A disclaimer before this blog post kicks off. Clearly some readers will have knowledge on the subject matter and the reason cables are just as important as ever, however I do not expect all readers, or the colleagues of readers, to share this insider knowledge.
If you solely operate within your organisation as an end user, then I hope for your sake you have little to no knowledge of your LAN switching infrastructure. This is because the only reason an end user is likely to know anything about the wired network is because it has caused them a certain amount of personal grief.
If the network has been operating as expected then it should, and very much does, go completely unnoticed. It will continue to plod along, performing the thankless task of providing user connectivity and services across the entire organisation without a complaint or consideration.
Unfortunately for an IT Manager, if this is the case, then when your company infrastructure is due a health check or upgrade it can be difficult to justify it, yet we justify similar things constantly in our daily lives.
Take your car as just one example, you keep it regularly serviced whether you’re aware of issues with it or not. People often change their cars, even though their current vehicle is fully functional, and nothing has “gone wrong” with it. The reasons for change could be that your requirements differ, and a robust, 7 seater people carrier is now necessary rather than your 2 seater coupe, gorgeous as it was, due to the calls of family life. Other examples are limitless! Mobile phones, personal computers, kitchen appliances… The list goes on and on.
Well, the same logic can be applied to your network infrastructure. A regular health check, or “service” if you will, is always a good idea to ensure everything is running optimally. This can identify areas of concern to ensure the company isn’t caught out with unexpected issues, and even keep the current hardware performing at an acceptable level for longer than you may have anticipated.
One guarantee is that requirements will change. Predicting that change is a whole different ball game, but the universal truth is that this will happen. End users and management level staff will want the best tools to achieve whatever objectives there may be, regardless of what vertical it is. This could range from the best way to teach a class of pupils to a sales person being more readily able to access software tools. Perhaps a warehouse picker having greater mobility, or a department manager utilising video conferencing to communicate with geographically segregated members of the team.
The main drivers for changing requirements I see on a daily basis are VoIP and Wi-Fi, but others exist, such as video conferencing, IP cameras, 1:1 device rollouts and file sharing. Who knows where this could lead? Streaming has certainly come into its own in recent years, and the idea of farming out processes to be dealt with in a more centralised manner looks to be gaining traction. Think of utilising thin clients within a school, where software and storage is dealt with on central servers, or even put a more “consumer grade” spin on it, Sony utilising cloud servers to stream video game content to users, with no need of an actual console to handle the laborious calculations local to the end player!
The possibilities are, quite frankly, breath-taking.
And wonderful though they are, each and every one has a different logistical requirement of the underlying network infrastructure. Some of these could be hardware related, such as raw bandwidth and throughput levels, ability to provide PoE (Power over Ethernet), maybe even extend the power budget to provide enough PoE. Others are around software and configuration, perhaps even protocols utilised for authentication and security, quality of service, traffic segregation (VLANs) etc…
There’s plenty more to consider, but I think that’s enough to illustrate the point for now!
Ultimately, regardless of how simple or complex a system you wish to build, how well it’s planned and executed, even how well it’s managed, if it’s built on incorrect or poorly laid foundations, your LAN infrastructure, it will fail.