Kanawha Design Studio
We use design and technology as tools to help collaborative communities.
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Network Technology Primer

Jacob and Kanawha Design were instrumental in helping me upgrade my coworking space’s network to the Unifi system. Jacob breaks down the scary terminology so it becomes manageable. I feel so much more confident with this system to provide seamless wifi to my growing community and all their many devices. Kanawha Design is the best choice for the very unique needs of coworking space internet management. Jacob’s 15 years of experience in the field ensures that you’ll get exactly the system and setup you need without any unnecessary fluff or expense.
— Angel Kwiatkowski, Founder/Manager of Cohere Coworking in Fort Collins, CO, USA

Overview

This page is an introduction to the various concepts and components that make up a business class network. Most people are familiar with a residential class system like the one they use at home, consisting of a router and an access point, often within the same device. A residential class system is insufficient for a network serving more than around 10 people. A business class system is required to serve a larger community because the area covered is much larger and the number of devices is far greater. Each user on the network usually has at least 2 devices: their computer and their phone.

The networking equipment we recommend is from Ubiquity Networks, specifically their Unifi product line. Ubiquity produces cost effective equipment that is easy to implement and maintain. We have deployed Unifi equipment at a number of sites and are continuously impressed with the performance and reduced maintenance costs achieved at prices far less than other manufacturers. The links and pricing here are through Amazon.com (for USD), and Amazon.ca (for CAD) although you should be able to find a local distributor.


Components

Security Gateway: This is sometimes referred to as the firewall, or the router, and it is the first device connected to the internet. It handles all traffic flowing from your local network out to the world and manages what traffic can come in.

Controller: The controller provides a central interface (a website) to configure and manage all of your networking equipment and monitor the health of the network as a whole. Ubiquity calls this a Cloud Key and ties it in to their service to remotely manage your network. You don’t need to use their service to use this device.

Switches: You need as many ports as you have devices connected to your system. This includes the security gateway, the controller, access points, cameras, printers, workstations, and network jacks located throughout the office. The switch also provides Power over Ethernet (PoE) which powers your controller, cameras, and access points.

Access Points: These are the radios that transmit and receive the wireless network traffic (wifi). The number of these you needs depends on the size of your space and the density of your layout. If we are providing drawings, we will show you the optimal placement for each access point to get the most performance and avoid interference.


Basic Setup

If you have a smaller space and are not handling a lot of traffic, you can get away with simpler hardware. This system could easily serve a 2000 sq. ft. or 185 sq. m. space with a 100 Mbps internet connection and 200+ devices.

This diagram shows the various components are connected. The blue lines are ethernet cables and where they plug in is called a “port”. You can see this switch has 8 ports.  Abbreviations: USG = Unifi Security Gateway | USW = Unifi Switch | UAP = Unifi Access Point | UC-CK = Unifi Cloud Key | PoE = Power over Ethernet.  Diagram from the  Unifi Getting Started Guide

This diagram shows the various components are connected. The blue lines are ethernet cables and where they plug in is called a “port”. You can see this switch has 8 ports.

Abbreviations: USG = Unifi Security Gateway | USW = Unifi Switch | UAP = Unifi Access Point | UC-CK = Unifi Cloud Key | PoE = Power over Ethernet.

Diagram from the Unifi Getting Started Guide


Advanced Setup

Larger spaces and faster internet connections require more advanced hardware to handle the load. Larger access points can handle more devices concurrently and at higher throughputs. This hardware allows you to enable advanced traffic shaping which will ensure that no one user on the network can negatively impact the performance of others. Another nice feature of this equipment is that it all is rack mountable so it’s easier to keep your data closet organized. This system could handle over 5000 sq. ft. or 460 sq. m. with a Gigabit internet connection and 800+ devices. A larger space would only require more access points and switches.


Other Items

There are a few other things you might need. If you need extra ports you can get larger switches. You can link switches together for as many ports as you need. Ubiquity also has a line of security cameras that work seamlessly with their controllers. You can swap out the Cloud Key for one with storage for camera footage.


Things to Consider

Setup and Support: Knowing which equipment to buy is only the beginning. Everything here must be installed and configured and will require ongoing maintenance. System and security updates need to be applied in a timely manner and thresholds need to be monitored. Plan ahead for network support and don’t wait until you have an outage to solidify the details. Find people in your community that can help set up all this equipment and will be available to help you in the future when you need them.

Network Cabling: Sometimes called Ethernet, you will want category 5e or category 6 wire and you may need a low-voltage contractor to do this properly. A small space can keep everything close to where the internet service is to keep things simple. Run at least 2 lines to every office or network location. All cabling runs to your data closet and should be terminated in a patch panel that is well labeled.

Keep Things Tidy: All of your cabling should be wrapped and labeled. It’s really easy for all the cables to become a tangle of wires and this only hurts you in the long run. It’s important you should keep your network area tidy. Don’t store things like brooms and mops in the data closet as when there is a problem you don’t want the people helping you to have to climb over things to do their job.

An advanced setup for a large (100K sq ft) space. You can see the wiring from the building (blue) wrapped cleanly and terminating into the back of the patch panels (far side).

An advanced setup for a large (100K sq ft) space. You can see the wiring from the building (blue) wrapped cleanly and terminating into the back of the patch panels (far side).