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What are three vital pieces of criteria used to evaluate a network?

Learn what to look for when evaluating a network, including common problems with architecture.

What are three vital pieces of criteria used to evaluate a network?

There are a ton of ways I could answer this particular request. But if I had to pick just three criteria for evaluating a network, I would say:

  1. Is there proper connectivity end-to-end with appropriate security controls to ensure unauthorized internal and external access to sensitive areas?
  2. Is the network configured to provide adequate bandwidth and latency to critical applications end-to-end?
  3. Is the routing and switching design consistent?

If I can answer yes to all three of these questions with a resounding YES, then I have an amazing network. I'll elaborate a little further with a few things that would help me determine the answers to these questions:

  1. First, I would determine if the proper connectivity is configured by the interfaces. This means ensuring that the right duplexing is established and everything is operating at optimal hardware configuration.

    Often times performance problems may occur due to interfaces acting in half duplex due to auto-negotiation and it's advisable to ensure proper connectivity throughout. This criterion is also geared toward evaluating firewall settings to ensure that proper access is granted in environments where sensitive data is stored.

    Many companies do not clearly delineate between networks where testing and development equipment overlap with production equipment with backup and maintenance traffic. Each of these traffic types should have a priority and be well understood in a good network environment.

  2.  

  3. With today's amazing world in innovating how users interact with applications, it's increasingly more important to have a very good understanding of end-to-end traffic flow to control latency and bandwidth requirements for applications. The model of application distribution is changing and this requirement evaluates a network for adequate bandwidth provisioning and the implementation of optimization for latency sensitive, business critical applications.
  4.  

  5. Part of a good network is managing and controlling the configurations to ensure consistent configuration/routing and predictable network connectivity. All too often I go into networks that over the years have evolved into a hodge-podge of band aids that, while suitable at the time, can cause significant issues later when that engineer who designed the one-off is no longer in the company.

    This requirement would be to ensure that the proper configuration parameters are in place end-to-end. For example, deploying QoS end-to-end only works if each router and switch in the path has a consistently defined QoS policy to treat the application traffic correctly. If packets are flowing, there should be a predictable path that is also flexible from host A to host B without fail.

Sound easy? Sure given infinite time, resources, 10,000 monkeys, and 10,000 typewriters. But that's why you pay the big bucks for network engineers who understand good design is the best defense to the network. I am kidding but in all seriousness, achieving these three 'simple' criteria is a constant evolutionary process in any good IT network organization.

This was last published in April 2008

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