It should come as no surprise that best-in-class solutions often include many different types of hardware and applications all working together to optimize a network. Sometimes servers are virtualized, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they run in a data-center or colocation facility, and sometimes they’re just down the hall in a server room. Some applications run on the local machine, while others are web-based or accessible through a secure VPN. Building out a network that meets the needs of your growing business typically means a mosaic of software and systems unique to that network alone.

A well-designed network means considering how the network will grow in the future. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Have you ever stopped to consider the practical impact of your network infrastructure on the business itself? From resource utilization to energy costs, and from the burden on support personnel to the ease of use for workers, the configuration of your network goes a long way in determining how far your business goes.  As a practical matter, the design of your network is every bit as critical as the hardware and software you are using. Good network design means increased operational efficiency, which directly translates to increased revenue, increased employee happiness, increased customer satisfaction…the list goes on and on.

The following six principles of network design should help your IT infrastructure not only run well today, but also scale with ease as your organization grows.

  1. Network design requires actual DESIGN: Each and every device added or removed from a network, from printers and tablets to workstations and storage devices, has a material effect on the entire network’s performance. As such, it is imperative that you give consideration to that effect before committing to a network change or adding any new hardware or software. One of the biggest mistakes made by even the most experienced system administrators and IT professionals is not giving holistic consideration to the network. If you do not have a network schematic, then draw one out as soon as possible. It is virtually impossible to plan for new deployments and equipment without having an accurate layout of the status quo. Simply having it “in your head” isn’t good enough.
  2. Software is part of network design: Designing an optimized network is about more than CAT5 cables and storage devices. Every iota of your technology backbone is worthy of consideration when designing (or expanding) your company network. Each new application will require processing power, electricity, support, and space for storage. When considering new software applications, spend some time measuring how that application will impact the network. Similarly, when considering new hardware, include your software needs in the discussion. For example, if your mission-critical software needs high-speed, solid-state drives to achieve the highest performance, don’t buy standard drives in a new server just because you are getting a good deal.
  3. Think two steps ahead: It is not uncommon at all for today’s network to be grossly overmatched by the needs of tomorrow. Choosing hardware, software, and systems that will grow with you into the future is part of intelligent network design. For example, signing a colocation contract without considering your expansion plan may result in the provider not having enough space or bandwidth for your needs. When designing your network and any additions, consider using pencil or different colored pen to sketch out the next steps in your network’s evolution. Being able to visualize the current infrastructure, as well as general principles of the new hardware and software you plan to adopt, will help you think about what’s coming.
  4. Consider the cloud and colocation: It isn’t news that cloud services and colocation offerings are appealing in many instances. Just like SaaS can provide enterprise-grade software to an organization of any size, so too can IaaS offerings like Amazon EC2 and Microsoft Azure and colocation facilities offering power, bandwidth, and security for your hardware.  That said, many network administrators fail to consider these choices when expanding their network. Maybe its the allure of having new hardware to toy with or the unfamiliarity with how these services will work with existing architecture, but there is no excuse for not considering them all together.  Most IaaS and Colocation providers offer training, consulting, and onboarding services to help you grow comfortable with their services.
  5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: Getting locked into one vendor or platform can paint your network into a corner that’s impossible to escape. There’s a difference between having a preferred platform or vendor and being tied into one system. Yes, standardizing equipment is useful in building out a network, but careful consideration of the product lifecycle (is this brand new technology that may not be supported over time?) and how compatible individual components are with each other is important. For example, some software that runs in a Windows environment does not have a comparable Apple component. Is your network designed so that all components work well together and you aren’t too tied into any one platform or offering?
  6. You’re never finished: A reliable network that increases revenue, delivers customer satisfaction, and pushes your company forward is never finished. Different needs and different available technologies mean that what was an excellent solution today may be wholly inadequate tomorrow. That’s not to say that you or your IT department should change directions and strategies every time a new technology comes to market. It does mean that if you are following #3 above (thinking two steps ahead) and staying apprised of the tools available to you, you will be in a position to implement useful new technology sooner rather than later. Either way, if your network is to be a competitive advantage for your organization, you can’t think of it as a finished product.

The most efficient and technologically optimized organizations in the world didn’t get that way overnight. Careful consideration and planning every step of the way are required if your IT infrastructure is going to serve as a strength for your organization. Whether you’re a two-person operation or a large and expansive enterprise, your network must be designed in a way that scales for the future while powering all of the applications and services that your team needs to do a great job today. Are you up to the task? If not, click here to contact Mosaic NetworX. The Mosaic NetworX team can help scope, design, and deploy a network that fits your needs and budget while keeping the future in mind.