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Initial steps to creating a small-scale WAN

I work at a financial services group and have 100 employees with varying degrees of security access (low, med, high). Every employee has a computer, and there are two network printers/copiers in every building. We are trying to connect our three offices. Could you point me in the right direction? I have knowledge of networking but something like this seems overwhelming. Where do I start?
Most networks are developed in a piece-meal type fashion. Starting from the ground up requires a lot of research, planning, and understanding of the end-users computing needs. Pointing you into the right direction might be difficult but this should get you going:

First, I would implement a standard desktop client for all users. This will simplify configuration and management of the devices on the network. I would also highly recommend a single vendor for desktop hardware. The most common environments today are Dell desktop computers running Microsoft Windows 2000. Creating a good relationship with a third party vendor will ensure hardware and software maintenance are easily managed if you are short on in-house IT staff.

Once the common desktop environment is organized, the required servers and networking equipment must be implemented and purchased. Decide what application requirements each security level and group of users will require. What type of email servers, web-based applications, and tools will be required to allow each user to function appropriately? For security purposes, decide what type of restrictions on Internet access, Dial-up and VPN access for home-based users will be required. Since the enterprise is dealing with banking institutions, several security-based standards are required. Meeting with the banking institutions is a requirement to ensure you fulfill their requirements for access and secure transactions.

As for the networking component of the enterprise, Cisco Systems has developed several good training materials and facilities small businesses with networking needs by creating a hierarchy of products. Even if you do not choose to go with Cisco-based equipment, review their recommendations on the different access methods to understand what devices you will need and how they should logically fit together. Depending on the number of expected users at each site and the applications they will be running, each networking component should be sized to ensure reliable connectivity without costing too much to manage. Since the highest cost in networks is the recurring monthly WAN costs, accurately sizing circuits is a must for all enterprises no matter the size.

When implementing a new network, having the proper monitoring and troubleshooting tools is an additional must. These tools may be seen as cost prohibitive but when the users start complaining about performance degradation, implementing baselines, performance tools, and fault tools for the network at implementation will save a lot of finger-pointing and headaches in the end. I highly recommend a network utilization monitoring solution for WAN circuits and at the very least an SNMP poller for servers to monitor performance. Other tools exist but that's just a start.

With the right standards and policies in place to ensure reliable connectivity, secure transactions, and a uniform troubleshooting environment. The new network should provide the right application delivery to end-users and be easier to troubleshoot and manage from an IT staffing perspective. Good luck.

This was last published in June 2005

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