No matter how small, all network installations go through an initial planning phase before implementation. The new network administrator must take many factors into consideration when planning a network. Most importantly, the administrator must understand the required capacity, compatibility, and flexibility of the new network. Gathering this information requires a wide range of techniques including reading documentation and interviewing management.
As more and more functionality is placed on the network, network traffic begins to grow. Understanding the rate of growth can help network administrators plan for future network upgrades. In order to understand how network traffic grows, network administrators need to understand how the network's user-base is expected to grow. If the company is expecting a sudden increase in sales staff, the portion of the network servicing the sales staff needs to anticipate this growth. Network administrators can also gather a traffic baseline to see how the network is performing at a specific moment in time, and then gather new information to see how the traffic has changed since the baseline was taken (Claise & Wolter, 2007).
In 2006, St. Vincent's Hospital of Birmingham, Alabama, rolled out a huge 168 access-point wireless network designed to connect the hospitals growing number of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), laptops, and two-way communication badges. Network designers decided to implement the 802.11b standard since it was the most widely compatible protocol available (Geer, 2004). Compatibility is a major consideration when designing a network. Network designers must take into consideration the different devices that will be attached to the network in order to decide what technology must be implemented. Although St. Vincent's network designers utilized the widely implemented 802.11b protocol, they may have found far fewer devices able to implement the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA or WPA2) protocol over the less secure Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP) protocol.
While necessary, planning for capacity and compatibility cannot cover every possible circumstance. The final piece of the network-planning puzzle is flexibility. When capacity or compatibility planning do not meet the needs of the growing network, it must have the flexibility to new design parameters without a major overhaul. For example, the ability to accept both copper and fiber media allows network equipment to adapt if a fiber-only device is introduced into a previously all copper network.
Claise, B. & Wolter, R. (2007). Network management: Accounting and performance strategies. Indianapolis: Cisco Press.
Geer, D. (2004, April 15). WLAN project speeds urgent care. America's Network, 108(2), 16. Retrieved August 24, 2009, from Associates Programs Source Plus database.