Written by Kristopher Davis, One Step's Product Implementation Specialist
In today’s world, nearly everyone is using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. When we connect all these devices together, we get a network of devices, all able to communicate electronically with each other. This inter-device connectivity is key to how we live in this digital age. When you look at the retail environment, this connectivity is critical to service your customer and it is all made possible by the network infrastructure in the store and throughout the retailer’s organization.
There are several main factors to consider when building the network for your organization and stores:
When we look at bandwidth we are really talking about it in two ways:
a. Bandwidth from your location to the ISP (Internet Service Provider)
To answer the question of how much bandwidth you need to purchase from an ISP, you must know how many devices you will have and how much bandwidth each device needs to support the applications which communicate beyond the walls of that location.
Do you have a Point-of-Sale system in the cloud?
Do your users browse the web often?
Will there be video from IP based cameras or for conferences?
b. Bandwidth on your internal network between devices
When we look at the internal bandwidth needs of your location, you need to know not only how much data will be moving from device to device internally but to the outside world as well.
Does your POS communicate with an onsite server?
- Wired vs. WiFi
Today most locations are not choosing whether to go with a wired network or a wireless one, but are installing a mix of both. While the servers and actual network equipment, for the most part, still require a wired connection, a lot of hardware comes in either wired or wireless versions. Your POS could be running on a desktop computer and utilize a wired network or your POS may be on an iPad using the WiFi. Your receipt printers and electronic payment devices could be wired or wireless as well. So, the question is what connectivity do your unique mix of devices requires? When this question is answered, you can begin to size the appropriate network hardware to meet your needs.
- Backup Internet Connectivity
How much would it cost your business if the Internet went down for an hour, for a day, or longer?
If the answer is more than zero then you should be thinking about a backup solution to your Internet connectivity. The backup we are referencing is not backing up your data (which you should do daily), but a backup system to continue running your business should the Internet go down.
There are many ways to have alternative connectivity to a POS system and some systems even allow you to run in an offline mode. The most critical piece to the POS when you are offline is the electronic payments. In the past, we would just take an imprint of a credit card and get the customer’s signature to run the transaction through when connectivity was restored. With PCI compliance, this is a nearly unthinkable practice now. Some POS products solve this by holding the information and then syncing once connectivity is restored.
There are many great alternative solutions but one of my favorites is to have a mobile option attached to your network itself, so the entire network continues to function. Installing 3G / 4G connectivity to your router operates much the same as your cell phone and provides data access to the Internet down. One brand of devices that do this for you is Cradlepoint.
Today your customers expect any data they have provided you to be 100% secure, and rightfully so. Customers also have come to expect WiFi access everywhere they go. You want to give your customers both which means a WiFi network that guests can use that is separate from the WiFi network that any business data uses. This is especially important with the sensitive data on your POS system.
To maintain a secure network, you must have a proper firewall to block unauthorized access, updated antivirus on all devices, and the physical access to your network should be secured.
Additionally, the firewall for your business WiFi should be programmed with exclusions so employees cannot access frivolous public websites, like Facebook, games, personal email, etc. Allowing public access to your business network can be potentially dangerous and put you at risk for a breach.
When you are looking to install or upgrade the network infrastructure in your organization, it is an important to first know the answers to everything above and think about what other needs you will have in the future. If your network is not properly sized and built to be scalable, you will find yourself redoing everything when the next new technology comes out.