server, and weighing
telecommunications options can seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be.
TechSoup has grown over the years,
but we didn't start out this big. Most organizations fall into the second
scenario: an office with four to six computers, and staff looking to share
Internet access and back up their data.
In this series of posts, we'll explore how
networks work, and whether your organization could benefit from one. Then we explore different networking options.
The following are some questions from
our article — Networking
101: Understanding Your Needs — that
might help to guide your network planning process by taking stock of what you
have and need:
Scale is usually the first and most
important determination in network planning, as it will often determine or
influence your other decisions.
Let's go back to our two scenarios: at
TechSoup, we're a larger organization that operates in more than one building.
This means we need more hardware, more servers, and more space to run all of
However, most nonprofits are like our other scenario, with a few
employees in one large room. This means you can tuck a simple server somewhere out
of the way, and perhaps run the cords you need around a baseboard.
While there are many scales of
networks, most nonprofits and libraries only need to focus on those that impact
small and mid-sized organizations.
This usually means LANs. A local area
network (or LAN) is designed and implemented at the scale of a single
building or office. Its primary function is to connect computing resources
within a single organization. Learn more
about network types and designs.
For more help building a wireless
network at your organization, check out:
Have a question? Ask it in
our community forums where you can
get advice from fellow nonprofits. We should note: setting up a wireless
network can be tricky. If you don't have someone on staff with networking
experience, hiring a consultant is something you should consider.
Check out the rest of my short series on networks: