Uncontrolled Network Growth

When companies find themselves growing faster than they had planned their network grows with them. Keeping up with the day-to-day tasks of running an organization that is growing obviously requires focus and dedication and the network almost always gets left behind.  I don’t mean left behind from a Bandwidth or Capacity standpoint, as those things must keep up with the business, what I mean by left behind is the planning, maintenance and overall architecture standpoint.

The result can be overwhelming: Where does one start? Do you rip it all out and start fresh? Do you employ a phased approach? What Vendor do you go with? Do you need to hire a Consultant or Project Manager?

When I come into these situations I must be  careful not to insult the person or people who let it get to this stage, after all they were just responding to the needs of the business. So, where does one start……

I have found that if the organization focused on anything it was the server infrastructure and the network infrastructure is nothing more than a number of BIG BOX store items from various manufacturers.

So, I start with this Foundation and based on the business goals segment the network to allow for Stability, Security and Scalability. Spend a few dollars on this infrastructure and you will save yourself a ton of time and effort in the long run. Employ a logical distribution of servers, services and there tasks across different VLAN’s. Think about some of the longer term goals  like VoIP… Maybe putting in PoE switches now is the right thing to do even if VoIP isn’t in your immediate plans. Think about the industry you’re in and if it hasn’t already developed some form of compliance requirement, will it in the future? Build your network as if you are a bank. Build your network based on best practices.

You will find that once this foundation is in place, the task to add, remove or change any aspect of your network becomes just a task and not some unattainable goal.

Document and monitor your network!!!!!! Purchase a maintenance contract on your equipment (it’s called insurance)… And Finally – if you’re not a network professional give us a call to help you design, build and maintain your network because it is what we do for a living…

One Vendor PLEASE…..

As I was responding to a request from a prospect for a Network Audit and Clean Up, I realized that in order to save a few dollars on the front end this customer had put themselves in a position that made everything else they do more expensive. Mixing vendor technologies is nothing new, and for the most part is an accepted practice, but as technology has converged and blurred the “line in the sand” between servers, infrastructure and applications it has become a difficult task to manage and maintain a multi-vendor network.

This is not to say that everything technology related must be from the same vendor, as we all know not one vendor does everything, nor does one vendor have the best solutions in all technologies, but people PLEASE PLEASE do a little more research before going out and buying the cheapest Ethernet Switch you can find.

I bring up Ethernet Switching because of it’s new and more critical role in the network. In he past a switch was just placed in the network and forgotten about, but in the new world, where we have the convergence of Voice, Video and Data along with the new requirements for compliance – i.e. PCI, SOX, HIPA and more, these switches are not just a critical part of the network, they are now controlling access and quality of service for the entire infrastructure. So when someone tells me they want an Network Audit and Clean up and their switching infrastructure consists of a multi-vendor switched network, I go straight to the Clean Up….. Now, I am a fan of Cisco switches and my perspective will be from that view, however if you are anti Cisco that’s your choice. I just ask that you go with a reputable vendor and not one that comes in at a tenth of the cost and “claims” to do all that the Cisco will.

I always got a kick out of new vendors that told me their switch/router/firewall was better than Cisco’s and then proceeded to tell me that they have a utility that makes their command language similar to Cisco’s IOS….. Well, if your product was better, then you shouldn’t have to change anything. The only reason to emulate Cisco’s IOS is because it is the best.

So, even if you network today is simple and you don’t think you need to worry about any of these things, think again. But don’t just ask yourself “will this product do it”, ask yourself “will this product do it when working with this other product”.

This is not just all about interoperability though. Imagine your network is made up of Dell and HP switch’s, a Fortigate Firewall and SMC access-points and your company, whatever it does, is about to land a big contract with a large Hospital or School Board. A requirement to landing that business may be that you network meets or exceeds Privacy legislation. This will require logging all of your infrastructure components to one server. An additional requirement may be that these logs are reviewed and a report generated to ensure compliance. All of those products support logging to a syslog server, but now you have 4 different logging formats and even if you could get the formatting to match, you will have 4 different Vendor Codes for the same message type. Now you need to spend time and resources writing code that will, hopefully, allow you to consolidate those logs. But wait, just when you were about to finish you had to upgrade the Firewall and now the format in that firewall has changed again…… You think I making this stuff up? No, I’ve see it and lived through it.

That is just one example of the many issues I have run into in a multi vendor network. The one other top issue is “finger pointing” and although you will never be able to get away from it totally, having one throat to choke can certainly make your life and mine easier.