Within the digital ecosystem of a corporation or educational institution, a network is the nucleus.
However, for institutions that are looking to upgrade, or corporations that are just starting out, implementing a network can be an uphill climb – unless tech managers look for help in the right places.
Understanding What a Network Can Do
Before pulling the trigger on implementing a new network, tech managers should consider the benefits a network can offer an institution or corporation.
For example, Bob Nilsson, director of solutions marketing for Extreme Networks, says networks implemented in a higher education setting grant students, faculty and staff the opportunity to collaborate, share, communicate and interact.
“The network has also become vital for delivering education, such as digital content, video, classroom interaction, adaptive learning text books,” he says. “The network now delivers telecommunications, news, sports and video entertainment to students in the residence halls. Without a network, some of this could be done through the cell data connections, but it would be slower and more expensive, and with a lower quality of experience.”
Josh Liberman, president of Net Sciences, Inc., says tech managers should keep in mind that a network will touch every part of a corporation’s and institution’s business.
“I can’t visualize anything without a network,” he says. They can be used to “ share and protect centralized data, manage accounts, share internet connections – it’s a central part of very business.”
Harold Knapp, associate director and network operations director at College of the Holy Cross, agrees.
However, Knapp says corporations and institutions should not have just any network – they should have one that works to satisfy end users’ needs.
“It is like having a house built on a foundation of straw – it won’t last long,” he says. “Having a network that is responsive and able to adapt is important to keep up with the demands placed upon it…You need a backbone so people with all their devices can roam and stay connected.”
Putting the Network Together: Hardware & Software
When implementing the hardware for a network, Liberman says that tech managers should work from the outside in.
“Start with a fire wall,” he says. “Firewalls do the routing of traffic – it is the perimeter of defense, it handles wireless traffic, remote access, user verification, etc.” From there, “a switch or multiple switches connect to the devices, and share data and internet access across the enterprise. Then it moves from deeper into the network to the server or servers, and connects end points, such as desktops, laptops, etc.”
Nilsson says tech managers who are implementing hardware components into a network should keep two key terms in mind – edge and core.
“At the edge, the network connects to all the computers, devices, and end systems,” he says. “Today, many devices connect wirelessly through Wi-Fi access points (APs), but it is also important to provide wired Ethernet connections to fixed systems. Unlike with home Wi-Fi, commercial and industrial-grade wireless APs require a controller. The controllers can either be on-premises, which is best when large numbers of APs are involved, or in the Cloud.
At the core are the switches that interconnect the edge switches and routers with each other.”
Knapp recommends building a network with more bandwidth capabilities in mind. This includes items like a single mode fiber backbone, which can be used for access between buildings and for risers going up a building’s floors.
“I believe that gives you the greatest capacity to add bandwidth,” Knapp says. This way, “you can swap out gigabit interface converters (GBIC’s) to move from one gig of bandwidth to ten gigs of bandwidth and beyond…I think you should look at switches that have the capability to accept both one and ten gig GBICs.”
Additionally, Knapp says tech managers should keep in mind wall jack opportunities, too. These can play a helpful role for future add-ons to the network.
Tech managers should look “at wireless access points that can replace wall jacks while adding both network jacks and wireless, like the HP/Aruba 205H,” he says. “With this device, you can reduce the need to run new wires, and expand capabilities of existing infrastructure.”
Nilsson recommends considering three software components when implementing a network:
1) Network management system – this is necessary to set up, control and monitor the network.
2) Network analytics – these are required to track which applications are being run by certain users on the network, and how much traffic is traversing the network.
3) Network Access Control (NAC) – this is vital to manage a BYOD network environment, which is seen in both corporation and institutional settings. NAC provides the fine grain policy to enable network access to devices and users depending on the device, the user, the application, the location, the time of day, etc.
Knapp says tech managers should keep security options in mind when considering software – especially security information and event management (SIEM) systems.
“I believe SIEM systems are needed to collate all the data that is collected,” he says. “I think more intelligence needs to be built into SIEM systems so that the operators of those systems can do less collating and more observing and reconciling events.”