A guide to installing and maintaining a solid IT network

From servers to storage to user devices, customers always want good value and high quality equipment at the right price. But all this is pointless without a strong network to tie everything together. No matter whether you have 50 endpoints or 5,000, the network is the lifeblood of an organisation’s IT infrastructure so it needs to be nurtured. In today’s cloud-driven IT world the network remains more critical than ever.

IT discussions today continually focus on virtualisation, application delivery, BYOD and mobility initiatives, yet the most strategic IT asset of them all, the network, is regularly overlooked. In most organisations, the network has grown organically into an unstructured, unloved sprawl of switches which are expected to take the load without any care in return. Only when the network is on its knees do many companies take much notice – and by then, they are often much bigger problems to deal with.

If the engine of your car started dumping oil, you wouldn’t ignore it or the whole thing would literally grind to a halt. And the same goes for your IT network. No network means no work, which eventually means no blood to pump the heart, it means no business.

The first step in installing and maintaining a solid IT network, is understanding your organisation’s networking requirements. This can be a challenge, so I’ve devised this helpful quiz to make it easier to know what to do next:

1. Do you know how much load runs through your network on a weekly/monthly basis? YES/NO

There are management tools available that will enable you to check this. If you’re a large business, you might consider investing in software tools such as Paessler’s PRTG Network Monitor; if you’re on the smaller side, you could request an outsourcer to run the test for you. If your switches are unable to be managed then it’s a poor start and you’ll have no chance of measuring what’s going on in the network.

2. Can you remember when you did your last audit to see how your network is running? YES/NO

Running regular audits is essential – think of it like a health check for your network. If your answer to this question is ‘no’, download Solarwind’s NPM trial and see the results – and then make sure you don’t forget again!

3. Did you think about your existing wired infrastructure when buying more wireless access points? YES/NO

You should always make sure your network fits with your existing infrastructure, including hardware and other peripherals. It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times we’ve come across organisations that have made significant investment in wireless equipment without first ensuring the network is capable of handling the extra load.

4. Has your business grown significantly over the past five years? Are you planning for that growth to continue? Are you looking to transition to the cloud? YES/NO

If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’ then you won’t want your network to restrict your expansion. You need to ensure your network is fit for purpose or should install a network that gives you the flexibility to build out your infrastructure as your business grows.

5. Do you know how old are your switches are? And more importantly what standard/capacity? YES/NO

How frequently your switches will need replacing will vary depending on their capability (1Gb vs 10G vs 40gb) and the load that they’re processing. Again if you don’t know what the network is doing, how do you know it can cope? You may find that you’re experiencing slow application performance, o other data processing problems, or even that your voice calls are effected. This could be due to an over-subscribed poor performance switching architecture.

What your answers mean:

5/5 – Top networker. If you answered yes to all of the above questions, congratulations! It looks like your network is in good shape.

3/5 – Time for a check-up. If you answered yes to three of the questions above, then it’s safe to say you could do better! Start reviewing your network before it’s too late.

0-2/5 – It’s worse than that. He’s dead, Jim! Ok, so that may be a little melodramatic. But if you answered yes to fewer than three questions, shame on you! It’s time to call in help and sort your network out!

All jokes aside, your network shouldn’t be ignored, it is the foundation on which your IT infrastructure is constructed, and your entire business is dependent on it. According to industry analysts, the loss of a business-critical application services such as email could cost an organisation in the region of $1,000 per minute and more than a million dollars per day; that’s a huge sum for your business to lose. Compare that with the impact of data centre downtime, brought about by a corporate-wide network crash, potentially costing more than eight million dollars per day. Data centre failure can bring a company to its knees and could even break it completely. It is crucially important that you ensure your network is fit and healthy, and most importantly, that you continue to monitor and look after it.

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