When was the last time you properly reviewed your network and how well it meets your organisation's business needs? For anyone who is responsible for day-to-day network management, the answer is probably 'Not that recently', thanks to all the other responsibilities that inevitably take precedence.
Yet it still needs to be done, advises Nick Watson, head of enterprise & public sector business at Cisco. "People need a regular review of their network in terms of its criticality," he says.
"Look at the applications deployed and where you're shooting information to. For example, once you start connecting mobile devices that changes the data flows.
"Unless you review, you may miss the growth of traffic, so the original designs that established your network sizing may no longer be relevant."
He adds that even if the network manager recognises the need, others in the organisation may not, especially those whose job it is to look for cost savings. The challenge is to persuade them that it may not be part of daily operations but it is a necessary part of capacity and network planning.
"It's usually the thing that the finance director puts a red pen through because it's not seen as critical. But what is the consequence of downtime and what is the cost of attaching to the network with acceptable latency?
"The question is not whether the network is there or not, but whether it is providing satisfactory performance for your applications and if it isn't, what is that costing you."
This is where the network meets the business processes, of course. The business is dependent on the network applications, so the network planner must research and understand the business processes, in terms of which applications are critical and which are not.
You want to carry out application sensing over months rather than hours, too, so that applications can be prioritised by date. For example, the financial software may become more critical in the run-up to publishing the annual accounts.
Watson suggests that once the need has been agreed upon, in many cases the best option will be to outsource the network review to a consultancy or systems integrator. This is not so much because it needs expertise but because it needs valuable time and attention.
"In many cases the answer is don't do the network review yourself," he says. "You need to ask if it's necessary to have bespoke instead of having it done for you. The challenge is that in many cases, if they do it themselves then people put it off - very few organisations can afford to have people not doing their operational role.
"The Web has made network management much easier, with browser access and so on, but to do a really thorough investigation, deep technical stuff, that's not something you should expect to do in-house."
It's hardly surprising that he's so keen to promote consultancy services, given that Cisco also runs its own professional services team, eager to provide advice ... at a price.
Watson admits that well-equipped organisations tend to recognise the need for outside advice most readily, he adds, even though they might seem the most likely candidates to have the expertise in-house.
"It's ironic," he says, without a trace of irony, "but our professional services team only provides the most advanced services and the customers that use them the most are those who already have the most resources. It's not what you'd expect but it makes sense."
Perhaps, the world of Cisco is different from others but in the real world, the organisations who pay the most are those with most resources. Watson's right about one thing though, keeping tabs on the network and ensuring that it's still meeting business needs is certainly the only way forward.
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