Network infrastructure FAQ

There are many components involved in a network infrastructure project. In this FAQ, Allen Zuk discusses how to manage a network infrastructure project, what kinds of technologies and equipment you'll need and how to deal with long-term operational support.

Our network infrastructure project FAQ answers all your frequently asked questions about embarking on a network infrastructure project. Allen Zuk, an independent IT risk management consultant formerly with GlassHouse Technologies, discusses both the business and technology aspects of a network infrastructure project so you'll be well-equipped to work with your customers.

For a more in-depth look at some of the network infrastructure themes found in Allen's questions below, including management of a network infrastructure project, please listen to our podcast.

Network infrastructure podcast with Allen Zuk

What is the customer's business strategy or objective?
What are the customer's business requirements for delivering the type of services that you offer?
How many business locations does your customer have?
What is the intended business model to be supported?
What type of operational support will be engaged/provided?
How will the network infrastructure project be managed?
What type of technologies and equipment will be needed?
Is network management really required?
What about long-term operational support?
What about technology refreshes?

What is the customer's business strategy or objective?
Understanding a customer's core business strategy and objectives helps establish the type of network infrastructure that needs to be developed. For example, if the business strategy provides an open, user-friendly environment, then the network infrastructure and architecture needs to be developed in a way that allows the external customer to access information in an interactive manner.

What are the customer's business requirements for delivering the type of services that you offer?
It is vital to understand business requirements in order to correctly shape the network infrastructure design decisions. For example, the owners and IT management team need to clearly define and document their business requirements, including how they intend to deliver their services or products to the customers, as well as how they intend to do business with their suppliers and vendors. This helps determine if the environment will be designed to allow a vendor access to back-end systems for inventory management and replacement orders to accommodate just-in-time (JIT) deliveries.

How many business locations does your customer have?
Understanding the size of the business environment or footprint is vital in providing necessary information that will affect the types of technologies to be utilized in the network infrastructure design. A solution provider needs to know if the business model is localized, regional, national or global. Each of these models brings varying levels of complexity and design issues. There are specific technologies available that integrate into a network infrastructure to support a business at any level. Designing the incorrect model not only costs the business a considerable amount of capital but also may not scale to support business diversity. For example, issues can range from delayed transactions due to latency concerns to quality of service (QoS) degradation because of longer distances between end-point devices. The ability to bundle different types of technologies and services may not be supported if the network infrastructure is not designed properly to support these advantages and concerns. Infrastructures should be designed to provide for immediate access to information at the closest possible point, which brings on challenges with large and complex distributed solutions.

What is the intended business model to be supported?
Is it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year? Lights off? Understanding the intended business model is crucial in determining the network infrastructure design. If the organization intends to provide services 24/7/365, then the design needs to cater to complete operational readiness capability. If the operations services are going to be a "lights out" environment, then the operational readiness criticality can be restructured.

What type of operational support will you provide?
Understanding the customer's available resources to manage and maintain the infrastructure aids in determining if the environment will be self-managed or outsourced.

How will the project be managed?

  1. Formal project management methodology needs to be implemented, along with change and asset management tools to support the infrastructure and environment throughout its implementation lifecycle and for future ongoing management. The core project management aspect needs to address the following components to mitigate unnecessary exposure and risk throughout the project:
    1. Project scope of work: This document needs to incorporate all of the aspects of the infrastructure project, including equipment needed, type of cabling/wiring that needs to be installed, power and HVAC requirements, network and floor plan diagrams indicating where components will be placed in the facility, how components and equipment are to be connected, and diagrams of floor plans indicating end-user drops.
    2. Third-party vendors: All external vendors/suppliers/contractors, etc. need to be constantly monitored and managed at the PM/PMO level. Each vendor/supplier/contractor will have their own project plan specific to their associated statement of work (SOW) for project tracking and identification of potential delays.
    3. Access security: The infrastructure and the hosting facility need to ensure appropriate access controls are implemented, both at the physical level and at the logical level.
    4. Internal resources: The client will need to identify and assign a team to support and ultimately manage the infrastructure following deployment. This team will require across-the-board network infrastructure skills ranging from edge security products through to back-end storage and database products.

What type of technologies and equipment will be needed?
The facility hosting space needs to be developed to accommodate the target network infrastructure technologies and components (routers, firewalls, switches, servers, SAN, NAS, UPS, power, cooling, cabling, patch panels, backup and recovery tools, etc., as well as provide sufficient capacity for future growth, typically supporting a 30% factor). Network engineers need to be brought on board to design and document the architecture topology including network circuits, homing paths, link speeds based on business requirements, information gathering, application footprinting based on business requirements, system load balancing and redundancy capability to prevent business interruption and failover accommodation. There needs to be a dedicated procurement office established to oversee the acquisition of equipment and services for the infrastructure build-out.

Is network management really required for a network infrastructure project?
While it could be argued that network management system (NMS) tools are a nice-to-have for small and simple infrastructures, the more complex the environment, the more necessary these tools become. There are core aspects for NMS tools that make them invaluable, such as immediate notification of system problems via automated alerts that are established via threshold settings. The heart of network management consists of the following fundamentals: performance management, configuration management, security management, fault management and asset management. Each of these fundamental areas addresses specific elements ranging from identification of new devices added to the network via auto-discovery, topological mapping of the network infrastructure linked to the auto-discovery capabilities, fault isolation and grouping for advanced troubleshooting, through to network analysis for real-time performance metrics and asset inventory and management.

What about long-term network infrastructure operational support?
There are several options available to address long-term care for your network infrastructure. You can hire trained support resources on staff to manage and maintain the infrastructure on a daily basis. This takes a bit of planning as there are several skill sets that need to be addressed, such as network administrator(s), systems administrator(s), database administrator(s), security administrator(s), application developer(s), end-user support administrator(s), IT manager/director, desktop administrator(s) and document management administrator(s).

Another option is to outsource the infrastructure management to a third-party service provider. The outsourcing avenue does come with its own set of concerns. How does the outsourcer maintain appropriate skill sets to manage the environment? How many similar network infrastructure environments does the service provider manage? What type of SLAs (service-level agreements) are provided for support? How long has the service provider been in business? Does the service provider provide 24/7/365 support? How are SLAs structured? Will my infrastructure be hosted at the providers facilities or on my premise?

What about technology refreshes for the network infrastructure?
Network infrastructures are a living entity. After they have been implemented, there will always be the need to constantly review the environment for scalability to meet the ever-changing needs and demands of the business. A maintenance and continuous improvement program will need to be developed to ensure that as the business changes, the technology infrastructure also adapts with it.

Technology refreshes should be reviewed when the customer acquires another business, when the business adds or drops a business unit or makes staffing changes, when technology becomes obsolete and is no longer supported by the vendor, when the business changes its core technology vendor/supplier, and when a technology vendor/supplier gets acquired by another vendor or goes out of business.

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