Free Ways to Make Your Computer Network Hum

Our experts help identify some effective ways for making your small-business network perform like an enterprise-class setup.

Maybe you think enterprise-class network clout also comes with a corporation-sized bill, but don’t worry: there are plenty of ways to make your network more efficient and speedy without spending a dime.

Better yet, these measures require only minimal IT savvy. All you need is a bit of technical know-how along with some time to change settings and play around with configurations. After all, you should be spending your days fueling your small business, not spinning your wheels on technology setups.

Here’s a look at some common network issues and how to overcome them to make your network hum.

Stay on Top of System Upgrades

Software compatibility issues can slow down a business network or even bring it to a halt. However, there’s a simple, no-cost way to prevent most of these problems: Don't ignore the upgrade notices.

Every system and program includes auto-upgrade tools that can detect potential security holes, compatibility problems and poor performance. These tools can also draw new code from the manufacturer to make your system efficient again.

Tactics:

  • Upgrade when possible. Some employees or business owners might be too busy to follow up on upgrade notices. When the upgrades begin piling up, they will take longer to download. In the meantime, you could be at risk for viruses and spotty network speeds. Educate employees on the importance of doing updates, and don’t skimp on them yourself.
  • Patch it up. If you're not sure what updates are available, and you’re a Windows Server user, download Microsoft’s Windows Server Update Services patch management tool. It’s free to licensed customers and helps you manage your updates and hotfixes.

Get Virus-Resistant

Nothing slows down a network faster than a virus. Fortunately, plenty of antivirus tools are available — some of which are even free.

Tactics:

  • Look for extensive protection. This includes blocking malware in real time and updating automatically. At the very least, consider doing a virus scan so you can get an idea of what’s on your network. Usually, you’ll find at least some adware (software that sends out ads, usually in the form of pop-ups). While adware is often harmless, it can still hurt network speed.
  • Do your research. Some hackers love to create legitimate-looking antivirus tools that give them access to a user’s system. When you’re comparing free tools, be sure to do extensive research on a company before downloading anything. Go with a familiar name if possible — most of the top security companies offer free security scan tools.
  • Act quickly if infected. If you’re experiencing significant reduction in network connection speed, you may have already gotten socked by a virus. In that case, check out this article on what to do in the moment after a suspected virus exposure.

Reduce Interference

With wireless network equipment, interference can cause uneven connections and poor signal quality. Usually, in a small business or a home, people think it’s the Internet service provider having some type of issue. But more often, it’s a router problem — and one that may be easily fixed.

Tactics:

  • Move your router. Surprisingly, even home appliances may affect a router's performance. But most often, the interference comes from other sources like cordless phones, baby monitors and wireless equipment from a nearby home or office. Try changing the location of the router to see if it speeds up network performance.
  • Change the router’s channel. Interference can happen because too many devices are trying to operate on the same frequency. It's like multiple radio stations all attempting to play music over the same radio waves — they’ll all have tunes come through, but the result is a mess.
  • Replace the router’s antenna. While this strategy isn’t free, there are many affordable options — especially compared with the cost of buying a new router. If the antenna is removable, you can upgrade to a high-gain version that focuses the wireless in just one direction. Most standard antennas are omnidirectional, which means that if a router is next to a wall, part of the signal is being wasted. A high-gain version will allow you to target the signal more effectively.

Prevent User-Created Bottlenecks

When seeing bandwidth issues on the network, most people think of virus infection, but normal, legitimate user behavior can also bring a network to a crawl.

Tactics:

  • Adhere to savvy email practices. If employees reply to emails that have files attached, and those replies contain the attachments, it won’t be long before the conversational threads become a source for concern. Basically, every reply will be creating a duplicate file, and all of those will have to sit on your network. Ask employees to put files on a shared drive rather than emailing them as attachments.
  • Save wisely. Similar to multiple file creation on email, saving large files like PowerPoint presentations or videos can become a network issue if they’re duplicated and saved in several versions. This challenge has led many companies to begin storing their applications and data on a cloud-based solution to keep their local networks clear. Another option, which costs nothing, is simply to encourage better practices.
  • Do regular cleanup. Unless there’s a compelling business reason, saving thousands of emails every year isn’t necessary. Make it a practice to keep only those that are relevant to a certain project or service, and don’t retain any follow-up emails of the “got it, thanks!” variety.

All of these low-tech, low-cost strategies will go a long way toward keeping your network cleaner, safer and more efficient. And who wouldn’t feel like humming a happy tune with a faster and stronger network?

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