Springfield, MO

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Network communications shape of things to come

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by Ann Bucy

SBJ Contributing Writer

Local information systems professionals say a network is something many companies of various sizes may want to consider.

Eric Schulte is the systems administrator for Dial US/McLeod USA, a local phone company. The company has 35 of its 50 employees connected to each other via e-mail.

Schulte said he believes that even a two-person operation can benefit from an intranet system.

He defines it as "the process by which inter-office machines (computers) communicate. It provides a hard copy of what you sent, keeps a record of important information and can be used to track messages.

"Our e-mail system is used mostly by the management for communication," he said. "The chain of command is passed through it. It's our most reliable form of communication because everyone reads it, it's easily accessible (more so than voice mail), capable of holding more content than voice mail, and it can be used to send many files at a time or to work on a spreadsheet or other shared resources."

The equipment you'll need and its approximate costs, according to Schulte, include:

?A server. It allows the computers to share data that is being networked.

The cost is approximately $3,000.

?Workstations. A workstation is any computer that utilizes remote resources on a network. You will need to have network cards (a piece of hardware that communicates on a network) installed. Cost is around $1,500 altogether.

?Hub. A centralized network location. It's a little box with jacks that attach to it with corresponding lights that show which lines are active. Hubs run about $100 each.

?Cable. Cable, and plenty of it, is needed to connect everything. 1,000 feet of UTP cable wire runs $150.

Schulte said he bases these prices on two things: he used to sell the equipment as a full-time job, and he keeps up with the latest trends and prices in the catalogs he reads.

As the manager of information systems at KY3, Spring-field's NBC affiliate, Hyler Cooper has a different take on intranet communications. If a company is so small that you can look around the office and see all the employees, you probably don't need a network system, he said.

However, when workers are separated into different work areas, departments or even shifts, an intranet can be a valuable tool.

"With the system, you can print things out and have a hard copy of it, use it like a Rolodex and leave names and phone numbers in it, and use it to keep track of your inventory and customers. It can help you be more efficient. I think the network system is the next fax machine. People used to ask 'Do you have a fax machine?' Now, they say 'What's your fax number?' I think it's going to be the same way with e-mail soon. It's going to become an expected part of business."

The equipment the more than 100 employees at KY3 use is:

?The software program NT Small Business Package, which runs $745.

?A server, at $3,500. "A server is a computer designed to be on all the time," Cooper said. "It's the focal point of operations."

?Network cards, at $75. They're connected to the network and let information travel back and forth between the computers and the server or just between computers.

?Hub, approximately $150. A hub allows information to be passed to multiple computers. Cooper uses Kingston Stack-ables. One stackable can connect up to eight computers at a time.

Cooper emphasized that these prices are on the high end."It can be done cheaper, but you could grow very easily with the system I've mentioned. All businesses should have a network system. If they don't, they should consider purchasing one over the next couple of years."

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