Building an optimal network is about more than choosing high-quality hardware. It requires the right components deployed in the right way. When building out a data center network, organizations too often utilize components and design principles that are better suited for an enterprise network, and vice versa.
By understanding the differences between data center and enterprise networking, ranging from traffic patterns and architecture to operational concerns and security challenges, IT professionals can position themselves to create networks that enable high performance and availability of applications, and promote productivity and efficiency in their organizations’ workforce. Following established best practices is key during the build-out and maintenance of a data center or enterprise network to optimize performance.
Building Networks with the Data Center or Enterprise in Mind
The distinctions between data center and enterprise networks should influence network architects as they work to build out and optimize their network infrastructures.
“One easy way to think about it is, who is my client?” Frothingham suggests. “If I’m building an enterprise network, my client is the end user. If I’m building a data center network, my client is the application, and the question is, how do I make it work better? It all comes back to whether I am making the right choices for better applications, or for a better user experience.” Experts recommend these best practices:
Selecting and Deploying Key Components
For starters, Herriage says, network architects should seek out equipment that has been specifically designed with either data center networking or enterprise networking in mind, rather than simply choosing the most affordable or familiar products. “Honestly, in 85 to 90 percent of the situations, it’s as simple as that,” he says. Additionally, Herriage continues, network architects should look at the specific feature sets of the equipment they are considering. While speed may be paramount for data center network switching, enterprise network architects may instead seek out features such as quality of service and wireless support.
Understand Network Architecture Differences
The move toward a leaf-spine architecture in the data center may require some organizations to lean on outside consultants and engineers for help, Herriage says. “If they haven’t bought data center gear in the past three years, it’s not something they’ve implemented.” By contrast, the basics of enterprise network design are already familiar to most enterprise network administrators. By their nature, enterprise networks are more spread out than data center networks, and have drastically lower traffic levels to accommodate. Therefore, enterprise networks are often seen as simpler to design and build out than data center networks.
Ensure Your Network Architecture Appropriately Manages Traffic
“A lot of people treat monitoring as an afterthought, but monitoring and management should be at the forefront,” explains Herriage. “It ends up biting people when they go to solve a problem or troubleshoot. They don’t know they need it until they need it, and at that point it’s too late.” In the data center, monitoring tools help network administrators keep abreast of metrics such as link usage, CPU usage and memory usage, and can help organizations make decisions about when additional capacity will be needed. In the enterprise network, monitoring tools can help administrators see how many devices are connecting to the network and what resources they are accessing.
Enterprise Network Security vs. Data Center Security
“There are a lot of security concerns on the enterprise network,” says Frothingham. “You’re typically connecting devices that aren’t owned or managed by the enterprise itself. In the data center, security is obviously still important, but a lot of the concern in data center networking is between one server and other servers.”
On the enterprise side, Herriage says, it is vital for organizations to manage login credentials and restrict access to sensitive data. On the data center side, security concerns largely revolve around malicious traffic. Therefore, organizations must invest in tools such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems that allow administrators to identify and stop threats.
Learn more by downloading the white paper, "Building the Optimal Network."