First, are you opening a new physical office location or are you adding employees that are telecommuters? If you just want to add telecommuters who work from home or other location, skip straight to bullet 4.
Here are some points to keep in mind for a new office:
1. Structured Wiring – For a new office location/branch office, your biggest IT expense is going to be the structure wiring. You need to make sure the new office space is wired with CAT5e network drops in each office/cubicle before moving in. Ensure there are ports for both data and voice. All this will route back to a patch panel in a wiring closet (aka IDF closet) which is where your telephone system and other network equipment will go.
2. Internet & Phones- The next step is choosing an ISP. Should you go with a cable, DSL, T1, or point to point circuit back to the main office? This question can be answered by the number of employees you have in this new office, what applications they need to be able to access, and if you want bundled voice services. For typical businesses, a cable modem with a static IP address (business cable) will suffice. Expect to pay around $80 per month through a company such as Comcast. It used to be that businesses had no choice but to go with a T1 when they needed high bandwidth with uptime guarantees but cable internet service has really taken a chunk of business away from T1 providers in recent years offering even better bandwidth and similar uptime guarantees.
But what if your employees need to transfer huge files (think large 100 MB documents or images) back and forth between the main office and the new office all throughout the day? This would unfortunately would be unbearable with a cable modem or DSL connection if everyone in your office was trying to move files between location over a site to site VPN to your main office. If your bandwidth is a limiting factor, the next option is to purchase a point to point circuit or MPLS circuit between the two offices. A point to point circuit it as fiber line that is run between the two offices by your provider and guarantees an “always on” link between the two offices with no overhead. An MPLS circuit is similar but offers even higher availability and redundancy through a concept called “mesh networking” which puts both your offices in a “mesh network” where only data destined for one location is allowed to pass through while regular Internet data is routed normally. A point to point circuit usually starts at around $400 per month or more and an MPLS circuit is usually $600 per month or more. This can get a little overwhelming for a small or medium size business so please call and speak to a Network Engineer at IronTech before proceeding to order service from your provider. The last thing you want is to be sold a service solution by a telecom salesman and it turns out to be the wrong type of circuit for your companies needs. IronTech has seen this happen time and time again which is why we always tell our clients to let us help you find the right king of service for you.
The last thing to consider is your phone system. If you go with a VoIP (voice over IP system) designed for small businesses such as Microsoft Response Point which is geared for companies with less than 50 employees, the costs of your phone solution can be much less by making calls over your Internet connection rather than standard phone lines:
And don’t forget your remote users. Softphones come into play as a convenient way for users in remote locations to still make and answer phone calls as if they were in the office without having to carry around a physical phone with them. A softphone is just an application that runs on your PC or laptop that emulates a physical phone and allows you to make and take calls over the Internet and through the office phone system.
3. Router & Switch- So you have an Internet connection, but now what do you do to get everyone in the office up and running? You need a business class router from Cisco or Sonicwall. Don’t run out to Best Buy and pickup a $40 Linksys residential router. This is not going to fit the needs of a small or medium size business. Sure it can get you online and give you WiFi with a very basic firewall but that’s as far as a residential router goes. A business class router offers so much more and has built-in in security features aimed at hardening a business network. When shopping for a business class router, make sure to purchase one with “Site to Site VPN” capability. What this does is create a secure VPN tunnel between your main office’s router and the router in your new office which effectively makes it seem as if you were in one big office. This is the ideal scenario for any business.
There are many other features of a router you need to consider which are a bit beyond the scope of this article such as WAN failover, intrusion detection, Radius authentication, content filtering, VPN endpoint, deep packet inspection firewall, etc. Make sure to have an IronTech Network Engineer go over your requirements before making a purchase. You don’t want to purchase something that is overkill for your office but at the same time, you don’t want to purchase something that doesn’t have what your business needs.
Most of these routers have integrated switch ports but if your office has 50 users, then you definitely need to get a standalone switch or two. Depending on your phone solution, you might even need to get a PoE switch (Power over Ethernet) so that your phones receive power through a standard network cable and you don’t have to plug in an AC adaptor.
4. Remote Access- Ok, so now your office is online and people can work but how do they get the data on the servers at the main office? Here you have different options available to you which again depend on what business needs have to be met.
- -Microsoft Terminal Services- A server at your main office will become a “remote access” server which will allow users in the branch office to remote in securely over the Internet and use this server as their desktop. All their files will be stored on the server and will be backed up so if the hard drive on their computer in their office goes out, they will never experience a loss of data. A Terminal Server is a very fast solution and is already included with every Microsoft Server operating system. You just need to purchase the additional user licenses which is around $80 per person that connects to it. With Microsoft Terminal Services running on Windows Server 2008, a new application publishing feature called RemoteApp is also available. Read below on Citrix and application publishing below.
- -Citrix XenApp- You might have heard your friends at other companies talk about Citrix but called it “Presentation Server” or “MetaFrame Server”. The new name is for Citrix’s application publishing suite it is XenApp and Citrix has made it better than it was ever before. With Citrix XenApp, instead of a user remoting into the server and using a desktop like with a Terminal Server, the Citrix server instead “publishes” just an application only to the user. So the user never has to leave their desktop behind, the application is “pushed” to the user.
- -VMware ThinApp- A similar application virtualization technology from the leading provider of virtualization solutions, VMware.
- -VPN (Virtual Private Network) – The old classic way of remote access. A VPN creates a secure connection between computers. If you have a dial up VPN (such as Microsoft RRAS which is included with every Server operating system), a user can dial in on demand to the network and have access to file shares and data as if they were in the office. For a VPN between offices, this must be accomplished at the network layer between routers and it will always “stay on”. The problem with a VPN is that it can be unbearably slow if your bandwidth on both sides is not fast enough to keep the secure tunnel up and running stably.
There are just the more popular remote access methods that IronTech Solutions implements and supports. Your business needs me require a combination of platforms or even something else entirely. Call us and discuss your needs and we will tailor a solution fit for your business.