Avoid Using Consumer Networking Equipment for Your Business


I enjoyed a few chuckles at Jason Perlow's narration on his ZDNet blog of how a simple installation of a wireless router for his mother-in-law went badly awry. To be precise, everything worked fine upon initial setup and testing until Perlow flew out for a week-long business trip the very next day. To cut the tale short, the wireless reception proved to be unreliable and decided to show its spots only after he was literally thousands of miles away. Ultimately, a switch to a more powerful -- and expensive -- model solved the problem in the end, though only after many wasted hours on the phone with the equipment-maker.


While I am all too familiar with some of the problems inherent with working with wireless devices, what came to my mind was the "consumer" aspect of the wireless router here.


Despite what the salesperson might tell you, there are real differences between consumer and enterprise grade equipment, and even more so when it comes to networking gear.


Why do I bring this up in blog positioned towards SMBs? You see, I have found small and medium businesses to be the ones most guilty of buying the cheapest networking equipment possible. After all, why spend more than a few hundred dollars on a brand-name 24-port network switch when a similar 24-port product can be had for just below a hundred? Or better yet, why not just chain together two units of the unbranded 12-port switches that you found stashed in the junk pile. It's the same isn't it? Well, actually, no.


I knew the owners of a relatively modest Web hosting company that used to think this way. With more than a thousand customers under their belt and increasing, they once found themselves with a need to purchase a new switch to scale up their office network. To their credit, they did not purchase the cheapest switch either, opting for a mid-priced one of an unknown brand. Soon after, bizarre network problems starting cropping up. File transfers would fail intermittently and machines would simply drop out of the network.


After countless hours of troubleshooting, they realized that the problem actually resides with their spanking new network switch. It would freeze after a certain number of hours, faster if the network saw heavy and sustained usage. The proof? Power-cycling the switch solved the network problem every time. In the end, replacing the switch eliminated the issue completely.


Now, I am not advocating that you should purchase that expensive top-of-the-line enterprise gear for your small office/home office (SOHO) setup, or even for that new 20-node branch office. However, for you to purchase the cheapest networking equipment that you can find at a warehouse sale or to swap a consumer-grade switch into a mission-critical environment is outright folly and recipe for certain disaster.


While there are many areas in IT where you can strive to cut cost, be sure to invest in good, robust networking hardware.