Modern computer networks can be incredibly complex. Cloud-based platforms, embedded systems, and the trend of remote work have added to an already chaotic mixture of routers, hubs, and servers.
In addition to managing access and ensuring connectivity and speed, network management pros have to deal with an ever-increasing list of cybersecurity challenges.
Up-to-date firewalls, encryption, database backup systems, and VPNs are all necessary to ward off hackers.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed in the fast-paced world of modern IT. However, you can avoid a disorderly network by simplifying its management systems and focusing on the key elements necessary to build and maintain an effective IT operation. How simple can you make it? Fundamentally, there are five functional areas of network management and four key components to an effective system. Here is a guide to creating a fast, safe, scalable, and organized network management system.
A network management system is only as good as its weakest component. All the factors that make it effective are intertwined.
The network needs to be properly organized to ensure both speed and accessibility. A well-mapped system is also necessary to protect against cyber criminals looking for a back door or weak link in your design. Meanwhile, workers need access and speed for full productivity, but connection points and login pages are also targets for hackers.
Network management is effective when it balances all these different components. An effective system gives everyone the tools and access they need to perform without sacrificing too much in any one area. In some cases, it may be necessary to sacrifice a little convenience or speed to make sure the entire network is protected and fully functioning.
An example could be requiring two-factor authentication when logging in. This one extra measure will slow down users, but only by a few seconds while they enter a second code. The brief extra step will ward off hackers who have access to stolen or guessed passwords.
You may also have a design that sends too much bandwidth to one cluster of devices. The computers in this group will enjoy ultra-fast speeds, but the rapid connection could come at the expense of other clusters, which may be experiencing latency or other issues that slow down productivity. Unless the additional speed is necessary for important functions, better bandwidth distribution ensures good connections throughout the network.
A strong network should contain a clear design and extensive security. It needs to be fast, efficient, and scalable so that managers can add connections and hardware without changing the entire system.
The physical layout of a network, known as its topology, needs to be clear and well-organized. The quality and effectiveness of a network depend on its physical design.
You can make a digital network topology diagram that includes equipment, such as routers, firewalls, switches, and modems. The map should also include other hardware, such as computers, printers, and embedded systems. Finally, there needs to be data about protocols, IP addresses, and access points. All this information paints a clear, visual picture of all the components and connections that make up the network.
It's possible to hand-draw this type of diagram. However, good network topology mapping software can automate the production of network maps and organize the setup into different groups or clusters. Each area will have information about the connections, protocols, IP addresses, and other necessary data. The automated nature of these maps frees up network specialists to monitor activity, train new users on the system, or make other improvements instead of manually drawing charts and updating them with each new hardware device or connection change.
Why is topology important? It provides a visual representation of the system, allowing you to assess everything and look for ways to improve, such as plugging security holes or finding data bottlenecks. Topology is also essential for designing a scalable network. A diagram shows you where you can add additional components without disrupting the current setup.
Cybersecurity is front of mind for network managers. 2021 saw a 68% increase in the number of cyberattacks compared to 2020, so there is plenty of reason for concern.
One of the biggest dangers in today's digital world is cybercrime; hackers who obtain access to a network can steal important data, such as employee or customer information, trade secrets, or financial reports. Identity and personal data theft (especially through phishing) are among the most common types of cybercrime.
Companies that keep clients’ personal information, such as Social Security numbers, financial documents, and healthcare records, have legal and ethical obligations to keep that data safe. Some of the highest-profile breaches have involved the theft of this type of information, and the companies are often found liable for not protecting the personal data of their users.
Even if the network system doesn’t experience this type of dramatic and costly attack, regular malware, ransomware, and viruses can pose significant dangers, disrupt activity, and require network managers to shut off connections while they deal with the intrusion.
Without proper firewalls, login protections, network monitoring, and antivirus systems, the network will ultimately be vulnerable to attack. Network managers are often responsible for ensuring users know and use cybersecurity best practices when logging in, downloading external files, clicking on email links, and connecting remotely to the network.
Connection speed is important for productivity. In some industries, such as those that deal with investments and exchanges, a slow network can cause financial losses.
The challenge for networks is not necessarily ensuring that the main connections are speedy, but that every computer, device, and hardware system across the entire map has a consistently fast connection. In other words, you want to guarantee each device has the necessary bandwidth to function properly in every corner of the network. You do not want a fast connection in one cluster while another is overloaded with data and lagging terribly.
How can you guarantee consistent speed in every corner of a large network? One approach is to use software to measure device response time at various points. This data can help you discover issues like latency and packet loss, which are signs of an inferior connection. With this information, you can discover the source of speed or connection-related problems and take steps to correct them.
A well-organized, efficient, and secure system only works at an enterprise or organizational level if it is scalable. This type of expandability is critical in today’s IT environment, where new computer assets get added almost constantly.
How can you make a network scalable? One option is to use a modular layout, with clusters of hardware that can be expanded or broken into two equal parts. This design gives managers the ability to expand and add new elements to the network structure easily. More importantly, they can do so without disrupting current connections or worrying about upsetting the current balance of bandwidth in the system.