In this line of work you visit a lot of offices. You see a lot of office networks. In non-technically oriented small businesses, these networks are often an afterthought, something that grows organically with the business. They are not so much a network as a motley crew of miscellaneous hardware plugged into the same ethernet switch. With lots of hard work and a little bit of luck, they can overcome their differences and accomplish something. If it sounds like a Disney movie, it’s because that’s where it belongs.
Administrating an organically grown business network with non-technical users is time consuming and expensive, especially for businesses small enough to have no dedicated IT guy. Recently I was called out on a job by a small business who had bought a new printer and needed all the computers in their office to be able to print to it.The printer was a network printer. With a well designed network with everybody running XP Pro, a site visit should not have been necessary and this is how it would have gone:
- Client plugs the printer into the network
- Administrator logs into the small business server remotely
- Administrator downloads drivers for and installs the printer on the server
- Administrator creates a new Group Policy Object that adds the printer to all computers within the domain
- Done. Time charged: Roughly 30 minutes
They were running Vista Home (both 32 bit and 64 bit), XP Home, XP Pro and OSX. This is how it went:
- Arrive at site, plug the printer into the network
- Configure the router serving DHCP to give the printer a static IP
- Download drivers for Windows XP, Windows Vista 32 bit, Windows Vista 64 bit and OSX onto a thumb drive
- Go to computer 1 and install drivers, add the network printerGo to computer 2, install drivers, add network printer
- Time charged: Roughly proportional to number of computers, but 15 minutes per computer is not unreasonable, figuring in the little issues you can never anticipate. This site had 7 computers.
Setting up a well designed network and domain server for your small business is an investment, but if you’re calling in an external IT professional every time you need to add a printer or share files or make a new computer work with the hodge-podge of services you are already running it is definitely worth it. Administrating a network is not simple and if you’re not a technical user, you may still have to consult your IT contractor when you want to make changes.
But a well designed network means fewer headaches for your IT guy. And fewer headaches for him means lower support costs for you. So for his (my) sake, invest in your network. Dedicate a server, standardize operating systems, set up policies. Your IT guy will be more cheerful, he’ll get more sleep. He’ll spend more time with his kids, he’ll call his mother. And he’ll spend less time fixing your network, which means money saved for you.