There are many ways to save money on the network. Small businesses can even get enterprise features without spending top dollar. In this piece, I'll highlight many different operating systems, routers, services, applications and servers -- all of which are free -- most open source.
The core network components don't have to be expensive. You can use open source software on your own hardware. For smaller networks, you can just use a regular desktop computer or a cheap wireless router. Cisco will always be there, but here are a few more cost-effective options to consider:
Vyatta: This open source project touts itself as a low-cost Cisco alternative. It provides free community access and support for its network operating system, in addition to commercial offerings. Run the router, firewall, VPN and other services for your physical, virtual and cloud-based networks. It provides great documentation on installing and configuring via its command-line environment.
MikroTik RouterOS: Here's another networking platform, available free with limited features. It includes the main router features with additional functionality, such as virtual access points. Great documentation is available via a wiki.
Sometimes you must use third-party services. Some servers might be too difficult to run in-house and make more sense to out-source. Here are numerous services that can be time and money savers:
OpenDNS: In addition to offering a smart, fast, and reliable DNS service, it provides content filtering. No more configuring each computer with a filtering solution. Simply apply the DNS settings to the router and the entire network is protected.
AuthenticateMyWiFi: This service helps small businesses quickly and easily use the Enterprise mode of WPA or WPA2 encryption to secure their Wi-Fi network. It provides access to RADIUS/AAA servers for the required 802.1X authentication. Unlike traditional authentication servers, this service can easily secure networks at multiple locations. (Editor's note: AuthenticateMyWiFi is a service run by the author. Read a recent review of AuthenticateMyWiFi at Wi-Fi Planet.)
Here are a few more free miscellaneous applications and servers you might find useful:
Amanda: This is an open source backup program offered in addition to Zmanda's commercial solution. It supports all the major platforms, even can run tape and disk backups simultaneously, and supports encryption.
Wireshark: Formerly named Ethereal, this is the world's most popular network sniffer and analyzer, and it runs on all the popular OSs. It captures live traffic from hundreds of network protocols. Use it to learn, snoop or troubleshoot.
See the full list of free apps at Enterprise Networking Planet.