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Network solutions questions for small office

  • Hello, I work for a very small environmental organization in a small town. We had 3 staff and have doubled that in a short period. As a result our org is experiencing growing pains with our existing network which was a single modem/router provided by our ISP. Our ISP installed a second router to give us more 'space', but the issue was not clearly communicated and now we have two networks with some devices on each which causes problems when trying to access devices on the second network. We have a mix of 3 wired desktop pc's, 5 printers, and 4 laptops that access via wireless, plus guest wireless access for meetings. One of the pc's doubles as a quasi-server with shared files on it.

    We would like a single network. We are looking for a simple/basic solution given our lack of IT support on site in the area. In researching the possible solutions, it would seem that we could install an unmanaged switch, plug all wired devices into the switch, and the switch into the modem/router. 

    Questions I have:

    1. Is this the correct setup?

    2. If yes, what would be an appropriate switch? Would something like the cisco SG102-24 be appropriate?

    3. Can we simply plug the devices into the switch and then out to the modem? Or is there other configuration that will be needed?

    4. Is it possible to turn the second modem into a wireless access point only for guests? Or is that getting too complicated?

    5. And sort of related, would a NAS be a decent solution to storing a donor database, QuickBooks, and general shared files that could be accessed offsite? This is for down the road, but am researching now.

    As you can see, I'm no expert. I'm looking for advice from others with more knowledge to help us make the right decision so we don't end up with a mess like we have now. Thanks in advance!

  • "it would seem that we could install an unmanaged switch, plug all wired devices into the switch, and the switch into the modem/router."

    Yes, in general, that would seem like the path you want to take. The switch you mention has 24 ports so if you're only going to plug in 8 or 12 devices and you've stopped growing, you can save a few dollars by getting a model that has fewer ports.

    I don't see how a second router/connection translates to more "space" but you could indeed use it for guest access to the Internet, automatically providing isolation from the private data on your primary network.

    But there are so many details, possible exceptions and related ssues to be considered that I fear your situation is beyond the scope of this thread.  Isn't there any way of getting a moderately capable IT person to visit your location?

    -ENO

  • As Eno indicated it's a little difficult to advise you without knowing the specifics of your set up and the being asked one question at a time. You will be best served by getting a consultant who can visit your location or talk with you on the phone. I will try a few comments that may help:

    - I think by "space" you mean "bandwidth". If someone is watching a video and someone is streaming an Internet radio station then the network is sluggish to respond and things take a long time to complete or transfer.

    - Adding a second modem is not something I hear about people doing, but it is possible as a solution. But if your network has now been split into two then you didn't have someone with much experience and just made it work without consideration of the problems they were creating.

    So ok, the first thing a consultant should be asking is what all are you doing on your network and why on earth do your 6 people/computers need so much bandwidth? I suspect people may have things on their computers that don't need to be running. If staff are all behaving then I would look to your wireless network and see if the neighbors are running a game guild network over your equipment.

    Once you find that out you will know what other options you have, but you should be able to get a small switch, say 8 ports, and plug some of your computers into the switch and connect the modem/routers to the switch. You need to make sure each router has a different ip address assigned to it on your network side.

    Then plug any other computers into open ports on either of the two modem/routers. Any computer that needs a lot of bandwidth should go into a router.

    I would wait to see if anyone finds flaws with my advice, but your switch should take care of directing traffic on the network and if one router is too busy the switch should route to the second one. All of the computers should be able to communicate.

  • Since you already have gone through the expense of having a second internet connection installed, you should determine which has more bandwidth and use it for your wired network.  The slower one could get used for guest access.  As ENO said, you could then keep the guests off of your network.  A 24 port switch might be overkill.  You could go with a smaller switch to save some money.  As far as Quickbooks, it is not recommended to be installed on a NAS.  It would not work correctly, if at all.  I hope this helps.

    Best of luck,

    Gary 

    Gary Network/Systems Admin Berlin, NH
    Host Non-profit Tech Careers, Security Forums
    Co-Host Networks, Hardware, & Telecommunications Forum

  • There are routers that will use two WAN connections at once, balancing, to some degree, the load on each. I know of the Cisco RV042 (which is about $130 and you might find it on eBay for cheap), and there must be others.

  • Hey Lisa,

    You have a few issues here:

    1 - How do you provide a robust enough connection to support your staff? An internet connection is measure in bandwidth, which is the amount of data it can transfer per second. If many people are using the same connection, it needs to be faster, ie have greater bandwidth, to support their needs.

    2 - Wireless access for you, and for guest access

    3 - How should files be shared throughout the organization? NAS? Cloud? A hybrid?

    4 - What hardware should you select to support your needs?

    5 - Are current computers, users, and policies set up properly to ensure network security and performance?

    Standing on one foot, I'd say that you need to get rid of one of your networks and increase your bandwidth on the other (the ISP can tell you about their offerings). You can then get a modem/router and a switch that will enable you to both support your wired network, and broadcast two wireless networks, a standard one and a guest network. You also need to attend to network security by making sure firewalls and antivirus are running and up-to-date on all your computers.

    You should then get into the question of whether it makes sense for your files to be stored in the cloud, rather than on a local NAS. This will implicate other questions, like what you use for email and calendar and so forth. This will also impact question 5.

    The best way to ensure you don't have a mess later is to get expert help now. I have helped many small organizations with these kinds of issues, so please be in touch if you'd like assistance.

    Isaac Shalev
    www.Sage70.com - IT strategy, product and vendor selection, integration, and more
    isaac@sage70.com
    (917) 859-0151
    @sage70inc