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Business Advice: How to select the right network for your business

"The most important feature to look for in networking products is how easy they are to maintain. For most businesses with less than 250 employees, this means using cloud-based networking products like Cisco’s Meraki solutions."

Networking products are the most important technologies your business will purchase. Routers, switches, and wireless access points literally make business possible in today’s data and technology-driven world.

Your network makes it possible for your business to communicate with the world. It connects you to the Internet, to email, to each other, and to your customers. But despite their significance, most people are not familiar with networking products – and for good reason.

Located in IT rooms or data centres, routers and switches are rarely seen by employees. In fact, the only time your employees will notice your networking products is when they aren’t working.

To shed some light on networking products and how businesses can select the right network for their needs, we spoke with Dean Skojdt at CDW Canada. CDW Canada was recently named the 2017 Cisco Meraki Partner of the Year for Canada, and Dean has more than 20 years’ experience in the Canadian technology industry.

What myths about networking solutions would you like to dispel? What should small and mid-sized business owners know instead?

CDW Canada: The first myth is that cloud or outsourced networking solutions are unsafe. The reality is that products such as Cisco’s Meraki MX line are purpose-built with security in mind.

The second myth is that updating your network is expensive and complicated. By using cloud-based networking products, a business actually reduces hardware and operational costs through simplified network management, implementation, and integration.

The final myth is the belief that moving to cloud-based networking will result the loss of IT jobs. In truth, the simplicity and speed that solutions like these provide allows IT professionals to focus on strategic projects that are more meaningful to the business. This video illustrates how Cisco Meraki products make it easier for IT professionals to get their jobs done.

Watch now: The Meraki Network

What are the signs a business owner should look for that indicate their technology infrastructure is no longer meeting their needs?

CDW Canada: Warning signs that business owners should watch for include how long it takes for the network to perform basic tasks such as access internet pages and send emails. This is called network lag, and it’s a big sign your network as-it-stands is overwhelmed.

Businesses should also listen for employee complaints about being ‘kicked off’ the network or being ‘dropped’ form the network – when suddenly their emails won’t send or they cannot connect to company Wi-Fi.

The last sign to watch for is an increase in operational costs. If you find that you, your IT team, or your IT partner is spending more time (and money) troubleshooting and performing maintenance on your network technology, it’s time to consider upgrading your infrastructure.

What key features and capabilities should a growing business look for in their network?

CDW Canada: Small and mid-sized business owners – and their leadership teams – often wear many hats. They work long hours, and the last thing they want to worry about is technology. It’s costly to repair, it stops all work when it goes down, and it directly affects their profitability.

With that in mind, the most important feature to look for in networking products is how easy they are to maintain. For most businesses with less than 250 employees, this means using cloud-based networking products like Cisco’s Meraki solutions. Cloud-based products are incredibly simple to manage and monitor – especially if they offer a centralized dashboard for management – which can dramatically reduce network downtime. An extra benefit of cloud-based solutions is that business owners never need to worry about upgrades. Whether it’s a firmware update or something more robust, cloud-based products are updated automatically – so you always have the latest software in your network. This improves the performance and security of your network.

The last feature to look for is a network that easily scales as your business grows. No one – business owner or IT manager – wants to spend hours configuring switches and access points to get a new office or branch location online. Cloud-based products make it easy to grow your network, with some products online in minutes.

What do you tell organizations that are skeptical about using cloud-based networking products?

CDW Canada:  You won’t even know you are using cloud solutions. There is no difference in the functionality and user experience between cloud and on-premises networking products. It’s as though everything is running in their server closet, and data is secured with the right technology (such as Cisco Meraki MX products).

Other benefits of cloud-based networking products includes a simplified cost structure, automated maintenance and upgrades, and easier management. Location of users is also not as important when you use cloud-based networks – the cloud is everywhere, so all employees have the same experience.

For businesses that believe their applications are too specialized and must run on-premises, there are hybrid cloud options they can explore that will deliver similar benefits.

What advice do you have for businesses that realize they need a network upgrade, but aren’t sure what to do?

CDW Canada: If you have an IT partner, consult with them. Discuss the challenges you are facing and outline the goals you want to achieve for your business. They should be able to provide a network recommendation specific to your business and IT requirements. Both Cisco and CDW have Meraki experts that can help you move to a network that exceeds your expectations.

If you don’t have an IT partner, find one that you trust. Look for a company that has a depth of experience and a proven record of helping customers achieve their business goals.

Cisco Meraki’s cloud-based networking products can help you meet your business goals.