Network Modernization Strategy for FY13

Your FY13 budget will prove to be critical in setting you on the path for network modernization and implementing 10GBase-T, 40GB, 100GB and 4G LTE or 4G WiMAX. Equally important will be the roadmap you develop for implementing the changes and the migration strategy you choose and its pace. 

Strategic vs Sexy

We all know network upgrade projects aren’t the sexiest projects in your FY13 portfolio. But you should recognize that network modernization projects that get you on the path to 10GBase-T, 40GB, 100GB and 4G LTE or 4G WiMAX may prove to be the most strategic.

To see the strategic importance of network modernization you need to look beyond the obvious points of value. Those being increased speed, capacity, and reliability.

The strategic value is found in the institutional capabilities made possible by having a more robust infrastructure that supports higher speeds, greater capacity, flexibility, and increased reliability.

Strategic Foundations

Traditional data center traffic has been based on the client-server computing model where nearly all traffic is North-South. Now that we are well into server virtualization, advanced storage and converged infrastructures we have an any-to-any computing model where as much as 70% of traffic is East-West.

Upgrading your network core to support a fabric architecture with capacity to support 40G or 100G is foundational to nearly everything else coming down the pike. Perhaps even foundational to solving some of your current performance issues.

Strategic Value

Mobile, BYOD, more web apps, social media, learning analytics, cloud apps, collaborative learning, more devices, virtual desktops (VDI), building automation systems, location awareness, positioning systems, social learning, digital books, video, lecture capture, online and hybrid classes, increased LMS utilization, mobile apps, video conferencing, VoIP, instructional technology, intelligent buildings…..need I say more.

Complex Decisions

I have been struggling for days to come up with some simple suggestions on where to begin. I quickly realize this is just too complex to distill into 5 tips or even 10.

If you are like the average institution according to the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service you only have 120Mbps Internet and 87% of classroom teaching stations wired for Internet with only 82% of classrooms having wireless.

For many institutions your network might still have 10Base-T, 100Base-T, and 1000Base-T which are being pushed to their limits and can’t even imagine getting funding for 10GBase-T. And your cable plant might still be replacing remnants of Cat5.

The complexity compounds when considering copper vs fiber, 40G vs 100G, wired vs wireless, Wi-Fi vs 4G, 4G LTE vs 4G WiMAX. You may even find the technical decisions to be easier than the decisions required for upgrade and migration planning to the network devices and the cable plant.

Investment Preservation

Investment preservation is critical to every CIO. You don’t want to over provision but with labor being such a big component of the cost you don’t want to have to pull twice if you can afford not to.

Instinctively you will want to provision just enough for tomorrow without painting yourself into a corner which requires balancing the financial strategy with the technical roadmap. You’ll want to be sure you are future proofing your investment over the life of the asset but you also don’t want to end up with a bunch of dark fiber.

You’ll also want to consider your current network services and loads like wake on LAN, power over ethernet (PoE),VDI, and software distribution. Consider how this list might evolve in the near term or be added to by new facilities or security functions.

Just don’t get bogged down with being overly precise or paralysis will set in. Part of your plan may involve throw away solutions in order to produce a better financial plan while allowing for a greater degree of uncertainty in the later phases of the project.

If Money Were No Object

I know better than to entertain that one. Money is a huge factor and one of the biggest challenges you will face in convincing the institution  their strategic initiatives will require the infrastructure investments you are seeking.

Because this will be a multi-year endeavor you have to get started now so you don’t get behind the curve supporting a house of cards. Where to start of course depends on where you are and the current and likely near term pain points of not getting started with a network modernization strategy.

In terms of best advice, it would have to be fall back on the fundamentals. Get your key vendors in for a joint big picture planning meeting. You need your hardware vendor for servers, storage and networking as well as your preferred cabling company.

Consider pulling in an additional layer of your relationships from key applications that represent early pressures on user experience, bandwidth or data center performance to achieve a holistic view. You’ll need to share with them the institutional view of things in addition to the IT view.

Finally, expect the worst so you can plan for it.

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