NetworkTigers discusses strategies for a modern business network.
Building and maintaining a functional business network is not a task with a one-size-fits-all plan. With every network serving different organizations and use cases, each system needs to be crafted to meet the needs of the company at large.
However, there are some general strategies that IT professionals should keep in mind. Whether creating a new business network or looking to hone one already built, these 14 strategies will help you keep your priorities straight.
1. Automate wherever possible
A successful modern business network is complicated. The minutiae of data management and routine operations can be time-consuming and overwhelming. By intelligently employing automation, you can save time on more pressing network issues.
Because basic or monotonous tasks can have a numbing effect on the person charged with their execution, putting automation to work in these areas can also significantly reduce the risk of human error.
2. Make security a high priority
Cybercriminals are always looking for easy targets or negligence that can give them an entry point into a vulnerable network. With cybercrime being such a huge money maker and the bar of entry being lower than ever, no business network or organization is small enough to assume it’s under the radar.
Because of this, cybersecurity needs to be a foundational component of any decision around network structure. Implement zero-trust protocols, segment your network where appropriate to help contain unauthorized entry, and be sure that your security features, apps, and hardware are all easily and regularly updated for current threats.
3. Audit your security
Security audits should be regularly scheduled to ensure that your network remains airtight. No administrator is immune from tunnel vision, and enlisting a third party for this task will shed light on security lapses that may exist in your blindspots.
Audits identify weaknesses and allow you to close gaps in your network that may have opened up via updates, reconfigurations, or have been missed.
4. Set the stage for scaling
If an organization is successful, network growth is inevitable. By always keeping the anticipated increase in mind, you can build and maintain your network in a manner that paves the way for future expansion.
This can take the form of something as complex as researching and investing in the most modular software and hardware solutions available or as simple as ensuring that the racks and the room allotted to your equipment can accommodate a growing physical footprint.
5. Implement deep network monitoring
Network monitoring tools are essential for gaining insight into your operations. With the metrics gleaned from monitoring tools, you can observe traffic patterns, locate bottlenecks, and understand how your business network functions under typical circumstances.
You can then use this data to streamline your system for maximum efficiency. Additionally, you can set up alerts to notify you of any unusual traffic behavior that could indicate malicious activity or a malfunction.
6. Accommodate remote work and access
Work-from-home scenarios during the onset and height of the COVID-19 pandemic taxed IT administrators to the breaking point. Networks built for users under the same roof suddenly had to accommodate remote users. As a result, cybersecurity was often compromised, and cybercrime skyrocketed.
With remote work here to stay, networks must be flexible enough to allow employees worldwide to access an organization’s resources without causing security issues.
Using a VPN can help put a barrier between prying eyes and employee activity. However, monitor and regulate the platforms workers use closely for collaboration and communication, as deviating from authorized apps can result in security lapses.
7. Employ software-defined networking (SDN)
Software-defined networking (SDN) can allow a single IT administrator to control an entire network, as it places a unified interface over all components. Adjustments can be made using this platform, and network operations can be modified as needed without the need to dive into separate windows or, in some cases, physically operate a device or piece of hardware.
SDN makes network administration more efficient, makes it easier to adjust your configurations and routings in real-time, and lessens the staff needed for large-scale maintenance.
8. Invest in quality hardware
Hardware no longer working at peak performance, whether due to age or malfunction, should be replaced with equipment better able to cope with system demands. Even if a component is working as expected, if it is no longer supported by the manufacturer with regular updates, it is a security liability and likely to be a time bomb regarding compatibility.
Quality networking hardware comes at a high price, but there is great value in the used/refurbished market. Large organizations have the financial means to refresh their networks regularly, meaning that well-maintained, premium gear finds its way to the second-hand market at reasonable prices.
You can purchase refurbished equipment from a reputable seller and remain within budget. Many resellers also provide guarantees if the equipment you purchase is out of the manufacturer’s warranty.
9. Create redundancy wherever possible
Be sure not to put all your network operations eggs in one basket. When a part of your network fails, having redundancy prevents it from becoming a catastrophic event. Duplicate hardware and load balancers can allow a network to continue chugging along despite a crash or DDoS attack that may otherwise completely overwhelm it.
10. Document everything
From diagrams of traffic flows to hardware serial numbers and spikes in traffic, accurate, organized records are essential for diagnosing network issues and providing a blueprint for recovery during a shutdown.
Ensure your documentation is understandable from an outsider’s perspective, and ensure all records are maintained in the same format so that any information charted is standardized regardless of who is taking notation.
11. Use the cloud
Cloud services can offer your network more storage, scalability, security features, and redundancies. While enlisting a third party may be problematic for some administrators, as they carry their risks, the benefits can outweigh the risks so long as any migration to the cloud is done intelligently and with cybersecurity in mind at all times.
12. Make quality of service (QoS) a priority
If your network is built or configured such that operations are sluggish or perform poorly, users are more likely to find unsafe workarounds to avoid wasting time, and customers may give up.
Set your network up to prioritize critical apps and allocate resources appropriately. If your organization regularly collaborates over video, for example, make sure that particular bandwidth use takes precedence so that communication is crisp and reliable.
13. Make employee training a requirement
Whether it’s showing the workforce how to determine whether or not an email is a phishing scam or keeping the IT team certified in the latest technologies and practices, employee education and training should not be seen as a diversion from network administration.
With the pace of technology speeding up exponentially and the number of network connections growing daily, it’s essential to view network security holistically. Any single person with access to your business network could inadvertently open the door for hackers by falling for a social engineering campaign or misconfiguration of a folder’s permissions.
14. Plan for disaster recovery
Whether you’re starting fresh or reexamining an established network, formulating a strategy for disaster recovery can make or break an organization in the event of a system crash or cyberattack.
Diligently back up data and configurations and develop stringent procedures you and other team members can use to get back online. Be sure to test these plans regularly to guarantee they will get your system back on track when it matters most.