| small-business networking|
Build an Ethernet network
If you need to support a dozen or more computers and you have to squeeze every bit out of your LAN, use traditional 100BaseT Ethernet equipment and cables. Gigabit Ethernet may be faster, but the equipment remains relatively expensive, both for small and large offices.
Don't forget that in addition to your Ethernet cables, you'll also need a router with an integrated Ethernet switch and possibly additional switches for larger networks. Some routers include print servers or USB ports that let you attach external hard drives to your network. Such features make it easy to back up data and share resources from any machine.
Finally, you'll want to hide all these cables so they don't create an eyesore. Here's your plan:
- Build the network around a four-port hub or switch to connect clients. Hubs are not only inexpensive, they're also fast and reliable. If you need to connect more than 10 computers, consider a switch with more ports--switches can handle higher traffic.
- Hide the cables wherever you can, such as in plastic tubing, under wall molding or carpeting, in a drop ceiling, inside conduits, or snaked through baseboard heating units. Putting them inside the walls is expensive, and it locks in a floor plan.
- Limit cable length to less than 300 feet or the signal may become unreliable. You can always span longer distances with a repeater.
Make your own cables. It's easier and cheaper than you think, and it means that every cable will be just the right length. The first step is to get a spool of Cat-5 cable, a $30 crimping tool, and a bunch of modular RJ-45 plugs, available at many hardware stores. Cut the cable to a little longer than you'll need and use the crimping tool to strip off a half-inch of the cable's outer cover without damaging the wires below. Carefully line up and pinch the eight wires between your thumb and forefinger, then gently push them into the plug. Finish by squeezing the crimping tool's handle. Repeat at the other end and test the cable with a connection that you're sure works.
Crimping can save you money and help you get just the right length of cable for your connection.
- Draw a diagram of your network and save it in a place you won't forget. You may also want to consider sticking a Post-it Note on the back of each device with key specs, such as the device's name and its IP address. This will make maintenance much easier.