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How to future-proof your network

NetworkTigers discusses ways to future-proof your network.

Future-proofing your network offers many benefits relating to business growth, cybersecurity, and system customization. From defending against threats by being able to block before a punch is thrown to building a network that can adapt to an organization’s evolution without tossing it into disarray, ensuring that your architecture is ready for whatever’s next will keep your operations rolling and your data safe.

However, preparing your system for change requires careful planning and foresight. Pushing too far in one direction may leave you scrambling if your organization’s trajectory does not follow the expected path. Conversely, leaving too many open ends may hinder your efficiency and affect your ability to protect your system from danger adequately.

Benefits to future-proofing your network

It keeps you ahead of the competition

While network building isn’t an arms race, the fact remains that those who do not adapt will be left behind, whether due to operational slowdown or cyberattack. Keeping up with the times lets you continue to move forward, expand business operations, and sustain profitability.

Future-proof your network to save money

Network upgrades aren’t cheap, but investing in them incrementally and intelligently can prevent large expenditures on components or changes that are disruptive to implement. Downtime for intensive network maintenance costs money, as does the recovery required to bounce back from a cyberattack.

Future-proof your network to make it more efficient

Using outdated equipment too far past its prime can hold you back, as you’ll eventually encounter features or upgrades that you aren’t able to implement due to the age of your architecture. By future-proofing your system, you can remain agile and adopt new technology and efficiencies as they’re made available.

To build a foundation that will ensure that your network can hum along just as well tomorrow as it is today, the following key concepts should be kept in mind:

Maintain a thorough understanding of your network

Future-proofing is impossible without good data. You can only plan for your system if you have an idea of its behavior, so identifying trends, traffic patterns, and issues within your network is required to inform your decision-making process.

Invest in network monitoring tools that give you a granular look at its activity and provide analytics that can be used to assess its performance and any obstacles present. Before moving toward the future, you must ensure that your current system works as well as possible. Avoid building upon, or working around, fixable problems or security holes.

Consider these three questions as you inspect your network and begin to plan for what’s next:

  • What applications and services are critical for the network’s functionality?
  • What is your organization’s projected or desired growth outlook?
  • What funds are allocated to accommodate network scaling?

Stay privy to advancements in network technology

Keeping your finger on the pulse of network technology will help you formulate goals for your system’s future and prevent you from building it so that you paint yourself into a corner filled with equipment or protocols that are losing compatibility with the cutting edge.

While adopting the newest, untested gear is rarely a good idea, having a clear understanding of how the industry is trending and the features that might be present (or excluded) in equipment you may have to upgrade to will help guide you along a path with fewer growing pains. Anticipate what’s on the horizon and build accordingly.

Make security a priority

Making security a critical consideration in every decision is crucial to your network’s future-proofing.

  • Implement automatic updates to keep your operating systems, firmware, and security software as current as possible at any given moment. 
  • Keep up with cybersecurity news and emerging threats by regularly checking with publications and resources that track and document them.
  • Train your employees so that they know how to identify phishing scams or attempts at social engineering
  • Run security audits so a third party can peek into your system to identify lapses you may miss due to your familiarity with your network and your already established workflow.
  • Identify threats specific to your industry to bolster security where you need it most.

Your network has no future if it becomes dysfunctional due to a cyberattack. If there is one single certainty about the future of networking, it’s that tomorrow will always yield new threats.

Build for scalability and flexibility

Whether you’re adding hardware to your network or adopting new software or protocols, make the ability to scale or modify your network a top consideration. Seek out modular solutions that you can build on in the future without the risk of incompatibility or overload. Anticipate traffic increases and ensure your network’s security and bandwidth can handle spikes or increases without stress or bottlenecks.

Setting yourself up with a flexible network foundation that can be customized as needed will keep you from replacing ground-level infrastructure when it’s time for an update.

Upgrade your equipment

Outdated gear holds you back from a technological standpoint and, if the developer no longer supports it, can leave you open to cyberattacks.

Invest in equipment that modernizes your system and lends itself to years of use. You can refresh your gear and stay within budget constraints by turning to a reliable refurbished network components dealer. Large organizations often sell off equipment with more than enough functional life left to safely future-proof your system.

While shopping, look for equipment old enough to offer a bargain but still used widely enough to ensure manufacturer support. Be careful not to waste money by purchasing gear that won’t measure up long enough to make the investment of time and money worth the trouble.

Turn to the cloud

Cloud solution providers offer a wealth of conveniences for IT administrators. While there are downsides to adopting cloud-based processes and services, putting your future in the hands of a company that can offer seamless scalability allows you to outsource your future-proofing. Cloud service providers can be more agile, enable access to more resources and bandwidth, and free network admins up for addressing other issues.

While there is much to be said about the administrator capable of building their organization’s network from the ground up and knowing its functionality, quirks, and capabilities like the back of their hand, especially large enterprises or quickly growing companies would do well to look into migrating to cloud-based options. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) options can streamline your system’s operations and put someone else in charge of keeping everything up to current standards.

Embrace automation and machine learning

As machine learning and artificial intelligence advance exponentially, more ways to leverage this technology within your network are emerging.

AI tools allow you to automate processes within your network, cutting costs and even allowing your network to self-optimize. Network administrators can use machine learning to predict various outcomes, from traffic patterns to the effects of system changes. These models can significantly assist in determining what path to take to achieve your goals.

As with all emerging technology, early adopters of AI tools may experience hiccups and unexpected issues. While total implementation may not be the recommended path at the time of this article’s writing, machine learning is the way of the future, and IT pros intent on ensuring that their networks, and their careers, push into the future should familiarize themselves with the tools available to them and engage them wherever possible.

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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