Do More with Less: Designing a cost-efficient network

Achieve a cost-effective network design

The best IT professionals are always looking for ways to achieve a cost-effective network design. These same IT professionals realize that developing such a network is an iterative process that involves careful consideration of key factors that affect cost. Factors that, if not evaluated thoroughly, can make the greatest network design useless due to high implementation and support costs. In this article, I will provide some solid guidelines and tips for designing a cost-efficient network.

Think SAS
Scalability, availability, and security (SAS) of the network are the three main factors to consider when evaluating the cost of the design. Each of these factors has to be weighed individually based on your network requirements.

Scalability refers to how much growth and adaptability a network design can support. Designing a network that can meet scalability goals is a complex process with significant ramifications to cost, if not evaluated correctly. Scalability affects network-design cost the greatest in the areas of hardware and Wide Area Network (WAN) links. Evaluate hardware options to ensure that storage space and system performance meet your requirements for today and your projected growth in the near future without lending themselves to excess.

  Doing More with Less
    Do you need creative solutions for stretching your IT dollars and making wise purchasing decisions? Check out our collection of articles for advice on outsourcing, planning projects, working with vendors, and increasing efficiency.  

    Do you need creative solutions for stretching your IT dollars and making wise purchasing decisions? Check out our collection of articles for advice on outsourcing, planning projects, working with vendors, and increasing efficiency.  

As most of us have experienced, WAN links offered by telecommunications companies are not cheap. With this in mind, carefully evaluate WAN requirements to ensure that expensive high-bandwidth links are not being used when a slower, more cost-efficient link may suffice. Design the network to take advantage of locally placed servers in order to reduce the amount of intersite traffic. Answer questions such as these:
  • How many more sites will be added in the next year or two?
  • How extensive will the networks be at each new site?
  • How many more users will access the corporate network in the next year or two?
  • How many more servers (or hosts) will be added to the network in the next year or two?

Availability is the amount of time the network is available to users. Depending on the applications running on your systems, low cost is often more important than availability for smaller network designs. Typically, industry and organizational demands have a large effect on availability requirements. Also, the more users accessing the network, the higher the need for uptime and availability. Whether the organization is large or small, one way to help understand availability requirements is to specify a cost of downtime. For each critical application, document how much money the company loses per hour of downtime. This will help you evaluate the level of uptime your network design will require.

Many well-known hardware vendors now offer midlevel servers that include hot-swappable components for in-service upgrading. These systems offer considerable savings compared to more high-end systems, yet offer improved fault tolerance such as redundant power supplies and drive arrays.

Remember, the cost associated with the engineering of this performance and availability is reflected in the price. So even though you’re looking at ways to offer a cost-efficient network design, beware of clone systems. These systems are typically built from commodity components that have been selected more because of their low cost than for their performance and availability. As for your WAN links, evaluate low-cost ways to provide some level of redundancy in the event of a failed circuit. For example, configure a backup dial-up route connection between routers in the event that a leased line goes down.

Security, in today’s world, is of paramount concern—especially as more companies add Internet and extranet connections to their networks. Security implementations can drastically add to the cost of deploying and operating a network. Creating a cost-efficient network design involves analyzing risks and developing requirements. How sensitive is the customer's data? What would be the financial cost of someone accessing the data and stealing trade secrets? Answering these questions will help you find the right balance between security and cost.

Expensive hardware-based firewalls are not the only solution. Inexpensive solutions such as physical security, complex passwords, and IP filtering can often fulfill the security requirements of network designs for small- to medium-size organizations. A fundamental understanding of security, along with several layers of inexpensive security solutions, can sometimes be more difficult to compromise than one expensive firewall.
Are you interested in other ways to stretch your resources? Check out our “Doing More with Less” briefing center.
Evaluate the TCO
Remember that the costs for hardware, software, and WAN links are not the only costs to consider when developing a network design. Items such as training, installation, configuration, and ongoing administration can often be the most expensive aspects of designing a network. When you create a design, try to identify both the fixed costs (the hardware and software) and the hidden costs (the training and administration). If your design includes components that are difficult to administer, be sure to indicate the costs associated with training someone for the administrative tasks or the cost to hire someone to do the job. Select networking equipment that is easy to configure, operate, maintain, and troubleshoot. When deciding between a product that has a low price but is difficult to administer and one that has a higher price but is easier to administer, remember that you will only pay for the product once, but your organization will pay for administration of the product for as long as it owns it. The decision to go with a less-expensive design that requires much more administration may seem like less of a bargain in the long run.

The current “fiscally conservative” environment has caused organizations both small and large to place budget and monetary factors at the top of the list when creating or modifying their networks. So when you’re creating a network design, it’s essential to understand how scalability, availability, and security affect the cost. Also, it’s important to identify and attempt to calculate the intangible aspects of the total cost of ownership associated with the hardware and software you consider in your network design. This requires research as well as cooperation between an organization’s IT professionals and accountants.
We look forward to getting your input and hearing your experiences regarding this important topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox