Computer networks are essential for most organizations today. Tech infrastructure enables employees of corporations and administrations to connect and share applications and information with each other. From small start-ups and medium and large enterprises to government departments, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and other public establishments, every entity depends on IT networks to function and grow.
Network design is the mainstay of large networks. It is crucial to understand how a network is structured and components linked in order to achieve efficient network monitoring and troubleshooting. A network designer plans the computer network infrastructure layout for an organization.
This involves evaluating the establishment's needs and objectives, reviewing the existing network, coordinating with key executives to ascertain the scope of the new network, and then creating a diagram. The diagram includes a map of the network, cabling layout, identification and location of all network devices, IP addressing scheme, and security protocols and processes. The approved design serves as the basis for building and implementing the network.
Functions and responsibilities
Network designers are responsible for conceptualizing and designing information and communication infrastructure networks for different types of organizations. They aim for optimum availability, reliability, scalability, efficiency, flexibility, redundancy and backup solutions, and security.
The role normally requires a designer to perform the following functions:
1) Evaluate business needs and objectives
Each network is unique in that it is designed to serve the company's operations and business goals, in line with its budget, technological specifications, and security considerations. Network designers need to spend time with end users, managers, and senior executives so as to understand business processes, data and communication needs, and technological requirements in order to plan a network that fits the establishment's needs and objectives.
A network designer needs to ascertain required network capacity in order to ensure that it will have the scope to accommodate the organization's data traffic.
2) Assess existing IT infrastructure
Designers assess the existing equipment and network in order to integrate software and devices already in use into the new network. They also evaluate local and wide area networks if applicable.
Designing a network is an intricate process. Depending on the scale and complexity of communication requirements, the network designer may have to create several diagrams showing details of devices and locations. While creating the layout, the designer needs to keep the company's architectural and operational specifications and standards in mind as well as incorporate new technologies where applicable. The objective is to ensure fast, seamless, stable, and secure communication between employees across departments.
Designers use network drawing tools, such as Microsoft Visio, Network Notepad, SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper, LanDraw, and other software to draw maps outlining the layout of all devices, including switches, routers, and servers. It is the designer's responsibility to create IP addresses for each server, computer, and other devices.
They must also incorporate security protocols and software in the design. Network designers also need to test prototypes of the planned network. Staying abreast of new networking technologies is crucial. Knowledge of emerging technologies and new products is essential to be able to design efficient and scalable networks.
4) Collaborate with network architects
Network designers need to work with network architects to incorporate changes when necessary.
Technology changes in network design
Network infrastructure technology is constantly evolving. Organizations need to keep pace with emerging technologies in order to stay ahead of competition and be able to scale operations in line with market changes and business goals.
According to a Cisco blog post written by Anand Oswal, five new technologies are expected to improve network capacity, efficiency, management, and security in 2019, enabling businesses to leverage communication and data networks to enhance performance. These are Wi-Fi 6, 5G, digitized spaces, Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN), and machine learning.
Training and employment background
A network designer usually has at least a bachelor's degree in computer science, information systems, information technology, or networking. Network designers need to have hands-on knowledge of networking topologies, such as wireless technologies, fiber optics, VOIP, VMWare, and MPLS.
Hands-on experience in a real-world setting is important. Network design expert Peter Welcher has valuable advice for professionals aspiring to work as network designers. He recommends getting a role that offers the opportunity to see and analyze many networks, regarding both business requirements and technical design.
According to Welcher, one way of gaining such experience is through internal or external consulting and design reviews. An aspiring network designer would do well to take every chance to address a customer's business issues.
It is also worthwhile to work on designs for different scenarios, such as WLAN, WAN, data center, campus as well as small, medium, and large organizations. Welcher emphasizes the importance of practising how to present designs to customers and recommends you hone your PowerPoint and Visio skills.
Certifications validate expertise in networking technologies and products and can improve a holder's career prospects and chances of securing a network design job. They are proof that the holder understands the importance of staying abreast of new networking technologies and invests time in learning and being assessed according to industry standards.
Some of the foremost design credentials include the following
Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
CCDA is a preliminary network design credential that demonstrates fundamental knowledge and skills in planning Cisco converged networks, including LAN and WAN networks for basic campus, data center, branch, and SMB networks. It is designed for engineers looking to work as network designers at the associate level.
Cisco requires CCDA aspirants to hold a valid CCNA Routing and Switching or CCENT or any CCIE certification. To earn the CCDA certification, candidates must pass the 200-310 DESGN exam. The CCDA is valid for 3 years.
Editor's Note: Life comes at you fast. This story was only up for a couple of hours before Cisco announced that CCDA is one of the credentials that will vanish when its all new CCNA credential rolls out Feb. 24, 2020.
Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP)
CCDP is a professional-level certification that endorses advanced expertise in planning multi-layered enterprise network infrastructure, including high-level knowledge of WANs, addressing and routing protocols, services virtualization, and integration. The CCDP is intended for CCDA holders and other network professionals aspiring to work as senior network design engineers and network architects.
Valid CCDA and CCNA Routing and Switching or CCDA and CCNP Routing and Switching or any CCIE/CCDE is a prerequisite for the CCDP credential. Candidates are required to pass the 300-101 Route, 300-115 Switch, and 300-320 Arch exams to earn the CCDP certification. CCDP is valid for 3 years.
Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE)
The CCDE credential demonstrates expert-level skills and knowledge in network design, including expertise in routing, internetworking, principles of design, management, capacity, cost, quality of service, and security. This certification is proof of the ability to develop a converged solution for large enterprise networks, taking into account the client's budget, operational limits, and business needs.
No prerequisites are specified for the CCDE. To earn the CCDE, you need to pass the 352-001 CCDE written exam and the CCDE practical exam. The CCDE is valid for 2 years.
The Juniper Networks Certification Program (JNCP) Design Track offers the Juniper Networks Certified Design Associate (JNCDA) and the Juniper Networks Certified Design Specialist (JNCDS) certifications for network design professionals.
Details are available online.
An efficient network is a key asset for any organization today. Network designers who have the expertise to enable enterprises to leverage networks to transform their businesses will likely see an increase in employment opportunities in 2019.