NETWORK ENGINEERING GUIDE

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
ABOUT NETWORK ENGINEERING

Your Network Infrastructure

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

  • Establish VPNs

  • Configure Virtual Machines

Network Passive Equipment

Cabling

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your office’s cabling meets your needs should be one of the first considerations by your IT service provider because outdated or insufficient cabling can cause serious problems down the line.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.

growth planning

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.

System Devices

Servers

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.

Storage

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.

on-premise data storage

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.

data backup and recovery

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.

network devices

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.