Setting up an Office Network - Planning, Purchasing and Implementation

Setting up an Office NetworkAs businesses evolve and grow, they may outgrow their existing network and require a network upgrade. Whether you are starting from scratch with a new network at a new location, or are simply expanding and upgrading your existing network, there are three key steps to rolling out a network; planning, purchasing and implementation.

To help ensure a smooth rollout, a careful look at both the current network and the new network needs is necessary. This will help determine what new equipment and which configurations are needed to ensure that the new network fully supports both the current and future needs of the company or organisation.

Planning

When a small company grows very rapidly, the original network that supported the company often cannot keep pace with the expansion. Employees at the company may not realise how important it is to properly plan for network upgrades. In many cases, the business may simply add various network hardware devices, of variable quality from different manufacturers, and different network connection technologies to connect new users.

Often this causes a degradation in the quality of the network as each new user or device is added. If this continues indefinitely, at some point the network is unable to properly support the types and level of network traffic that the users generate. It isn't unusual that only when the network starts to fail do most small businesses look for help to redesign the network. A system integrator or managed service provider may be called in to provide advice and to install and maintain the network upgrade.

Before a network upgrade or new roll-out can be properly designed, usually an onsite technician is dispatched to perform a site survey to document the existing network structure. At this stage it is also necessary to investigate and document the physical layout of the premises to determine where new equipment can be installed.

A site survey can give the network designer a substantial amount of information and create a proper starting point for the project. It clearly shows what is already on site and indicates what is needed. A proper site survey gathers as much information as possible about the current business and its projected growth. This information is gathered from different people in an attempt to accurately forecast the current and future network requirements. Some key questions that need to be asked include -

  • Number of users and type of equipment?
  • Projected growth?
  • Current internet connectivity?
  • Application requirements?
  • Existing network infrastructure and physical layout?
  • New services required?
  • Security and privacy considerations?
  • Wireless requirements?
  • Reliability and up-time expectations?
  • Budget constraints?

Purchasing

As the system integrator or managed service provider plans the network upgrade, various issues arise related to purchasing new equipment, as well as maintaining new and existing equipment. Generally speaking, you have two options for the new equipment: managed service or in-house solutions. With the former, the equipment is obtained from the system integrator through a lease or some other agreement. The system integrator is responsible for updating and maintaining the equipment. With an in-house solution, the end customer purchases the equipment and is responsible for updates, maintenance and warranties for the equipment.

When you purchase equipment, cost is always a major factor. A cost analysis of the purchase options must be conducted to provide a sound basis for the final purchase decision. Usually the customer conducts the cost analysis, but this may be done in conjunction with the system integrator. Many other factors should also be considered in addition to cost. Some of the additional factors you must consider when you're trying to decide if a managed or in-house solution is more appropriate are listed briefly below -

Control and responsibility? You have almost full control for in-house. Set service-level agreements (SLA) with a service provider, keep your core business processes in-house, maintain control of the work flow in your organisation, and delegate the appropriate level of network management to a qualified service provider when you go for a managed service.

Reliability? You are responsible for keeping your network available at all times for all users for an in-house solution. Service providers can guarantee availability up to 99.999%, 24-hour help desk is available for remote-access users, and service provider management is transparent to end users when you go for a managed service.

End user experience? Common to the in-house/managed service decision will be a need to make users unaware of whether the network is managed internally or by an external partner.

Implementation

If the first two steps above (planning and purchasing) are done correctly, the implementation phase may be performed without mishap and incident. However, it is possible tasks were overlooked in the earlier phases, in which case they will need to be corrected during implementation. You must also allow time for unexpected events and unforeseen hiccups where possible, and schedule events to keep disruption of the customer's business to a minimum. Staying in constant communication with the customer during the installation is critical to the project's success.

When the network implementation phase is complete, the network moves into a production environment. In this environment, the network is considered live and performs all the tasks it has been designed to accomplish. Again, good planning and execution will ensure the network rollout/upgrade will be completed with minimal inconvenience and disruptions to the working office.