The relationship we enter into with our network equipment suppliers can, and sometimes does, resemble a marriage. Indeed, some of us might be guilty of keeping our eyes open before the marriage, and half shut afterward, as Ben Franklin used to say.Our vendor "partners" got busy churning out products that we burned money on in order to plug into our enterprise networks because we bought into their plans. Left out of the equation was any internal analysis of what problem the product solved or what specific network conditions we sought to improve based on performance measurements. Network infrastructure became a moving target because of these rapid deployments, and we amassed little real in-depth network knowledge.Starting next week in suburban Boston and continuing in five other cities (New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Jose and Long Beach, Calif.) across the country into December, The Tolly Group and Network World will co-host our annual State of the LAN seminar series. During this seminar we will explore today's enterprise network demands and how IT organizations can re-engineer their practices to position themselves better to provide superior network services. (Check out our agenda and sign up for this free event\u00a0here.)One key point I will discuss lends itself to the vendor marriages you might have in place. Given the current economic climate, vendors no longer can push product on companies. Enterprise network executives must assess their immediate and long-term needs, and vendors must earn their way into the network by providing the "right" solution.That's no small feat for network executives. It means rediscovering your network, knowing what you are looking for in products and understanding how to determine if it exists.Rediscovering your network means you've got to invest some time understanding its operational characteristics. How many errored frames are common in your transmissions? What are the network choke points? Where and when do you experience spikes in usage, and how does the network respond? What are your application characteristics, and can the network support them adequately?In this new discovery mode, structured benchmarking is essential. The structured approach that I'll discuss at State of the LAN is applicable to any technology, and the aim to isolate specific elements of the network and pinpoint performance. But to do that with success, you'll need to follow a handful of basic principles:\u2022\u00a0Establish testing goals. It is important to identify the devices to be tested, but more so, identify the trade-offs between what data is "doable" to collect and what is desirable.\u2022\u00a0Implement a test design methodology. Here you need to profile the major elements to be tested and develop\/determine the appropriate criteria for evaluating them.\u2022\u00a0You'll need to conduct prototype testing and validate your results. This means building a viable test bed and creating prototypical tests to ensure that results are meaningful and insightful.\u2022\u00a0Production testing comes next. Here you capture, compile and record raw data.\u2022\u00a0Finally, you document your data and analyze it.At our State of the LAN events, you'll hear representatives from leading companies such as Cisco, Alcatel, Extreme Networks, Foundry Networks and Finisar discuss the latest trends in IP telephony, security, 10G Ethernet, quality of service, storage networking and more.Learn how these technologies all can be measured and analyzed so that you maintain those vendor marriages with eyes wide open instead of half shut.