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Always-on networking for always-on SMBs

Sep 06, 20237 mins

How to get the smart, secure, and easy-to-use Wi-Fi and wired networking infrastructure to meet unique small and mid-sized business needs.

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Credit: iStock

By: Amol Mitra, Vice President and General Manager, Global Small and Medium Business at HPE Aruba Networking.

Soaring user expectations for mobile connectivity no matter where individuals live, work, educate, shop, recreate, or dine has many small and mid-sized businesses searching for fast, reliable, flexible, and secure Wi-Fi solutions that are delivered affordably and require little or no technology expertise to manage.

Until recently, finding such a solution was a challenge. Fortunately, there are now options that provide entities like yours with modern networking infrastructure to fit SMB requirements, ensuring you can mobilize employees, deliver guest Wi-Fi to customers, and stay competitive in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace.

Top networking challenges SMBs face

From our partnerships with thousands of business leaders at SMB for-profit and non-profit organizations worldwide, we’ve identified common themes around the needs and challenges facing business like yours for obtaining and deploying the most appropriate wired and wireless infrastructure solutions. These include:

  • Robust performance and availability. Whether you’re outfitting hybrid workers, offering guest access to customers, or mobilizing an on-site workforce, your users expect the same performance and reliability from their connectivity as they’re accustomed to experiencing everywhere today. From handling massive graphics files and web conferencing with colleagues to completing academic assignments and streaming video content, users want connectivity that’s instantaneous and delivered like a utility—always-on and always there.
  • Strong security. Gone are the days when users tolerated typing in long or complicated strings of letters and numbers to access a Wi-Fi network. Now it’s about smoothly accessing Wi-Fi, regardless of device type, so people can focus on the activity at hand. Simultaneously, users want the assurance that their connections are secure and business owners want to be protected from costly cyberattacks.
  • Streamlined management. Despite facing the same needs as your enterprise peers, your business profitability relies on adopting technology solutions that are simple to manage. If you’re like most businesses, you’re also embracing cloud-delivered applications that you can manage from anywhere, enabling you to concentrate on doing business wherever you are.
  • Cost-effective to purchase and maintain. Focusing resources on serving customers and constituents is an imperative for SMBs like yours. To do so requires keeping overhead low, both from a purchasing and maintenance perspective. This holds particularly true for technology, which has historically required more funds to purchase and more time to manage than is appropriated for many SMBs.

Tips for evaluating all-inclusive, end-to-end solutions

Fortunately, technology innovations have enabled networking infrastructure providers to engineer wired and wireless solutions that overcome the challenges of the past and meet the unique needs of businesses and organizations like yours. Leading manufacturers offer all-inclusive, end-to-end solutions providing wireless access points (APs) for fast Wi-Fi, the wired switches that support Wi-Fi, and an intuitive management platform for making it all work.

To help you choose the manufacturer and the solution that’s right for you, it’s critical to evaluate the solutions based on key the features and capabilities that address SMB challenges. As you’re reviewing your options, consider each of the following.

High-performance mesh networking. By choosing a mesh-based networking solution from the start, an investment you make today will last well into tomorrow. That’s because mesh permits adding the latest generation of access points to an existing Wi-Fi deployment, enabling you to upgrade incrementally as budgets allow. With mesh, you can update any portion of your facilities with new APs as your needs evolve, rather than requiring you to throw away your existing solution and start all over again. Using a mesh-capable Wi-Fi solution ensures you’ll always have the fastest speeds, the widest bandwidth for data-intensive applications—like streaming video or immersive media—and the ability to handle greater device densities in high-utilization areas.

Look for solutions capable of supplying 2.5 Gigabits of throughput for both the Wi-Fi APs and the wired switches. If one or the other is less, the entire system will conform to the lesser of the two, which neutralizes your capability to gain the maximum benefit.

Modern encryption combined with granular policy-based controls. Insist on end-to-end encryption using the latest Wi-Fi security standard, called WPA3, along with the capability to easily establish and enforce network access policies.

WPA3 supplies harder-to-break encryption protocols and other advanced security enhancements, making it the preferred choice for keeping your business, customer, and guest data secure.

Policy-based controls provide you with the ability to set granular rules for differentiating what each type of network user is permitted to access. Let’s use a café as an example. Occasional customers could be restricted to only internet access. Loyal customers could receive privileged access to more types of content. Front-line employees could access job-specific resources, such as a point-of-sale (POS) system, while managers could have access to additional types of applications, like inventory management and supplier portals. Suppliers and contractors could be allowed to use a different set of resources.

Similarly, with granular policy-based controls, you can improve network performance and reduce cyber risks by preventing access to certain types of content according to an individual’s characteristics, like an occasional customer, or according to specific device characteristics, like an employee’s personal smartphone. For instance, you could restrict certain types of users or devices from accessing specific streaming or gaming websites. Such sites can soak up excessive bandwidth, thereby impeding performance for all, while also offering cybercriminals an additional avenue for gaining entry.

Intelligent, simplified, app-based management. While app-based management is table stakes for today’s SMB wired and wireless networking solutions, not all are created equally. The most advanced options offer 3 key capabilities:

  1. Multi-site administration, which enables you to manage every location from one centralized dashboard in a cloud-delivered app.
  2. Advanced revision control for scheduling automatic updates when it works best for your business, on any day of the week or time of day, assuring non-disruptive improvements to your network.
  3. Automated everything, whether it’s applying policies or policy updates across all appropriate users and devices, intelligently adjusting quality of service (QoS) based on your type of network, users, and utilization patterns, or enabling you to configure a new AP at any location in your business while making a cup of coffee. In short, the solution with the most automation ensures you spend the least amount of time deploying and managing it.

Future-ready. Look for the capability to enhance both your wireless and wired solutions, as your business needs change, by adding to them rather than replacing. As we’ve previously discussed, this includes backward compatibility for Wi-Fi access points, so you can add new generations of technology to an existing Wi-Fi deployment. From a wired perspective, switches should be stackable, which enables adding switches to meet new needs, or scale your business, but administer them as a single unit—rather than requiring you to manage each switch separately.

No hidden costs. Be certain to ask about costs beyond the initial purchase or subscription, such as licensing fees for certain types of capabilities, add-on costs for features you adopt down the road, or investments required to receive technology updates and upgrades. The most comprehensive solutions are all-inclusive, with none of these hidden fees or costs.

Flexible acquisition options. Whether your business buys technology solutions online, purchases them from a reseller partner, or contracts with a managed services provider, look for a solution that puts you in the driver’s seat, enabling you to obtain everything you need in the manner most appropriate for your situation.

Adding it all up

Regardless of which solution you ultimately purchase, you’ll find two types of manufacturers in the wired and wireless networking market: one that is vendor-centric, where offerings are based on what the vendor determines is right for you, and one that is customer-centric, where solutions are engineered around decades of listening to and addressing the business needs of, customers of all sizes and types. To determine which supplier will best meet your needs, use a “three S” yardstick by asking: Is the solution simple? Is it smart? And…is it secure?

Meanwhile, to learn more about Wi-Fi and wired solutions check out the video: The Always-on Network for the Always-on Business. It’s our handy introduction to modern, SMB-centric networking that provides the high-performance, reliable, flexible, and secure connectivity for boosting your business productivity, delivering exceptional user experiences, and keeping overhead low.