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Planning a network installation

By Lasa Information Systems Team

Network planning is the process of defining business requirements and growth plans to build a framework for connecting computers and other equipment in your organisation. Thinking about these needs before jumping into the actual implementation eases the process, and increases the likelihood that your chosen network solution will match your requirements now and in the future.

This article provides practical advice to help address the needs of organisations that have a network and are in the process of upgrading it. The article should also be useful to organisations installing a network for the first time.

For an introduction to networks see the knowledgebase article What is a network?

How do I get started?

The first step in developing a plan is assessing your current network requirements and considering how your business is likely to change over time. Here are some ideas to help you start the process:

Consider Usage Requirements

Determine the number of people that will be using the network to get a rough idea of the computers and peripherals it must support. Consider how users will interact with the system to define the features you will need. For example, what sort of access is required to the network (e.g. will each user have their own computer? or will several users be sharing the same computer?) Will any users need to access the network remotely (e.g. from home or other office sites)?

Gather Input

Factor the needs of the various teams and departments within your organisation into your network plan. Start by defining the requirements of each group and determine the relative costs of incorporating the different requirements into the network plan. This may be in terms of money or time saved.

Plan for the future

Detail or factor in, to the best of your knowledge, the direction your organisation is likely to take in the near future (3-5 years). As you think about expansion, identify any plans that might affect your network needs (e.g. new staff or volunteers, office expansion, remote working, or the installation of new software packages). Doing this now will be less expensive and time-consuming than replacing an inadequate network later.

Decide who will manage the network

As your network solution becomes more defined, you will need to decide whether you have the resources in-house to install and maintain it yourself or whether you require a consultant or external company to handle it. Networking products have become easier to use and administer over the years, so small organisations are finding that internal day- to-day management of the network is becoming increasingly cost effective.

External support will also likely be required, and it is worth considering using remote network administration tools to reduce the number of on-site visits necessary to keep the network running smoothly.

Security Issues

Ensure you build security features into your network plan to protect your organisations most important asset - its information. Common network security precautions include passwords, virus protection, an external firewall and data encryption.

Other Considerations

You may enhance the foundation of your network plan by addressing other issues that may affect the integration, use and maintenance of your network. These include:

Information Management

Consider how to manage information on your server so that users can easily find what they need. Create standardised naming conventions for files on the server and establish rules for the creation of new files and folders.

Remote Access

If some staff members travel frequently or work from locations outside your office, you may want to build remote access capabilities into your network. This can be done through remote dial-in, or securely over the Internet using a VPN.

Staff Training

While working with a network is relatively simple, it may demand that employees adopt new habits. A training program will enable workers to take full advantage of your network's timesaving and productivity enhancing features. Ensure training time is built into your network rollout timetable and offer follow up sessions to address ongoing staff challenges and concerns.

Network pre-installation checklist

This checklist of questions will help you cover the main areas when it comes to planning and installing a new or upgraded network.

Planning

  • How many people will use the network?
  • How many users are local or on-site?
  • How many users are remote or off-site and will require access to the network?
  • How many on-site computers will be connected to the network?
  • How many on-site devices (computers, servers, scanners, printers, etc) will require a network card?
  • How do you intend remote users to access the network?
  • Which server based applications (e.g. databases, email) do you plan to run on the network? What are the minimum hardware requirements of these server based applications?
  • What are the specifications of the servers you intend to install on the network (e.g. amount of memory, processor speed etc.)?
  • Have you purchased sufficient licenses to run all the software on servers and client machines?

Network hardware requirements

  • What other devices will your network support (e.g. back-up devices, Uninterruptible Power Supplies, Network printers, etc.)?
  • Do you have enough network points for these network devices?
  • Do the hubs or switches have enough ports for the number of connections you will require? And is there room for growth?

Network design

  • What network topology will you use
  • Do all workstations have the correct Network interface cards (NICs) to support this technology?
  • Which network operating system will you use (e.g. Windows 2021 Server, Linux, Novell etc.)?
  • Which type of cabling will you use (e.g. CAT 5, fibre optic) or will a wireless network be suitable?
  • Where will network cables be located?
  • Are there any building or leasing regulations that may affect cable placement?
  • Where will you locate the following devices, servers, hubs or switches, printers, firewalls and routers, modems etc.?

Security, back-up and power

  • What security measures will you be putting in place? Virus protection, user passwords, firewalls, data encryption etc.
  • Do you need to physically secure your server (e.g. lock it away in a cupboard)?
  • How will you back up data on your network?
  • What is the capacity of your back up solution?
  • Is it large enough to support all the data on your servers and network devices?
  • Does your back up solution have the capacity to grow as your data grows?
  • How frequently will files be backed up and how long will you keep backed up files?
  • Where will you store backed up tapes (e.g. fireproof safe, off site)?
  • What devices will require an uniterruptible power supply (e.g. server(s) )?
  • Is there sufficient ventilation around your servers?

Support services

  • Do you have resources allocated for the following areas (e.g., consultants, in-house IT staff etc)?
    • Network installation
    • Cable installation
    • Network technical support
    • Network management
    • Network security
    • Network maintenance
    • Training

Undertaking a significant upgrade to your network or migrating to a newer or different operating system can be a daunting and challenging task.

Effective planning can limit the system downtime, reduce network crashes and ensure a seamless transition and minimal disruption to users.


About the author

Lasa Information Systems Team
Lasa's Information Systems Team provides a range of services to third sector organisations including ICT Health Checks and consulting on the best application of technology in your organisation. Lasa IST maintains the knowledgebase. Follow us on Twitter @LasaICT

Glossary

Firewall, Hardware, Internet, Linux, Network, Operating System, Ports, Processor, Software, Virus, VPN, Wireless

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Published: 6th January 2021 Reviewed: 5th April 2021

Copyright © 2021 Lasa Information Systems Team

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