Planning and designing your IT Infrastructure - Part I: Networking
Welcome 2014! This year will be pretty big for us here at synyx - business has been doing well and in the last couple of years, we have been grown to, as of now, employ a dedicated team of almost 50 individuals. The downside though: We are quickly running out of office space. Guess what, it’s time to move!
Our new office is currently still a giant construction site, but we are confident being able to move in this summer. Now, the biggest advantage of moving into a newly constructed building instead of an existing office space, is that you can start planning your infrastructure with a blank sheet of paper, being able to plan and construct your whole IT (and all the other office amenities) to exactly fit your needs. In our case, we had 2 main goals in mind when we planned our IT infrastructure:
The first goal was to replace our partially somewhat improvised network layout with a well documented high performance network infrastructure.
The second goal was to design and build a dedicated server room to improve hardware life & management, maintenance, server availability and security.
Planning a network infrastructure sounds easy: Just buy a few switches, a bunch of network cables, throw it all together and there you go, right? Wrong! Designing a reliable network layout can be a very challenging task: You rely on your network to deliver information internally and externally to coworkers as well as to clients. Network vulnerabilities and reliability issues can prevent your data from moving efficiently and can even hinder productivity in your office, so it is essential to plan ahead to provide a network infrastructure that is fast, efficient, able to scale quickly and also affordable. Let me give you a few basic ideas on what you need to keep in mind when planning for a new network infrastructure!
First, you need to clarify a few key elements:
What networking hardware do you already have in place and are you planning any changes to your technology now or in the future (such as upcoming technology standards, additional employees or new applications) that might have an impact on your networking needs?
As with most complex technologies, there is no “one fits all” solution in networking. The needs and resources of each company will lead to a different set of networking solutions and you need to carefully consider the current infrastructure layout and the future requirements to determine the optimal network design for your situation. As with all other aspects of IT, there is a wild variety of hardware, software, standards and an almost unlimited amount of terms and concepts to keep track of. At thorough knowledge about current and upcoming technologies is required to make smart, effective design decisions.
Are you planning to build a LAN, WAN or CAN infrastructure?
The scale of your network is the most important decision in planning your network, as it will influence all of your following decisions:
A local area network (LAN) is usually implemented in a single office or even a single building. In most cases, it connects the local office IT (as in: Your employees’ computers) within your organization as well as with the internet.
A wide area network (WAN) connects a single office or a single building to a larger network, like it’s parent organizations network. WANs links usually are maintained by ISPs or telecommunication companies and vary in terms of bandwidth and costs.
A campus area network (CAN) connects multiple LANs within the same organization in close proximity. Like WANS, CANs links are most often maintained by ISPs or telecommunication companies.
What network applications do your users rely on the most, and how much bandwidth do these applications need?
Are you providing access to file and print servers? Do you rely on local resources or do you need to provide connections to remote logins? Do you plan on using Vlans or restrict acces to certain networks? Do users need access to database or application servers and if so, are they regularly moving large amounts of data throughout the network?
How many employees and therefore how many networked devices do you have? Will this number change in the future?
Depending on your business, you might want to add some extra resources to easily be able to extend your network at a later time. Don’t plan for now, plan for the future!
Does your office layout impose any constrains on your planning? Is there available room in your floors or ceilings to run network cables?
Find out if your office layout might pose any problems to your network infrastructure. If you can, run dedicated and documented conduits exclusively for your network infrastructure.
What physical hardware and software components are needed to implement the network infrastructure you are planning?
Where will your hardware components be located?
How are the hardware components connected?
How are the hardware components to be installed?
How are the hardware components to be configured?
Again, don’t plan for now, plan for the future! When you are designing and building a network infrastructure from scratch, are you going with yesterdays standard or are you going to install something that will meet not only todays but also future needs? Labor is the most expensive part of your project, so investing in high-end cabling without using it’s full potential today, might seem a little bit pricier now, but will be cheaper than retreating to low-end cabling that you need to replace 5 years from now in the end!
Also, make sure to not run your network cabling parallel with your electrical installation! Unshielded and even shielded cabling communication can be disrupted by the magnetic field created by electric cables, making your bandwidth drop considerably! Also, keep your network cabling away from devices like fluorescent lighting, fans, a/c units and similar items.
Another thing to keep in mind, is to use cable management. Adding a network rack and planning a nice rack-based cable management, will add to the cost of your project, but makes maintenance much much easier! Verify cable lengths and specifications. Also, make sure to test your network infrastructure after installation! You should test every cable using appropriate tools to make sure it is suitable for its intended use.
And last, but not least: What budget do you have available for the installation and maintenance of your network infrastructure?
Once you determined the above factors, the remaining planning process - theoretically speaking - pretty simple and straight forward:
Purchase, assemble and install the necessary hardware (the physical infrastructure).
Install and configure the software and necessary applications (the logical infrastructure).
(A quick note: At this point, i could go on explaining the OSI model and lose myself in details… I don’t think doing so is necessary here. For those of you who do need more information about this topic, i recommend having a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OSI_model)
I don’t want to go too much into detail about our own Infrastructure and Hardware (for obvious reasons), so i just wrote down some basic ideas and best practices that might help you get some ideas when planning your own network infrastructure. If you want to add some more ideas or point out some stupid mistakes that i made, feel free to comment :).
The second goal in our IT infrastructure - planning and building a server room - is a little more complex than “just designing and installing” a network infrastructure, so i will follow up with a series of blogposts about doing so in the next couple of weeks. Bare with me, please :)