A first step in evaluation is understanding what your network is designed to do.

It is the foundation upon which everything else is built, so even when working on an existing network, this is a crucial step to ensure optimal operation. So you dwell on a number of questions:

  • What is this network used for?
  • What kind of bandwidth is needed?
  • What kind of hardware will help achieve this data transfer goal?
  • How is the topology of the network separated?
  • What kind of redundancy will there be?

Evaluating your network

After answering the above questions, it is time to look at the network itself, both at the hardware and software level.

Start by locating the design of the network so that you have a good understanding of how everything fits together.

Too often we see professionals implementing networks without going to the drawing board first, and that really ends up causing problems. Is there no network design yet? Then make one.

Check each device and make sure it has the proper cabling to handle the intended tasks. Most delays often occur in the network layer, but spending a little time ruling out obvious problems with the physical layer will help you with future troubleshooting.

Similarly, check old devices for old or outdated firmware. You don’t always have to have the latest and greatest firmware, but old firmware that lacks features needed to fit into the network can cause critical problems that you need to fix immediately.

Evaluate bottlenecks in your network

This is where network design already comes in handy. In fact, he is going to help you create a smoothly functioning network. Are there times of the day when a massive amount of traffic will pass through a single device?

Then look closely at the capabilities of that device and decide if more hardware or a more balanced topology is needed.

If you can identify a time when an area of high network traffic is congested, it may help to reduce data on low-traffic connections to free up bandwidth for those more congested connections.

Most enterprise-grade equipment manufacturers offer robust QoS tools to help with this.

Additional software can also help identify areas of your network where delays are affecting performance.

There are a number of developers who offer tools to track packets across the network and run stress tests to see where things are starting to fall apart. Find these areas and assess what solution is needed to ensure that traffic continues to flow even during intense data usage.

A surprising number of network delays can be fixed with simple changes to routing tables to ensure that data is sent on the best path through the network.

Troubleshooting network devices

All modern network devices come with their own internal firmware for error reporting.

Do things move slowly? Then check again to make sure the equipment is working properly. Increase the level of error reporting and look at each interface to check for collided or dropped packets. These indicate Layer 1 and Layer 3 problems, respectively, and will bring any network to a halt.

Also, improperly configured interfaces can result in a long list of problems that lead to network slowdowns.

Once the problem device is found, use the device’s built-in reporting features to fix the problem and get it working properly again.

Include security in the optimization plan

Networks are becoming increasingly vulnerable and malicious individuals increasingly creative. Often, simple, easy-to-fix vulnerabilities are overlooked and cause serious problems in the network.

So when evaluating the network, don’t forget your security. Once the basics are locked down, such as disabling unnecessary protocols, blocking dangerous application layer requests and shutting down traffic to critical VLANs, a number of software tools are available to assess security risks within a network.

Far too often, network security does not get the attention it needs, with potentially devastating consequences. Don’t make security an afterthought and include it in any network optimization plan.