Should You Get a Network Audit?

You know how when you first move into a house, everything gets put in its place? The kitchen’s in order, the cupboards are tidy, the closets are laid out perfectly. Before you moved, you got rid of excess clothing and other junk that was doing nothing but hogging space. There’s no expired food at the back of the shelves, or mostly empty bottles of lotion, sunscreen, mosquito spray, hairspray, shampoo, soap, acne cream, hot sauce, soy sauce… you get the idea.

And then you live in the house for what feels like a short time.

And somehow, someway… clutter. You can’t find stuff. You run out of storage space. How did this happen?

Well, a network is a lot like a house.

[Photo credit: Got Credit]

Network audits increase performance and security.

When you first set up a network, if it’s done properly, everything is neat. Then software updates and new programs and cable extensions and repurposed routers and all the different things that different users do on the workstations make a clutter.

Your network becomes overloaded with junk. Your house gets cluttered.

A computer network is a complex ecosystem. Ideally, data flow smoothly and reliably from one node to the other. You print off a report in a few seconds. You conference with a client in HD. Your files are backed up and secure.

Anyone who’s used a business network, however, knows that this ideal is rarely achieved. Mostly, people try to solve immediate problems, which can lead to problems down the road.

If it was just a decrease in network speed, maybe it wouldn’t be quite so bad. Sure, a slow network makes you lose time, but you can deal. However, with network clutter also comes performance failures and security risks.

Clutter produces vulnerability. What’s the solution?

A network audit.

Network audits start with a complete inventory.

Remember that analogy between keeping house and a network audit? Well, when you move house you probably find all sorts of things you didn’t even know were there, that you don’t even remember where they came from.

If you’d kept a spreadsheet of all your possessions from the beginning, there’d be no surprises. But seriously: who would do that?

Even a full-time network administrator can’t keep track of every little thing that every worker is doing every day.

This is why a network audit starts with a complete inventory of your network assets: not only data, but printers, routers, telephones, cables and so on. Everything that accesses the network needs to be accounted for in order to determine what’s valuable, what’s neutral, and what’s damaging.

Network audits reveal data blockages.

Data blockages are a common source of network slowness. There are many different causes. For instance, you might have set up your wireless network to run on multiple channels, but then all the data could be running through only one, saturating that channel, creating a traffic jam. This is a common problem! And it often goes undiagnosed in the absence of an audit.

Transmission errors, inefficient loading patterns, slow response times: all these are revealed by a network audit.

Scanning your network to see how data are flowing as part of the audit reveals how your network should be configured to optimize your data flow.

Network audits provide analytical data.

We’ve all heard of Moneyball by now, how the creative analysis of data led to success for the Oakland A’s. The important lesson to take away is that data allow you to overcome your innate prejudices and see hidden efficiencies.

Scanning a network to create an inventory gives you the data needed to look at your network objectively. An objective viewpoint is particularly important when considering if you can repurpose existing hardware and what new hardware is necessary to install.

Network audits reveal security vulnerabilities.

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world free of malware, of viruses, of spyware? And wouldn’t it be perfect to live in a world where all your programs work nicely with each other?

Of course, we don’t.

Monitoring the security procedures in place—password strength, which protocols are being used, how the firewalls are set up and so on—will reveal gaps that have emerged in your network through which malicious entities can attack your company.

Scanning your system will uncover software incompatabilities as well. People will be people: they’ll install what they’ll install. It’s impossible to keep track of it all, but what you miss can lead to security issues.

Don’t let this clutter produce vulnerabilties.

Get a network audit!

7 Questions About VoIP Your SMB Needs to Consider

Small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) have been steadily adopting VoIP as their go-to telephony solution. Lower costs and simpler set-ups, combined with rapidly improving technology, are driving droves of decision-makers to VoIP.

But it can be unclear, or downright confusing, to the time-stressed and money-strained SMB owner what they should be looking for when it comes to VoIP.

We’ve been working with telephony for 2 decades. We’ve partnered with leading VoIP manufacturers like Cisco and Polycom. We’ve trained with them, and we’ve witnessed VoIP take hold. We’ve helped numerous SMBs in our community adopt the technology. We’ve heard the good stories.

Are you a small-to-midsize business contemplating switching to VoIP?

Let us help you.

Polycom SoundPoint IP 670
Polycom SoundPoint IP 670

VoIP for SMBs

When you’re going through the decision-making process, here are 7 important questions to answer.

1. Do you want on-premise or hosted VoIP?

VoIP, like a traditional enterprise phone system, runs through a private branch exchange (PBX). A PBX connects your phones to the public telephone network and controls internal connections. VoIP systems uses an IP-PBX, which is essentially the same thing, except it works by using the TCP/IP protocol stack to connect your calls.

IP-PBX’s can be broken down into two categories: on-premise and hosted.

On-premise means you own the PBX that’s doing the signaling and other activities over your network. The advantages of on-premise VoIP are related to control and long-term costs. Although on-premise VoIP systems will cost more up-front, they have the potential to cost less in the long term than choosing a subscription-based solution. Also, by owning your PBX, you’ll be able to tweak the settings to optimize your system. You won’t have to rely on what other people think you need.

Hosted means your service provider controls the PBX, and can be compared with cloud storage. It works through a subscription or leasing system. A host often has more robust equipment than an SMB can afford, which is advantageous for you, and could open up services that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Also, you won’t have to worry about dealing with configuring your system, and have the potential for scalability without adding greatly to costs. However, you will be reliant upon the whims of your contract with another company.

Choosing hosted or on-premise VoIP is the most important decision you face.

2. Are there additional features that can benefit your business?

Because VoIP is a telephone that is integrated with your computer network, manufacturers have expanded what a telephone means. For instance, investing in a desktop video phone might be a good way to kill two birds with one stone: you not only get a phone, but you get a video conferencing device as well. There are many additional features to look for. Here are only a few:

  • Bluetooth for wireless connectivity.

  • Android operating system for expanded line of apps.

  • Noise cancellation for increased call-quality.

  • Auto attendant for menu-driven triage.

  • Conferencing tools for controlling multi-party conversations.

Vendors offer many other features. We recommend that you jot down a list of the 3-5 most important use-cases that you want your phone system to fulfill. With such a list, you’ll know precisely what features to ask about when shopping.

If you’re uncertain about what feature fulfills a particular use-case, get in touch with us at (262) 717-0037 or (800) 891-3388 and one of our certified engineers will consult with you.

3. How does your VoIP system integrate mobile devices?

Note that we didn’t write this question, “Does your VoIP system incorporate mobile devices?” but “How does…”

Smartphones are taking over the world. When shopping today, you must be aware of how the various phone systems your employees are going to use work with your phone system. Chances are very likely now that your employees will expect to use their own smartphone, part of what’s been labelled BYOD or bring-your-own-device culture.

VoIP has a real advantage over traditional phone systems in this regard: they can be integrated with smartphones. You might, for instance, set up automatic forwarding of calls from your workphone to your cell phone when you’re not at your workstation.

More importantly, you might be able to install apps or programs such as Skype for Business on both workstations and phones, keeping everyone in the loop, making your phone part of your content-sharing ecosystem.

The key to modern business is communication. Don’t put your phones in a silo.

Cisco IP Phone 8800 Series
Cisco IP Phone 8800 Series

4. Can your network support a VoIP deployment?

You need highspeed internet to use VoIP. By now, most businesses in the US have access to highspeed internet, so you should be covered. And VoIP is not nearly so resource-intensive a technology as, say, video conferencing.

That said, optimizing your network for VoIP is something to consider strongly. We’ve been called many times by people whose machines aren’t working as well as they could be, or at all, only to discover it’s a problem with their network.

Network solutions can be a bit complicated. In the coming weeks, we’ll be putting out a blog post dedicated to optimizing your network for VoIP.

Look out for it!

5. Will your VoIP system be scalable as your business progresses?

If everything goes according to plan, your new phones will help you grow your business. You’ll be connecting not only with clients, but more importantly with each other. Your employees will be working together; your work will be collaborative, creative, and best of all complete.

But what happens if you’re, well, too successful? If you outgrow your phone network?

Thankfully, you can start thinking about this from the very beginning. It’s the same deal that we tell our cabling customers: don’t just install what you need today. Think of next year, or three years from now. Installing a flexible, scalable phone system today saves many, many headaches down the road.

Plumping for a solution that only fits your needs right now and not where you want to be leaves you vulnerable to needing to scramble for new solutions just after you’ve solved your initial deployment problems.

To this extent, you might decide to go with a cloud-based solution, since you won’t be relying on expensive up-front payments to secure the necessary equipment.

6. What support does the manufacturer provide?

Make sure that you go over in detail what your VoIP vendor provides in terms of support.

Do they offer a strong warranty? Are there warranty-authorized repair companies like TriTech in your location? Is their software updated regularly to prevent attacks and open new capabilities?

For instance, if you decide to go with a cloud-based VoIP solution, what are the terms and limitations of what they give you. Will it be prohibitively expensive if your company needs to expand?

This is where on-premise solutions shine, because you only have the hardware and software level to really worry about. If you install everything properly and treat your equipment well, if your manufacturer offers strong support, you’ll be covered for the lifetime of your deployment.

7. Do you and your team like the UI/UX?

Finally, you need to ask: Do you like this system? Does it look nice? Is it intuitive? This might seem like a trifle, but when you are implementing a new technological system, design can smooth the transition greatly.

Systems that make little sense to you will likely make little sense to your employees. Systems that you can adopt easily will go over with your employees much, much better.

You might also consider providing extensive training to your employees, rather than setting them free with technology that they might not be able to understand immediately. Recent studies have shown that lack of training increases dissatisfaction with technological office solutions. Make sure your company doesn’t fall into that trap.