How do I integrate staff in different offices?

I run a growing marketing and design company and will be opening a satellite office next month. We’ll have 40 people working there in addition to the 70 in our head office and want both bases to be fully networked and integrated –and for staff to be able to work from home. What will this involve and how much will it cost?

A. Mark O’Hara of Hydra Solutions writes:

Your basic requirements can be divided into the following broad areas:

Structured cabling: Ensure this is done by qualified engineers who will certificate their work. Add 20% to the number of data/telephone points you think you need, because you will need them sooner than you think.

Communications: If possible, use your current providers. Standardise on your email and other applications. Have your ISP create POP mailboxes on their servers and have your mail server collect the mail at regular intervals. You might also want to consider implementing IP telephony, rather than traditional phones. If you wish to build resilience into your infrastructure, a leased line between the two offices will enable you to control things such as daily backups from head office.

Local Area Network (LAN): This is your IT ‘plumbing’ which you only really notice when it goes wrong. Keep it as simple as possible, using a reputable vendor. Select an experienced partner who will help you design the LAN and ensure your hardware is fully covered.

Security: Do not underestimate the risks. You might think no one is interested in you, but you would be wrong and the damage caused by hackers can be major. I would recommend a Unified Threat Management (UTM) device such as ServGate.

Remote access: To enable secure remote access to the network, I would recommend a SSL VPN solution. This requires no software installation and as long as the user has web access, they will be able to securely connect to the network.

Internet browsing: A major cost to business is losing working hours to internet misuse. A proxy device (I would recommend the Blue Coat Proxy SG 200), licensed with content filtering, will stop users going to unapproved sites. Instant Messenger access (another time waster) can also be restricted.

Project management: This is not a job for someone who has never done it before. Use a trusted partner. It is difficult to cost out all of this without being more specific regarding the hardware being used. However, if you were able to budget between £60,000 and £100,000, you would be able to cover all of the points raised, including the first year’s maintenance and support. Good luck!


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