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In an interconnected world of digital collaboration and remote working, your computer network is the lifeblood of your organisation.

If you’re a micro business, small business or start up owner, we imagine you’ve probably got a lot to contend with. You want to put your best IT foot forward and give yourself room to grow, but getting things off the ground may be a daunting or confusing prospect.

Courtesy of our team of experts, here’s our quick guide for getting started with your setup.

Getting started: choosing a type of network

Like building a house, your IT system will benefit from having the right foundations, so your first key choice is what sort of infrastructure you are going to put in place. You’ve got three IT setup options to consider:

Option 1: On-premise

If you’re starting up and are based on-site in a building, you may want to have your own on-premise IT system.

This usually consists of a main computer (a server) that controls and distributes information around your business, provides the right access to the right people and connects you to the world outside.

  • Pros: On-premise is great if you are moving high levels of data between users — such as graphics, computer aided design files or large video content. It’s secure, unique to you and totally customisable. Many people will find it to be user-friendly and familiar.
  • Cons:  Initial setup costs are higher and your IT system will require continual ongoing maintenance. Your setup will generally have a five-to-seven year lifespan before requiring an update — then the life cycle repeats. 

Option 2: Cloud based

If you’re a start up or small business, from our perspective, cloud-based platforms like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace are often the best way to get up and running with your computer network.

Cloud-based networking is a type of modern IT infrastructure in which your networking capabilities and resources are ‘in the cloud’, stored on a remote server that can be accessed on demand with an internet connection.

A cloud-based approach enables collaborative work to take place effectively, no matter the location of the user or client. It’s hard to deny that the cloud networking products now on the market are far more straightforward to get started with, particularly for small businesses.

  • Pros: They’re simple to set up, relatively cost effective, scalable and they facilitate remote working. They come bundled with a suite of useful features, software, functionality and applications for collaboration.  You don’t really need to have an office to set this up.
  • Cons: If you are moving large files, you are reliant on very high speed internet connections. Data storage can be limiting if you store large volumes of data. No internet access means restricted availability or access to your files.

Option 3: A hybrid solution

Your small business might benefit from a mix of cloud computing and on-premise infrastructure.

By adding in a file server on-premise, you can have the best of both worlds. You’ll be able to deal with larger, more demanding files through an on-premise system and leave the day-to-day, simpler tasks for the cloud-based system.

Both systems can be made to be compatible with each other meaning users can access both, even remotely.

  • Pros: You can blend the benefits of on-premise and cloud, being able to better handle larger files as well as access your business essentials remotely.
  • Cons: Hybrid solutions still rely on internet connection, and will have to shoulder some of the infrastructure costs in setting up the file server.

What are the benefits of cloud-based computer networks for small businesses?

The advent of fast, reliable internet and WiFi connectivity has made cloud networks much more popular, feasible and widespread. Products facilitating a cloud-based network have advanced remarkably in their functionality, accessibility and ease of setup.

They work exceptionally for businesses spread over a wide geographical area, but also for smaller organisations based in one location — as long as you have good internet connectivity.

  • Functional: Cloud-based solutions like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace provide a suite of features, applications and services — you can create user accounts, send email, store files, create documents, spreadsheets and more. This is also known as software as a service (SaaS). With some enterprise-level plans, you can even create your own apps.
  • Collaborative: You can view colleagues’ calendars, jump on video calls and work on documents in real time. Storage and sharing is in one centralised location, helpful for consistency — forget the headache of tracked changes and different versions of the same document.
  • Cost effective: Cloud-based networks can do away with a potentially costly upfront investment in on-premise servers and wiring. Since you’ll usually get access to the features mentioned above, you can also save money on expensive software licences and hardware such as phone handsets.
  • Scalable: Cloud-based network solutions can be dialled up or down depending on your needs. Need more storage or user seats? Not a problem. This can be particularly useful for smaller businesses where fast growth can demand rapid scalability. If you need to dial down your network, you won’t have to worry about physical servers, either.
  • Secure: Whilst they’re not a true lock-and-key backup solution, providers of these popular cloud-based network solutions pride themselves on the security of their products, providing round-the-clock support.
  • Flexible: Many small businesses may be home based, remote or not situated in a long-term office space. Fortunately, cloud networks can travel with your business seamlessly. Given the new trends for home working, being able to access your network from any location is a big bonus, rather than being shackled by an on-premise server. Most cloud providers also offer excellent mobile apps for on-the-go working.

Broadband, WiFi & internet connectivity for your small business

Even if you’re investing in a completely on-premise system, any modern start up, micro or small business will likely be in need of an internet connection. If you’re choosing a cloud or hybrid network, you most certainly will need connectivity.

But not just any old connection — it needs to be fast, reliable and secure.

Your connection speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). A speed of around 100 Mbps is generally more than suitable for enjoying a cloud-based network experience.

There are a number of types of internet connection. The most common broadband connections are ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) or SDSL (Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line). Both allow for fast download speeds, but the difference between the two is the superior upload speed of SDSL lines, which are usually preferable for businesses using a cloud network model.

Depending on the size of your location, you may have a number of WiFi access points. These allow your users to roam without the connection being interrupted. Of course, bear in mind that your cloud network and its files can be accessed anywhere, so it doesn’t matter if you’re working away from the office — as long as you have a connection.

We’d recommend getting in touch with an expert team (like us!) who’ll be able to deliver the best solution for the location, size, layout and type of work you’ll be doing. We have many decades of experience in helping small businesses and start ups to get connected, as well as assisting with their remote working setups

I’m going with the cloud, but which system should my small business choose — Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace?

In our opinion, both Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace represent excellent cloud-based solutions for smaller organisations and start ups. Both enable collaboration, communication, file creation, sharing and storage.

It could be argued that 365 offers superior apps and features, whilst Workspace (formerly known as G Suite) makes collaboration much simpler and smoother — although, truth be told, both do an excellent job at all these things.

Apps and functionality

Both Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace offer a suite of cloud-based apps that perform roughly equivalent roles. 

  • Microsoft Word — Google Docs (for word processing)
  • Microsoft Excel — Google Sheets (for spreadsheets)
  • Microsoft Teams — Google Meet (for video calling)
  • Microsoft PowerPoint — Google Slides (for presentations)
  • Outlook — Gmail (for email)

For most small businesses, we think both suites perform similarly excellent roles, although there are a few small differences that might interest you.

With 365, you’ll also get access to the cloud-based apps in addition to their desktop versions, which you’ll be able to fully install on your machines. These offline versions usually have more functionality than their online equivalents. If you’re often doing advanced number crunching or creating ultra-smart documents, 365 might be the one for you.

That said, the functionality offered by Google Workspace’s cloud-based apps is usually more than adequate for most small businesses. Indeed, many owners may prefer not having to download, manage and update local apps and may prefer keeping everything in one place.

Not only that, but Google Workspace’s suite also allows you to open, edit and save MS format files (although it can’t be guaranteed that formatting will all remain the same). 

Workspace also offers an excellent smart searching feature, making it simple to find that old email or buried document — as you might expect given Google’s search engine heritage! Workspace’s default email client, Gmail, is very robust and easy to search.

Familiarity and interfaces

Whilst we think both are very straightforward and simple to get used to, you might prefer the user experience of one solution over the other.

If you have experience with Windows machines and apps — as most of us do — you might be more familiar with 365’s interfaces, apps and features. This might allow you to hit the ground running sooner. That said, Google Workspace’s interface is very simple, sleek and user friendly, as you’d expect.

Offline working

The Achilles’ heel to a cloud-based network? It requires an internet connection. No connectivity means no emails, no files, no calendars, no video calls — you get it. Similarly, slow connectivity can make your work day quite tedious.

This makes the investment in a high-quality, ultra-reliable internet connection — both in your office and at home — absolutely paramount.

Fortunately, both Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace acknowledge that our connections don’t always play ball. Workspace offers ‘file syncing’ through the Google Chrome browser. When turned on, it allows you to still edit your documents. When you regain connection, the online versions will update.

365 works similarly; make sure your files are synced to your desktop computer. When you reconnect, changes will be applied to the cloud versions of your documents.

Security and support

Whilst they’re not true backup solutions themselves, both 365 and Workspace offer two-factor authentication, data encryption, loss prevention, built-in malware detection and round-the-clock support — in addition to a number of other security features.

In our opinion, you can have confidence in the security and support offered by both Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace. There’s not much difference between the two, and both place a great deal of importance on the integrity of their products.

Pricing plans

Price points for both systems are very similar. The Microsoft 365 Business Basic starts at £4.56 per user per month. Google Workspace’s Business Starter begins at £4.60 per user. The more expensive plans come with additional storage space, user seats, security features and support. Prices are correct as of May 2022.

If you’re still not sure which cloud network solution you prefer, fortunately you can give both a whirl to see which works best for your needs.

Your business devices: laptops, desktops & operating systems

So, you’ve decided on a network solution and have your internet connection sorted — great! There’s not much more to consider other than your business devices and your cybersecurity.

This means your personal computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones — the hardware you use to perform everyday business tasks. Budgets and business requirements might dictate whether you opt for a minimum or ultimate specification.

Which operating system should I choose: Mac OS or Windows?

We could open a real can of worms here! As it relates to the topic at hand, though, both Windows and Mac OS can run Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace equally well. Although both developed and marketed by Microsoft, you’re not pigeonholed into 365 if you have a Windows machine.

Your choice between Mac OS or Windows for your small business might come down to personal preference. Many people are familiar with Windows machines since they’re far more ubiquitous; Mac OS can require a slight (but not very steep) learning curve to become acquainted with.

Budgets might be another sticking point! Although costs can vary drastically, machines that run Windows are typically cheaper than those that run Mac OS. Some businesses may find the cost of Apple devices to be prohibitively high.

Peripheral devices

This will depend on your day-to-day needs. Keywords and mice are clearly essential, unless you’re only planning to use the trackpad and built-in keyboards on laptops!

Investing in monitors that plug into your laptops and desktops can allow you to have second, third or even fourth screens, adding convenience and flexibility to day-to-day working. CCTV cameras might be other peripheral devices that you want to explore.

Given the rise in cloud computing, digital products and remote working, many businesses are finding that they do not need a number of ‘traditional’ peripherals in a post-pandemic world — webcams, USB sticks and hard drives. Even printers, a staple office ‘peripheral’, are declining in use and can often be done without!

What about phones?

A mainstay of any business. Although email and video calling have begun to supersede the phone, it still plays a key role.

The cloud-based network solutions we mention — 365 and Workspace — both have built-in phone and video calling functionality. Microsoft Teams, for example, can act as your office phone. This means that, should you so wish, you can forget those physical handsets, cabling and having to deal with network providers.

You’ll be able to make phone calls from your personal computer, or integrate the cloud software with your mobile devices to make and receive calls. Clients, suppliers and stakeholders phoning your number will reach you through 365 or Workspace.

Backup & cybersecurity — always prepare for the worst

Consider the spectre of losing all your business’ data, files, customer details, invoices — everything. This data might be the result of a software issue, a cyber attack, natural disaster or simply human error — all things that are likely to occur eventually, in our experience!

Across all businesses in the UK, the average cost of a cyber attack is £2,670!

Even though they’re the attacks that most often make the headlines, cyber criminals don’t just target multinational and governmental organisations Since their motivations are mostly financial, any start up, micro or small business should be prepared to combat phishing attempts and malware attacks.

Your cybersecurity strategy is your defence. Many cloud-based networking platforms have built-in security features, but you might also want to make additional provisions in the form of antivirus, antimalware, two-factor authentication on business devices and more. For extra information, take a look at our cybersecurity guide for small businesses!

In case the worst happens, you should have something to fall back on — your backup. Although the data drives provided by Workspace and 365 are undoubtedly amazing for collaboration and online storage, they aren’t a true backup solution. Our team of experts would be delighted to discuss dedicated backup solutions for your business — drop us a message!

Need a helping hand with your business’ IT strategy?

Considering how time consuming running a start up, micro or small business can be, it might come as a relief to learn that the option exists to outsource your IT.

It’s ultimately a decision for you, but we believe having an experienced team supporting your IT journey from day one is the best idea — as opposed to DIYing everything!

An outsourced team can be the IT arm of your business — everything all specialisms under one roof. They’ll be able to cover ongoing repairs and manage every aspect of your strategy, so you’re able to grow with confidence.

We’re one such team! We provide fully-managed network solutions, WiFi connectivity services and remote working support for businesses of all sizes, shapes and sectors.

Whether you’re looking for a spot of consultancy or a managed solution, get in touch with our team of IT engineers by clicking the button below, by phoning 03303 800 100 or by emailing contactus@weareyourit.co.uk.

Contact our tech team today