Businesses and Their Networks
As companies grow, they hire more employees, open branch offices, and expand into global markets. These changes also influence their requirements for integrated services and drive their network requirements. In this topic, we will explore how company networks change to accommodate their changing business requirements.
Every business is unique and how an organization grows depends on many factors, such as the type of products or services the business sells, the management philosophy of the owners, and the economic climate of the country in which the business operates.
In slow economic times, many businesses focus on increasing their profitability by improving the efficiency of their existing operations, increasing employee productivity, and lowering operating costs. Establishing and managing networks can represent significant installation and operating expenses. To justify such a large expense, companies expect their networks to perform optimally and to be able to deliver an ever increasing array of services and applications to support productivity and profitability.
To illustrate, let us look at an example of a fictitious company called Span Engineering, and watch how its network requirements change as the company grows from a small local business into a global enterprise.
Click the tabs in the figure to see each growth stage and the associated network topology.
Small Office (Single LAN)
Span Engineering, an environmental consulting firm, has developed a special process for converting household waste into electricity and is developing a small pilot project for a municipal government in its local area. The company, which has been in business for four years, has grown to include 15 employees: six engineers, four computer-aided drawing (CAD) designers, a receptionist, two senior partners, and two office assistants.
Span Engineering's management is hoping that they will have full scale projects after the pilot project successfully demonstrates the feasibility of their process. Until then, the company must manage its costs carefully.
For their small office, Span Engineering uses a single LAN to share information between computers, and to share peripherals, such as a printer, a large-scale plotter (to print engineering drawings), and fax equipment. They have recently upgraded their LAN to provide inexpensive Voice over IP (VoIP) service to save on the costs of separate phone lines for their employees.
Connection to the Internet is through a common broadband service called Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), which is supplied by their local telephone service provider. With so few employees, bandwidth is not a significant problem.
The company cannot afford in-house information technology (IT) support staff, and uses support services purchased from the same service provider. The company also uses a hosting service rather than purchasing and operating its own FTP and e-mail servers. The figure shows an example of a small office and its network.
Campus (Multiple LANs)
Five years later, Span Engineering has grown rapidly. As the owners had hoped, the company was contracted to design and implement a full-sized waste conversion facility soon after the successful implementation of their first pilot plant. Since then, other projects have also been won in neighboring municipalities and in other parts of the country.
To handle the additional workload, the business has hired more staff and leased more office space. It is now a small to medium-sized business with several hundred employees. Many projects are being developed at the same time, and each requires a project manager and support staff. The company has organized itself into functional departments, with each department having its own organizational team. To meet its growing needs, the company has moved into several floors of a larger office building.
As the business has expanded, the network has also grown. Instead of a single small LAN, the network now consists of several subnetworks, each devoted to a different department. For example, all the engineering staff are on one LAN, while the marketing staff is on another LAN. These multiple LANs are joined to create a company-wide network, or campus, which spans several floors of the building.
The business now has in-house IT staff to support and maintain the network. The network includes servers for e-mail, data transfer and file storage, web-based productivity tools and applications, as well as for the company intranet to provide in-house documents and information to employees. In addition, the company has an extranet that provides project information only to designated customers.
Another five years later, Span Engineering has been so successful with its patented process that demand for its services has skyrocketed, and new projects are now being built in other cities. To manage those projects, the company has opened small branch offices closer to the project sites.
This situation presents new challenges to the IT team. To manage the delivery of information and services throughout the company, Span Engineering now has a data center, which houses the various databases and servers of the company. To ensure that all parts of the business are able to access the same services and applications regardless of where the offices are located, the company now needs to implement a WAN.
For its branch offices that are in nearby cities, the company decides to use private dedicated lines through their local service provider. However, for those offices that are located in other countries, the Internet is now an attractive WAN connection option. Although connecting offices through the Internet is economical, it introduces security and privacy issues that the IT team must address.
Span Engineering has now been in business for 20 years and has grown to thousands of employees distributed in offices worldwide. The cost of the network and its related services is now a significant expense. The company is now looking to provide its employees with the best network services at the lowest cost. Optimized network services would allow each employee to work at high efficiency.
To increase profitability, Span Engineering needs to reduce its operating expenses. It has relocated some of its office facilities to less expensive areas. The company is also encouraging teleworking and virtual teams. Web-based applications, including web-conferencing, e-learning, and online collaboration tools, are being used to increase productivity and reduce costs. Site-to-site and remote access Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) enable the company to use the Internet to connect easily and securely with employees and facilities around the world. To meet these requirements, the network must provide the necessary converged services and secure Internet WAN connectivity to remote offices and individuals.
As we have seen from this example, the network requirements of a company can change dramatically as the company grows over time. Distributing employees saves costs in many ways, but it puts increased demands on the network. Not only must a network meet the day-to-day operational needs of the business, but it needs to be able to adapt and grow as the company changes. Network designers and administrators meet these challenges by carefully choosing network technologies, protocols, and service providers, and by optimizing their networks using many of the techniques we teach in this series of courses. The next topic describes a network model for designing networks that can accommodate the changing needs of today's evolving businesses.