Small business network – Part1 – Requirements

Hi, welcome to this first post of the “Small business network” series.


My girlfriend’ small business is moving to new headquarters. Yay.
She needs a whole new network. Great.

This entreprise is specialized in education services for early childhood. As one might imagine, such type of entreprise, especially since it existed for only five years, does NOT have the budget for a “professional” network (read : >10 thousand $ of hardware network products, expensive wiring and and automatic workstation management). This series of articles are about the next best thing, a “home made” network installation, built out of some FOSS, commercial software, hardware and (a little bit of) duck tape.

This first article is aimed at specifying the business needs. We then document the requirements and draw a plan of the network installation.

Needs – a short list

  • Server(s) : File sharing (internal), File sharing (secured extranet), Incremental backup, Authentication and Authorization, Accounting software service deployment
  • Workstations: 4-5 Desktops and 2-3 Laptops (all wired to the network). Theses are already belonging to the company. Typical usage include : email, productivity applications, web browsing.
  • Network printer/fax
  • 7 multi-line telephones (4 Lines). The technology implied is “normal” telephone lines. (see “VoIP shopping” bellow)

VoIP Shopping

In prevention of the “You should go with VoIP” argument, I should tell you that it was considered. The main problem, in the case of this company, is that it as an ongoing agreement with their current telephone provider (a local cable company). Cancelling would imply cost that VoIP savings just don’t cover.

Aside from this, the company had already invested in pretty good “4 lines” phones from RCA.  Those phones include some “telephone system” features like transfers and conference. Those feature are currently sufficient for the company. Software phones (for working from home), dynamic redirections and other features could be useful, but are not necessary.

More than half the number of phone needed were already bought in the years before, and this added to the cost of changing as well (the difference between buying 7 new phones or only 3).

That said, and considering all I just wrote, the VoIP offer from one of the provider we consulted represented almost enough savings to convince us.

VoIP, see you in 2 to 3 years 😉

In the meantime, it is important to state as a requirement that wiring *must* be forward-compatible to a time where the whole telephone network is going to be passing trough Ethernet.


Since needs can be pretty basic when you don’t have anything in place, I have a preference for documenting the requirements as the checklist that I am going to use over the course of the whole project. Here it is.

New Headquarters network infrastructure list

  • Deploy a wired network for Workstations and telephone (see part 2)
    • Make it forward compatible for future VoIP. The 4 current lines will be carried by the same CAT5 cable that could be used for VoIP in the future.
    • Make the Workstation wiring CAT6 for new Gigabit Ethernet workstations
    • We need 13 identical faceplates with 1 Ethernet and 2 RJ-45 jacks (each holding two lines on the 4 central pins). Those 2 last should have been RJ-11 jacks, but my RJ-45 jacks were available and will do fine (even if 2 pairs of pins are going to be unused).
    • And one special faceplate with one Ethernet connector and the fax line
    • The closet (as in: replacement of a network rack) will include the following:
      • A 24 ports patch panel for each outlet (for only 13 outlets)
      • A distribution box of at least 49 output pairs (lines). I found a model with 50.
      • A router (generic Linksys 4 ports)
      • A 16 ports Gigabit switch (not intelligent. no budget for VLANs)
      • 2 cable company modems, for the 5 telephone lines (including fax)
      • A KVM for two servers
      • A monitor, keyboard and a mouse
      • Ventilation
  • Deploy servers (see part 3)
    • Install file sharing solutions including authentication and authorization of both local and external personnel
    • Install simply accounting (server mode)
    • Configure a incremental backup solution
  • Configure workstations (see part 4)
    • Install software (Productivity)
    • Establish a good way to to remote control of specific workstations from the outside

Documentation – Wiring plan

Wiring plan preview
Don’t you just love a useful document ?

The first “deliverable” in this series is a plan of the network drawn before the beginning of the wiring effort. This document is useful for many reasons:

  • It will serve as a guide for wiring (from the basement of the building)
  • It visually document the layouts of the different connectors. This will be useful in the future for managing the network closet (the plan should be as display in the closet)
  • The corresponding numbers can be used for workstation ID, phone ID or any other relevant purpose

I hope it will inspire you in your projects and encourage you to read on.

The plan is OpenOffice/LibreOffice compatible. I also provide the PDF version.

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