Network Planning and Implementation - What You Need To Consider in Network Project Management
A well-run network is staged like a smooth running car where the users only notice they can manoeuvre the car comfortably; they don’t notice the thorough project management, the design, planning and implementation work which the car has undergone to be what it is today. A proper network planning is vitally essential for successful implementation of a network system. Here in this article, I shall provide you with the “virtual blueprint” on how to plan, install and implement a network.
Five Core Processes
Most network experts divide the network planning process into the following five important phases:
1) Assess and justify your network need and requirement
2) Create a network plan
3) Implement the network plan
4) Plan for network extensions or expansions
5) Plan for after sales technical support and information
Needs assessment and Justification
Before planning for a network, you must obtain management support in funding, manpower and sufficient time to perform the work. These resources may require you to work within the budgetary restrictions, limited man power and funding requirement. When seeking funding, to justify the network, it is necessary to prove that the benefits of network outweigh its costs. The most effective way of doing this is to demonstrate that the return on investment (ROI) is greater than the initial and ongoing costs of the network.
Many organization use formal methods to assess ROI. Before you approach your management on this issue, do the investigation to find out how your organization calculates the return on in its investments. ROI is fundamentally determine by two activities :
1.) The Budget for the planned network that includes all potential sources of cost.
- all the hardware required to set up the network such as cables, network cards, hubs, installation tools,
- software such as network configuration and analysis tools
- costs of project engineers working hours (time spent for design, installation, configuration and project management)
- costs of training for maintenance engineer (or IS staff) and end users
- Consultation cost
- Cost of periods of lost productivity during the period when the old system is replaced with a new one
2) Assign dollar values to the benefits of the new network. With the new network in place, estimate the productivity increase with improved network features such as :
- improved communication, reduced or no down time for maintenance
- improved network system management
- increase network speed
- automated information sharing
- improved information delivery and control
- easier sharing of work assignment
- increased network security and access control especially for sensitive data
- ability to backup all computer systems without affecting network speed
- improved and more efficient company work flow
Compare the new employee productivity figure with the current employee productivity. This in turn can be used to estimate increases in the organization’s revenue or employee output.
In cases where the benefits are more intangible to put it into a figure, you should get a few enthusiastic endorsement from some members of executive staffs in the company.
Once you have obtained the go-ahead from the upper management, the next step is to design and plan your network.
To plan your network, it is necessary to assess your needs against available technologies and select the solutions that best fit your requirements. This will require you to work within the monetary, time and man power constraints. Such an effort can require significant investment in time and energy which can be ultimately quite expensive, and there is no guarantee that this process can deliver the most desirable results with the best of all possible networks.
Instead of working from scratch, most networking experts prefer to plan their network from a set of well-known, successfully implemented, proven working standard network blueprints. Using these blue prints is a short cut to a complete analysis of all the possibilities and helps you to focus on a relatively small numbers of possibilities. These standard blueprints can be customized to meet your organization’s requirements. They certainly are very helpful to accelerate the development of network plan when used as a point of departure.
For a typical network configuration in use today that works well up to 50 users, the network elements that you need to consider are as follows :
- consider at least a switched high-speed backbone for your network infrastructure
2) Network technology
- Consider the size, speed and scale requirement
- Fiber optic cables should be used as backbone for faster speed and long distance cable laying, up to Gigabit/sec transmission speed
- Twisted pair cable, types cat5 and cat6 can be used for connection to workstations.
4) Network Interface Cards
- Ethernet 100BaseT for workstations
- 1000BaseT for servers
5) Network performance requirement
- depends on the applications requirement for speed of transfer, amount of data transfer and the frequency of data communications
6) Resource sharing
- Server based information and resource sharing is recommended
- Avoid peer-to-peer implementation
7) Network Type
- Consider the requirement for peer-to-peer, client-server or combination of both
8) Network protocols
- the common one is TCP/IP protocol
- if proprietary protocol is available, they provide better network security
9) Data and network security
- DMZ (demilitarized zone), firewalls
10) Compatibility requirement
- for both hardware and software
- a common problem if older systems are to be used with the new system
11) Remote access requirement
- VPN (virtual private network)
12) Data Backup Requirement
- system and user data
13) Other services
- requirement for printer, fax, email, etc
Above network elements are the basis for planning just about any network. It will address needs at local level quite effectively. Even for very large network, this configuration will work for local use. However, since technology changes quickly, networking professionals should keep abreast of the latest technology available and adjust these recommendations to incorporate the new version of configuration that better meet your needs.
Many factors may require you to adjust the basic LAN configuration you have come out with and make modifications in cabling layouts, network interfaces, equipments, computers and planned network users. Typically, the common issues are :
1) Bandwidth requirements
- If your applications include numerous real-time video, 3D modelling, high-speed data transfers or intense interactive applications, then you will need to have high speed Ethernet, 100- or 1000 Mbps Ethernet, or fastest technologies as they become available.
2) Network growth
- If you foresee your network growing larger to accommodate more users, then be prepared for more complexity in network planning, more requirement for high speed and more equipment and infrastructure.
- If your network operations involve highly sensitive data transfer and high security is required, then use of fiber optic cable is recommended since it is nearly impossible to tap without detection. Pure server/client environment also support tighter security with its authentication and encryption software in place.
4) Specialized software and hardware requirement
- Certain critical applications require specialised hardware and software with special network configurations. Be prepared for more complexity in network integration.
Plan by drawing a Map for your network
As you make the hardware selection above and adjust your basic network model, draw a map of your network. A map is the architectural plan on how to layout your network. It is also called network topology diagram. As you redesign the network, keep this map up to date, even during installation. It will be the permanent documentation of your network cabling and layout. Whenever network troubleshooting is required, this map will be invaluably useful. In future, when network expansion is required to accommodate company growth, this map is absolutely required for network review before the expansion plan can be formulated.
When you have the network topology diagram, network equipment location diagram and the cabling diagram or tables, the next step is to put your network plan to work. To do so, consider the following factors:
1) Plan the schedule for installation of network equipments and cables with the proper procedures documented and followed.
2) Perform testing with documented procedure as the installation work is in progress to ensure all parts are working properly.
3) Plan a fallback plan in case any part of the network installation fail or causes delay.
4) Consider the pros and cons of performing the installation over the weekend.
5) Prepare contacts for technical support. In case of technical problem or questions, you have some place to turn for immediate assistance.
6) Observe or perform an investigation on the workplace daily routine to find out how the network installation can minimize the disruptions.
7) Be prepared for things go wrong such as delay in important materials delivery, failed installation, incompatibilities problem, man power problem and user errors.
Regardless of the network size, the chances of encountering problems during the project execution stage are better than 50%, especially for first timers. Even an experienced networking professional spends a considerable amount of time to plan carefully. A well planned network provides a vital road map for the successful installation of network system. Good planning will save you a lot of headaches during the implementation phase.
Plan for Network Expansions
Network expansions have become a necessity to many companies which have to go beyond purely local area network operations. In this case, we are talking about Wide Area Network (WAN) technologies. Below are the questions to help you to assess your needs for this ancillary network :
1) Dial-in/Dial-out connectivity
2) Needs assessment for network equipment such as bridges, routers, gateway, repeaters, firewalls, etc
3) WAN bandwidth, link requirement and link selection
These questions should help you to assess what kinds and levels of services you need for this WAN. When the needs are defined, you can then determine the technical requirement, equipments and services required to fulfil the needs. Don’t forget to include the cost in your calculations. They may cost more than what you estimate.
When the network implementation has been completed and the network is in operation, the project work is not finished until you have the proper documents in your hands. If you have followed the outlined recommendations above during the network construction, you would have maintained the up-to-date documents below:
1) A complete list of network equipment
- Cable type and length
- Type of servers and workstations with technical specifications
- Type of bridge, repeater, router, firewall, gateway, etc
2) Network configuration or topology drawings
- Updated topology diagram
- Network addresses
- Network security
- Firewalls configuration
3) Cable layout drawings
- Cable routing or layout
- cable tagging for connection identification
4) Operating System and System configuration information
- Usernames and passwords for log in to servers and workstations
- Users’ access rights in servers and workstations
- Groups allocation in the network
- File and directory attributes (access and control rights) for each user and group
- Operating System and Software running on servers and workstations with their versions
- Application software structure and organization
- Licenses required
- Drive assignment and content for servers and workstations
- Boot disks and Backup disks
- Configuration information for bridge, repeater, router, firewall, gateway, etc
If you have a big network, the amount of information you have to manage can be overwhelming. To make things easier, you can have a complete picture of your network assets using network inventory software such as Network Inventory Advisor.This software automatically discovers all your network assets (Mac OS, Windows, Linux, SNMP-powered devices and more) by scanning them and presenting you with flexible network inventory reports. With this, you can actually control and minimize your IT costs with automated agent-free network inventory.
After Sales Technical Support
When you encounter a network problem, you need to be prepared to work with any vendor’s technical support staff. It will be helpful if you can keep a record of the following :
1) What happened before the problem appear
2) List any modifications to software or hardware made immediately before the problem occurred
3) Print screen or write down any error messages that appear
4) Recount what application or task was running when the problem appear
5) Be prepared to provide the documents listed in previous paragraph above
A final note – Working with Consultants
Unless you are an experience networker, it might be wiser to consider enlisting the services of a qualified network consultant in planning and implementing your network. Consultants can deliver what you ask for; the more specific and detailed you are with your requests, the better results you will get.
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About the author :
Ingenira has been working as a vendor system engineer since 1996, executing projects world-wide.