10 Questions to Ask Before Choosing the Best Networking Equipment for Any Job

Not a day goes by that a dealer doesn’t ask what networking hardware I’d recommend. Here are 10 questions (in no particular order) to consider when deciding which equipment is best for your systems and for your clients’ needs.
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CES 2017 was packed with new networking options. Manufacturers large and small showcased mesh networks. New networks were touted to be more secure. Tech startups, traditional networking companies, and old-guard antivirus software developers shared the latest in network and security innovations. With all the options available today, it’s more difficult than ever to determine the best networking equipment to install with your systems.

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Not a day goes by that a dealer doesn’t ask what networking hardware I’d recommend. It’s a tough question, and my answer can vary widely depending on that business’s specific needs. Here are 10 questions (in no particular order) to consider when deciding which equipment is best for your systems and for your clients’ needs.

1. How important is the network to this client and their system?

If the network is the backbone of their integrated electronics system or the most important thing in their life, choose the equipment that offers the best performance and reliability. This may requiring balancing the client’s needs with their budget, or value-engineering other aspects of the project to allow for the most robust network design money can buy.

2. Do they need redundancy?

Many enterprise solutions offer redundancy in power supplies, ports, and equipment itself. Some even allow for multiple ISP failover. If the customer sees the value in redundancy and has the budget for it, then specify that solution. They will appreciate it.

3. Should your business commit to specifying the same manufacturer for the router, switch, and wireless system?
As a home technology professional, you’re very experienced in picking best-in-class AV equipment for your clients, and the network should be no different. It would be very challenging to find a network manufacturer that offers the best router, switches, and wireless system in the world. There are a few exceptions on the enterprise side. But your client has called on you to pick the right hardware to make his or her systems perform at the highest level, regardless of brand names.

4. Does the client need a mesh wireless system to improve coverage?

If the system lacks sufficient wiring to cover the entire home, then a mesh network can help extend network coverage to those hard-to-reach areas.

There are also other options to expand network coverage to difficult locations in a retrofit installation. The latest Multimedia-over-Coax (MoCa) specification claims speeds of up to 2.5Gbps. There have also been some enhancements to Powerline networking technologies that advertise up to 2Gbps. You can combine either of these technologies with a Wi-Fi extender or Ethernet bridge to expand a network’s reach.

5. What speed does the client really need?
Is the ISP offering 150Mbps service? 300Mbps? 1 Gigabit per second!? Does the client need those speeds throughout the home? Will the client be streaming a ton of content? Take the client’s needs and current ISP capabilities into consideration when you design the network, and ensure the router, switch, and wireless systems are up for the challenge. Each piece of equipment has published specs for reference. The network is only as strong and as fast as the weakest component.

6. How many devices does the network need to support?

Consider how many devices will connect to the network, especially a wireless network, at any one time, and how much bandwidth those devices need. They all compete for time on the wireless network and some systems handle this better than others.

7. Is roaming a priority?
Roaming can be challenging, and it’s becoming increasingly more important to customers. Ask your vendors how their equipment handles roaming and how “seamless” the process feels to the end user. Read reviews and talk to colleagues to find out their experiences with specific equipment. Also realize there are trade-offs you can make when designing for the best roaming capabilities, if it’s that important to your client.

8. Should I sacrifice performance for margin?
The network is the “digital foundation” of any system and should be treated as such. Without a reliable foundation, things fall apart. As a home tech pro, you could lose money and time providing service and support on challenging and complex network issues if you don’t specify the right equipment for the job. In a worst-case scenario, you could lose a customer or even harm your company’s reputation by specifying products that don’t work as well as expected. This is why choosing a product solely for margin can be dangerous.

9. What level of support do I need from my networking partner?
Are you an IT expert who doesn’t rely on the manufacturer for support? Do you need a lifeline? Are you willing to pay for the lifeline or do you want that at no charge? Do you want someone who will handle all setup and support for you? Picking the right vendors and partners requires some thought on each of those questions.

10. What level of security does this customer desire?

If your high-profile client wants gigabit throughput and world-class security, then you need to be prepared to talk to them about a truly enterprise-grade firewall. A mid-grade router with an integrated firewall often has major throughput limitations. Finding one that can handle high bandwidth with packet inspection comes with a higher price tag and often separates the router from the firewall.

As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for networking that will meet the demands of systems large and small. Many technology professionals discover they need to treat each customer differently. This might involve having a good-better-best network offering from multiple vendors. It is important to properly evaluate those vendors, get trained, and make a commitment to that product lineup. Networking is challenging enough. Finding the best-in-class product mix and sticking with it benefits you, your business, and your clients.

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