Deciding when and how to go about refreshing your company's network infrastructure is not an easy task, especially in the South African IT market, where buying power is directly influenced by the stability and value of the Rand relative to the US dollar.

Keeping up with the networking developments should nonetheless be an essential part of any company's IT strategy, since companies that fall behind soon see the performance and stability of their networks beginning to impact their organisation's agility.
"Any seasoned IT professional will testify to the truism that all aspects of an IT environment are inextricably linked," says Marius Vermeulen, Cisco technical specialist at Tarsus Technologies. "Just like computers and software continue to evolve in order to offer increased levels of functionality, networks evolve so that advances in the computing world have the headroom to perform tasks in the way they were designed to."
By focusing only on the client, server and software of their IT environment, Vermeulen says that some companies are inadvertently doing themselves a disservice.
"While in some cases the legacy networking infrastructure will cope for a while, it can by no means be expected to perform at the level that today's cutting edge computers and software demand in the long term. If companies don't immediately see performance, degradation it is definitely on the way," he says. "Apart from that, the additional strain that the network is placed under will almost certainly result in decreasing IT stability."
Besides simply keeping networks current in order to cater for the requirements of the other elements in an IT environment, companies should also consider the inherent benefits and new features provided by leading edge networks.
"For example, a company that last looked at their networking infrastructure five years ago would today not be taking advantage of the ease-of-use brought to the table by wireless technology and the massive cost-savings a converged voice and data strategy has to offer.
"Apart from that, they may also find their server overhead too high, since built-in firewalling, anti-virus scanning and other security features will require additional servers – these are all features provided for by today's stock-standard networks," he says.
To take advantage of the benefits that these new technologies have to offer, Vermeulen says a company which lagged behind the times would have to endure a massive increase in capital expenditure and then still bear the burden of training IT staff, signing new service level agreements and many other hidden costs to get up to date.
"However, if they simply upgraded aspects of their network on a regular basis, the costs would be far more manageable and changes would only be effected when needed.
"In fact, the performance increases, gains in stability and added functionality such as converged voice and data, in most cases provide a compelling enough return on investment to render costs moot."
Vermeulen says, however, there's no hard and fast rule when it comes to upgrading a network. "Like so much in the IT market, it depends entirely on the organisation's needs.
"Where an average SMB would be more than satisfied with a 100Mbps switched network because the majority of their networking traffic results from e-mail, basic file, print and Internet sharing; if that same SMB was in the graphic design business, where the additional load of moving massive chunks of data around the network is a requirement, a 1Gbps network would be far more suitable."
"As to whether a converged data and voice strategy would be required by either of these businesses, the volume of international and inter-branch voice calls would need to be taken into account," he says.
For larger organisations the same basic guidelines apply. "In fact, while there's a strong move away from the siloed environment from a holistic IT perspective, today customers can still look at the networking requirements of each business unit and provide appropriate infrastructure at a departmental level.
"While this will undoubtedly lead to a more manageable IT budget, it will at the same time ensure that organisations aren't over-providing for their low-end users and under-providing for their power-users.
"Ultimately, however, deciding on how and where one upgrades the corporate network is a tricky business," he reiterates. "That's the reason we're putting such effort into up-skilling our resellers and equipping them with the knowledge to make these kinds of calls on their customers' behalf.
"We recommend that customers' trust their resellers and engage with them over the long term – all of our resellers are trained to take a long term view, since this will benefit the customer and themselves, both from a budgetary and technology-centric perspective," he adds.