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Small-medium businesses are becoming increasingly dependent on computer networks for efficient operations, responsive customer service, and collaboration with partners. Switches and routers are the keys to a strong network foundation. Together they enable the end-to-end movement of data, voice, and video information.

A network foundation can be considered equivalent to a person's skeletal structure. It is the support system. Like the human skeleton, a network foundation should handle its role invisibly but efficiently. If the network becomes visible, it can become intrusive. If that happens, the network detracts from a company's focus on its core business practices.

Foundational network elements should protect a company from security breaches, ensure continuous operations, and deliver quality of service. The core elements of a network foundation include switches and routers. Switches are a fundamental part of most networks. They let multiple users communicate with each other. Small-medium businesses can choose from a variety of switch types, including Layer 2 and Layer 3. Routers provide scalability, security, ready application availability, and web access for employees. They involve two basic functions—selecting paths between networks and securely transmitting information.

Keep in mind a number of factors when evaluating network switch and router investments. The first criterion is always to ask what a company's business objectives are. The answers will drive the technical criteria for level of availability, type of security, quality of service guarantees, network management, and so on.

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