Despite the uneven reaction of the stock market, it's pretty clear that both the economy in general and technology in particular are getting better. So it might be time to look at some key issues we'll have to address in the network planning cycle most companies are now just entering.Issue No. 1 is "Are you ready for growth?" Network budgets have been constrained, and companies have been trying to make do with little headroom for capacity expansion. My research shows that company traffic tends to increase at about 2.5 times the growth rate in sales. Take your rate of 2004 sales increase, assuming good times, and do the math. Most networks should have a comfortable 40% headroom to avoid performance problems and handle peak loads. If yours doesn't, you might want to think about an upgrade plan to be implemented if sales do in fact jump as expected.The second issue is contending with shifts in IT policy.\u00a0Service-oriented computing, on-demand computing and\u00a0Web services\u00a0all will demand more of the network in terms of bandwidth and controlling application access to bandwidth. If your company plans to implement any of these new approaches to distributed computing, you'll want to be very involved with the process in general and in particular the process of planning how distributed elements of application service will affect the network when they're invoked.Network management\u00a0products are not generally good at managing Web-services-based applications because they can't relate the individual traffic flows between users and those distributed application elements with the high-level applications the users are trying to run. Sit down with your management software provider and get the scoop on how it can improve your analysis - or pick another provider that can.The next issue is the contract cycle coming up. Most companies sign service contracts early in the year, and they face a burning question of whether the incumbent provider is stable. About 80% of enterprise data networking and 70% of voice networking is based on the interexchange carriers (IXC). One of the three IXC giants is still in Chapter 11, and two are experiencing declining revenue. What do you do? Grit your teeth and sign, but think seriously about shorter contract periods.The regional Bell operating companies don't have credible national service presence yet, but they're likely to get it in 2004 and might offer good prices and even improved business prospects. If you can get a one-year contract instead of a longer one, you'll have a chance to reconsider your choice in 2005. You also might want to ask your lawyers about exit clauses for Chapter 11 filing or other financial trouble signs. Users found out over the past two years that a carrier's filing for Chapter 11 doesn't automatically provide an excuse for breaking a contract.Wireless LANs\u00a0are another issue to reckon with. Many companies have started deployment of a flavor of 802.11 to facilitate networking of laptops that key workers like to carry around. A few companies use 802.11 for desktop networking, too. Are there hidden issues as business activity expands?Probably.WLANs have capacity limits per base station, and it's easy to forget that users share capacity on wireless in an age where LAN switching gives users more dedicated bandwidth. You'll need a way to monitor wireless base load levels and take steps to ensure everybody stays happily connected. You also might need to deal with the possibility that some users at the department level might just add a wireless base station to their local hub\/switch, opening all manner of serious security problems. Be sure to circulate a policy memo to everyone about "rogue" base stations and have accounting watch for purchases or expense reimbursements for this kind of gear.As an industry, we've become experts at holding the line. Those skills might not matter if the future is rosier, and nobody wants their department to be holding down their company's growth when other the negative factors are lifting. Even good times have casualties; don't be one of them!