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Network Design

What Is Network Design, And Why Do I Need It?

When you're planning a new network, or working to upgrade your existing network, a good plan and foresight will pay dividends for many years to come. The average consumer is familiar with the "all-in-one" design, which is typically a router, switch, and access point all housed in a simple device. When receiving these devices from your ISP (Internet Service Provider), these will also almost always include a modem component. The most robust networks around the world from small deployments to enterprise scales all utilize a combination of these devices in varying capacities, however the choices are nearly endless and can become quickly confusing. I'm here to help you make sense of these options and explain how you can plan for the future. Intelligent network design from the onset will provide you many years of worry-free use, easy upgrades, and in many cases allow for expansion with little or no additional work required.

When designing a network, a lot of things should be considered. What will you be using this network for? How many users will be on the network? How far will this network reach (a home, small office, large warehouse, or even a multi-site deployment)? Will VoIP (Voice) be utilized? Are there servers, remote connections, or other specific applications needing to be used on this network? All of these questions will help lay the ground work for what your network should begin to look like. This planning phase can help select the components of a network, the general overall design of where equipment should be located, how it'll communicate with each other, and the roles each item will play within your network. 

As you dive into the components of a network, how your data gets moved around, how it's segregated, redundancy measures, and a whole host of other factors are critical to take into account to ensure you're using your devices to their proper potential. Before we get started, let take a quick look at the various components that make up your typical network with a brief overview of each of their roles and functions.

 

Router / Firewall

Router / Firewall
  • The "brain" of your network
  • Routes your data to it's destination
  • Prevents intrustions
  • Allows Port Forwarding
  • Provides Remote Connectivity

Switch

Switch
  • Connects all of your devices
  • Expands your local network size
  • Can be segremented into VLANs
  • PoE : Power Over Ethernet available
  • Multiple Sizes Available

Modem

Modem
  • Provides your Internet Connectivity
  • DSL, Cable, & Fiber Connections
  • Typically provided by your ISP
  • Can be an all-in-one device
  • A common point of failure

Access Point

Access Point
  • Provides WiFi Connectivity
  • Multiple Wireless Networks
  • Indoor & Outdoor Installation
  • Typically ceiling & wall mounted
  • Long range options available

 

Dive Into The Design

As we look closer at the design of a network there's lot of things to think about. One of the first things to consider is the size of the network required. Being able to scale quickly can prevent considerable problems in the future. It's always better to have more options available than to have to go back later and add. This is especially true when it comes to running cables throughout your building. Whenever possible, running network cable should be done during the construction or renovation of a building as to conceal the cabling inside the walls easily, however this is not always an option. The amount of cables run, their origin and destination are all critical factors when designing a network. Typically all cables will have an origin of a dedicated area (possibly a closet or similar) where the "heart" of your network will reside. Their termination points should be in every room (even including washrooms!) with emphasis put on areas where you will expect a concentration of network connected equipment. Easily overlooked is the termination of cables in ceilings and outdoors for things such as security cameras and access points. Even if you don't plan to connect anything at the time, leaving options available will prevent timely & costly work in the future as you expand. 

With an ever increasing need for connectivity, your network is bound to grow. The planning of where your network will reside will help you plan for it's safe operation. For most clients this area will be a closet or storage room of sorts. A suitable sized rack is an excellent starting place. It's always wise to choose a larger rack than you initially think as additional components are routinely added over time. This rack can house more than just your "internet connection", and in most modern setups will include storage devices, servers, and even audio & video equipment. It will truly act as the "brains" of your home or business.

While wired networks are far superior from a reliability, speed, and security standpoint, they are not always possible. Wireless connectivity has become a commonplace for many devices such as laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and of course home automation devices. For a device to connect wirelessly to your network, you'll need an access point. This is sometimes built into your router, however in more robust networks, dedicated devices are used. These can be mounted in-wall, on the ceiling, wall, or even placed on a desk. In many cases a single access point is rarely enough - even in a 3 story home. Adding multiple access points throughout your building can increase WiFi connectivity, speed, and reliability, however the planning and placement of these devices is critical.

Sometimes running cables to more remote locations on your property isn't always a possibility. In cases where you need connectivity in a garage, remote building, a support trailer, or even another full sized structure within line of sight, point-to-point bridges can be used. For a relatively cheap price, you can instantly beam your network up to kilometers away using radio transmitters. One of the most common mistakes is the attempt to send WiFi signals long distances, almost always with poor or non-existent results.  

 

You Need Network Segregation

Today more than ever, there are more devices requiring connectivity. As we transform our lives to rely on our Internet connected devices, it's catastrophic when disaster strikes. Segregating your network is an excellent piece of your protection against potentially harmful threats to your infrastructure, but it can also provide a lot of logistical help you may not have thought about. Do you really need everything in your network to talk to each other? 

This is where something called "VLANs", or virtual LANs come in handy. For most people they'll just plug all their devices into one router, things work, and that's about the end of any thought that goes into it. However with this type of setup all of your devices can freely talk to one another. This doesn't sound so bad, until you begin to think about threats and security. That $15 Chinese made SmartHome light bulb may be running penetration tests on your server to check for vulnerabilities. Giving guests the WiFi password to your primary network gives them an open door to root around and do almost anything they'd like. You'd be shocked at what can be achieved in under 30 seconds on an unsecured network. VLANs allow you to segregate your various networks apart from one another and put them in these virtual containers. Now all of your most important devices are connected together, your guests have a dedicated network where they can't see anything but themselves, your VoIP deployment gets it's own space, and you can even put all of your potentially insecure devices into their own little group that can't talk to anyone else. When you look at larger scale deployments you can segment different departments in your organization, different physical locations that interconnect on one homogeneous network.

Additional considerations can be put into segmenting certain types of devices such as printers & copiers, security cameras, and even putting your actual network hardware on it's own VLAN as to hide it away from potentially curious eyes. The possibilities do truly extend far beyond what many people can imagine.

And, this can be confusing! I'm here to help you design and plan your network, retrofit what you may already have in place, or help you understand how to better utilize the equipment you already have to provide better security, functionality, and give you peace of mind knowing that things are done the right way.

   

 

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