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Network security 101: small business router buying guide

One key task of our computer tech support team is network security. Every business in New Jersey uses networking to some degree or other and it’s our job to keep you secure. That’s why we have put this small business router buying guide together. If you’re starting or expanding a business in the area, you’re going to need a router to run it.

Routers are complicated devices but have a very simple job. To send network traffic to and from the correct device. They do other things too such as network address translation, traffic management, providing WiFi, providing a firewall and other tasks, but the primary role or a router is to route network traffic.

How a router works

A router is a clever piece of kit. Our computer support team in New Jersey spend a lot of time configuring and repairing routers as they are a fundamental of any network. So how does a router work?

All routers will have an input, WAN, port and several network or LAN ports. A WAN, Wide Area Network port will connect to your broadband connection and provide access to the internet. Your computers and network devices will connect to the Local Area Network, LAN ports using an Ethernet cable.

The router learns what computers are connected and record their MAC addresses in its routing table. As a computer send a request, for example opening Google, the browser will send the traffic as a data packet to the computer network card, which is forwarded to the router.

The data packet includes the destination (Google), the source (MAC address of the computer) and the data, page request, download request, video request or whatever. The router looks up the address of Google, know it isn’t on the local network and sends it out over the WAN, your broadband connection to be routed by your ISP.

Receiving data packets is the reverse. The router checks the MAC address of the destination against its routing table and sends it to the computer if it is authorized or drops it if it isn’t.

What to look for in a small business router

There are several considerations to take into account when buying a small business router. Our computer support team can help you with this if you need us to. Otherwise, you need to consider:

  1. Number of LAN ports.
  2. VPN compatibility.

Each has a bearing on how well your router will perform.

Speed

Router speed is all about the ports. Many small business networks run at gigabit speed so you would need gigabit Ethernet ports. If you’re still running 10/100, you don’t need gigabit. WAN ports will also use these speed measures. If you’re on fiber, you will need gigabit ports. If you’re on cable or ADSL, you may not.

Number of LAN ports

The number of LAN ports is determined by how many computers you want to connect. If you only have a couple, a standard four port router will be fine. If you think you will be expanding in the future, more ports would be good. This isn’t a showstopper though as you can connect switches to these ports so you can add more computers to your existing router in the future.

Security

Security is obviously a prime concern of any business and of our computer support team. In terms of routers, you want a firewall, NAT or Network Address Translation and for it to use the latest WPA2-AES encryption for any WiFi networks it might provide.

If you work in a regulated industry, you may need a full Unified Threat Management (UTM) solution.

WiFi

Wireless networking is a real bonus to businesses as you can sit anywhere, go anywhere and not have to worry about wires. Not every business in New Jersey is going to use wireless so may or may not be a factor.

If it is a consideration, the aforementioned encryption level of WPA2-AES is now the minimum security standard. Make sure your router is fully compatible with it.

Ideally, you would use a dual-band router for wireless. This includes the standard 2.4GHz band and the 5GHz band. This spreads wireless connections and offers faster speeds or a stronger signal depending on which band you use.

Finally, WiFi standards need to be taken into account too. You will often see the term 802.11 on router packaging or descriptions. This is just the WiFi standard. It’s the same all over. What you’re interested in is the letters at the end such as 802.11n or 802.11ac. this denotes the speed of the wireless standard. Look for either n or ac in current router models.

VPN compatibility

VPNs, Virtual Private Networks are now essential security tools for businesses. They keep your data secure while in transit, encrypts all your browsing and internet traffic and stops prying eyes from seeing what you’re doing. Some routers can handle VPN connections natively while others cannot.

A VPN-compatible router can connect directly to your VPN provider for a permanently secure connection. Otherwise you can use a VPN client on your computers to individual secure connections.

There is a lot to consider when selecting a small business router and this guide has only covered the basics. I didn’t even cover firmware, traffic control, QoS or Quality of Service, VLANs, file or printer sharing, smart routers or RADIUS.

Don’t worry though, our computer support team can help with any buying decision you’re making for your business. We can visit your premises, perform a full network audit, specify the hardware you need and install it for you. All for a very competitive price. Contact New Jersey Computer Help to see how we can help!

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