How to Approach Your Network (Re)Design Project

 In Network, IT Planning

Does your network diagram look like a plate of spaghetti? Do you even have a network diagram? In many businesses, networks grow haphazardly. First two devices get connected, then two more, then more, and eventually, it creates an unmanageable tangle of cables. If you haven’t rethought your network design in a while, now is a good time to take a step back and see if you can straighten out that mess.

Identify Requirements and Constraints

The first question to ask is, what infrastructure do you already have? This means pulling out any existing documentation to identify servers, switches, routers, and other connected devices. If you don’t have documentation, you may need to crawl around in the computer room and trace cable routes to see how things are currently working.

Next, ask what demands your network needs to support. This means identifying the applications your users work with and the bandwidth those applications require. Your network likely needs to accommodate file servers and print servers along with database servers and application servers. Think about upcoming changes that will impact your network, such as adding new employees, new worksites, new applications, or new technologies. Collecting all this data will take some time and may require surveying users, talking to managers, or collecting and analyzing network statistics.

Besides the types of services your network supports, you also need to consider where those services will be accessed from, whether locally or remotely, and whether some services need higher levels of security than others. Determine how much downtime is acceptable to identify how much redundancy is required. You should also prioritize all the various demands on your network in order to be able to evaluate potential design solutions.

Those questions identify the requirements; you also need to identify the constraints affecting your network design. Some constraints may result from limitations of the physical space, such as lacking conduits for cables. Almost every project will have budget constraints.

Once you’ve gathered the end users’ requirements for the network, you can identify the scale of the network you need to design. A local area network (LAN) will be built with different technologies and requires different decisions than a wide area network (WAN).

Document Your Network Design

As you work through the design decisions, it’s important to create complete, accurate documentation that will help you build the network correctly and maintain it in the future. Create a network topology diagram that accurately reflects the equipment and how it will be connected. You should create the diagram using software that will allow you to easily update the diagram as the network changes in the future.

Along with the connectivity diagram, compile full documentation of each server in the network. This should include the server names, IP addresses, and the services it provides. You should have multiple entries for servers that have multiple IP addresses or multiple network interface cards. Servers aren’t the only hardware you should record. It’s important to track switches, gateways, and routers, as well. Document each device’s configuration details.

Don’t forget one crucial last piece of documentation: label each physical device and cable before installing it. That will make things much easier some future day when there’s a problem and you need to locate the troublemaking device!

Well-designed and supported network infrastructure is important in every business. Prescient Solutions engineers are certified in network and security technologies. Contact us to learn how we can help you detangle your cables and create a network that supports your computing needs.

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