Note: In the continuing series on Technology Planning Insights, please find another contribution.

Key #1 – Conduct an environmental scan for all infrastructure.
When I arrived in my new position, one of the questions that I asked myself, Where are we at? I wanted to see the following:

  1. Network design and capital outlay – In this area, I imagine having access to maps of your network, list of where everything is located, and what’s covered under warranty…and what is not (or what should no longer be since that can result in annual savings). This is particularly important because it gives you insight into your bandwidth capabilities, where you need to grow in regards to network infrastructure. This can be particularly tough to get because if you don’t have it–and a vendor isn’t willing to do it at no charge, although I’ve seen some great reports–it means your team will have to get it done. That can mean walking all the locations to find out what’s there.
  2. Network Operations Center – Does your NOC have up to date equipment, racks that optimize cooling and space, and, most importantly if you don’t have a building dedicated to it, fire suppression? Also, do you have temperature gauges to assess that if your NOC is a converted closet or classroom? While I’ve walked into many beautiful “WAN Rooms” or “NOCs” there is always potential for maximizing space, cooling and addressing fire suppression needs. These needs may take years to address–due to funding–and are worth planning ahead.
  3. Virtualizing physical servers – If you haven’t virtualized much of your physical servers, then you are setting yourself up for “Russian roulette” of server replacements. Although making the transition to a virtualized server farm sitting on top of a storage area network (SAN), it is a transition that should be made. I thought I had quite a few virtualizations to see through with 60+, but when I spoke to a mid-size urban district, I found they had over 300+ physical servers to virtualize. What’s more, if your physical servers are obsolete and failing, then you will definitely want to plan ahead. 
  4. Independent power source for NOC – Although I was accustomed to uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs), it was disconcerting to find they didn’t endure beyond 10-15 minutes. The existing equipment sucked the batteries dry, so to speak, very quickly. If a power outage lasts longer than your UPS’ batteries, the unexpected outage could cause equipment damage (e.g. hard drives failing, other components strained by age).
  5. UPS Batteries replacement – Unbelievably, batteries for UPSs cost a pretty penny, one running as high as $8,000. If these batteries weren’t a part of the budget, you’d be coming back frequently to the “powers that be” to ask for money. And, although each battery has a set lifetime, it seemed like the batteries were expiring on a regular basis.
  6. Data backup of all equipment at the Network Operations Center – Working without a backup of every virtual/physical server in your NOC is like a trapeze artist without a net–a disaster recovery nightmare. There are several ways to accomplish this and they usually involve creating a redundant site.
  7. Network Connections from campus to NOC – Imagine if your primary network operations center were to be knocked out. Even if you had a data backup of all the equipment at the primary NOC, you would still be unable to get everything back up and running. There would be no way for internet to connect to your district, and no way for campuses to connect to your data and the web.

Once you’ve identified critical needs for infrastructure based on your environmental scan, you will want to take some steps to plan ahead for replacement, maintenance and growth. Some ways that I’ve done that–and they aren’t the only steps you may want to take–is to map out over a period of years what your network infrastructure should look like. For me, this is as simple (and complex) as creating a multi-year plan that advances the quality of your Network Operations Centers to the point they need to be at.

You will also, depending on the urgency and state of your infrastructure district-wide, identify priorities for growth. What must you have in place for the District to move ahead, what’s optional, and nice to have? When asking for funding, it’s critical to remember that YOU aren’t the one driving change. Rather, it’s the fact that equipment or network components may fail.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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