At one point or other, just about every network technology in use was once considered "disruptive." Now, as businesses strive to lock down their networks against intruders and add new high-bandwidth services, potentially disruptive technologies are arriving on an almost continuous basis.
The problem with adding a disruptive technology to a network is that it tends to be, well, disruptive. This means that the device or service has the potential to bring your expensive, highly tuned network to a sudden and screeching halt, resulting in much user unhappiness and anger, not to mention business losses.
A certain amount of disruption is virtually inevitable these days, considering the complexity of many networks and new technologies. But there are actions you can take to minimize, if not totally eradicate, network downtime as you deploy potentially disruptive technologies. Here are the steps you need to follow.
1. Plan carefully. You'll want to research any new technology you plan to acquire by checking it carefully for compatibility with existing network resources. You don't want to add a new VoIP firewall, for instance, only to discover that other network devices can't handle the technology. Similarly, you don't want to add a software application that will overtax the network's servers.
2. Test thoroughly. Even after you've determined that the new technology will play well with existing network resources, you'll want to take it for a test drive. Try to create a test bed that duplicates network conditions as closely as possible without actually taking the system "live." This isn't always possible with all technologies. (How, for example, do you fully test a network-security device without actually subjecting it to real-world conditions?). But even a little testing in a less-than-ideal setting can reveal obvious flaws that may case problems in an actual deployment. Remember: Testing never hurts.
3. Stage the deployment. Never, ever try to add more than one potentially disruptive technology at a time. Beside the fact that you will multiply the chances for failure, you'll potentially create a situation in which you'll have to discover which new technology is causing a problem.
4. Timing is everything. Common sense dictates that, if possible, you should schedule the introduction of the new technology to low-usage times, such as overnights or weekends, when network demand and business activities are at a low. That way, if something goes terribly wrong, you'll have fewer people screaming for your head.
5. Build in troubleshooting time. Few new technology deployments go smoothly. Unexpected problems, like faulty hardware and accidental misconfigurations, can throw even the most carefully planned strategy into the trash can. Make sure that you've set aside enough time not only to install the new technology, but to fix any problems that may arise along the way.
6. Have a retreat strategy. Sometimes even the best-laid plans go up in smoke and it's necessary to beat a hasty retreat back to the network's original condition. That's why it's important to maintain careful records of the network's configuration and to keep backups of key network software elements. Doing so will allow everything to be rolled back to its prior state while the experts try to figure out what went wrong.
The Bottom Line
Adding a new network technology is always something of a dice roll — sometimes you win and sometimes the network blows up. But you can increase your chances for success by thinking ahead and preparing for the worst.
For more information on networking, visit the Networking Resource Center.
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