Let’s face it: When you’re running a network outfitted with a variety of switch and router devices from multiple vendors, one hand doesn’t always know what the other one is doing. How can you maintain and grow a nationwide network when you’re working with different equipment that all requires different skill sets? The answer: Standardize networking equipment on a single platform so that you can enhance supportability from an operational standpoint.
By training and administering on a consistent source of equipment, you can become more productive, improve customer service and reduce costs. Here are five steps to consider when implementing a robust, manageable, single-platform IP network.
Step 1: Plan Carefully
The first step on a project of this scope is careful preparation and organization. You need to spend more time planning before you go out and start throwing up gear. I find that a lot of people go out without a plan, slap up the new equipment, then wonder why it doesn’t work the way they thought it would.
An integral part of the planning stage is knowing what your customer wants. Once you know what you have to do to deliver that, then you can find the right solution.
Step 2: Choose a Reliable Product Vendor
I recommend choosing a product vendor that offers a feature-rich, reliable solution which, from an operational standpoint, offers consistency. Choose one that can quickly and easily become familiar with the key operational people within the organization. When you purchase all of your equipment from a single vendor, it allows your company to leverage its buying power, save costs and stay informed about emerging product features.
Look for a hardware partner who can provide reliable, standardized technology. Their solution should have options that are flexible, manageable and future-proof. Migrating to a single-source platform can be a huge undertaking for any company. Because of this, it’s important to ask your vendor about specific features in the firmware that will allow you to easily deploy and maintain the new equipment.
For our network standardization, we chose D-Link Systems. They design, develop and manufacture a broad range of networking, voice, data and video communications solutions for both the home and business environments.
Step 3: Test and Select the Equipment
It’s best to know where you’re headed, so conduct equipment testing prior to purchase and implementation. With the size and complexity of our project, we spent a year with our vendor testing switching solutions and designing an optimal deployment plan for the migration. We tapped into our vendor’s knowledge base and received input from product managers and salespeople in order to evaluate needs, solutions and working relationships.
If possible, deploy some of the latest equipment in the field, and test-drive it at sites geographically close to your company headquarters. That way, it can be easily monitored so changes, if necessary, can be quickly made.
It is important to review equipment options that offer specific firmware features, which help ease the migration process without disrupting service. These firmware features include easy setup, advanced QoS (quality of service), dynamic VLANs (virtual LANs) and comprehensive security such as SSH (Secure Shell) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer)-encrypted management. They also include multicast support, jumbo frames and enterprise applications such as voice over IP, streaming media and multicast content delivery.
Keep Careful Documentation
Step 4: Keep Careful Documentation
Documentation plays a key role in this entire process. After a network has been deployed, it’s the only way you can truly support it. We complete an installation using generic settings but then begin to pull reports on a weekly basis to track modifications.
Documentation is crucial not only for the install but for ongoing support. We actually take photos of the switch settings to provide to our maintenance staff. These photos increase time efficiencies and provide a roadmap for subcontractors going out to sites-so we can walk them through it if they have questions.
Careful documentation is also a benefit because it drops the necessary education level of the people you send out to maintain the equipment which, in turn, saves costs.
Step 5: Monitor and Manage
Once your network has been standardized, it’s important to have the right tools in place to monitor and manage every single network switch and device. This is usually best achieved by conducting network supervision from a central network operations center or company headquarters. As you accumulate usage data, you can expect to see measurable support costs savings.
O’Linc is responsible for the operational support of all Pavlov-supported networks throughout the United States. He ensures consistent network-monitoring practices, and provides leadership and guidance to direct reports. He can be reached at [email protected].