Posted by: S R Balasubramanian
IT performance review, network infrastructure management, network monitoring, network performance review, network security
Networks are the sensory nerves of the IT set up of an organization and extremely critical for the functioning of information systems. They connect the users to the information database and carry data and information to the users and let him operate on data and applications. Should the network snap, the entire organization’s work comes to a standstill. Yet the network is sometimes not given as much attention as it should be. There is a tendency to handle problems as and when they occur without getting into the root cause or taking steps to augment the network to take care of increased traffic or to remodel the network to ward off problems that occur frequently.
When reviewing IT performance of a few organizations I found networks either failing or delivering poor performance. User complaints were usually attended to with the IT in-charge either blaming the components, vendor or the budget sanctioned but doing nothing to work out a long term solution to the problem. In many a cases I found the network to be one which was designed several years ago but continuously burdened with additional users and applications without the network being adequately reviewed or upgraded. Some organizations had no network diagrams while some had no one specifically assigned to take care of the network.
Some good practices
I am discussing Local Area Networks (LAN) here as that forms the backbone of full network. People do connect from outside either from their other offices or through internet but that is through the WAN network. To make the LAN reliable it is necessary to follow some good practices which I explain below:
- Network planning and design: Laying of networks is not a case of ad-hoc cabling but requires careful planning and designing. The network should cater to the present and future requirement of business. Network planning therefore should take into account the business plan and growth projections, network capacity planning, definition of the number of LANs / VLANs and following structured cabling process.
- Network layout: The next step is a detailed design of the network identifying different types of physical connects for example places that need to be wired and those to be connected through wireless or radio. Documentation is essential in the form of a network diagram to show the placement of switches, routers etc. and types of connects for example cables Cat-6, Fiber, wireless etc.
- Laying cables: Once the network topology is drawn up, it becomes essential to make it work on the ground. It is important to choose routes through which cables would run and decide whether they would run either above or below ground or on walls and ceilings. In factory environment, it is essential to flag the route, use different color for network cables (to prevent accidental damage due to digging & construction), keep away from high tension cables and avoid mix up between network & electrical cables. For wireless networks placement of routers needs to be properly fixed up.
- Use network monitoring tools: The story doesn’t end with laying of the network; its good performance is a critical need. Physical or manual checking and surveillance are not an easy task and therefore it is necessary to install proper network management tools which can indicate traffic volumes on various segments of the network, measure performance, help diagnose faults and facilitate resolution. It is essential to move towards centralized monitoring and control.
- Concern for security: The local network need to be protected from unauthorized access both from within and outside the premises. Network sign-in should be through registered user-id and passwords. Extra care needs to be taken for Wi-Fi networks.
- Connect to the outside: All external connects should pass through VPNs, firewalls/ intrusion detection tools, etc. With increase threats, a 24/7 check by in-house staff becomes impossible and therefore companies prefer to outsource network security monitoring.
- Review of network once every few years: Requirements of organizations are never static and steady growth puts pressure on the network. Newer applications ride the network, more elements are added and the topology also undergoes a change over a period of time. Networks sometimes become unwieldy and therefore need a re-look and redesign where necessary. Components on the network also require replacement or upgrade.
It pays to keep the network healthy, live and kicking. It can be done only through adequate care and nurturing. A smooth flow of data and information brings smiles on the users’ faces.