What Makes a “Good” Network?

LAN v WAN

Traditionally, we have always segregated networks into pretty much two distinct camps – Local Area Network and Wide Area Network.

In reality, however, there is only one element – your network. The concept of the Wide Area Network really only means all those resources on the other side of your router and Local Area Network, is everything on this side.

What makes a "Good" Network?

Let’s look at it another way – what makes a “bad” network?

 

There can be so many individual components in a network that it can be quite easy to make the wrong choices when designing and building one. 

 

The biggest mistake most of us make is trying to determine by price instead of functionality. The old saying – “buy cheap, buy twice” – definitely applies to networking for many reasons.


The problem for most small to medium businesses though, is that they often don’t have the expertise at hand to get it right from the outset and to avoid the pitfalls. Very often, the only experience small business owners have is taken from their home networking environment where cheap routers, firewalls and WiFi work OK. The trouble is that things like GDPR etc. don’t apply at home. Likewise, we don’t need to cater for lots of people wanting to connect to WiFi at the same time at home.

What we need to do is look at the network in the same way we would when buying anything else for our business, say, for example, a van to deliver the products we make to our customers:


  • Can it carry the load we will be delivering?
  • Can it do it at an efficient speed to ensure that it gets there on time?
  • Will it require a high level of maintenance to keep it running?
  • Will we need to replace it sooner than we would like?
  • Is there a high risk it can be broken into and its load stolen?
Attention to detail

We certainly wouldn’t compromise on any of the above when choosing a van, we might negotiate the price with the dealer, but we absolutely won’t accept anything less in terms of specification.

Let’s have a look at the van analogy in more detail.

·        Can it carry the load we will be delivering?

    • If we have 100 staff connecting to WiFi in a 3-storey office, will a single, cheap, wireless access point cut it?

·        Can it do it at an efficient speed to ensure that it gets there on time?

    • Will a 100mbps network switch with very low throughput get our data to our PCs and Laptops quickly?

·        Will it require a high level of maintenance to keep it running?

    • Does the router need to be rebooted every day to clear out the stale sessions that build up?

·        Will we need to replace it sooner than we would like?

    • Is it under lifetime warranty?

·        Is there a high risk it can be broken into and have its load stolen?

    • Can you segregate traffic with VLANs? Can you control access? Does your firewall have Unified Threat Management?

And the winner is... Connectivity

In the above we have covered everything on the “inside” side of your router, but what about the other side?

 

Well first, we need to be able to get to the other side. Now, there are many ways to get to the other side in the UK, including but not limited to –

 

  • ADSL Broadband
  • FTTC Broadband
  • G.FAST
  • FTTP Broadband
  • Cable Broadband
  • Satellite Broadband
  • 3G / 4G / 5G Cellular
  • Fibre Ethernet
 

What we choose as our connection can be limited to what is available in our geographic location and what we think can afford to pay for.

 

We have a saying in our business – “Connectivity is KING”.

Without a decent connection to the internet, businesses of all sizes will be at a disadvantage to their competitors. Almost everything we do in business in 2020 relies to some extent upon connectivity to the internet. We all use email, we all use social media, we all buy (and some of us also sell) online, many of use internet telephony, and increasingly we are moving what used to be considered “on premise only” services, such as file storage to online ‘cloud’ based services.

 

As in the van analogy above,  we get what we pay for with connectivity.

 

How do we quantify this?

Well let’s refer back to the analogy:

  • Can it carry the load we will be delivering?
  • Can it do it at an efficient speed to ensure that it gets there on time?
  • Will it require a high level of maintenance to keep it running?
  • Will we need to replace it sooner than we would like?
  • Is there a high risk it can be broken into and its load stolen?

Many people think bandwidth is a measure of the speed of an internet connection. However, this isn’t exactly true.

Bandwidth is a measure of how much. Simply put it is how much can be pushed or pulled through a finite space in a given timescale.

So:

·        Can it carry the load we will be delivering?

The speed is more the measure of time it takes for a transmission of data to get from one end of the connection to the other, we refer to this as latency. 

If you have a Satellite Broadband connection with a bandwidth measured at 70mbps, but with a latency of 250m/s, this will appear 10 times slower than an FTTC broadband connection with a bandwidth also measured at 70mbps but a latency of 25m/s.

So:

·        Can it do it at an efficient speed to ensure that it gets there on time?

Point 3, is a bit more complex:

·        Will it require a high level of maintenance to keep it running?

Consider that an ADSL or FTTC is delivered to the customer premises using copper cables which can be affected by external factors such as the weather and Satellite broadband. Whilst the maintenance isn’t carried out by the customer, it can seriously impact the customer when the copper lies in a duct full of rainwater. Waiting for the supplier to come and repair it can take up to 2 business days – or 40% of your working week!

With point 4:

·        Will we need to replace it sooner than we would like?

We need to consider the first two points together to determine this. As our business grows and we suddenly have 200 staff trying to use our ADSL connection, will it be big enough and fast enough? Probably not.

Finally, point 5:

·        Is there a high risk it can be broken into and have its load stolen?

Ever wondered why, when you connect to the free WiFi in your favourite coffee shop, Windows asks if you “trust this network”? 

So, when you sign up for that point to point WiFi connection, who else can see it? Of course, we need to make sure that the security element is covered on the inside of our network first and foremost.

One other thing to note, all Broadband based technology works on the basis of contention, so you “share” the medium with a number of other customers. ADSL, for example, has a 20:1 contention ratio and whilst this has vastly improved in recent times, during peak and busy periods, dips in performance can be noticeable.

So what makes a "Good" Network?

The only product to absolutely guarantee speed, bandwidth, low maintenance, allowance for growth, security and contention free connectivity is Fibre Ethernet, also known as Leased Line.

So, the answer to the original question, “What makes a good network?” is:

  • Enterprise grade switches and routers
  • Next Generation UTM capable Firewalls
  • VLAN segregated traffic
  • Security and access policies
  • Enterprise grade managed WiFi
  • Guest Control
  • Active Network Management and Reporting
  • Secure, resilient and robust internet connectivity

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