Most large companies start out as small companies — even the
mighty Microsoft began as a two-person operation. Getting from here to there
requires time, effort, planning and a little luck. Some businesses focus their
planning on how to grow the company, without planning for how essential
components –the people, the physical facilities, the
network — will handle that growth.

That’s how companies end up with a bunch of employees in
positions that don’t necessarily suit them, a hodgepodge of offices and
warehouses that aren’t ideal for their needs, and/or a collection of
workstations, servers and network devices in a configuration that “just grew
that way.”

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A strategic growth plan will help you to avoid all of the
above, but we’re only going to address developing a strategic growth plan for
your network. Realize, though, that all of these elements are tied together; personnel
issues impact network requirements, and the physical configuration of your
offices will affect the topology of your network. As with any plan, to be
effective the planning must be done before
your growth spurt begins.

Assessing the present to predict the future

The trick to planning for your network’s growth is to be
able to predict the future. Unfortunately, no one can do that with complete
accuracy. However, you can make educated estimations of how your company — and
its network — will grow by assessing its present position in the market, growth
trends to date, and industry-wide trends.

Growth potential should be assessed in regard to the
following areas:

  • Bandwidth
  • Disk/Storage
    capacity requirements.
  • Network
    segmentation requirements (based on performance and security requirements).
  • <

  • Performance
  • Security
  • Management/administrative
  • Availability

Assessing bandwidth and storage capacity requirements

Future bandwidth requirements can be estimated based on the

  • Increases in number of personnel. The more
    people you have using the network simultaneously, the more network bandwidth
    will be required to support them.
  • Enhanced productivity. As existing personnel
    become more efficient and more experienced and thus able to turn out more work
    in less time, bandwidth needs may increase to handle the increased work product
    being stored on and transferred across the network.
  • New, more sophisticated network applications. As
    your company grows, the need for high bandwidth applications such as video
    conferencing will become more likely.
  • Geographic expansion. As the company expands to
    multiple geographic locations, bandwidth capacity must support communications
    with distant sites.

Except for the last, geographic expansion, all of these same
factors will affect future disk/storage capacity requirements. More personnel,
enhanced productivity and more sophisticated applications that result in more
files or larger file sizes will increase the amount of storage space required
on the network.

Assessing network segmentation requirements

Segmenting the network will require the purchase and
placement of devices such as switches and routers. Segmentation is done to
create security boundaries and to increase network performance. You can divide
the network into subnets based on physical location of computers and other
network devices or based on logical divisions such as departments, functions
and teams. Virtual LANs (VLANs) can be used to create
logical groupings of computers that can communicate with one another despite
being on separate physical segments.

Network segmentation should be planned carefully to make
management and security implementation easier as the network grows.

Assessing performance requirements

Network and server performance levels that are adequate for
a small organization and network may not be acceptable as the company grows.
Performance considerations include:

  • Data transfer speeds. The “need for speed” grows
    along with the company, which may mean upgrading equipment and cabling to
    support 100 Mbps or gigabit Ethernet as the company grows.
  • Server performance. The increased load on the
    servers may require upgrading server hardware to take advantage of faster
    processors and more memory.
  • Workstation performance. Workstation hardware
    may need to be upgraded for better performance, especially if operating systems
    and applications are upgraded to obtain advanced feature sets.

Assessing security requirements

It might seem logical to say that network size has nothing
to do with security, and in an ideal world, that would be true because every
network, regardless of size, would be perfectly secure. Unfortunately, there is
no ideal world nor is there such a thing as perfect security.

In the real world, the need for heightened security often
grows as the company and its network get larger. That’s because addition of
more personnel creates trust issues, and as a company expands it often begins
to take on jobs that require more security (such as government contracts) or
that bring it under federal and state regulations governing security

From a practical standpoint, the more important data you
have stored on the network, the more you have to lose and the higher the stake
in securing the data. Also, as your company becomes larger and more widely
known, it may be become more of a target to hackers and attackers.

Therefore, you should plan for increased levels of security
as the network grows.

Assessing management/administrative requirements

As you add more computers and other devices and the network
becomes more complex and your security levels increase, it also becomes more
difficult to manage. Thus part of your strategic growth plan should include the
addition of management tools for monitoring the network, centralized
distribution of software, centralized security, etc. For example, a Microsoft
shop might add Systems Management Server (SMS), Microsoft Operations Manager
(MOM), Software Update Services (SUS) and other products and services that
simplifies management of a large group of machines and gives you more control.

Assessing availability requirements

Downtime of the network or disruption in availability of a
server’s resources becomes more costly as the organization grows. Thus you must
plan for high availability and fault tolerance. This includes planning for:

  • Disk failure. As the company grows, it becomes
    more important to implement disk fault tolerance solutions such as RAID and to
    ensure adequate backup of all mission critical data with backups stored off
    site in case of natural disaster.
  • Server failure. To prevent disruption of
    critical services such as your Web sites or file servers, you can use server
    clustering with failover so that if a server does go down, its resources will
    continue to be available to users transparently.
  • Internet access. If your business depends on
    Internet connectivity for communicating with customers, partners, remote
    employees, etc., you should plan for redundancy of Internet connectivity with