Got network architecture documents?

* Why do many companies fail to keep network architecture documents?

Jim was recently contacted by a Fortune 500 company that was interested in hiring him to evaluate its network architecture. Like most clients, the company wanted him to quote a fixed price for the project. In an attempt to get a sense of the amount of work it was going to take him to review its architecture Jim asked a company exec whether he was going to send him 40 pages of architecture documents to review or 400. Jim was not terribly surprised when told that the company did not have architecture documents.

We often see companies with architecture groups but no documents that describe their network architectures. We also see companies that take documents they get from their vendors and adopt them as their architecture without making any attempt to modify the vendor's documents to reflect their own unique situation.

While Jim's client does not have a network architecture, what it does have is a lot of network diagrams that depict the design of various parts of its network. In order to understand the value of an architecture, it is important to distinguish network architecture from network design.

The role of a network architecture is to describe a vision for the desired state of an enterprise's network and telecommunications infrastructure. As such, an architecture is strategic in nature. That means that a network architecture does not change very often. It also means that a network architecture has a somewhat longer timeframe (typically one to three years) than does a network design.

To further contrast architecture and design, one of the roles of a network architecture is to provide guidelines for which technologies should be used in each part of the company's networks. The architecture, however, would not specify the exact sizing or placement of the technologies. That is one of the roles of network design.

While we recognize the benefits of having an effective network architecture, we also realize that there are many ways that an architecture organization can fail. The next WAN newsletter will discuss some of the pitfalls that companies fall into when creating an architecture organization. The subsequent newsletter will discuss the benefits and recommend a strategy that companies can use to create an effective network architecture organization.

As is often the case, we would like to hear from you on this topic. Does your company have an architecture for its network? If so, does it add any value?

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