The List of the Steps to Design & Implement a New Network for a Small Manufacturing Company
By Michael Lawrence
All networks, regardless of their size, have similar foundational requirements. Embark on a network design project identifying current and future business requirements to ensure you plan the right technology as your business grows. One of the most critical choices is deciding if your business should consolidate voice services over the data network to minimize the cost of the network. When you highlight these types of issues and discuss requirements clearly at the start of the project, you benefit both financial and technical planning.
Uncover your small business's requirements for performance, capacity and network ports. Meet with co-workers from each area of your company to understand their application and potential expansion requirements. Local area networks support a single location, like an office or building, using switches that provide ports to connect servers, storage hardware, computers, phones and printers to the network. The LAN itself consists of cabling, switches and routers that provide connectivity to the Internet as well as additional locations, if required, and routing between LAN segments.
Plan and design the cable layout. Cabling plays an important part of network design as it provides the physical communication path for your manufacturing company. Consult with a cable design professional experienced in manufacturing areas to minimize the potential for equipment interference. Consulting with a cable company provides peace of mind that you've planned the correct type of cable and included fire code specifications.
Create a spreadsheet to gather key details needed for the design. Information collected must include the number of users per location, their roles, LAN port speeds and node types, such as printers and any hardware that will be connected to the network. Other network requirements include programmable logic controllers for robotics or other automated systems requiring network connectivity. Configure the spreadsheet by listing physical locations across the top columns and creating row categories for users. List the total number of users per site and classification type, such as office, engineering and manufacturing. Another classification section should address the computer room, identifying each server and the applications hosted, as well as operating systems and network card speeds. Also document the computer room’s environmental services for air conditioning, electrical capacity and controls to monitor humidity and temperature levels.
Analyze network performance in its current state. Use protocol analyzers and network management software and perform the analysis at various times of a business day, such as at the start of shifts, after lunch and during periods that typically result in increased traffic, such as running month-end financial processes or moving complex engineering data over the network. This activity provides information associated with LAN and WAN performance, protocols used and areas in the existing topology that create performance bottlenecks along with application characteristics. The protocol analyzer may be able to identify protocols running by default on some nodes that create overhead and can be turned off.
Collect your existing physical and logical network diagrams to support the current state design. Identify routers, switches, LAN uplink bandwidth, network equipment cabinets, power and cooling information, and current standards for the fiber and the copper cable plant. For the logical design, obtain current information for the IP address design for the LAN including virtual LAN information and connectivity requirements, if more than one building is present. Document protocols used in the network, including routing protocols used for connectivity between buildings.
Determine the number of LAN switch ports required currently and projected over the next 24 months for each location. Even though this is a small manufacturing company, the building may include one or more telecommunication closets called intermediate distribution frames. The telecommunication closets provide copper network cables to each employee’s desk if the distance from the computer room exceeds cable limits. The closet also serves as the installation location for LAN access layer switches that provide the connection ports for wireless access points, computers, printers and other network hardware your company may use. The access layer switches will connect to the computer room switches using multi-mode fiber optics.
Select access layer switches based on your projected growth requirements for network ports and future expectations for wireless network service, voice and video integration and quality of service. This approach ensures that network hardware meets the needs of the company and supports the addition of new features without hindering performance. Plan enough strands of fiber between the access layer and the computer room switches for growth as well as ensuring that the fiber uplinks and switch ports will support bandwidth requirements.
Select switches and routers, introducing standards for each layer of the network. For the access layer, consider standardizing on a chassis based switch for areas of the building where you need to support future expansion and added ports or features. Use smaller switches in other areas. When you create a standard for network hardware, you reduce variations and ease support as staff members are familiar with the equipment. Network switches and routers must support immediate port requirements and have the ability to expand when new features are introduced. Determine if the manufacturing portion of the network will require switches that tolerate environments that produce higher temperatures or conditions that will require a hardened industrial-based switch.
Select computer room switches. Evaluate dual switches designed to support fiber connections from each access layer telecommunication closet. Plan the port density and speeds to support the servers in a combined distribution and core layer. A dual switch configuration in the computer room provides redundancy and scalability when you use chassis-based switches. As an alternate approach, consider a single enterprise-class switch to reduce cost and support future progression to a dual switch design. Present both options to the management team, identifying the benefits, risks and costs of each option.
Develop an IP address design that meets growth requirements and selects a routing protocol for the network to support fast convergence with ease of management. If you're designing to support multiple buildings, select a network transport service and bandwidth based on your performance requirements and growth projections, including planned new applications. When making WAN transport selections to connect buildings, consider the flexibility of the service that will support bandwidth changes to meet future requirements.
Plan a phased approach to implementation. Introduce the computer room core switches first, providing connectivity to the servers. Depending on the size of the company and business process needs, it might be possible to immediately follow this activity on the same day by implementing the new access layer switches. Schedule wide area connectivity following the introduction of the core switches in the computer room, selecting a time that does not conflict with the access layer installation. Coordinate wide area connectivity with the telecommunication vendor providing this portion of the network service.
Inform all employees of the scope of implementation for each phase, along with dates and times. Implementation of new equipment generally means systems and data will not be available at the time of the change. This gives employees the opportunity to plan their work around the resulting downtime.
Pre-configure network equipment and test it prior to implementation.
Schedule the personnel and support needed from among IT department staff members and any vendor staff that must support the implementation.
Test computers, printers and other network devices after installing routers and switches to make sure everything is operating correctly. Support business needs by having network staff members on standby in the morning on the first day of the new network going live to address any access problems or other issues that might occur. Following the implementation, make sure the network is properly documented for future planning and operational support services.
Michael Lawrence holds a B.S. in computer information systems and an M.B.A. in strategic management. He has held technical and leadership roles in the field of information technology for more than 20 years. Lawrence has certifications in project management, enterprise architecture and Six Sigma.