7 Tips For Upgrading Your Network

  • Upgrading networks can be tricky due to the fact that a network touches every aspect of a business’s overall IT infrastructure and impacts a wide range of users. From the end user to the server admin, and all the way to the application developer, everyone is affected by a network upgrade, for better or worse.

    In contrast, when an application server is upgraded, the impact is only on those employees that use the applications on that specific server. While there indeed are applications that all employees use, more often than not, an upgrade only impacts a subset of users. Network upgrades, on the other hand, have the tendency to affect more users than any other segment of IT.

    Because the network is the underlying component for all computer functions beyond local applications, network upgrades have the potential to cause more business disruptions compared to other IT upgrades. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that an upgrade plan be put in place that uses best practices. Whether you are upgrading network switches at a remote office, replacing an aging wireless network or implementing the latest network infrastructure technologies in your data center, each upgrade should follow the same tried-and-true best practices.

    [Learn best practices and strategies for building and managing an enterprise network in the Networking Track at Interop Las Vegas, May 2-6. Register now!]

    On the following pages, we'll highlight several best practices that should be used for any network upgrade project. These best practices are based on the following goals for a successful network upgrade:

    1. Upgrade to a network solution that best meets organizational requirements.
    2. Determine user impact during the upgrade process and after the upgrade is complete
    3. Perform the upgrade with as little business impact as possible.
    4. Ensure the upgrade can be properly supported once in production

    (Image: Mathias Rosenthal/iStockphoto)

  • Figure out what you need today, tomorrow, and three years from now

    Network upgrades aren’t just about satisfying needs for today, but also for a reasonable time in the future. Sufficient capacity planning should be performed to identify what’s needed. By accurately collecting network usage metrics and creating an accurate baseline, data can be used to project future growth to ensure that an upgrade performed today will be usable for years to come.

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  • Notify end users

    Communication with end users is a key component for the success of a network upgrade. Because the network affects everyone, targeted communications must detail the impact of the upgrade. Understanding how end users access and leverage the network for their specific job role is important when explaining how an upgrade will impact their duties both during the maintenance window  and after the upgrade is complete. If there are any changes to how employees interact with the network infrastructure in any way, this must be communicated clearly.  For example, if a WiFi upgrade includes a new method for user authentication, these changes need to be publicized, preferably with detailed documentation on how to use the new authentication system.

    (Image: stux/Pixabay)

  • Bake security into the upgrade process

    When planning and implementing the upgrade, make sure that security is integrated into the entire process. It’s often tempting to forego security measures just to get something up and running. These types of shortcuts often lead to upgrades that leave major security holes that are difficult to retroactively fix. Please fight the urge to take shortcuts; implement security best practices into all network upgrades.

  • Determine a rollout strategy

    A rollout strategy should finely balance the speed of deployment with the risk of making mistakes that bring down the network. Your goal should be to find the optimal comfort level for the organization such that the upgrade can be performed in a reasonable amount of time without taking any major risks. In some network upgrades, there is also a “point of no return” situation where it becomes impossible -- or at least unreasonable -- to roll back changes. Make sure the rollout strategy identifies these points and plans for them accordingly.

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  • Have a back-out strategy

    Just as the rollout plan is critically important, so too is a back-out strategy. Far too often I’ve witnessed or heard about network upgrades that went awry and no thought was ever put into how to rollback. Don’t let this happen to you. Spend just as much time figuring out a back-out strategy as you do an implementation strategy. Even though you might not ever need it, you’ll be very happy you spent the time and effort in the event you do.

    (Image: Fredex8/iStockphoto)

  • Train support staff

    The same people who design, architect, and deploy the new network upgrade may not be the same people supporting it once it goes into production. This is especially true if you work for a large organization or hire outside consultants to handle the upgrade. Proper training is critical to the care and feeding of a network upgrade from day one and beyond.

    (Image: Peggy_Marco/Pixabay)

  • Document, document, document!

    The step that is most often skipped over – yet is absolutely critical to the success of a network -- is to thoroughly document the upgrade, how the new technology works, and how to maintain it once it’s in production. Documentation should also be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. A network upgrade that includes detailed documentation is far more likely to be considered successful when support staffers have information they can refer to for help.

    (Image: Unsplash/Pixabay)