Understanding Network Management

Network management is the ongoing monitoring, administration, and maintenance of any networked system of computers. That said, networks have grown beyond the desktop computer, now encompassing all manner of end devices — mobile devices, laptops, printers — and the hardware that facilitates their interaction. From design to implementation, access control, troubleshooting, to replacing equipment, to managing the end user experience, network management is a very broad set of roles and responsibilities.

How do Networks… Work?

Generally there are seven “layers” that describe the separate ways communications take place across a network. These seven layers act as a visual map to understand what’s going on in a networking system.

What to go deeper? You may like this article: What is the OSI Model?

Different Types of Networks

Depending on your needs, including purpose, cost, availability, and scalability, networks come in many different arrangements. Some of most common configurations of networks include:

  • Local Area Network (LAN). A LAN is a proprietary computer network that enables designated users to have exclusive access to the same system connection at a common location, always within an area of less than a mile and most often within the same building.
  • Personal Area Network (PAN). A personal area network (PAN) is a short-range network topology designed for peripheral devices (usually 30ft) used by an individual. The purpose of these types of networks is to transmit data between devices without being necessarily connected to the internet.
  • Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). Similar to a LAN, connected devices on these configurations communicate over wireless (such as Wi-Fi) protocols, rather than physical connections.
  • Wide Area Network (WAN). A private network over a much larger area, A WAN, or SD-WAN, allows LANs and other types of networks in different geographical regions to communicate and transmit data.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN). A virtual private network (VPN) offers users an encrypted connection between two devices that effectively hides data packets while using the internet.

These are just a few examples. Want to know more about MANs, POLANs, or SANs? Here’s an article that provides more information: 11 Types of Networks: Understanding the Differences

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Network Design Best Practices

Where do I Start?

Network design is the practice of planning and designing a communications network. Network design includes things like network analysis, IP addressing, hardware selection, and implementation planning. In simple networks, like those found in most homes and small offices, network design is a straightforward process. In large enterprise networks, the network design process is often very complex and involves multiple stakeholders.

No matter what approach to design you take, there are three main components to consider. While the specifics of your network design will vary based on size and complexity, this general framework can help you make the right decisions.

1. Identify the requirements

Before you begin any network design project, begin by gathering information and developing clear business and technical requirements. Without clearly defined targets, the rest of the design falls apart. Business requirements help define what you need to do. You should work closely with stakeholders when identifying business requirements.

Once you’ve detailed the business requirements, it’s time to move on to the technical/functional requirements. Example requirements include bandwidth to prevent network congestion, security requirements, and uptime SLAs (service level agreements). When you create your requirements, don’t overlook constraints. For example, business requirements will have a budget constraint. Technical requirements may have constraints such as the need to continue supporting legacy apps.

2. Assess the current state of the network

Whatever the state of the network is, it’s important you know early in the design process. You need to assess the network’s current state before you make any specific design recommendations. At the end of this step, you should understand the network layout, performance, data flows, applications & services on the network, network security, and physical and logical layout.

3. Design your network topology

Once you know your requirements and understand the current state of your network, you can begin blocking out the functional components of your network diagram. During this step, you’ll need to consider both the physical and logical aspects of your network. At the end of this step, you should be able to create a static map of the physical and logical network you’re designing.

Tip: Don’t forget about cloud workloads and cloud networks. Your network design will need to account for on-premises and cloud data flows.

What is PPDIO?

One of the most popular network lifecycle models is Cisco’s PPDIOO (Prepare, Plan, Design, Implement, Operate and Optimize) model:

  • Prepare. This is where you define high-level requirements and strategy. For example, your deliverables from this phase may include requirements documentation and current state surveys.
  • Plan. This stage deals with specific network requirements based on information gathered in the planning stages.
  • Design. During the design stage, the information gathered from the previous two stages is used to create a detailed network design.
  • Implement. This is where the work gets done to configure and deploy the network infrastructure. There is often testing to validate the design in this phase.
  • Operate. This is the portion of the lifecycle where the network is in production use. During this stage, monitoring is an important part of validating that the network is working as designed and being able to quickly address issues when it isn’t.
  • Optimize. At some point in most networks’ lifecycle, tweaks and optimizations are needed. This is the stage where those changes are identified. For major changes, the cycle begins again to plan and implement them.

There’s a lot more to know about network design and best practices. Here’s an article to help you go deeper: Network Design and Best Practices

Flat or Hierarchical?

There are many different types of network designs, or topographies, that can — like network types— be employed depending on your needs or your budget.

Flat networks are a thing. Flat network design is still in use today, but is primarily reserved for very small networks, or designs looking to minimize cost by using a limited number of routers or switches.

But modern networks are increasingly turning to Hierarchical designs. A hierarchical design separates a network into distinct layers, where each layer has a series of functions that define its role in the network. Because of this, a network designer can choose the optimal hardware, software, and features to take on a particular role for that network layer.

Hierarchical designs, while more expensive to implement, offer better network throughput and improved reliability.

Want to learn more? Have a look at our article: What is Hierarchical Network Design?

What are Network Switches?

Switches are one of the most important elements of a physical, on-premise network. Switches can actually operate at both Layer 2 and Layer 3. The recommendation on whether to use a switch at Layer 2 or Layer 3 depends in part on the size and complexity, and security requirements, of the network you’re managing:

  • Is more than one VLAN required for the network?
  • Does your network consist of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of users?
  • Does your security policy require putting access control rules between devices on different networks, or doing deep packet inspection on traffic between networks?
  • How do you plan on managing your network infrastructure?

Just what are Layer 3 switches, and are they poised to replace the common Layer 2 devices? Will Layer 3 switches replace your routers next? This article explains: Will Layer 3 Switches Give Routers the Boot?

What is Network Redundancy?

Most businesses can’t afford the revenue losses from downtime. That’s just the reality of modern commerce. But beyond that, many industries—including healthcare, education and government agencies— all provide some critical service delivery via websites or portals that the general public now relies on.

As a result, many IT teams work tirelessly to ensure maximum uptime for their networks. But sometimes external events can lead to a loss of connectivity:

  • Most often, this occurs when the ISP itself is disrupted.
  • A device, like a switch or router, within your network fails.

To hedge against these types of issues, many companies employ a strategy of redundancy: a secondary, fall-back system that can take over the moment disruption occurs. There are many types of redundancy protocols at many different OSI layers, but redundancy mainly focuses on two concerns: fault tolerance and high availability.

Want to learn more about how to design for redundancy? Dive in with this article: Network Redundancy and Why It Matters

How do you manage it all?

Network optimization requires monitoring software, and that’s table stakes for maintaining any modern network. Whether it’s on behalf of a client as an MSP network management service, or for your own internal network, IT teams rely on the backup, deep visibility, and quick troubleshooting capabilities that a solution like Auvik can provide.

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