By Jude Lamour, DeVry University Professor
Network infrastructure is the backbone of a company's communications. It provides a reliable and secure system for employees to communicate with each other, use online resources and store data or "in-house" information. Network infrastructure helps organizations conduct their day-to-day operations. And while networking technologies are ubiquitous, to effectively stay on top of changes in this industry, senior executives must ensure that their organizations' network architecture aligns with their business needs.
To that end, it is not enough to buy the latest IT gadgets. To be successful, IT practitioners need to assess their organization's business needs and implement technologies that adapt to both present and future changes in the business environment.
Implementing Computing Infrastructures
It’s important to implement computing infrastructures that are agile, secure, cost-effective, reliable and flexible. Traditional network design usually focuses on forecasting bandwidth requirement to ensure that links between various branches are capable of transporting end users' traffic.
This was good enough in the past to predict the types of WAN (wide area network) circuits or leased lines required to implement network infrastructures. However, such a model would no longer work in the age of cloud computing, rapid mobile application development, enterprise collaboration, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
To compete, organizations need to implement enterprise networks that are nimble enough to adapt to changes in technology and the business environment. This article presents an approach to designing modern enterprise networks that will meet present and future business requirements.
Applying Today's Infrastructure to Tomorrow's Needs
To be effective, a network architect needs to design flexible infrastructures that align with their organization's strategic goals. Use of a top-down network design model as opposed to a bottom-up approach is more likely to lead to a successful infrastructure design.
The top-down approach includes several critical layers. Unlike the bottom-up approach that begins to look at the technology layer, the top-down approach begins with the business needs first all the way to the technology layer. The top-down model in this article is comprised of five distinct layers listed in order from the top down. They are the business requirements layer, the application layer, the data layer, the network infrastructure layer and, finally, the technology layer.1
Top-Down Model Network Architecture
Selection of a top-down model network architecture will make it possible to support the organization’s current and future business needs. The model emphasizes business requirements and focuses on critical business processes needed to support both tactical and operational organizational goals.
Upon identifying those critical business processes, the application architect needs to select effective applications capable of meeting the organization’s business needs. To accomplish this objective, the network, application and security architects need to take several critical non-functional requirements into consideration including the amount of data generated by the computing system, data location, data transfer rate, data security, manageability, etc., to ensure the effectiveness and reliability of the system.
The network architect needs to leverage the choice of technology in order to facilitate maximum flexibility in future network infrastructure developments. After all, its success relies on whether it can facilitate changes in compliance, regulations, standards, advances in technology and the business model.
Network architects can leverage the strengths of the various enterprise architectures below to ensure alignment with their organizations’ business requirements.
- The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF)
- Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architectures
- The Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA)
Network Infrastructure Design in Today's World
These days, organizations are forced to rely on remote users accessing various computing resources to maintain business operations.
Hence, an effective network infrastructure needs to support the growing number of remote users and access to enterprise applications housed in various cloud providers’ networks. Employees, partner organizations and customers need to be able to access authorized computing resources without regard for their location.
On top of this requirement, the infrastructure needs to support the continuous development model where DevOps teams constantly make changes to applications in production at the pace required by the business. Support for DevOps, containerization, microservices and orchestration should be at the center of the organization’s network architecture.
The key point here is to ensure that the proposed architecture mirrors the strategic goals set forth by senior executives. The network infrastructure needs to include other critical components such as regulations, compliance, standards, changes in technology and even the competition. This means that the architecture needs to be flexible and adaptable while supporting changes in both business processes and technology.
Supporting an Organization’s Business Needs
The design of the network architecture cannot be done in a vacuum. Focus primarily on technology would lead to missed opportunities especially when it comes to designing a flexible network capable of adapting to changes in the business, technology or compliance landscape.
Use of overlay technologies is required to effectively support cloud computing and modern data center computing technologies, and high-availability and self-healing need to be natively embedded.
With a growing dependency on these new technologies to conduct daily business operations and the daily announcement of mega data breaches, organizations can expect governmental push for more laws that address privacy concerns and organizational liabilities.
Hence, while the organization’s strategic goals drive its design, that architecture needs to be supported by several pillars including the business environment, compliance, regulations, standards, technology and so on. Such structures will be flexible enough to adapt to changes in business requirements.
A successful network infrastructure based on the top-down approach will be able to adapt to various changes in both business and technology while continuing to drive and support the organization’s business needs in a cost-effective manner.
Navigate the Future of Business
In an ever-changing and fast-paced industry, adaptability is key to success. As an employee and stakeholder of the business you work for, it is your responsibility to hold your senior executives accountable for ensuring that your organization’s network infrastructure design aligns with the businesses’ needs. Doing so may allow your organization to more effectively compete in the global market.
Encourage your senior executives to assess your organization’s business needs and implement technologies that allow for success in a world that so suddenly had to embrace change. To thrive, your organization must be able to adapt to all of the evolving changes in the current and future business environment.
About Professor Jude Lamour, Ph.D., CISSP, CISM, CCAI
Jude Lamour is a Professor of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry College of New York. He has earned a PhD in Management Information Systems with an emphasis in Information Assurance. Lamour has designed, implemented and managed many security projects for large enterprises in the financial sector in New York City, and he currently holds the Cisco Certified Academy Instructor (CCAI) certification in networking and security.
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1Goldman, J. E. (1997). Local area networks: a client/server approach. New York: J. Wiley.