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What Do You Consider When Evaluating Hardware For Your Network Infrastructure (eg Routers, etc)
If you are in the unenviable position of having to make decisions about the hardware solution for your company’s network infrastructure….LAN or WAN….the evaluation process can be overwhelming. Without a plan, you are doomed to failure …. and a severe migraine.
Keep in mind that it’s important to consider your company’s culture and what qualities it values.
For example, if he values IT independence – or sees it as core to his business – he’s more likely to look for a best-of-breed solution. If IT is less important to the business, then the solution of choice may be a widely distributed adequate solution that is easy to find experienced people to work with.
In short, it’s easy to list the qualities we all want from a device/vendor. Figuring out which ones to emphasize in your analysis is the real challenge, and the analysis that should really guide your decision.
To make things go more smoothly…..focus on these simple attributes in your evaluation.
The number one answer is the integrity of the corporation. What’s really important is that the company is committed to making its products work as advertised and documented, rather than cutting corners on quality assurance.
Another important but related factor is their customer service and technical support. What time to get defective components for replacement. When you talk to technical support, do they know or are they certified for the product they support and the platforms the product runs on.
Base your supplier evaluation on the above and the rest will follow.
Next …. confirm design requirements, amount of network traffic, type of traffic (data, VoIP, etc.), number of remote networks for WAN, future growth, redundancy. Cisco has an online tool that suggests a suitable device based on the answers to such questions.
If cost is no object, you’ll do well with Cisco. It might be worth evaluating Juniper and Foundry depending on your needs, and for SMB solutions you might even consider open source options like the Vyatta router/firewall.
Over the years, I’ve seen people tackle this question in many different ways. What I’ve seen most often is the desire to create more documentation / product analysis / due diligence without focusing on what’s at stake.
Don’t overcomplicate the issue – focus on your specific needs and make sure you don’t exclude the future. What you need now may just be what helps you meet your needs in the future – make sure you have a plan to scale.
Another big issue that I think is also being overlooked is the residual costs associated with the equipment purchased. Many companies are set up to purchase maintenance on an annual basis… remember that downtime comes at a cost, and in some environments that cost is prohibitive; in some it is not an effect. Consider these things in your evaluation, as well as the cost of supporting the solution.
For a quick checklist:
* First of all, if possible, evaluate well-known and proven brands, as the issue of ongoing support from the company and the availability of warranty repairs and replacements will be a major concern with a significant investment.
* Second – Choose the right level of product to work with. Avoid paying for extra features if the customer will never, ever (be careful, things can change) use those things. Don’t buy a limousine if you only need a bike.
* Third – compare performance, price and mean time between failures (MTBF). Look for “end of life” announcements. If you’re looking for a bargain or long life, this is a good tip.
* Fourth – Google the product(s) in question for testimonials and other reviews.
* The fifth is a practical evaluation with a call to support finalist products.
Somewhere in here you may need to consider failover or failover. If this device is a single point of failure with no backup….then warranty policies or local availability may be critical.
Basically…..it all starts with knowing your needs. Routers have the ability to connect networks with different media, even with different network methods. Examples are Fiber-to-UTP and Ethernet-ADSL. Obviously, you should have a device that can meet your needs. Will your needs change in the future, and if so, is the device capable of adapting to those changes?
Other considerations include: security ….. does the device sit at the edge of your network at risk of attack; or is it somewhere in the middle of your LAN, just connecting the departments to the core. In the first case you’ll want something with a set of firewall features, in the second case a layer 3 switch might be fine.
Don’t forget ….. how much traffic the router has to handle.
When you find out what you need and return your whitelist to the devices that meet your needs, there are more choices to make.
When it comes to IT in general, money is a BIG issue. Because IT will usually be seen as something that costs money. So, at first glance, the price of the equipment is important.
You should consider this also for managing your network environment. If your upfront costs are low, but you’re spending a lot of time to maintain and operate, you’re struggling to adapt to change, or your company is suffering from network outages…your management will be unhappy. So you need to look at MTBF numbers, mean time between failures and how quickly you can get a replacement. With some exotic brands, replacement can be a problem.
For really important routers, you should consider a hot spare configuration, which is more expensive but will automatically switch over in the event of a failure and no one will know that your primary router is dead. Except you, of course, since you control both devices.
Another important consideration related to hardware management is how it fits within your IT department. If your network engineering department consists of a group of well-trained Juniper professionals, buying Cisco comes with additional training costs.
Anyway, here’s the real message:
Firstly, as with all business measures you have to consider the costs, there is no point in looking at the top of the market unless the business reaches that point. It is also worth discounting cheap options as soon as possible if the business is willing to pay for the right solution rather than the cheapest.
The next consideration depends on the nature of your business, your security and reliability needs. But at a general level, most businesses need something reliable. This means that if you are remote or have remote offices with little support, you want something with a long time between failures. Security often depends on the nature of your business protection. Financial and medical information, for example, is considered a higher risk than most general data. There is also always a basic need for security….but again, as always, there must be a balance between cost, convenience and security. This should never be your only consideration. It also depends on the size of your IT support organization. Will hundreds of people need access to this equipment… or will it be limited to a select few? Is centralizing and auditing access right for your organization?
Support is also part of this equation; you may want something with great remote control capabilities or something simple that anyone can maintain. If you are purchasing rarer equipment, it may be more difficult to find remote service personnel capable of providing support. However if you design the systems well….with spare parts and redundant paths….a centralized authority can handle it for you. You see, it all depends on your approach to the problem.
Next, how high will you grow, do you have any growth projections for the future. Are there any new applications or new company acquisitions that will seriously affect the decision. Will you be moving from, say, a DS3 bandwidth backbone to an OC3 bandwidth backbone in a few years?
After all considerations have been considered, you must be consistent. Classify different sites and establish standards for operating systems, hardware platforms, IP addresses, and site configurations. This is great from a TCO perspective and will make network support easier and cheaper. Even with low-end hardware that replaces a stock item, it’s a lot easier to try to figure out a new configuration in the midst of a power outage. It also facilitates documentation, which is the core of world-class architecture. Support on undocumented sites is always a nightmare.
For network developers, there are obviously many brand considerations, but most often recommend CISCO solutions. I can recommend CISCO in terms of security, manageability, scalability and supportability. However, it can be quite expensive depending on your requirements.
The balance between price and the rest is up to you. You may end up finding another provider for routing, switching, wireless, VOIP, etc. The key is to keep it manageable. The cost of the product is not the full cost, factoring maintenance, support and reliability into its equation. Sometimes the most expensive option has a much better support value than the cheaper options beforehand.
Whatever solution you ultimately choose….hopefully you follow a well-thought-out plan in the process that incorporates the above concerns and suggestions.
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