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Analyzing Business Models

Analyze the existing and planned business models

One of the first elements you will examine when analyzing business requirements for a network infrastructure design project is the business model or models that the company follows. You should examine the current model as well as any model that the company plans to implement in the future.

It is rare that an engineer gets the opportunity to design a network infrastructure completely from scratch. In most cases, you must design an infrastructure that will either interoperate with or serve to upgrade an existing infrastructure. Because of this, having the documentation for previous network designs and modifications and adding your own modifications to this archive of information can be crucial. Information that you can get from examining the current business model will help you determine the services that are already in place so that you can be sure to include them in your design. Businesses will often look at a project of major impact, such as a network infrastructure design project, as an opportunity to change its strategies or business model to improve its position in the industry or change its own internal operations. In such cases, you must also examine any new business models that the company intends to employ so that your new design can incorporate them and accommodate interaction with the existing services being offered on the network.

When examining the client's business model(s), you will benefit from a very high-level understanding of the industry in which the client is doing business. Through the proper use of interviews with key personnel, research the client's business and competition. This will perhaps allow these key personnel to think of an important, but overlooked, requirement for the new network design.

Analyzing the Company Model and Geographic Scope

You will encounter different business models depending on the geographic scope of your design project. If you are designing an Enterprise network infrastructure, you will likely encounter and need to consider several different models. Microsoft emphasizes the following business models for the exam:

  • Branch offices. In a branch office, you will see the smallest business model. In this model, you focus on the specific function of the branch office and what services it must offer to or receive from the company headquarters and other branch offices. In this model, typical concerns include where connections need to be made, how much they will cost, and who will have administrative control over them.

  • Regional. This business model will be applied if your design includes network locations in a particular region of a single country. Regional networks often span multiple counties or states. Examples of regions in the Unites States include the Mid-Atlantic states or the states in the Pacific Northwest. This model will include considerations that are specific to the region, such as the relationship between communications providers and the environmental and landscape concerns (consider networks that must operate high in the mountains or in deeply wooded or rural areas).

  • National. A national business model is applied to a business whose scope spans an entire country. This business model will involve all the types of concerns that are included in the Regional model but will also include multiple regions. This increases the importance of each region's concerns, because all regions must interoperate.

  • International. Businesses that operate in multiple locations worldwide will employ the International business model. In the International model, you are likely to see all issues that could possibly be considered. This model increases the complexity of the issues in the National model by including the requirement that all National sites must interoperate. New issues that arise in this model include cultural and language barriers and international politics.

  • Subsidiary. This model is somewhat different from the models discussed so far. In a Subsidiary model, concerns such as internal company politics increase in importance as you shape your design to allow the subsidiary network to interoperate with the infrastructure owned by the parent company.

Analyzing Company Processes

Once you have a thorough understanding of the business models employed, you will want to closely analyze company processes both inside and outside of the IT department. Many different processes are executed each day in the operation of any business. An example of an IT process is as follows: If a network user calls the help desk to report a computer problem, the help desk technician follows a process in which the call is logged and assigned a ticket number so that it can be tracked. Information is then gathered to aid in determining the nature of the problem. The ticket is assigned to a technician who has the appropriate skills to solve the problem, and the solution is implemented. The ticket is then closed and the resolution documented. This process is repeated for every call that is made to the help desk.

Similar processes exist for every task taking place in the day-to-day operation of the business. The execution of these processes determines who needs access to network resources, what resources they need, and when they need them. It is essential that the designer understand these processes in order to create an effective network infrastructure design. The network design must be created so that these processes can be executed most efficiently and at the least possible cost.

Microsoft refers to four major types of business process categories in its exam objectives: information flow, communication flow, service and product life cycles, and decision-making. Each of these process categories will be discussed in the following sections.

Information Flow

Information flow (or work flow) processes have to do with the way information is distributed throughout the company. They describe what information is available, who needs it, and in what order they receive it.

For example, consider a wholesale distributor who receives a phone call from a new customer, initiating the purchase of some widgets. The customer will likely call a sales representative. That representative will collect the customer's information, including name, address, phone number, credit card number, and shipping preferences. This information will be entered into a database stored on the distributor's internal network.

The salesperson will also find out what type of widgets the customer wants to purchase. In order to complete the sale, the salesperson will need to know what types of widgets are available, how many of each type are in stock, how much to charge for the widgets, and what shipping options are available. This information will also be stored in a database or, more likely, in several databases on the distributor's network. It will be made available to the salesperson when it is needed through some sort of application software interfacing with the appropriate database.

Once the order is taken, the customer's information, along with the inventory and shipping information, will be made available to an employee in the distributor's warehouse so that the widgets can be removed from inventory, packaged, and shipped to the customer. Throughout the process of accepting and fulfilling a customer order, information must flow throughout the network to various people at various locations in a specific order.

It is important to understand the information flow for all the major functions taking place within a business so that the network infrastructure can be designed to make the information available when and where it is needed. Simply delivering the information is not enough, though. The information needs to be delivered as quickly as possible and at the lowest cost possible. The network must meet these objectives and support the current demands for information flow, as well as provide for the increase in demand for information that will likely come in the future.

Communication Flow

The process of communication flow is similar to that of information flow. Communication flow tracks the path that data follows through the network infrastructure during the course of day-to-day operations of the business.

Documenting communication flow can help you describe the performance of the existing network infrastructure in specific terms. By documenting the communication flow, you have real quantified data on which to base your performance evaluation. The results of your evaluation will help you ensure that your new network infrastructure design will maintain the high performance of the existing network infrastructure or will correct the poor performance of the existing network infrastructure. You can also use this data to create a design redirecting communication flow to a more efficient pattern.

Documenting communication flow requires you to analyze the existing network infrastructure and identify data stores and destinations. Data stores include the file servers, Web servers, email/groupware servers, and database servers where information is stored for retrieval over the network infrastructure. Destinations for that data include individual hosts residing on the network infrastructure, and external hosts that access the data stores through remote network connections over the Internet.

You might want to analyze individual communication flows by dividing network traffic based on the application that generated the traffic. This can be effective, because it allows you to attribute percentages of overall network infrastructure performance to individual applications. If one application creates a disproportionate amount of the overall traffic on a network, and that network is performing poorly, you might want to develop alternative means of supporting that application, or alter your design to allow for the heavy demands that the application places on the network infrastructure.

For each individual communication flow that you trace, you will want to document several traits related to that communication flow:

  • Total bandwidth used. The total bandwidth used by the communication flow, typically measured in megabytes per second (Mbps).

  • Percent of overall bandwidth used. The percentage of the overall network bandwidth used by this particular communication flow. The sum of this information for all flows on the network should equal 100 percent.

  • Number of bytes of data. The number of bytes of data transferred across the network for this particular communication flow.

  • Data source and destination. The server or servers where the data is stored for this communication flow and the host or hosts that ultimately receive the data.

  • Data path and direction. The direction and route that the data follows through the network infrastructure for this particular communication flow.

Service and Product Life Cycles

In business, any product or service that you might sell will have value for a finite period of time. At the end of that period of time, the product or service is either discontinued or has been rendered obsolete by a new product or superior service. The period of time for which a product or service has value is referred to as the "life" of the product or service.

When a company wants to offer a service or product for sale, it doesn't just pull the product or service out of thin air. Time is spent on conceptualization, research and development, design, prototyping, and production. Likewise, when a product or service is no longer of value, having reached its "end of life," it does not simply go away. The manufacturer or service provider retires the product or service gradually over a period of time (although this period is sometimes more rapid than customers would prefer).

Keep this concept in mind when thinking about networks. To have a good project, the company's network and IT systems should also have spent a significant amount of time on vision, research and development, design, and testing before being put into production.

The entire period from the initial concept of the product or service to the complete removal of the product or service from the market, and all the events that transpire in between, is called the life cycle of the product or service.

You should consider the life cycle of the products and/or services offered by your client when designing the network infrastructure. When evaluating life cycles, ask the following questions:

  • Do the company's products enjoy a long life cycle, with events occurring gracefully over an extended period of time, as in the case of a car manufacturer?

  • Do the company's products go through a very short life cycle, with events occurring in rapid succession in a matter of months or weeks, as in the case of a technical publishing company?

  • How does each scenario affect the demands that will be placed on the network infrastructure?

You need to answer these questions before you can effectively complete your network infrastructure design.

Decision-Making

In some organizations, decisions are made quickly, and changes can occur rapidly. In others, a complicated process must be executed before the slightest thing can be done. Both extremes have their pros and cons.

Typically, there is some compromise in the approach to decision-making, allowing the company's employees to be empowered to effect change in their immediate area while still allowing the company to manage change with a reasonable degree of control. You will need to learn the company's decision-making processes and incorporate those processes into your design. As you create your design, when you present the finished design to management, and at many points in between, decisions must be made that will require you to follow some of these processes yourself. This will help you become acquainted with the way decision-making is handled within the organization.

However, you must also consider the many decisions that must be made every day, all over the company. Every business function that occurs during the day-to-day operation of the business will involve a set of decision-making processes that must be followed. Determine what role the various network resources play in those decision-making processes and at what point in the information flow decision-making processes place demands for network resources. Once you have this information, you can develop your network infrastructure design accordingly.

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