How do you move from wanting a wired network to actually having one?
Network installation is accomplished by following a standard series of steps. It starts with assessing the location where the install will take place and defining your own network needs. You and your installer can then use that information to create a network design, determine how much hardware is necessary, and configure the entire system installation to make sure all devices can communicate on the new network. The final step is ongoing maintenance.
Want to know about the specifics, plus how to make your network scalable in the future? Keep reading for a deeper dive into these network installation steps.
1. Evaluate Your Physical Space
The floorplan and features of the physical space will shape how a network installation is planned for, designed, and carried out.
Sometimes, the physical space imposes obstacles such as solid walls (instead of hollow), HVAC-adjacent plenum space (which requires specially shielded cables), multiple floors, bolted-down equipment, etc. It’s important to take these into account in the planning process.
This step should also include identifying one or more possible spaces for the network hub, such as a convenient closet or small room with conduits of some kind to the rest of the facility. This is where the hardware components of the network–servers, routers, firewalls, and other crucial devices–are grouped. If you deal in sensitive information, your network hub needs to be in a room that is not easily accessible to the public and that can be locked from the outside.
2. Evaluate Your Needs
What exactly do you need to get out of a network?
Make your needs clear to yourself so that you can make them clear to your network installation company, and design a network that works for you.
A few of the most relevant questions may be:
- What data speeds do I need?
- What types of cable can support the programs or software I use without lag?
- What’s my budget?
- How much equipment or how many devices need to be hooked up to the network?
- Can I move any equipment to facilitate a data jack, or is it permanent and stationary?
- Do I have plans to scale this network up in the future?
- Where do I want to place computers, printers, VOIP phones, etc.?
You can also take this opportunity to ask your employees or IT department for their input based on their experience with the equipment and network as it stands.
3. Develop a Network Design
There are different network architectures for different network applications and settings. These are often referred to in the industry as topologies. Essentially, topologies are various ways of arranging and connecting devices on a wired network in the most efficient way.
A great network design balances physical elements, such as the layout of cables and data ports, with IT elements such as data speed, security, and overall reliability.
It’s hard to select the right network design and topology, so don’t be afraid to bring in an expert at this point! Professional network designers will be able to guide you through the process to reduce stress and produce a workable network installation plan.
4. Measure Cabling and Count Hardware
Cabling is the backbone of a wired Ethernet network. The amount of cabling your project requires will dictate how many pieces of additional hardware you’ll need.
For example, twenty-five feet of cable will need fifty data jacks (one for each end for each cable), a corresponding number of wall plates, patch panels, and cable management to keep everything organized.
The type of cabling you select for your project should be based on its technical specifications, not its cost. Cat5e cable, the cheapest available, is also totally inadequate for most business applications today; whereas Cat6 and Cat7 cable both perform well with high data speeds, but Cat6 begins to falter over long cable runs. Fiber optic cables provide the fastest data speeds and largest bandwidth, but that level may not be necessary for your objectives.
5. Build or Request An Estimate
A network installation estimate is based on the length of cables, number of hardware items, and cost of devices such as routers, firewalls, and servers, as well as the predicted number of man-hours it will take to install them. Depending on the network and the location it will be installed, this number can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
If you’re working with a network installation company, you can ask them for two estimates: one that accounts for the cost of a basic no-frills network, and one that estimates the cost for extras such as extended coverage, Wi-Fi segments, or upgraded hardware. With that information you can make the best choice for your budget.
Never take an over-the-phone, sight-unseen estimate from an installation company at face value. Each installation is unique, and accurate estimates are built by on-site walkthroughs and thoughtful, tailored design processes.
Configuration is the process of testing your network to make sure it is one hundred percent operable, as well as linking all devices to the network and training them to communicate with each other through it.
This step follows the physical installation and is the important final leap to achieve an efficient, streamlined, fully integrated network that meets your needs and helps you accomplish your business goals.
7. Ongoing Maintenance
Not everybody thinks about maintenance when they think about installation, but like any system, a wired network will need it.
Routine maintenance for networks include:
- Replacing aged cable or hardware
- Repairing damage
- Upgrading parts for best performance
- Responding to regulatory changes to remain in compliance
Ask your network installer for their guidelines and suggested timelines for maintenance, repairs, and upgrades.
Be proactive about network maintenance! It will save you time and money.
The Next Step: How to Scale a Network
Existing networks frequently need to be scaled up as a business grows.
The scaling process actually follows the same basic framework as a network installation:
- Site assessment
- Evaluate the capabilities of current access points
- Measure current network capacity
- Define how many new access points are needed
- Measure ideal projected network capacity
- Replace any older hardware as necessary
- Install new hardware
- Configure all devices on your new expanded network
When you’re ready to scale up, make sure you have your original installation records handy. They’ll make the process of site and hardware assessment much more streamlined.