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How to Update Aging Network Infrastructure Without Breaking Everything

network infrastructure

network infrastructure

Solutions Review’s Expert Insights Series is a collection of contributed articles written by industry experts in enterprise software categories.  Steve Petryschuk of Auvik maps out how to update your aging network infrastructure– without breaking everything.

In every organization, there will come a time when the network needs to be upgraded. When that time comes, the IT team must carefully plan out the upgrade to avoid unexpected network outages. After all, when the network is down, employees can’t be productive, sales aren’t being made, and the company loses revenue fast.

According to Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, one hour of server downtime costs most small and mid-sized companies $300,000, and can cost larger organizations more than $5 million. However, with the appropriate planning and teamwork, network managers and administrators can limit the chances of unexpected outages and are more likely to experience a smooth transition to the new network.

Network Infrastructure: Updating Without Breaking Everything

You Know That It’s Time When…

First, let’s explore how network administrators know it’s time to update aging infrastructure. It’s a monumental task and not one IT teams are keen to take on unnecessarily. However, many organizations are being forced into infrastructure upgrades by the widespread move to hybrid work and the need to ensure end-user connectivity from any location. In this case, the ‘first sign’ is not so much an alarm going off about aging infrastructure, so much as it is the need to fulfill a basic business requirement.

Other signs you’re in need of a network upgrade include:

  • Your network can no longer support your volume of traffic without significant latency issues.
  • You have limited visibility because the network wasn’t built for the modern age of IoT and other devices.
  • The amount of time required on basic network maintenance and repairs leaves little to no room for innovation.
  • Your network provider no longer services your dated network equipment, and it’s difficult or too expensive to find replacement parts.

If one or more of the above scenarios applies to your organization, it’s time to get serious about updating the network. Before getting started, it’s critical to have a clear goal in mind so that the performance and ROI of the new network infrastructure can be measured against it. This is how you will “prove” the network infrastructure upgrade was a success. Rolling out brand-new network technology may provide efficiencies, and cost savings, or may simply be needed for strategic initiatives or organic growth.

You also must take into consideration any constraints the organization faces, such as a limited budget, a tight timeline, few internal resources to complete the project, etc. For example, if the need for the upgrade is to accommodate a move to a new office facility, and the constraints are time-based and/or cost-based, the goals should be fairly easy to identify. In this case, you may frame the goal as having a complete access network covering 100 percent of the new office building with both wired and wireless connectivity by September 30th, and ensure any new infrastructure costs remain below the $100,000 project budget.

On the other hand, if the need is tied to strategic business objectives, defining the key goals might require more rigor. An example might be a retail organization’s goal to significantly shift revenue away from in-person transactions to e-commerce within a tight timeline (say, by the time the holiday shopping season begins). Something like this could require complex infrastructure upgrades. Either way, key goals, milestones, and objectives should be driven by the need and constraints.

A LAN, A Plan, A Committee

This is the perfect time to talk about who should be included in the planning committee for a network infrastructure upgrade. After all, you will need buy-in from several parties from the beginning, starting with alignment on what the specific goal is for the upgrade project. At a bare minimum, the planning committee should include key people from whichever departments are defining the need and those responsible for implementing the upgrades. Beyond that, the planning committee should carefully consider the impacts to any potential stakeholders. For some kinds of infrastructure upgrades, this might mean including business unit leaders or even HR. When IT-related projects are perceived as failures, it’s often because there was lackluster communication to or inclusion of key stakeholders. Include those who are most likely to be impacted early on in the process and stick to a clear and consistent communication plan throughout the upgrade.

Remember how much money it costs an organization to have the network down for even just one hour? It could be as much as $5M for large companies. That’s why it’s extremely important to ensure legacy network infrastructure remains fully operational during the upgrade. Network admins must have a complete view of their network, understand the intricate dependencies, and plan out potential points of failure, like moving critical network support services, in advance. Deploy discovery and mapping tools to an existing network and monitor its performance in real-time. Make sure your network monitoring solution supports basic alerting to let you know there may be a problem. Backup the configurations on every single device and create a plan for rollbacks if configuration changes are part of the broader project. Simple steps like these can help avoid costly downtime.

Even with the best-laid upgrade plans, there will always be some unknowns or surprises along the way. Staying agile and revising your plan to be responsive to these surprises is of utmost importance to ensure your network upgrade stays on track. After you complete the upgrade, document, and detail what went well and what lessons were learned during the process. Understanding the root cause of any issues or changes to your initial upgrade plan can help you create a better plan for your next network upgrade!

Final Thoughts on Upgrading Network Infrastructure

Upgrading aging network infrastructure is inevitable – it will need to happen sooner or later. The most impactful mistakes to avoid when undertaking this project are 1) getting started without a clear objective in mind and how you will work within the constraints of your organization, 2) not including key stakeholders and proper communication strategies as part of the project planning process, and 3) forgetting the basics and allowing your legacy network infrastructure to fail during the transition. The basics are discover, map, monitor, and backup your legacy infrastructure before making any changes.

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