EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NETWORK ENGINEERING
A successful business starts with a successful network environment. In today’s connected world, your technology infrastructure is a key component that links your organization to the rest of the world. Network engineering lays the foundation for the computer network day-to-day operations that you rely on. Careful design, implementation, and maintenance of your infrastructure ensures a healthy and agile network so you can stay at the head of the curve. Learn everything you need to know about network engineering in this guide.
You may not think about your network infrastructure often, but day in and day out it keeps your business functioning and your team connected. Network infrastructure is a must for every organization, whether you’re using cloud or on premise IT. Network infrastructure usually consists of Network Passive Equipment, Network Active Devices, and System Devices. It is important to make sure that all of these function as part of a comprehensive plan.
Network Passive Equipment can include network cables (copper and/or fiber), a patch panel, and a network cabinet or rack. It is very important to assess your needs in this area before continuing with additional equipment because without the proper design and groundwork your network will suffer and work will need to be redone.
Network Active Devices include switches, firewalls, routers, wireless access points (APs), and wireless controllers. These devices transfer all your data and communications, meaning they must be carefully designed and maintained to ensure the health of your IT environment.
Systems Devices include servers, storage, and backup. In an era where businesses have more data than ever, these pieces are key components of your infrastructure.
Key Aspects of Implementation
Implementing a robust and reliable network infrastructure is crucial to guarantee your business continuity. It’s important to choose a well-known and experienced IT service provider to implement and maintain network availability. A professional IT company will always follow the industry standards to implement networks with best practices using expert and certified engineers. Here are some things your provider should do in regards to network implementation.
Create a Local Area Network (LAN)
Create a V-LAN
Secure the Network Using a Firewall
Configure Static & Dynamic Routing
Configure Virtual Machines
Network Passive Equipment
Network passive equipment is the foundation of your entire network and an organized installation will save you time and money in the long run.
Ensuring that your office’s cabling meets your needs should be one of the first considerations by your IT service provider because outdated or insufficient cabling can cause serious problems down the line. Your provider should assess your business needs to ensure that there are sufficient cable “drops” (individual runs) for all devices such as computers, phones, and printers. Two primary types of cable may be used to complete your cabling. Copper cables have a maximum signal reach of 300 ft. (100 meters) and are therefore used to connect two endpoints within a small area such as a small building or a floor of a building. An example of this would be connecting an access point to a switch. In larger offices or between buildings, cabling generally consists of copper networks connected by fiber optic networks, creating what we call the “network backbone”. Fiber optic cables carry large amount of data/voice at very fast speeds. In general, fiber optic cables are used to physically connect multiple networks together.
Patch Panels and Racks
Patch panels are used to connect cables at the end-user side with a network switch, servers, or routers. The main purpose of a patch panel is proper cable management inside the server/ switch room in order to avoid “spaghetti” cabling and create an organized infrastructure. A network cabinet or “rack” is essentially a specific storage cabinet meant to organize and host all physical network devices within a local network. It is important that your IT service provider has experienced cablers complete the setup of your network passive equipment to lay a solid foundation for your IT environment.
Network Active Devices
Switches and Routers
Switches and routers coordinate network traffic, and their proper configuration is critical for your network performance and user productivity. Switches connect devices together within a network or with a router to create remote connections. For example, a switch may connect a PC to an internet router for outgoing traffic. Routers are used to connect two or more networks together, either physically, logically, or both. Internet routers connect the local network with the Internet. Let’s discuss the implementation of these devices.
The creation of a Local Area Network (LAN) is a key component of switch configuration. In order to create a LAN, network switches (Ethernet switches) should be configured to manage the local user’s traffic in a way that provides user data privacy, consistency, and high availability. For enterprise businesses, configuring a Virtual Local Area Network protocol (V-LAN) is also important. A V-LAN logically divides a switch into multiple virtual switches, reducing the number of deployed switches within the network to reduce costs, avoid network latency, and ensure data and voice privacy.
Most enterprises have branches or remote satellite offices. To connect end-users to the Internet and exchange data between offices your network uses a router with established routing protocols. In general, there are two types of routing protocols, Static Route (used mostly to connect the end-user to the Internet) and Dynamic Route (usually used to connect two or more networks together).
When configuring your router, your IT service provider must also create Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). A VPN creates a “tunnel” to safely exchange data through the internet for remote users. We can create a permanent VPN connection (called Point to Point) or a temporary connection (called Dynamic).
Firewalls and APs
In order to protect your network from external threats, a firewall is necessary. Firewalls may be either a physical box or a software that creates a secure connection between your network and the Internet. The firewall controls network access policies for inbound and outbound traffic to prevent your network from being compromised and safely forwards data to the internet. There are standard and advanced firewall configuration options and your IT service provider should choose the most appropriate option for your organization.
Wireless access points creates a wireless local area network and projects a signal to enable your Wi-Fi devices to connect to your wired network. Access points (APs) dramatically increase flexibility by allowing your employees to work anywhere in your office from their Wi-Fi enabled devices. APs are also a cost effective add because many users can simultaneously connect to an AP, decreasing needed hard wire connections.
For enterprise (and SMB) organizations, managing and monitoring too many APs can become challenging. A wireless controller may be used to simplify management and monitoring of numerous APs.
Wireless and wired internet are both valuable for most businesses and we will discuss the pro and cons of each later on.
Your server is an important piece of your infrastructure that allows data and application sharing and storage. A server may be a computer, device, or program that is dedicated to managing network resources. Servers are often referred to as dedicated because they carry out hardly any other tasks apart from their server tasks. There are a number of categories of servers, including print servers, file servers, network servers and database servers. It is important that your server is secured, monitored, and — in the case of a physical server — temperature controlled. Typically physical servers are stored in a “server room” along with other network hardware. Maintenance and monitoring of your server may be outsourced to your IT service provider or a data center to guarantee the safety of your data. Discuss your needs with your provider to find the best solution for your organization in terms of equipment, storage, and maintenance.
To limit the number of physical devices required, many companies use virtual machines. Virtual machines are applications or operating systems that emulate dedicated hardware and can be used as servers (or storage). Most enterprises use a limited number of physical devices and then create virtual machines on the physical devices. Using virtual machines reduces physical space needed, cooling requirements, power consumption, and maintenance, while allowing for high availability and redundancy. For these reasons we recommend virtualization, the creation of virtual machines, as an important step in the creation of your infrastructure.
Should you go with cloud-based infrastructure service? Should you go with an on-premise IT infrastructure and own everything? To determine the best answer for these questions your service provider will have to examine your data requirements and staff needs as well as the long-term scalability of your potential solutions.
For some smaller organizations, it is more feasible to go with cloud-based Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solution. The IaaS will eliminate the need for hosting servers, storages, switches, and software on premise. It provides your employees with everything required to manage their work such as Office 365, Google Suite, Fire server, storage, and a secure connection for a recurring fee.
Some companies, however, would rather store their data privately. Companies that are large enough to afford the infrastructure management cost in terms of hardware/software upgrades, space requirements, IT staff, recurring license fees, etc. often choose on-premises IT infrastructure because their data and privacy requirements make this the more cost-effective option. This solution is often ideal for large organizations.
Hybrid solutions are an additional option that combines virtual servers and cloud hosting, which can be a good fit for many organizations. Discuss your needs and budget with your IT provider to help determine what solution best fits your needs for a complete and scalable solution.
Backup and Disaster Recovery
A key aspect of planning your IT infrastructure is ensuring you have data backups in place and a disaster recovery plan. Data backups are created as part of proactive planning in case of data loss or corruption so that recovery is possible. In the process of the backup, data is copied and archived. It is important that backups are regularly created, either manually or automatically, so that they are up to date. Data from an earlier time may only be recovered if it has been backed up. Today, a great deal of data can be backed up when using cloud storage, which means archiving on a local system's hard drive or using external storage is not necessary. Mobile devices, in particular, can be set up using cloud technologies, allowing data to be recovered automatically.
Data backup cannot always restore all of a system's data and settings. For example, computer clusters, active directory servers, or database servers may need additional forms of recovery because a backup may not be able to reconstitute them fully. To ensure business continuity, it is important to have a disaster recovery plan for your organization so that you can maintain or quickly resume critical business functions following a major event such as a hurricane or cyber attack. Discuss disaster recovery options with your IT service provider and ask for assistance in planning and testing your disaster recovery process.
How Your Devices Work Together
Your devices function as a cohesive unit to keep your business running smoothly and efficiently. Here’s a closer look at how devices connect to each other as part of a typical network.
A Closer Look at Important Choices
You will be faced with many choices for your IT infrastructure that require careful planning and consideration. Your IT service provider can assist you with guidance on these important aspects.
Storing Your Data
Assessing Internet and Voice Needs
Wi-Fi vs. Wired Internet
Assessing Internet and Voice Needs
Understanding your organization’s internet and voice needs and selecting the right service provider is a key aspect your network planning. Reliable business internet is crucial to many business functions. Establishing the needed bandwidth speed to fulfill your office’s needs as well as how many access points your office requires is key to ensuring your office runs smoothly. Your IT service provider can consult with you to determine the required Internet bandwidth based on known factors such as number of employees, square footage, teleconferencing and voice setup, and additional features of your specific location.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) changed the way that businesses use phone systems by allowing voice communications to travel via the internet instead of phone lines. VoIP is always our recommended choice for phone systems because it is much more feature rich than traditional phone systems. In general, phone service via VoIP also costs less than equivalent service from traditional sources due to the consolidation of using a single network to carry voice and data. There are many different option for VoIP services, your IT service provider can help you choose a provider and plan that is optimized for your business needs.
Determining the right Internet Service Provider (ISP) for your company is vital to ensure reliable and stable internet and voice connections. Conducting research and consulting with your IT service provider and various ISP companies can help you make the right choice. Your organization may also choose to go with two different ISP companies for Internet redundancy and high availability, ensuring that your employees always have maximum speeds and zero downtime. The primary factors to consider when asking for recommendations are reliability, stability, and cost. When assessing your needs it is important to keep in mind both standard internet usage and voice (phone) internet usage.
Wi-Fi vs. Wired Internet
Reliable business internet is crucial to many business functions. Establishing the needed bandwidth speed to fulfill your office’s needs as well as how many access points your office requires is key to ensuring your office runs smoothly. Your IT service provider can consult with you to determine the required Internet bandwidth based on known factors such as number of employees, square footage, teleconferencing and voice setup, and additional features of your specific location.
Determining the right Internet Service Provider (ISP) for your company is vital to ensure reliable and stable internet and voice connections. Conducting research and consulting with your IT service provider and various ISP companies can help you make the right choice. Your organization may also choose to go with two different ISP companies for Internet redundancy and high availability, ensuring that your employees always have maximum speeds and zero downtime. The primary factors to consider when asking for recommendations are reliability, stability, and cost. When assessing your needs, it is important to keep in mind both standard internet usage and voice (phone) internet usage.
Internet is essential to keep your organization connected, but hard-wired connections and Wi-Fi both come with pros and cons. Wi-Fi is often used in business due to its flexibility. Changes in the network can be managed without cords and cables and employees are able to easily connect to the network from any company device. However, Wi-Fi can open a business up to security concerns and is also slower at transmitting data which can impact performance. Although Wi-Fi will never be as reliable and secure as a wired connection, in today’s mobile environment it is still a valuable part of an organization’s network.
A hardwired connection can require more upfront work to put into place, however it is faster and more secure than any Wi-Fi connection. For companies that transmit extremely important and confidential data hard-wiring is usually the best choice. In addition, wired internet is recommended for those using certain business applications such as QuickBooks because an unstable wireless connection can affect the performance of the software.
Although many enterprise businesses will have a hardwired connection for at least some employees, the flexibility of a wireless network makes it an important add for almost every organization. We generally suggest a mix of hard-wiring and Wi-Fi to ensure the best solution for business.
Key questions to determine what service will best meet your needs
What types of ISP connections are available?
What speed will I need to ensure that business runs smoothly?
Are there data caps? Will the repeal of net neutrality affect my speeds?
What support is available to assist me in the event of downtime?
What hardware will I need and should I rent or buy it?
Which VoIP (Voice over IP) services should I use for my phone systems?
Should I use wired or wireless internet, or a mix of the two?
Access control systems protect your office, as well as secured areas of your office, from unauthorized entry. It is important to consider your access control solution early on in your new office configuration because many access control systems require hardware installations that utilize your cabling, and it is much easier to run the cabling from the beginning than add it later on. There are a variety of available systems and features, ranging from simple access cards to biometric and facial recognition. Many access control systems also utilize cameras to secure key areas inside and outside an office. The ideal solution for your business will depend on factors such as your business type and location. Discuss your needs and wants with your IT service provider to find the best access control system for your business.
Virtual access control secures virtual rather than physical assets, such as computers or servers. Virtual access control generally involves setting permissions and using pins or passwords to protect all or part of a system. This is done by an administrator who creates a list of users and permissions for each user. This is an important part of configuring any device.
Managed vs. Owned Devices
The your network equipment can be approached in one of two ways. The first option is a managed solution where your company’s switch, firewall, access points, and routers, and other physical devices are rented and hosted on-premises. In this scenario the vendor is responsible for firmware upgrades, OS maintenance, and device monitoring. The second option is the traditional client owned network devices. If a company owns their own devices they will need to maintain, manage, update, and monitor the devices themselves or outsource these tasks to an IT managed services company.
With either approach, it is important to make sure that your IT team fully understands your needs now and in the future. This ensures that they can help you plan and configure your network infrastructure in a way that is optimized for your organization.
End User Devices
Beyond these standard infrastructure requirements there are also the more visible aspects of your IT environment that your staff will utilize daily. Consulting with your IT provider regarding desktops, laptops, printers, fax machines, and more can ensure a cohesive network that meets your team’s every need.
Choosing an IT Service Provider
There are many local IT service providers that can assist you with your office infrastructure. It is important to choose a professional and experienced provider to meet your organizations needs. Your IT provider should analyze your needs both now and in the future to create an IT environment that will serve you long term. It is important that your provider adhere to best practices and use qualified engineers, technicians, and project managers to design and implement your network. If your business has multiple locations or if you foresee expanding into different areas in the future it can be very helpful to work with an IT provider that has the same or greater coverage, rather than a local provider.
Multi-Site Network Upgrade for MSP Client
Imagit’s skilled engineering team upgraded this client’s network hardware across multiple locations for functionality and compatibility.
A social services agency required expert engineering services to upgrade their network across primary and satellite offices for multiple locations. The client’s vital business functions required that all locations be fully compatible with upgrades done at the primary location.
Imagit was brought in by a managed service provider partner to design, manage and engineer the entire project. Engineers installed and configured hardware and completed testing and troubleshooting to guarantee proper network connectivity from all satellite offices. Several upgrades were implemented at all locations, Imagit kept the client functioning at peak performance and with full compatibility across their network throughout this transition.
Imagit’s engineers, technicians, and project managers worked cohesively with the onsite staff and other client partners to ensure a smooth process and quick turnaround. All project initiatives were successfully completed within the agreed upon time and budget.