A solid network foundation is the key to business agility, process efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness. It provides intelligent services such as security, availability, reliability, and quality of service (QoS). This makes it possible for small-medium companies to run desired business applications and advanced technologies, establish competitive advantage, extend or streamline their operations, improve responsiveness to customers and partners, and reduce the costs of ongoing network management.
Routers and switches are the keys to a strong network foundation. Together they enable the intelligent, end-to-end movement of converged data, voice, and video information within or outside the business.
Switches and routers provide the following network functions:
Switches connect users directly to the network and serve as the primary path for traffic moving within local networks. As more-sophisticated business applications, higher volumes of traffic, and tighter security measures have put greater demands on the network, switches have evolved to give companies greater intelligence and control.
Routers deliver information from a source to its intended destination via the most efficient route across different types of networks. As networks have developed, the line between the roles of switches and routers has continued to blur. The clear trend is toward switches prevailing in the LAN, while routers dominate in the WAN and at the company perimeter (or LAN edge) for WAN access.
Small-medium businesses are becoming increasingly dependent on networks to operate efficiently, serve customers effectively, and work with partners and suppliers more collaboratively. Faced with all the challenges and opportunities of competing in a fast-paced environment, growing companies must be especially confident that their networks can support business evolution. Building an effective network foundation is integral to, and an operational insurance policy for, achieving e-business transformation. You can think of this foundation as equivalent to a person's skeletal structure. It is the support system. The stronger, healthier, and more flexible is, the greater the range of movement, carrying capacity, and longevity or stamina. A network foundation serves that same skeletal role for a business.
It is vital that small-medium businesses focus their attention on the critical success factors that drive growth in their particular market. They cannot afford to expend precious time rearchitecting, relearning, and managing networks. Network infrastructures should be the invisible plumbing that enables the transport of company information and communications and enables efficient processes. When the invisible becomes visible and companies run up against infrastructure limitations, this can lead to revenue losses, information privacy breaches, and customer dissatisfaction. This is because network problems can result in poor responsiveness and/or the dissemination of faulty data. Such occurrences can seriously undermine a company's competitiveness and credibility.
The way to avoid such problems is to ensure that the foundation or core infrastructure is well constructed, adaptable to changing environments, intelligent, and operable with minimal administrative intervention. The network should not be so time-consuming to set up and manage that it detracts from the business's primary focus.
The Value of a Business-Class Network
As noted previously, the key elements of an intelligent network foundation are switches and routers that deliver security, availability, reliability, and quality of service. A business-class network should provide the following capabilities:
Protection from security breachesBudget-conscious small-medium companies might feel particularly conflicted as they weigh the costs associated with implementing comprehensive network security against the cost of potential breaches. When security features are integral to a network's foundation, they simplify management while they protect business operations, improve business resiliency, prevent damage to intellectual property assets, mitigate business disruptions, and reduce the network's total cost of ownership (TCO).
Continuous availability and network reliabilityAs business information systems become ever more strategic to a company's success, so does the importance of keeping them always onlineable to recover from failureand accessible anywhere. The proliferation of powerful desktops and servers running bandwidth-intensive applications has some networks straining to keep up. With each new user, device, or application, the underlying infrastructure comes under that much more stress. The network foundation must be prepared to support increasing numbers of users with 24/7 uptime; run new services and applications; extend its reach to new offices, customers, and partners; and support a more mobile workforce. The bottom-line business impact of an available network is increased productivity.
Quality of serviceQoS lets small-medium businesses use the network infrastructure, including LAN and WAN connections, more efficiently. As networks continue to converge (integrate voice, data, and video into a single network), it becomes increasingly important to ensure the efficient coexistence of high-priority and low-priority information transfer. Incorporating QoS into the network foundation lets you assign higher priority to business-critical applications and delay-sensitive traffic such as voice, video, and real-time transactions.
Network Foundation Relevance
When thinking about the business value of a solid network foundation, you cannot help but ask, "Does this apply to my business?" or "Do I really need this?" A business-class, intelligent network foundation is suitable for use by any small-medium business to which the following criteria apply:
The business depends on a network to handle mission-critical operations.
It runs e-commerce and web applications that exchange real-time information online with customers, partners, and employees.
It is concerned about adding new business applications while maintaining the performance level of existing applications.
It is poised for growth or is experiencing growth that is straining the limits of the existing network infrastructure.
It wants to implement advanced technologies such as IP telephony, storage networks, wireless mobility, and security or a VPN (virtual private network).
It wants to compete or partner with larger businessesin terms of geographic reach, types of customers served, or hours of operation.
The critical network foundation elements (switches and routers), along with their value propositions and related investment decision criteria, are covered in this chapter.