How reliable is your network?
by S Brandt

Almost every task you perform in your day requires connectivity – either to the internet, to local servers and storage, or even to basic devices such as printers. Many businesses are also moving towards internet based communications (i.e. VOIP), meaning voice and data communications are occupying the same network infrastructure. To add to the congestion, the number of end-point devices (workstations, mobile devices) using the network is also increasing.

All these trends are putting tremendous loads on your network and is driving staggering growth in bandwidth requirements and consumption. In short, ensuring you have a secure and reliable network has never been more crucial. 

But what does a good network look like?

Networking basics

Let’s start with the basics. The diagram below shows a very simple network and its key devices. Chances are you have a similar set up in your office.


A few key things worth noting about this set up:

  • Note the dual internet connections: the diagram above has two internet connections, ensuring if anything happens to your primary internet the backup connection can kick in. This is critical for business continuity, particularly when more and more of today’s applications are cloud-based.
  • Not all devices are equal: the devices in the diagram have been simplified, but there is an enormous range of networking devices on offer. Some devices can be attractively cheap, but don’t fall for this trap. Low end devices won’t offer the security, performance and reliability you need for your business. 
  • Coherent and tidy cabling is absolutely critical: the diagram looks simple, but networks in reality are vastly complex and need to be kept tidy. We’ve all seen those nightmare photos of terrible cabling - this is more than just an OH&S hazard, it’s risky for your network too. Trying to trouble shoot a patch panel that looks like spaghetti will only end in disaster.

Tips for a secure and reliable network

We’ve put together a checklist of things to think about when setting up or auditing your network – how does your network score?

  1. Avoid that single point of failure: this is more than just having a backup internet connection. What about backup devices? If a switch fails, what will happen to your network? Where possible and for critical services, invest in some redundancy.
  2. Use a firewall: with cost effective firewalls now readily available, there’s no excuse to choose a router over a firewall unless your connection is private. If you can, invest in a next generation firewall that also provides intrusion prevention, URL filtering and granular application visibility.
  3. Be conscious of your data usage: where possible, have an unlimited data plan for your business to avoid those nasty charges for excess data usage.
  4. Invest in device warranties and refresh regularly: always invest in vendor hardware warranty for key devices, and plan on replacing your network devices every 3-4 years to get the performance and enhanced features of new products.
  5. Monitor your network: Want to know when your network usage peaks? What’s taking up bandwidth? There is a range of free and premium software available to see into your network, and help you speed up the troubleshooting process.
  6. Good configuration cannot be underestimated: last but not least, make sure your devices are set up properly by giving due consideration to:
    • Network access (who may or may not access your network);
    • Network segmentation and/or isolation (e.g. separating your guest network from your production network);
    • Quality of Service (giving priority to particular applications such as Voice); and
    • Security (separating trusted from untrusted and taking steps to protect what goes on the untrusted network).

Network security in itself is an enormous topic, and will be addressed in the coming months in a separate post. In the meantime – ask your IT support about how your network stacks up against our checklist!



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