Care and Feeding of Your Network

Your network is the nerve center of all of your IT and like that new puppy or kitten under the Christmas tree it requires regular care and feeding to keep it healthy and happy. The network infrastructure consists of several parts: switches, wireless access points, routers, and firewalls are the most common. These devices have the job of connecting all of your devices like computers, servers, printers, and tablets so they can communicate and share data. When these devices fail that communication you depend on to connect your employees to your data and to the internet is disrupted. Proper care and maintenance can improve the life span of this equipment and ensure optimum performance throughout the life of these devices.

A neat clean installation is the first step to properly caring for your network equipment. Routers, switches, and firewalls should be mounted in a rack or on a shelf that allows for good airflow and ventilation. This shelf or rack should also provide a route for network cables to neatly reach the ports on the device while providing support for the cables so they are not strained when hanging from the ports. Bundles of network cables plugged into the ports of a network switch can become very heavy and this weight can cause connections to become loose or damage the cables and device ports over time. A patch panel can help provide organization and a clean termination for all the wire coming into the network closet or server room. Shorter patch cables from the panel to the network device can be easier to route through strain relief tracks that can be added to a network rack. Properly bundling cables together helps keep the airflow going in a rack and prevents heat from being trapped around the network devices. Heat is probably one of the biggest threats to your equipment. If the room or closet is warm you should install a standalone cooling unit or an exhaust system that will draw in cooler air and vent the warm air created by the equipment.

All of this equipment consumes electricity and the better the power you feed it the better it will perform. Fluctuations in the power coming from the wall can cause routers to do very strange thingsā€¦the more technical term here might be weird. The power coming out of an outlet can fluctuate wildly like water pressure it can go high or it can go low giving you an average. Most of the devices you plug into an outlet can handle some variation but network equipment can have major performance issues that can be traced directly to minor fluctuations in power. Major fluctuations like a surge or a brown-out can even destroy electronic components. Installing a good battery backup or UPS will smooth out any fluctuation in the power and will protect the equipment from surges and brown-outs. The backup battery will also keep your network up in the event of a total power failure giving you time to save your work to the server or for backup power systems to kick in.

Many of the devices on your network have gotten smarter which means they have an operating system like your computer. Like your computer patches and updates that improve performance, reliability, and security. Regularly checking for updates for these updates is an important part of maintaining your network equipment throughout its life.

A well cared for switch should last a good 6-7 years at which time you should plan on retiring and replacing it. In this time frame the technology generally has improved substantially since your last purchase so an increase in performance and speed is usually your reward when it comes time to refresh your switches. I tend to recommend replacing routers and firewalls on a slightly shorter cycle because these devices typically provide security. Keeping these devices longer than the manufacturer intends to support them opens your network up to security risk. Replacing routers and firewalls about every 5 years will generally keep you within the manufacturer’s extended support period during which they continue to provide security updates.

In order to get the most out of your network devices you can’t just set it and forget it. Proper maintenance and care will ensure that your equipment is performing at the top of its capability. Having a retirement and replacement plan in place will help ensure you are always improving the speed of your network and reduce the risk of having older equipment fail unexpectedly leaving you unable to use the resources on your network your business needs. Open your network closet today and get a plan in place today for better management of your network equipment.

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