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How to accommodate network growth

NetworkTigers discusses how to prepare for and accommodate network growth.

Growth is a key metric that all organizations use to assess their success, market impact, and economic outlook. While growth is always positive, managing it can challenge IT administrators. In some cases, organizations cannot safely support sudden expansion or demand without spreading their resources too thin or leaving gaps in their network’s security or functionality.

The following should be considered and applied to ensure that a currently expanding network, or one that is anticipated to grow, can do so safely, efficiently, and with minimal risk of missing critical areas that may result in technical downtime or cyberattack susceptibility.

Take stock of your network’s current build

Assess your network’s infrastructure, traffic patterns, and overall performance to determine bottlenecks or inefficiencies. When you grow your network, you want to ensure you don’t balloon any existing issues. By taking a high-level look at how your network functions, you can isolate trouble areas and remediate them before doing so becomes exponentially more complicated or disruptive. 

While fixing inefficiencies may cause some headaches early on, having to peel back the layers of an oversized network to find out where they’re coming from later on down the line is a task best avoided.

Budget and plan for network growth

Network expansion is expensive, and although cybersecurity has made its way to the top of the list of executive concerns for many, some of those that hold the pursestrings may still need to be convinced that there is value in doing it correctly.

Plan your budget to accommodate any expected growth by keeping a sharp eye on your organization’s business plans and keeping a line of communication open regarding trajectory. Try to avoid spending frivolously on any equipment that won’t be able to support expanded usage in the coming years.

Refresh your network hardware

Holding on to legacy network equipment, as long as the manufacturer still supports it, is generally a good idea as the tried-and-true offers safety and predictability.

If your current configuration limits scalability, it’s time for an update. While you don’t necessarily need the latest hardware on the market, you can still modernize your architecture using newly refurbished networking gear that offers advanced routing, faster performance, more robust security, and the ability to future-proof your system for even further growth.

Consider the cloud

While cloud-based solutions aren’t the best choice for everyone, virtualizing portions of your network can make it more flexible and easier to scale as needed. Cloud service providers offer Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions that allow you to customize your infrastructure as your demands shift to avoid the panic associated with stock shortages and the hours needed to modify your system physically.

Segmentation can make network growth more efficient

Network segmentation is an often touted strategy for increased security, as walling off parts of your system allows you to control which users have access to various areas within it and put those areas in lockdown should any malicious activity appear. 

When it comes to growth, segmenting your network can help prevent unplanned congestion from swamping your entire system. It also lets you better organize, visualize, and plan your expansion strategy by dividing your organization’s infrastructure into separate components so you can efficiently allocate resources or attention as your expansion demands shift or advance.

Network segmentation can be a complex undertaking, however. Between the additional security features and the new obstacles that may arise when exchanging information between newly compartmentalized areas, growing pains can be avoided by segmenting early on.

Don’t overlook network monitoring 

Growth can quickly make a network too big to observe and monitor with your current toolset effectively. Investing in and installing advanced network management and monitoring tools or services gives you insight into how growth affects your network’s behavior. Not all effects of expansion are predictable, and a mysterious drop in performance may present a puzzle impossible to solve without proper observations.

Allowing minor issues to persist as you build atop them is also bad practice. Investing in monitoring tools early on can set you up for success and let your traffic continue as you build.

There is a wide range of open-source network monitoring tools to consider, each with pros and cons.

Prevent slowdown with load balancing

An overloaded server can severely impact your network and make services unavailable to customers and employees.

Load balancing spreads traffic out among multiple backend servers, preventing any single one from taking the brunt of any surges. As traffic demands lessen, load balancers also take unneeded servers offline to improve efficiency. Load balancers are available in hardware or software form and can make the difference between continued sales and a slump resulting from a highly demanded yet unreachable platform.

Security challenges are inherent to network growth

Threat actors know that growth can cause security protocols to burst at the seams. Whether your network belongs to a small business that goes viral overnight or a major company in transition, hackers are always waiting in the wings to capitalize on any potential chaos, stress, or distraction.

Ensure that your expansion plans accommodate this with firewalls and security practices that are up for handling more traffic, devices, hardware, and potentially stressed (or excited) employees. Put rules in place to prevent human error from weakening your security.

Network growth requires indefinite fine-tuning

Efficient and functional network growth requires constant attention. Setting your system up and letting it ride is a recipe for disaster, as the fluidity of traffic and changes in business operations seriously affect the functionality and behavior of your network. 

As activity ebbs and flows, keeping your finger on the pulse and acting accordingly as soon as required is critical. From installing updates to allocating resources where needed most, administrating a growing network demands diligence, attention to detail, and the understanding that your hands will never leave the controls, no matter how tightly you have built your foundation.

Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn is a freelance research-based technical writer. He has worked as a content QA analyst for AT&T and Pernod Ricard.

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