network design

10 Questions to ask your Network Design Provider

10 Questions to ask your Network Design Provider 150 150 Simon Randall

To help you to gain a better understanding of a network, whether it’s something that is already in place, or something that is being considered for installation, here are 10 questions that you can put to network design providers before setting on which is the best for you.

#1: How Robust is your Network?

Understanding the topology of a network will give you a better picture and feel for how solid that network is. There are two types of topology relating to computer networks. First, there is physical topology which deals with the way that the cabling is laid out. But the one we’re more interested in in this particular instance, is the one that is referred to as logical topology.

Logical Topology

Logical topology deals with the way that data moves around within the network. It can be imagined as a map, or a process flowchart. The paths that data flows along should be as direct and logical as possible. If the data has to “duck and dive” and find its way around the “back streets” as it were, it will be more susceptible to malfunction.

How is the Network Designed for Site Resilience?

Any given network will have some susceptibility to failure. Site resilience is the term that is used to define any network’s ability to adapt to a failure, and to then get back into routine operation once that fault has been cleared. It takes into account something called redundancy, which in computer parlance, refers to the creation of alternative pathways that can be used to circumnavigate certain failed events.

To incorporate site resilience into any network, it’s important to first gain an understanding of any company’s business needs, and to put appropriate redundancy measures into place. The sum total of these measures, implemented to ensure continuity, is the process known as site resilience and it’s obviously of critical concern to those responsible for running the network.

Service Level Agreements

Should anything go wrong that requires outside intervention. It is important to know the nature of the service level agreements that are on offer. It’s basic insurance.

#2: What are your Business Continuity Plans?

The world economy is still far from fully recovered, and in the meantime, many businesses are finding it hard to survive. The computer industry in particular is an extremely competitive environment, and it is therefore prudent to take this into consideration. So one of the important questions you need to ask of your network design provider is; exactly what business continuity plans do they have in place? You simply can’t afford to be left high and dry, if the network crashes and it is beyond your knowledge to fix it.

#3: What are the Built in Security Levels?

Security is something that we all have to be careful with in today’s world, with cybercrime being as prominent as it now is. Despite firewalls and anti-malware software, hackers are still are able to work their way into computer networks. It is therefore important to ask your network design provider how they have approached this problem What assistance you can expect from the network itself in terms of establishing whether or not it has been compromised, and if so, how and where?

#4: What about Performance Guarantees?

Talk is cheap. The problem is that if the network performance doesn’t live up to its billing, what can you do about it? Any network design provider worth their salt should already have a portfolio of performance guarantees written into the product spec. If they haven’t, and they in effect start making it up on the spot, just to appease your concern, then that’s simply not good enough.

But just being shown a guarantee, or being told that there is one, won’t do. Guarantees can be very complex with lots of hidden clauses that provide escape routes for the designer. In other words, you need to go through the guarantee, word by word, to satisfy yourself that it provides the comprehensive cover you’ll need in the event that the network fails.

Two other important questions to ask with regard to network performance are:

·         What happens if we expand our bandwidth?

·         What scalability is built into this particular network?

#5: What Flexibility Does this Network have?

In the business world, things have a habit of changing. We’ve already touched on the subject of bandwidth and scalability above. But many people are now using cloud technology, for instance. It’s therefore important to establish whether the network is cloud compatible and if so, to what degree? In today’s agile business world, the flexibility and scalability of your network is vital. So make sure you ask about how your network will be future-proofed too.

It’s also well worth asking what other services your network design provider can offer.

#6: What Range of Connectivity does this Network Offer?

Find out also whether the network will facilitate connectivity with employees in remote locations, including outside the UK. Even if this question is not applicable now, at this particular moment in time, it may be something that is necessitated in the near future, so check it out. As the web moves more towards collaboration, access to workers in offices located in various places could make all the difference.

#7: Will you have Monitoring Facilities in Place?

It’s important too, to understand whether or not your network service provider will have any monitoring facilities in place, and if so, whether they operate 24/7. If they do, you should find out what types of reports are available for your own personal use.

Another thing that is worth establishing is whether any fixes are actioned without you knowing about it, and if so, what sort of scale this relates to. It may be that you decide you need full disclosure, which may be something you need to agree.

#8: Can you carry out Network Repairs?

If you require “hands-on” access to fault find and repair problems yourself, you will want to establish what your limitations are in terms of accessibility, and also what access you will have to online help. Of course, this depends on the size and nature of the organisation and whether you have a dedicated IT department.

#9: What Business Ethics and Pedigree do you have?

Knowing your network design provider well is very important, so getting under the blankets and establishing what their business ethics are, is key. Look for accountability, dependability, integrity and reliability. Are there any written procedures in place, and if so can you view them? Does your provider have any qualifications and certifications? What is their policy on new product investment?

#10: What General Service Support is in place?

In question eight we touched briefly on the subject of what sort of technical support is in place to enable you to do DIY repairs. But what about service support in general; when things go wrong that you have no wish to try and fix yourself; or when you simply need help in some particular aspect of the network? Does your network design provider have 24 /7 back-up, and are they based here in the UK?

Getting your Business Network Right

It’s important to remember that there are many choices open to you in terms of network design, so it’s important to ask the right questions before you commit yourself. Of course, it helps to have a good plan in place in the first instance before approaching network specialists and any good company will help you to expand on that. We hope that the questions we’ve outlined for you above will go some way towards helping you in your selection process.

Not sure what kind of network you need? Get in touch to see the wide range of services that we can offer you.

Which Network Cabling Solution is Right for your Business?

Which Network Cabling Solution is Right for your Business? 150 150 Simon Randall

Most businesses today, especially those with several employees, all of whom need to access a common database and/or bespoke programs, and/or access the Internet, have a computer network in place. It’s generally accepted that a cable network is better than a wireless one, although this is something that can be said to be swiftly changing. However, for larger firms cable networks are usually faster, more stable, and more secure from external interference.

No two Businesses are the same

But which network cabling solution is best for your business? What are the various factors you should be considering and what are the main decision drivers? Here in this article we will lay out the various options open to you and guide you as to which are more appropriate for a given set of circumstances.

Important Prerequisites to Take on Board

Whatever option you decide is appropriate for your business, there are two important prerequisites to consider. The first is looking to the future. Where will your business be, or where do you hope it will be, in terms of size and personnel, in the foreseeable future?

What Does the Future Hold for Networks?

Most business owners will be hoping that their businesses will grow and prosper. After all, it seems pretty pointless to start an enterprise in the first place if there is no potential for growth and expansion. So it’s important when you are considering installing a wired network, to build in sufficient spare capacity to be able to allow more users to connect, as and when required. If you don’t, and you end up having to modify a cabled network at a later stage, it could prove expensive, and may even require a complete re-cabling solution, which would be not only more costly, but time-consuming and inconvenient too.

Cheap and Cheerful or Cheap and Woeful?

The other important consideration is quality. When considering a project such as this, it’s important to obtain several quotations from various contractors. However, you shouldn’t just plump for the cheapest. It often turns out to be the case that the cheaper quotation, the more inferior the quality. Asking your employees to work on a substandard quality network may cause more problems with speed and downtime than you realise. It could end up costing you more in terms of inefficient operation, and time lost.

The Types of Cabling Available

There are essentially five different types of network cabling available that we will discuss here, and they are:

  • ·         Category 5 (Cat5)
  • ·         Category 5e (Cat5e)
  • ·         Category 6 (Cat6)
  • ·         Category 7 (Cat7)
  • ·         Fibre Optic cable

Cat 5 Cable

Cat5 cable used to be the industry standard. It was originally designed to cope with speeds of 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps (Megabits per second). If you’ve only got a short run of cable, you might even be able to squeeze a speed of one gigabyte through it, but that’s in no way guaranteed. With today’s vastly increased data handling requirements Cat5 is rapidly becoming a thing of the past and any innovative company wouldn’t make this choice.

Cat5e Cable

The “e” in Cat5e stands for “enhanced”; so in other words, Cat5e is an enhanced version of the old Cat5. It has been designed to support speeds of 1000 Mbps (1 Gigabit), so is much faster than its predecessor. In addition to being faster, it also minimises something called “crosstalk” which is basically the name given to the interference that can be generated between wires inside the cable itself.

Cat6 Cable

Cat6 cable is a further improvement on Cat5e. This little chap is not only capable of handling speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second, but its screening capabilities to shield against both external interference and crosstalk, have also been enhanced. Cat7 is again an upgrade to earlier versions and is also intended to allow 10Gbit/s over 100 metres of copper cabling.

Fibre Optic Cabling

Fibre optic cabling, is “the daddy”. But it’s also quite an expensive daddy too. When it comes down to the four different types of cabling options, optical fibre is by far the most expensive, but it does have some tremendous things to offer, if indeed you are in a position to be able to take advantage of them.

The Speed of Light

Instead of using good old-fashioned electricity to transmit its signals, fibre optic cable uses light instead. We all know about the speed of light of course – it’s the fastest thing known to man, excepting Gene Roddenberry’s warp drive (thank you Star Trek). Fibre optic can transmit signals at more than 10 Gigs per second, which is pretty fast in anybody’s language. But that’s not all.

Interference Safe

Fibre optic cable is not subject to any outside electrical interference, nor does it generate any electro-magnetic-fields that could interfere with other electrical equipment. In other words, it can be run almost anywhere. In fact, where critical sensitive equipment has been installed, like MRI scanners in hospitals for example, fibre optic is the only way to go.

Distance is no Object, but Cost is

Another big advantage that fibre optic cabling has, is that because it is not sending its signal down physical wiring, but is using light instead, it meets virtually no resistance. This means that the signal strength does not noticeably weaken. In fact, the signal can travel over 5000 miles before you have to start thinking about boosting it.

But choosing fibre-optic may be taking that one step too many, because as we’ve already said, it’s more expensive. Then there’s the cost of the cable itself to consider, plus the cost of installation too. Saying that, depending on the size and nature of the business using it, there’s ROI to be had when choosing fibre as it can handle significantly more bandwidth and is ideal for large organisations or those that use a huge amount of network bandwidth, such as CAD companies (architects, for example).

Cable Choice Influences

Having taken a look at the various cable options that are available, let’s now look at what other factors you need to consider in order to decide which type of cable go with.

What Bandwidth do you need?

The first thing that you need to consider when trying to determine which choice of cable to go with, is the size of your current bandwidth requirements. But, bearing in mind what we talked about earlier, you must also consider what size of bandwidth you may require in the future.

Size Matters

The size of your current network (also taking into consideration any future expansion) is your prime consideration. For example, a small network of only 10 workstations would normally be expected to have a lower bandwidth signature than one of say, 50 stations. But it’s not just that. It also depends on the nature of the data that being pushed around too.

Type and Volume of Data

The nature of the data that is expected to be carried by the network is of great importance. For example; a design studio operating only three or four PCs or Macs, but dealing with and creating graphics, will generate a far larger data requirement than an office running 20 PCs, simply working on MS Word and or Excel files.

Multifunctional Disciplines

Often businesses are often multifunctional in terms of the disciplines that staff are dealing with. Office staff will be working with Microsoft Office software, design staff with graphics software, and publishing staff creating PDFs and such like. Forecasting how each department may evolve in terms of personnel and their associated data requirements is no easy task. In fact it’s all about guess work and exceptional business planning. But when made by the right people with a finger on the business’ pulse, at least it will be an educated guess.

Erring on the Safe Side

Generally speaking, if the budget can be stretched, it’s far better to overestimate the future bandwidth requirements than to underestimate them. Underestimation will adversely affect the business’s functionality and efficiency, and it will cost more again if the need arises to update or re-cable the network at a later date. Future proofing and scalability are vital in today’s connected world.

Working to Budget

In many instances, IT managers may simply be given a budget and told to get on with it. Hopefully, if the company is a forward-thinking one, the bosses will have consulted the IT department before finalising the budget.

In terms of cost, cable prices become progressively more expensive, rising up through the ranks from Cat5 to Fibre Optic. However, two things are clear. One is that Cat5 is outdated and as such should never really be considered for a new cable network installation.

Overkill or Prudence?

At the other end of the scale, fibre optic, although much faster, and safer in terms of interference and the need for shielding, is overkill for some businesses. They may even find that legacy hardware is not up to the job of taking advantage of the speed that fibre optic cabling can offer.

Then of course there’s the cost. It’s the most expensive of the options. But having said that, providing the equipment can be kept in a reasonable dust free environment, and the budget is flexible enough, it is undoubtedly the best way to go. Future capacity-wise, it will handle most things that will be thrown at it.

The Middle Road

For the majority of smaller network installations, Cat 5e – Cat7 will be sufficient. But as there is not a huge cost differential (and the labour cost for installation would be the same, whichever one is chosen), then fibre offers that extra speed, meaning that businesses can opt for more bandwidth to allow for a good margin of expansion in the future. In terms of looking forward, getting it right now, first time, can save an awful lot of aggravation and possible extra expense.

Good planning is vital and it pays to choose a supplier that can cover all bases, from initial design of the network, to installation and testing. There is also another option that we haven’t mentioned here and that is Air Blown Fibre Optics, so check out our page for this for more information.

At Quadratek, we provide the full solution, whatever your cabling needs and networking needs, so get in touch to see how we can meet all of your networking needs, from Ethernet cabling to wireless, support and Break-Fix SLAs.

Are Wireless Networks as Safe and Stable as Wired?

Are Wireless Networks as Safe and Stable as Wired? 150 150 Simon Randall

By                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Wireless networking has revolutionised the way that most
LANs (Local Area Networks) are set up and used, but is it as safe and stable as
a conventionally wired network?

The majority of SMEs have multiple PCs on site – the more
personnel, the more computers they need, and usually, these computers have to
be linked or networked. This is done in order to enable the PCs to share
software programs and utilities that are essential and specific to any
particular organisation’s business, and/or to be able them to get onto the
Internet via one central point.

Wired LAN Cabling

Most of the new business premises that are built today often
have
network cabling
preinstalled. Where premises are not prewired, then cable-trunking or “raceways”
have to be installed to deliver the cabling neatly and safely, (trailing cables
are a health and safety hazard) to the point of service. 

This obviously involves a cost, albeit not an overly large
one. The biggest failing of many companies is short-sightedness. If cheap
cabling is used in order to keep the cost down, or not enough outlets are
included in the cabling, it can mean costly upgrades, or, in a worst case
scenario, a complete rewiring may be necessary. Future proofing is always
necessary when it comes to IT infrastructures.

Wireless LANs v Wired LANs

The advent of wireless
networking
, (commonly referred to as Wi-Fi), has given businesses a new
option, and a way of avoiding having to have cabling in place, or having to
have it installed. But many business owners are concerned as to which
methodology is more stable, and more safe – wireless or wired.

Hard Wired into Stability

Wi-Fi has come a long way since it first came onto the scene
back in 1991. It was designed by NCR and intended for use in its cashier system
business. It is now much faster than it was in those early days; it’s had to be
in order to handle the huge amounts for data we now push around.

But when it comes down to stability, you cannot beat an
actual physical connection – unless that physical connection breaks of course.
Then, depending on the nature of the break, locating and fixing it can be
difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

However, serious, costly, breaks are few and far between.
There are no moving parts to go wrong, other than the connectors on the spur boxes,
and the PCs ports, and these only move when they are physically connected and
disconnected.

Improved Wireless Stability

Most people would agree that a wired network is more stable
than an unwired one. However, wireless technology has come a long way since it
was first introduced, and so has PC/Laptop design and performance.  All of these factors mean wireless LANs are
now much more stable than they once were. So whilst a wired network solution
has an edge over unwired – that edge is now a fine one, depending on the size
and nature of your intranet and organisation.

One of the biggest problems with wireless is the number of
people sharing the wireless signal. The more there are, the slower the speed.
But even that can be addressed by using or upgrading to more powerful, state of
the art, routers that utilise 802.11ac
protocols
.

The Security Aspect of Unwired v Wired

Of all the debates that take place as to the pros and cons
of wired or wireless LANs, the safety versus security argument is the one that
gets the most airing. In the cold light of day, wired is more secure than
unwired. It’s entirely logical when you stop to think about it. The only people
who can tap into a hard wired network are the people physically there on the
premises; and even then, they normally have to enter some sort of password
depending on the security protocols that the IT support department imposes.

What’s good enough for the Pentagon….

But with a wireless network, potentially anybody within
range of the signal can tap into it, and once they do, they may be able to
access sensitive or confidential data. But as with anything to do with
electronics, and computing in particular, things move pretty quickly. There are
always new technologies being developed, and expertise marches on apace. The
latest encryption for deployment on Wi-Fi or wireless networks is WPA2. Even the
Pentagon relies on WPA2 encryption, (or so I’m told), and what’s good enough
for them is probably good enough for anybody else.

The Best of Both Worlds

What most businesses tend to do today is to operate both
wired and wireless delivery systems for their LANs. It’s an entirely logical
decision. One of the biggest problems with having only a hard wired delivery
system is – what happens when businesses take on addition staff, or have to
deal with lots of visitors? This will depend on bandwidth and again, the size
of organisation and cabling solution. With the increasing use of fibre optics and air blown
cabling, options for the enterprise just keep on getting better.

Wireless also deals with the issue of mobility. BYOD schemes
have enabled workforces to be much more productive as workers can connect to
the office network via an internet connection using their own devices and
access any data on the network, with the correct permissions and logins.

Preparing for a Wireless Network – infrastructure design and installation

Preparing for a Wireless Network – infrastructure design and installation 150 150 Simon Randall

Implementing
a wireless network can be a straightforward and painless process, it just
requires an appropriate level of planning. 
Wi-Fi networks are typically added on to existing wired infrastructure
to allow for internet /network connection. 
This means that the underlying network topology will remain the same,
although it may need to be up-scaled if the Wi-Fi network is being installed to
accommodate an increase in traffic, rather than just to provide an alternative
means of accessing a company network. 

Start by putting the
right team in place

Obviously
the IT team will be the linchpin of the implementation, but it should always be
remembered that the proposed network is to serve the needs of the business and
to ensure this happens it is very advisable to have representation from other
areas of the business, at least from business area managers.  If they are kept in the loop at the very least
they can take ownership of keeping their teams informed.

Create a project roadmap
based on the following criteria

On site surveys

At this
point, it’s worthwhile recapping what Wi-Fi actually is.  Wi-Fi is based on radio technology.  Because Wi-Fi signals are transmitted through
the atmosphere, they need to be powerful enough to cope with interference from
various sources, in particular weather and other Wi-Fi networks.  Signals work best in clear spaces and while
they can generally withstand minor obstacles, such as lamp-posts (albeit usually
weakened), they do not normally have enough strength to transmit through very thick
walls, metal concrete or metal and do not bend around corners. 

IT team canvas users


By the
time you come to the planning stage, the IT team should have already carried out
usage questionnaires with employees to determine how they are likely to use the
network. The results of this can then be used to decide what security and
software measures will have to be implemented. This is especially with regard
to BYOD, as it’s likely there will be a large variety of handsets and tablets
that require managing.

Develop the system
architecture

This
should encompass everything from the mobile devices which can/will be used, to
the servers with which they will ultimately connect and the support services
which will keep everything running smoothly.

It’s also
worth bearing in mind how future proof your network is likely to be. We all
know that technology moves at an incredible pace, so ask your engineers about
the lifespan of the network. These are generally somewhere between 5-10 years
and the physical infrastructure makes up the backbone of the organization’s IT
network.

At the
moment, there are a few things to consider:

·        
Likelihood
of physical infrastructure being deployed to the cloud

·        
Bandwidth
and how high it’s likely to reach, especially if collaboration and streaming
video will be widely used

Although
it may be tempting to design the infrastructure and then look for devices which
fit into it, it’s usually better to start with the mobile devices and work
backwards.  The reason for this is that
the mobile devices are going to be the end-users’ gateway to the network and
for the project to be a long-term success, it is crucial that these devices are
as close a fit to their needs as they can be. 

Begin the RFP process

While
price alone should never be the deciding factor, it’s worth making a point of
explicitly checking for extra costs such as training, consultancy, support and
further development work.  You will need
to decide if you want the entire contract handled by one provider or if you are
happy to split it between different providers for each aspect of the service.

Look for a network
provider

Again
price alone is not a reliable guide to service. 
Look for coverage (quality as well as quantity), speed, reliability
capacity, latency and flexibility as well as quality support.

Test your solution
thoroughly

Thoroughly
means in the field as well as in the lab. 
It means having a clear test plan which details what needs to be tested
and how and the minimum standards for the test to be considered a success.  It also means being prepared to refine and
retest for as long as is necessary until these requirements are met. 

Testing
should include:

·        
Heavy
traffic

·        
Challenging
conditions (weather/interference)

·        
Speed

·        
Reliability
(soak testing)

·        
Ability
to reroute (in the event of component failure)

·        
Functionality
and usability testing.

Create, document and
publish policies of use.

While much
of the acceptable usage policy will follow on from the documents which have
already been created for your wired network, the nature of mobile devices is
such that it is likely to be worth updating them.  In particular, users will need to be reminded
of the security implications relating to the misuse of mobile devices.  If you intend to operate a Bring Your Own
Device (BYOD) environment, then it’s crucial that users understand clearly how
their personal devices will be integrated into the network and also that
although they may own the device, they do not own the data.

Check that your asset
management policy caters for mobile devices

It’s sad,
but probably true, to say that if you plan to hand out mobile devices to your
employees, unless they’re sure that these will be effectively tracked, at least
some of them will disappear.

Prepare self-service
support

Limit your
support calls by making sure there are plenty of self-help options readily
available in an obvious place.

Prepare for successful
deployment

If issuing
mobile devices, ensure that all devices are equipped with all necessary
software and correctly configured. 
Register them with the network provider and test each device before
handing it out to ensure it is working as intended.  When the users are given the devices, make
sure they are given training on how to use them.

Go live with pilot users

Monitor
their progress and if need be make adjustments before full roll out.






captcha