The basics of a proper network setup start with developing a clear understanding of user and security requirements, both internal and external.
For example, will end users only read and send emails or perform interactive work with specific response time requirements? Will some users have access to highly sensitive data? Will users be located in the same facility or will they be remote? And will some users connect via mobile devices?
Finally, the objectives and requirements must be clearly documented, understood and accepted by the users. No one will be happy if response times or throughput don’t meet expectations.
No network is static as organizations change regularly and new applications are adopted. Therefore, the document prepared to describe the initial network requirements and how they are met must be kept up to date. Equally important, the updated document should describe each requirement change and the corresponding network modification.
The crucial role of network configuration software
A long time ago, you could set up a network manually. Those days are over. Today’s networks are too complex. The process of connecting to each device and entering each configuration parameter is a realistic option only for smaller networks.
Network managers now rely on robust configuration software available from multiple vendors and locations. These tools offload the work of connecting with each device, automate updates, and keep records of past configurations. They are often integrated with other products, such as network monitors, which further aid in network maintenance.
Network configuration software plays two crucial roles. First, it provides a baseline that describes the current state of the network. Second, it makes it easier to apply updates, an especially useful advantage as networks evolve and new configuration changes are needed. Many packages allow you to specify changes but not apply them until users are active.
Use configuration programs when problems arise
Despite careful adherence to network configuration basics, policies, and procedures, problems can occur. And when that happens, it’s tempting to resolve issues as quickly as possible without using your network configuration software as a resource. It could be a mistake.
It’s easy to miss the necessary changes. For example, suppose you need to add an end user to a subnet, but no IP addresses are available on that network. You must change the mask defining this subnet and the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server must allocate more addresses.
This is a seemingly simple change, but it may require a substantial update to subnet assignments on a major section of the network. VLAN assignments and default gateways may also need to be adjusted.
The configurator can perform these tasks much more efficiently, while providing peace of mind and preventing future problems. Even if a quick change without using the configurator does not cause immediate problems, problems can arise later when a larger update is made. Indeed, the recording of the network by the configurator will no longer be exact. If a new update is applied to an incorrect view of the network, the new configuration will create additional inconsistencies and problems.
Measure traffic levels, detect problems quickly
Configuration software is just one of many tools designed to help IT track network performance issues. Traffic accumulates over time as more users are added or as users begin to use an interactive application more intensively. More capacity might be needed, but you might not notice it until the load gets to such a point that users start to experience poor response times.
These types of problems can be spotted before they become critical by using a network monitoring product to periodically measure and record traffic levels throughout the network. These products produce charts and graphs that display traffic levels over time so that capacity can be increased before performance suffers.
The Monitor software can also detect and flag components that begin to fail, so they can be replaced before a serious failure occurs. Monitors are often available from the same vendors that offer configuration software.
Another problem: Complications can arise when switching networks because someone pulled the wrong cable from a switch port; it’s easy to lose track of which cable is which. Cable management software can reduce these errors by generating labels to attach to each end of each cable and keeping a record of the path each cable takes. You can use these products with diagramming software, such as Visio, to show the route of each cable on building plans.
The Bottom Line: Disciplined network configuration basics and updating practices, along with certain software products, can help network managers prevent problems before they occur.