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Large branch offices require different attention

Dec 20, 20053 mins

* Handling IT challenges in large branch offices

This week, we’ll wrap up the best-practices guidelines on how to categorize branch offices.  As I outlined last week, Nemertes has identified a five-tier structure to classify the types of locations in a typical organization.

Tiers Four and Five, discussed last week, cover telecommuters and mobile workers (Tier 5), as well as small branch offices housing two to 50 employees (Tier 4). Many of the challenges with those sites center around how to handle installations, troubleshooting and patches/updates.

But with Tier Two (51 to 300 employees) and Tier Three (301 to 1,000) sites, management and problem/resolution aren’t as big of a challenge. Why? In some cases, these sites often are located near main facilities where IT staff members work. When there are problems, they can physically go to the sites and resolve them. In other cases, their locations are large enough to warrant an on-site IT employee to address problems. (Or, simply because there are so many people at the locations, the chances are greater of having a tech-savvy employee who isn’t “technically” in IT — one who can help a central IT employee troubleshoot remotely.)

Nevertheless, challenges do exist at these locations. In Tier Three sites, bandwidth can pose a problem, particularly when organizations must upgrade T-1 or multiple T-1 circuits to a T-3 — simply because of the potentially large increase in cost. Nemertes recommends that organizations address these challenges by deploying bandwidth-optimization devices (from vendors such as Allot Communications, Expand Networks, Juniper [which acquired Peribit], Packeteer and Orbital Data) to maximize the capacity of existing circuits. These devices also provide central management insight into the performance of the circuits and applications using available bandwidth.

Tier Three locations also include CEO or executive home offices. Even though those locations don’t meet the criteria for number of users, they are as important in terms of technologies deployed and IT staff attention. To ensure optimal performance at these home offices, networking staffs often deploy T-1 links or DSL lines with bandwidth-optimization and extra management tools or probes to detect potential problems before the CEO discovers them.

Tier Two locations often resemble mini-headquarters. They house a large concentration of employees who need access to applications in the data center, so ample bandwidth is crucial. Additionally, with all of the employees at those sites, the time spent troubleshooting, training and updating can approach 25% of an IT/network staff’s time, according to Nemertes’ Convergence & Next-Generation WAN benchmark. IT staffs typically implement bandwidth-optimization and application acceleration products at these sites, and usually, there are IT staffs on site.

In summary, Nemertes recommends the following when starting to develop a branch-office strategy:

* Take an inventory of your sites, using a tiered structure that identifies locations with similar sites in terms of number of users, degree of importance and technologies required.

* Develop a standard policy regarding the IT setup of each location — and then keep an open mind about new products and services that can improve performance or IT staff time managing the sites.

* Consider the following areas in your policy development for each tier: range of bandwidth required to each site; bandwidth-optimization or application acceleration tool usage; installation; management; troubleshooting procedures; partial or full outsourcing; applications required at each tier; security; and management architectures.

You’ll find that following a comprehensive strategy governing each type of site, rather than haphazardly dealing with each site individually, will make the network run better, keep employee expectations in check, and minimize the amount of IT and network staff time required in the branch offices.