10.1 CRITICAL THINKING CHALLENGE: DETERMINING NETWORK REQUIREMENTS

When designing a network for an organization, there are many factors that must be considered to determine the requirements and ensure the network will adequately serve the needs of the business. A robust analysis is necessary upfront to identify all key components, from the number of users and devices, to the applications that will be used and the bandwidth demands.

First, you must analyze the number of active employees and estimates for employee growth over time. This will determine the number of devices that will need to connect initially and potentially in the future as more staff are added. You’ll also want to account for any contractors, vendors or guests that may need occasional access. For a mid-sized company of around 100 employees, you could estimate around 120-150 total devices to connect to allow for factors like employees with both desktop and laptop computers.

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Along with the number of users, the physical locations that need connectivity must be assessed. For many organizations starting out, a single office is sufficient. But as businesses grow, additional branch offices or areas of a large facility may be added. Remote or mobile work also needs consideration depending on your work culture and policies. The locations will impact what type of physical network infrastructure is required like Ethernet cabling, quantity of switches, access points for wireless and hardware for any remote connections.

Evaluating the applications and systems that power your organization’s operations and productivity is key to determining bandwidth needs and quality of service requirements. Some common examples included in this analysis would be: email usage and storage amounts, file sharing of documents or media, resource-intensive business software, database usage, online meeting solutions, VoIP phones, video surveillance systems and any public-facing websites. You’ll want estimates of current usage as well as reasonable growth projections. The bandwidth demands of all these combined tools must be below the thresholds of your Internet connection plans.

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Additional layers of security also translate to network requirements. Employing network firewalls, endpoint protection software, intrusion detection, VPN concentrators and other critical security appliances necessitates adequate hardware sizing, throughput capacity and ability for future scalability. As threats evolve it’s wise to plan for security enhancement over the lifetime of your equipment purchases. User access controls, activity monitoring and compartmentalization of sensitive systems also factor in.

Redundancy improves network uptime which is crucial for many organizations. Techniques like setting up multiple Internet connections from different providers, implementing failover routing, running equipment in high-availability clusters and having sufficient backup bandwidth allow the network to withstand outages without service interruption. While increasing initial costs, these redundancies are important for companies where network downtime could damage productivity or operations.

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All of this analysis, typical documentation should outline: the number and location of users/devices expected over several years, specific bandwidth needs for major applications and forecasted growth, critical technical systems requiring high throughput or strict service level agreements, security platforms involved and their resources needed, and redundancy strategies to include or consider implementing. With this level of evaluation, the network designer has the information required to build a robust, secure and scalable infrastructure tailored exactly to your unique business needs both currently and for the future.

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