When small businesses grow, their network must also expand. They know that it will take time and money to set up their network architecture, connectivity, and security requirements.

But before a small business travels down this road, there are many things they need to consider. One of the first will be: should they go with a value added reseller (VAR) or buy the hardware to set up their own network?

To avoid costly networking mistakes with a VAR, small businesses need to know if the VAR is a good match for their business, if the VAR has the necessary experience, and if the support promised is reliable. If the small business chooses a D-I-Y (do-it-yourself) solution, then the D-I-Y route needs to be worth the extra time that could be saved by selecting a VAR.

Reasons for choosing a VAR

  • Security -- With a VAR, the client is ensured that firewalls, software monitors, encryption, and port monitoring are in place. A VAR such as IT Integrators in Apex, N.C., changes all of the known bandwidth ports to unknown ports to confuse hackers. They also close international ports if their clients don't conduct any international business. Says Joel Phillips, owner of IT Integrators, "If you don't do this for a living, you'll be muddling through." When small businesses choose to work with a reliable VAR, they don't have to spend time reading through all the necessary security advisories and other time-consuming security matters.
  • Support -- Besides a having reliable help desk with 24/7 support, some VARs, such as Sytec Business Solutions in Raleigh, N.C., advocate for their small business clients should any issues arise from their vendors. For instance, Sytec keeps its staff informed of all new products from Cisco, one of its chief vendors, which in turn is beneficial for their clients. Says Mark Cavaliero, founder and president of Sytec Business Solutions, 'When we see a problem, prevention is key to keep the uptime going for the small business.'

VAR Pitfalls

  • Lack of experience -- Many VARs outsource their staff or hire part-time workers who are not highly qualified to service networks or don't have their necessary certifications. Also, some VARs have high staff turnovers. Small businesses need to realize that a VAR has access to sensitive company information and choosing a weak VAR can hurt productivity and can compromise security and database information.
  • Lack of reliability -- A VAR may say that they are monitoring the server, but they may not be able to tell that their client's disk sub server is out. They may seldom respond to e-mails requesting help, which is especially frustrating if the small business has already made a significant investment with this VAR.

Do-it-yourself option

Many small businesses decide to buy the hardware and build their own network. This may be a cost effective solution if the owner or staff have worked in the computer industry, but if the time spent on a D-I-Y solution is going to take away productivity from the business, then turning to a VAR to handle networking management may be the wisest choice.

Choosing a VAR to build a company's network to support high bandwidth and security needs should not be taken lightly. Small businesses should use their own professional networks to discover the right VAR for their segment of industry and one that comes with excellent referrals and testimonials. Companies that use a VAR make an initial investment on the front end, but this investment should be regarded as a way to avoid costly networking mistakes. If the server goes down, so does productivity -- using paper and pen won't keep a business competitive in 2008.