Small businesses now rely heavily on the networks that they have created. These were initially Local Area Networks (LANs) that connected their on-site servers to the computers and other devices in their businesses.
Today with the rise of bring your own device (BYOD) and the need for more flexibility, companies are building Wide Area Networks (WANs) that give them the flexibility they need.
Andrew Ferguson, Editor at thinkbroadband.com, says: "The distinction between LAN and WAN has gone full circle in some ways. The speed of internet connectivity means many businesses are now using the cloud to store data, making it easier for staff working from home or off-site to access data. So in some ways the modern LAN is just an extension of the WAN."
Just because the two networks should work together doesn't they do, however. "This near-seamless LAN and WAN concept does create problems," continues Ferguson, "particularly in the security area, since one machine infected with malware can cause havoc if the LAN is not segmented and key business areas secured from other areas, such as the free Wi-Fi for visitors."
For small businesses relying on the ability to manage data, it's important to choose the right network. Often, small businesses will opt for a single supplier for their LAN or WAN services, but choosing different service suppliers for each component of the network could bring cost savings and efficiency gains. And as inter-operability is high within this service sector, it's an eminently practical approach.
With WANs now becoming the standard within the small business community, it is critical to ensure this network is not only set up correctly, but also has the capacity to handle the daily data traffic that moves across your business.
In an age where flexible working is the norm, many small business owners are finding that they don't need an over-specified WAN. Instead, a fast connection to handle cloud-based services is more useful for their business. Mike Hemes, VP of EMEA at Silver Peak, says: "By dramatically improving WAN efficiency, small businesses are able to capitalise on end-user satisfaction, enjoy the flexibility of potentially adding new offices and keep pace with growing customer demands - all without requiring costly increases to WAN bandwidth."
To get that efficiency, you need as much information as you can get on usage. Dirk Paessler, founder and CEO of Paessler AG, advises: "Businesses should apply monitoring software that notifies and alerts immediately if resources run out. Detailed monitoring data and historical usage reports about all network components enable administrators to discern LAN and WAN utilisation, as well as recognising usage trends."
Investing in monitoring means avoiding surprises down the line, says Paessler: "In combination with testing - for example - available web page utilisation capacities, baseline monitoring helps estimate necessary investments by finding out the needed capacity of connections and dependent servers. This way, predictive planning of infrastructure expansions is possible according to current and upcoming business needs."
When discussing LANs and WANs, SMBs much take the cloud into account. Silver Peak's Mike Hemes explains: "One of the main factors businesses are often unaware of is the increasing pressure - and debilitating effect - cloud computing can have on the WAN.
"Cloud computing offers businesses very real benefits, from increased organisational efficiency, flexibility and cost savings.[But] simply put, if the network is not stable enough to cope with transferring large volumes of data to the cloud, performance is sacrificed and the benefits of cloud fail to materialise."
Despite this issue, the advantages of using the cloud for business are strong. Brent Lees, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Riverbed Technology, points to "the fact that [cloud solutions] allow companies to avoid upfront infrastructure costs, and focus on other projects that differentiate their businesses."
That means, says Lees, that SMBs are going to push their networks as far as they can: "We may see cloud services drive more data across the WAN based upon an ever-increasing set of distributed users. And as the cloud becomes more familiar and more flexible, more organisations may push their applications out to the cloud to achieve cost benefits despite the fact that performance problems could increase."
What is clear is that there is a migration from traditional LANs to the more flexible WAN that also lends itself to more cloud utilisation. And with small businesses embracing virtualisation, having a fully optimised WAN in your business is a must. With data processing efficiency now a clear differentiator right across the small business sector, those businesses with integrated WANs that deliver the data services they need will be market leaders in their sector.