Networking: Time to Ditch Those Wires
17. Coming Soon: 802.11i
There's a new letter to add to the Wi-Fi alphabet: 802.11i is a standard aimed at shoring up some of the security problems associated with previous versions of the networking technology. That's good news for businesses concerned about snoopers intercepting sensitive data. Previous solutions like WEP have been prone to hacking. Those who've held off on going wireless due to security concerns can look for 802.11i-compliant Wi-Fi hardware.
Major manufacturers are expected to implement the new standard with a focus on business hardware first. The new standard protects data with one of the strongest forms of encryption available, Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which supports 128-, 192- and 256-bit keys. It's used in conjunction with other encryption standards used in 802.11g.
18. Say No to Dead Spots
Antennas and repeaters are the two most popular ways to stretch your signal on the cheap. Directional and omnidirectional are two terms you'll hear a lot. The omni-directional antenna boosts the signal for 360 degrees, while the directional antenna focuses the extended signal in one direction. There are also Wireless PC Cards with antennas for laptops and desktop antennas that attach to a desktop wireless network card. When selecting range-extending hardware, check with your hardware's manufacturer to avoid compatibility snags.
Repeaters are usually more expensive than antennas. A repeater acts as a relay station to pick up your wireless signal and bounce it along into those hard-to-reach corners and dead spots. Keep in mind that repeaters effectively cut bandwidth while expanding range, so use them sparingly.
19. Mesh Networks
The next step in wireless networking may be mesh networking. Also called multihop networking, it extends the range and strength of a network by using multiple access points. The more nodes you have interconnecting, the better. Each node acts as a router and can talk to other nodes instead of having them all talk back to a main base station. That's a boon for flexibility and reliability: If one node goes down or is too busy, the rest can reroute the traffic. Mesh networking can be used to cover big areas, like an entire city, or older office buildings that give regular Wi-Fi setups fits. It can also extend networks without setting up new base stations.
20. Use Wi-Jacks
While Wi-Fi is a convenient advance, installing a large wireless network can be costly. Large offices and older buildings require special care to extend the network to every nook and cranny. Wi-Jacks are the latest hardware offering aimed at making Wi-Fi easier and cheaper for businesses. Wi-Jacks are Wi-Fi wall outlets that fit an access point into a standard data wall outlet (the kind you're familiar with for Ethernet use) so you avoid installing costly access points on the ceiling. Lower installation costs permit more of a grid approach to building out a wireless network--good news for larger networks, where getting adequate coverage is an issue. Small businesses will still be content with standard hardware, but if you're considering upgrading to wireless or moving into a new building, check into Wi-Jacks.
21. Why Set Up a Wireless Network?
While setting up a traditional wired network for your computers and peripherals is still a viable option, wireless networks are becoming faster, more affordable and easier to adopt than ever. Growing small businesses that have adopted a wireless solution are already reporting immediate paybacks in higher productivity, flexible application mobility and greater worker satisfaction. A wireless infrastructure can make it easier to reconfigure your office space as your company grows and changes. Also, the total cost of a wireless local area network (LAN) is relatively inexpensive--it's become very affordable in the past few years and prices are continuing to drop. When you take into account productivity gains, both inside the office and at public "hot spots," going wireless is an obvious choice, especially when compared to the cost of running a Cat 5 network LAN cable throughout a building.
Great Data Storage Solutions for Your Business
22. Increasing Memory the Easy Way
If you're running a one-person show, your network probably consists of just your computer and printer. If you're hitting memory capacity on that one PC, your best storage solution is an external hard drive that connects via USB or Firewire cable. Installation is a snap since most USB cables now install themselves, and they're easy to use since they just appear on your computer as another drive. You can use your new external hard drive to back up your files or simply to save memory-intensive files and graphics. And at less than $200 bucks for 200GB, they're a bargain.
23. DVDs--Not Just for Movies Anymore
Want a quick and easy way to store data? For periodic backups, DVDs are still cost effective. DVDs with DL (double layer) technology allow you to burn up to 8.5GB of data on each disk, up from the standard 4.7GB. And while double-layer DVDs may be slightly more expensive and have lower burn speeds, they make up for it in capacity.
24. Access Stored Documents Online
Web-based storage services allow business users to store their documents and other digital files on third-party servers and are usually subscription-based. This helps businesses continue to operate if there are any outages, crises or disasters at the main office. It also allows convenient sharing of large files and real-time collaboration between a business and its partners without clogging company e-mail systems and servers. Online storage services also provide access to content from anywhere there's an Internet connection. They reduce the cost of maintaining, storing and managing hard-copy documents on-site and reduce the risk of lost or misfiled paper documents. They are also scalable as your business grows. One important caveat: Your business must use a broadband connection to take advantage of these online solutions.
25. Share--and Protect--Data
Network attached storage (NAS) devices are dedicated storage that hook up to any available Ethernet port, so they're on a LAN rather than a server. It's an easily scalable solution for storing, organizing and sharing data among users on one or several interconnected networks. A big portion of NAS hardware is made up of hard drives so they're ideal for backing up data. And if they're RAID-ready (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), that's a plus because RAID management software allows you to share and/or duplicate your data across multiple disks, so if one goes down, you can make a quick recovery.
26. Memory On the Go
External flash memory comes in all shapes and sizes, one of the most popular being mini USB drives that are about the size of a thumb and plug into your computer's USB port. Their small size makes them extremely convenient for transferring data and files from one computer to another and they can even be attached to your keychain. For these devices, memory capacity averages 128 to 256 megabytes, but can scale all the way to two gigabytes. Other flash memory formats include SmartMedia, Compact Flash, Memory Stick and Secure Digital cards.
Communicate Better With Technology
27. Automate Your Customer Communications
In a world where fewer and fewer customer interactions actually take place in person, implementing CRM technology can be an excellent way to provide a more personalized touch when working with your customers.
Sales force automation tools help track your pool of prospects as they move from interested leads to paying customers. Customer support automation improves the process of handling customers so you can better satisfy them while minimizing your costs. Whether you support your customers through a call center, in-person or online, applications range from live online help, searchable knowledge bases where customers can look up answers to previously asked questions, and case tracking to ensure no inquiry gets lost.
28. Reduce Your Phone Bills
VoIp (Voice over Internet Protocol) allows you to make phone calls over the internet. It's an increasingly popular tool that can help growing businesses save on their communications bills and it offers some enticing features. Find me/follow me services can forward phone calls to wherever your are and employees located in home offices can be hooked up with in-office extensions, so dialing is the same as if you're calling somebody two doors down in the same building. For frequent travelers, IP softphones can allow you to call from your hotel room.
Choose a provider based on call features, its experience with growing businesses, network quality and price. Check in with your in-house IT person or IT consultant about getting all your various offices onto the same VoIP page.
29. Simplify Your Life With One Inbox
Getting your voice mails, faxes, e-mails and instant messages in one inbox is now possible through unified messaging (UM), also known as unified communications (UC). You may already get e-mail forwarded to your handheld or smartphone, as well as use these devices to access your voice mail and to send text messages. But vendors are also now offering services that combine your voice, e-mail and fax inboxes into one account, accessible via a mobile phone or internet-connected computer. You can listen to your voice mail on your computer or your faxes and e-mails via telephone using text-to-speech technology. All this functionality costs around $10 a month depending on where you live and your messaging needs.
30. Call Smarter
Smartphones are a combination cell phone/PDA that allow you to make calls, access your organizer, read and send e-mail, connect to the internet and even send text messages, reducing the hardware you need to haul around with you to keep in touch. Recently, smartphones have gotten even smarter with Mobile Multimedia Messaging (MMS). MMS goes beyond alphanumeric text messages by allowing you to send pictures, video and sound. MMS-enabled smartphones typically come equipped with digital cameras, video recorders, MP3 players, memory and the ability to accept memory cards.
31. Choosing the Right E-Mail Provider
E-mail is considered the number-one productivity application for business owners, so choosing the right e-mail provider for your business is crucial. Like any other technology acquisition, e-mail must enable the specific goals of your business. So before approaching e-mail providers, first understand your business objectives and internal capabilities by considering the following issues:
- The number of employees you have
- Whether your business has a centralized or distributed structure (i.e., do you have any telecommuters or satellite offices?)
- The applications you plan to operate with e-mail, including the size and types of anticipated attachments
- The volume of interaction expected with customers, partners and suppliers
- The frequency of use, time-of-day usage and other expectations
- Whether you have enough in-house expertise to implement and manage an internal system or if you need to outsource that function