How To Understand What Makes Up a "Good" Network
by Stephen Transue, on Jan 13, 2021 10:49:51 AM
In 2021 internet access (networks) may be the most important tool in your business and you may be looking to invest in it. Whether it's a home network or an office network, networks have become the backbone of our businesses. It's how we check our emails, chat with each other, receive phone calls, secure our spaces, share files, and so much more.
Many companies may just think of their network as a way to connect to the internet. However, there are two very important roles a network plays for your company: security and efficiency. Without a good network foundation you may be hurting one or both of those aspects in your organization.
Security and efficiency for your organization’s network are delivered through three main building blocks:
- The organization of the network
- The equipment
- Administration of your network
This post will go over each of the three main building blocks and we will have follow up posts diving into each with more detail!
"Organization" of a Network
The key to a good network, as in so many things, is good organization. Each computer, printer, phone, etc.. connected to your network generates traffic. Your network is responsible for where it goes, how it gets there, and who it talks to along the way.
Traffic can be treated in a variety of ways, based on its type or source. It is sometimes treated identically, but this is not ideal because different traffic has different needs! Think of left turning or HOV lanes on multi-lane roads. These lanes separate out traffic with a specific purpose in order to keep all traffic more efficient and organized.
Each source of traffic can and should be handled differently. For example, phone calls (VOIP) need extremely low latency to improve audio quality, video conferences need a stable upload speed to improve video streaming, and a CFO may need unfettered access to a computer with accounting software while staff should have zero visibility to this machine. This can all be achieved with a properly organized network!
To properly organize your network you need to be aware of a few things.
- What devices are connecting to my network and how do they connect to it (wifi, wired, or VPN)?
- What are my security needs to ensure safety for my employees and the organization?
- What are the most important needs of my organization from my network?
Once this and similar data have been collected you can begin mapping out your network.
So what do you need for networking equipment? Network gear, as with most technology, is a joint effort between hardware and software. Each brand and model of equipment are permanently linked in a duet dictating features, performance, ease of administration, and cost.
Equipment may look the same on the outside (both switches have 24 ports), but one cost four times as much as the other! This is due to the software and internal hardware. For example, one switch may be able to route traffic while another can just broadcast it, or one access point could have two antennas versus another model having eight.
Making the right decisions with your network equipment is difficult as you need to have the right gear for your current needs, to sustain growth, and to secure your traffic. These decisions made incorrectly will often add up to costly mistakes.
Think of it like choosing a new home. You need to make sure it's built to last, cost you less maintenance in the long run, will fit your current (or growing) family, and has the functions you need in a home (a bath tub for toddlers or a back yard for your dog).
A basic network has three layers each needing its own solution:
- Internet layer
- Network layer
- Access layer
Some equipment can handle multiple layers, a good cost saving measure, but can lead to poor performance and single points of failure. To build a good network we need to think about the traffic as it interacts with each layer.
First we have the internet layer. Commonly made up of modems or ONT's, is what your devices receive and send traffic to when they need to talk with a device not physically within your network. These devices are your link to the outside world!
The network layer is next. The network layer is made up of equipment capable of routing, firewalls, switches, or routers. They tell your devices where to go, how to connect, and what they are allowed to talk too. These devices are the building blocks of your whole network.
Lastly we have the access layer. Wireless access points and access layer switches give your laptops, desktops, phones and more an entry point into your network. These devices are your front door.
This can be broken down much more, but each basic layer needs to be tackled for your network to function.
This is where so many people drop the ball and where so many security and performance issues creep in. Why is it that my network was so fast and responsive but now six months later I get nothing but complaints from my employees? How did that disgruntled employee delete the HR Drive?
These and many more issues are the result of no or lacking network administration. Firmware updates, VPN clients, addressing issues, just to name a few are things that network administrators need review and address. You need network software that gives you great visibility and reporting into what’s going on. You also need someone who can maintain and interpret the data for you.
Some solutions do a great job of alleviating some of the minutia in administering but there isn’t a solution out there that doesn’t rely on good planning, observation, and experience.
A good network doesn't come down to just getting a gig from your internet service provider or getting a wifi extender. A business's or school's network needs are much more complex than the needs of your home. Having a plan and understanding the basics will help you vet a better solution in the future.
Who is maintaining your network? What steps are taking to proactively improve it? What kind of settings were put in place to secure it? Answers to these questions and many more are coming in future posts. I hope this initial post begins to shed light on de-tangling networks, and why they are so important!
Need help now? Contact us for a free Network Assessment now through January 31st, 2021. Or, just chat with us to learn more about how we build and manage amazing networks for people.