Stages of Network Development

Companies travel different paths of growth for their network needs. Our goal is to help you achieve your network related goals efficiently and cost effectively. Obtaining common networking goals takes a little effort and forethought that leads to reliability and productivity enhancements for all.

Typically smaller organizations grow from the need for informal networking to needing centralized organization and enhanced access. Bigger companies grow in their needs for enhanced services and greater demands on their infrastructure.

Most companies have to address the life cycle of software and how to extend it, as well as how to plan to migrate. From time to time every company adds computer equipment. All companies help themselves when they visit the topic of network security from time to time.

A network is a collection of tools. As with any useful tool, there is a requirement of some forethought in how to achieve your goals by the use of these tools. Because of this, you should be aware that there are several stages of development associated with getting your staff and your network working together, and actually being more productive.

The First Stage - A Note From Your Consultant

In our 20+ years of installing and servicing networks, we have found that the most common reasons that a network is used are that:

  • A network is the core communication system for most businesses.
  • A network lets businesses leverage their investment of computer equipment.
  • A network is a key tool of collaboration and communication.
  • In the name of economy, many will at least try to use a workstation as both workstation and a server.
  • All of the above are true, but, with particular regard to number 4 above, when you use a computer as both a workstation and a server, you are inviting trade-offs between additional cost and guaranteed frustration. To illuminate the point, consider the following:

    Everyone knows that computers need to be rebooted up every so often. Sometimes at less than ideal times. Imagine that your computer is both a network server and a workstation when this happens.

    When you reboot your computer, it means that, you lose what you are working on. But, because your computer is a network server, it also means that everyone that is connected to your computer will also lose what they are working on. Further, if one of the machines that is using your computer is also a server, when that machine has to be rebooted, anyone else that is accessing that computer's resources will also probably need to be rebooted.

    Sadly, this type of cascading failure is common in both large and small offices. The cure for this problem is simply to use a computer as dedicated file and printer server and not as a workstation. In bigger offices much the same thing can take place, and in this instance using a machine as a workgroup server can add reliability, performance and security.

    For networks or workgroups with less than 10 computers total, you can use a workstation class computer that has sufficient RAM and runs Windows XP Professional or Windows 7 as a workgroup or small office server. With a bigger groups of computers or if you want to take advantage of more network services, a suitable server running one of the Windows Server operating systems is preferred. While there is an expense in setting up a dedicated server, it is money well spent. All you need to do is to compare this one time cost to the costs of having many in the office loose data due to a workstation/server that is rebooted.

    Moving to a dedicated server platform is the first step in greatly increasing network reliability. And it is also the best way to add a lot of related capabilities to your office.

    The Second Stage: Ideas

    The second stage is developing an idea of what you can achieve with your LAN. Along with that you will want to get an idea of costs related to adding features.

    A network is a tool that facilitates other things to happen. Some useful points to consider are:

    • What do you see as your current office bottlenecks? Some common examples are data organization, slow broadband, problems accessing servers or printing, slow workstation performance. Too much junk mail.
    • How do you want a network to help you? Do you want greater reliability, increased performance, greater access control, and a design that will last for years?
    • What type of things do you want to work differently than they do now? A network can make possible to share printers, data, video, faxes and much more. A network can make it possible to access your office from remote locations. And a network can also help by providing restriction of data in the office or on the web.
    • How can a network provide increased reliability, flexibility? As businesses grow it becomes important to maintain reliability under foreseeable conditions such as power outage or hardware failure. For most a spare server can contain a duplicate set of vital programs and maintain a redundant set of data. Sometimes more than one broadband connection is used as means to increase bandwidth and or provide a fail-over ability.
    • How can a network help you recover after a disaster? The shortest route to recovery is to maintain multiple complete backups of data. Not just data for the servers but a collection of critical data from workstations. These are best kept at 2 or more locations. Virtualization technologies are also a new but very quick way to recover from a problem. In addition there are solutions known as clustering which are extremely useful when your network needs to be available 100% of the time.
    • It is always good to work up ideas and discuss them before implementing a plan. Planning always leads to cost savings and smooth transitions.

    The Third Stage:Network Hardware Installation and Upgrades:

    After the foregoing and other, similar details are worked out, comes the actual installation of network components. All Windows based computers come with networking capability built in. Nearly all computers made in recent years come with network adapter cards. The common needs for an office network are network switches, cables and routers. Often wireless connectivity is a key goal.

    One of the most common enhancements we provide to many networks is to increase network performance. There are two goals to achieve this end. The first is to identify and replace defective equipment, if any. The second solution is to use faster networking and server hardware. There is a new generation of wired network switches that provides Gigabit performance which is a leap compared to the older 100/10 Megabit standard. It provides for a notable performance gain.

    The latest generation of Gigabit switches works with current cabling types (CAT 5 and CAT 5E) to bring a huge performance increase without going to CAT6 cabling.

    Wireless equipment is in the N class, which is up to 600 megabit, compared to the previous G class, is 54 megabit.

    We install uninterruptible power supplies for server groups. This provides a safe and automated means of shutting down and then powering up vital network and server systems when there are interruptions in power. Larger installations may also include external generators that can power up when they detect a drop off of line voltage.

    The Fourth Stage: Software

    Just as software and hardware are closely related, so are the Third and Fourth stages. This is because in addition to getting a network running or running more smoothly, it is sometimes necessary to perform minor changes for your applications programs. Examples of why this may be done includes software such as most accounting related software requires a multi-user license, sometimes programs need minor configuration changes so that they can find their data files on a different drive than they did before, and also so that they can print to one or more printers that were not available. Sometimes connectivity software such as Exchange Server and SharePoint are implemented to help collaboration, scheduling and document management.

    The Fifth Stage: After a network update

    After most upgrades, you and your staff will have access to data, printers and other resources that they did not have before. In many cases things are much faster than previously. It is a good idea to "play" with the system to get the feel of it. The most common post server installation project is to centralize appropriate data on the server. Security is often a common component of this stage.

    The Sixth Stage: Automation

    There are a variety of ways to automate common procedures. On both servers and workstations we routinely automate tasks such as virus scans, data backups routine transfers of files, backup or archiving of email, processing of suspected spam mail and so on.

    There are a large number of tasks than can be automated. We’d be happy to discuss these with you!

    The Seventh Stage - Group Productivity

    After the foregoing stages, there are two directions that companies follow. One is adding additional hardware in the forms of disk drives for redundant storage and off-site storage, shared printers, FAXes, copiers. The ability for notebook computers and other wireless devices to securely access your network is another common addition.

    The second direction is to add group-productivity or collaboration software. Capabilities of group software are E-Mail, contact management, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), group and individual scheduling systems, group project to-do lists, phone number lists. Additionally software that permits scanning data for later retrieval is frequently added, and secure wide area networking and remote access do real or virtual desktops are also very popular.

    Group email in particular is seeing the first evolution it has had in some time. Microsoft Exchange Server has been an industry standard for well over a decade. Exchange offers a complete, secure, in-house way of providing company wide email, scheduling, contact management and all the other things that Exchange provides.

    There are a number of cloud based versions of Exchange and other cloud based options available. They don’t offer quite the same mix of features one can get in house. But what they do offer is competitive cost compared to establishing an in-house based email System. When you install in an in-house system, the cost is higher at the outset and there will be some maintenance, but when you put in a cloud based system the cost works out to be about the same over a 4 to 5 year span. Specific points of concern about cloud based systems are regarding the security. Cloud based versions of Exchange far less secure than in house versions, and far more prone to data mining by 3rd parties than in-house systems.

    For larger organizations SharePoint 2010 is the perfect collaboration tool. it can permit centralizing data, promoting collaboration, provide document control, leveraging Access based databases and much more. SharePoint can make all the difference between having a number of offices trying to work towards common goals and a number of people collaborating and experiencing the benefits of synergy.

    Summary

    The foregoing discussion is not intended to suggest that you use discreet stages for development. Every company has different needs, and it is most important to remember that the main purposes of a network are to facilitate greater use of tools. A lot of what we do to help this end is to eliminate bottle necks, to simplify infrastructure and to help insure continuity of data and reliability.

    By identifying the details involved in installing a network - before you start to do upgrades - the process will go much more smoothly. Each step requires thoughtful consideration, time, and expense. Any way you go, we will happily provide you with the feedback that will made the decision easier, and provide you with the technical skill to quickly and effectively implement the new step.

    We have well over 20 years of experience taking care of company networks. TSL Systems can help you to achieve your goals efficiently and quickly.

    Call us 206-763-8874.