The case for an annual network audit

Efforts to boost performance across numerous sites can drive IT managers crazy. Why capacity issues have a funny way of sneaking up on you

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Network upgrades across multiple sites can be challenging, but they don’t have to be a headache. According to one network technology expert, IT departments can reduce the workload by adhering to two simple rules: check your status quo; and consider going local.

Status quo

Roberta Fox, a principal with network technology advisory company Fox Group Technology Consulting, explains that it’s important to start any network upgrade by understanding the current network situation. How many devices actually reside on the infrastructure? Are they configured for optimal performance? Are their security systems implemented and up to date?

These questions may seem basic, but they’re crucial in this age of unified communications and bring-your-own-devices (BYOD), when users are practically encouraged to append devices to the network. “People install this equipment, but they don’t necessarily document it,” Fox says. “All of a sudden you have numerous guest computers, corporate devices and wireless hubs. It’s a very fluid environment,” and it can be difficult to stay abreast of the changes without auditing.

Since users are bound to use the corporate Wi-Fi for devices that the IT department doesn’t know about, it’s particularly important for companies to conduct a network audit before upgrading. Yet in Fox’s experience, organizations are less likely to do audits these days than they were a few years ago. The thought process: we just installed a 10-gig LAN; we shouldn’t have any capacity issues for some time, so why bother checking?

Truth is, Fox says, users will discover ways to eat up that bandwidth. Without regular audits (i.e., once a year), companies may find their networks are under-performing.

Going local

What about the wide-area network? Fox says it’s important to consider the key uses for the WAN and whether it makes more sense to offload some of the wide-area networking to the LAN. Is the organization broadcasting video? The company could have its routers configured for local caching, reducing the video burden on the WAN. Is the organization using just a small number of Internet access points and relying on the WAN to carry data between numerous sites and the APs? That may have been a way to cut costs in the past, but it sets the scene for performance lags as the company grows. It might be time to boost the Internet AP count and ease the burden on the wide area.

“Only put traffic on the WAN that needs to go on the WAN,” Fox says. “You don’t necessarily need to broadcast everything going on in one office out to the other locations.”

For a healthy, high-performing WAN, companies need a robust LAN. While the wide-area infrastructure is arguably the network’s backbone, local systems have a significant impact on WAN performance.

“You get a lot of performance improvement by managing your LAN properly,” Fox says.

Dive deeper: download a case study on how IA Clarington moved to a converged IP network to bring improvements across nine offices. 

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