Building a network for a new site from the ground up is great experience for engineers and administrators. However, if you are not organized it can also be a nightmare. Companies all over the world handle the “New Site” process differently. The way you maneuver through the project depends on the size of the organization as well as the teams involved. Some places have a complete Project Management Org that will take your project, organize it, shine it up and help you complete it. Project Managers can be a big help by following up with vendors, partners and making sure the teams are meeting deadlines among other things. However, sometimes you might not have a team of PMs helping you. You might be the PM for your particular “New Site” project. Whether or not you are the one doing everything or just the racking of equipment the following items or milestones are just reminders of tasks to keep in mind.
I decided to start with one that might take some time to deliver. Designs should usually be what is at the top of the list. However designs can be created and approved in short order; ordering a circuit, not so much. I’m not here to argue whether you need your own privately owned fiber/pipes, MPLS or some redudant internet links. I merely want to tell you: THIS TAKES TIME! It would be a shame for people to expect and plan to use a new facility on May 1st…but the circuit turn-up is scheduled for May 8th. You probably have a standard deployment for connectivity so you should already have an existing relationship with a provider. If you don’t or are in the hunt for a new provider, communication is key. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Usually providers will have their own project managers that will spin up meetings to update you on the progress of a new circuit. Providers will probably have to schedule equipment and engineers to visit a facility for an install. Your provider might have to deal with another partner/Last Mile that also needs to be scheduled. From start to finish, this can take a few months which is why I bring it up first. If the company has a goal of opening a new site on May 1st, connectivity needs to exist prior to it. You want to give yourself adequate time to ensure the correct bandwidth has been allocated and connectivity is fine. This will usually happen during the setup of the circuit, but there is never “too much testing”.
Speaking of bandwidth, how much bandwidth is enough? If this is another site of many you are deploying, you might have a “standard” amount of bandwidth for specific sized sites. Perhaps it is a small site connected to a 10 Mbps MPLS circuit. Larger sites might have 50 Mbps. You might want to sit down and see how many people will be located at the site. What does the site even do? You might not need a lot of bandwidth for five users who browse the internet most of the day. However, a site with a hundred users making video calls will most likely need a more than 10 Mbps. No matter what the number is, this is what the provider is running with. You do not want to spend money on revisiting bandwidth for a site. Some providers do allow you turn up circuits or burst. Usually nothing is free though. Measure twice and cut once.
Yes, without a design you cannot order anything. However, I pushed this one up on my list as well because it is another milestone that takes time. Once you have your design and know what you will order, it is time to place orders. You will probably look for a Bill of Materials based on list-pricing. If you have a partner you usually order through, they can take that Bill of Materials or BoM and give you whatever the discounted price is and place the orders. It sounds simple, a little too simple. Then you realize the equipment won’t arrive until the day before the site was opening. Beautiful. Ordering equipment, software and even licensing takes time. If you do not have a partner and are hunting around for one, it will also take time to obtain quotes from different companies. These projects are usually budgeted and placing blind orders is not going to work. The partners you choose for the first time might have to be vetted by other departments. New relationships do not happen overnight. Once you have the partner to order from, you can finally place the orders. Keep in mind you might not see the equipment for a few weeks. It all depends on the availability of what you order. Also consider the time and world events. I’ve noticed ordering equipment in the middle of a pandemic can add a few days. You also have to build in some time to configure the equipment. Just because the equipment is new and in an unopened box does not mean it actually works when you power it on. I’ve had equipment that was Dead on Arrival. Now you have to spend time contacting support for an RMA. We can only hope your name is on the contract and you can actually open a ticket for the device.
Where are you sending the equipment? You can send it to the new location, but if construction is still ongoing, will that interfere with the proper and safe storage of everything that was ordered? Depending on the site and access to the site, you might have to send it elsewhere. This means you are either configuring some of that equipment there and then shipping it back to the permanent site. As the engineer, you have to find out how the site build is progressing. This will help determine some of the logistics related to equipment orders and shipping.
Here is the fun one. C’mon, who honestly enjoys ordering circuits and equipment? I do not. However I do like to play with new equipment. Designing a site properly from the ground up might not take weeks, but it will not take five minutes either. A proper design is what will feed into the connectivity the site requires as well as what you order. Designing a new site, depending on the size of the company might involve several teams and even Change Management. If you are a network engineer, you most likely have a hand in what subnets, VLANs, switches and routers will exist at the site. If you do not have standards established in these areas, this would be a good opportunity to create these standards. Create documentation to keep track of what routers and switches need to be deployed in certain scenarios. Are you using OSPF internally or EIGRP? Is it just a ton of static routing? Whatever it is, this should all be documented. Depending on what you are trying to implement also will determine types of licensing you might need to order for certain devices. I know I’ve been caught off-guard trying to implement a VRF and finding out “Yeah, you need <insert name> license instead. Now we need to order it.” How big is this facility? You might have multiple closets that will need network equipment. This means you have to make sure equipment has the right modules to connect between closets to each other.
Your company might have a wireless engineer who will determine the amount and types of access points. That engineer will need to perform a site survey in order to determine access point placement. It might sound simple, but asking for a site blueprint/map can take a bit. This is the map that would be used for surveys. If the facility is finished and access permitted, then someone can go perform the survey. That is another scheduling item.
Are users going to scream at their customers from the windows, are they using their cellphones, a soft-phone or a physical phone? What number will this facility be reachable on? Is there a call-center? Who gets what extension? Here companies have voice engineers who order blocks of numbers, develop dial plans and determine standards on the telephony side of the house. Some of this might fit a bit better in the Connectivity section, but ordering numbers and lines (e.g a PRI) can have a lead time.
There might be multiple teams that take care of the items we have discussed above; or it might just be you. You might be the person who implements everything. If you are, this is why being organized and meticulous is important. There are other details that also need attention. Let’s take a look at the network closets themselves. How many racks will exist in each closet? Is a two-post rack enough or do you need a four-post rack because another team is adding in rack-mount servers? You might not need a 48-U rack. Perhaps a wall-mounted cabinet will be a bit more functional. This works well in small offices where a room cannot be dedicated to the network. Even a wall-mounted cabinet requires some thought. Imagine if you order a wall-mounted cabinet, get it mounted and start to rack the switches…but you can’t! It looks like the cabinet you ordered was not long enough for the switches WITH the power supplies and cable inserted. One thing that I feel slips through the cracks is power. There is something about obtaining the correct power that can confuse people. Electricians will need to know what type of power you need as well as the type of receptacle. This is something that can definitely push out a Go-Live if you cannot power up the equipment. There has to be enough power and it has to be correct. I also find that no one wants to be the UPS-person. No, not the shipping person, but the person who handles the uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). If you want to protect equipment and have some emergency power, UPS units will need to be ordered.
Installs and Go-Live
The time is upon us! We have our design. Based on that design (and other project requirements), we made orders. Connectivity to the site is in place. The equipment has arrived and has been gently placed in a locked room. As I mentioned before, if the equipment has not been configured, trying to do it on the day of a grand opening is not the goal. We want to get as much setup in advance as we can. When possible, it is nice to have some burn-in time. If you are the person that does everything, keep all numbers handy. You want to make sure you can reach the right resources at the touch of a button. Even after everything is up and running, keep an eye on it. This will be the time to look through logs, talk to users about how things are going and keep track of baselines. Problems happen so there is nothing wrong with expecting the unexpected. We hope all goes smoothly, but sometimes it just does not happen. What sets you apart from other engineers is how you handle pressure and how you can navigate an issue. I think this is probably why one of my favorite tests was Cisco’s TSHOOT. You encounter a problem and your mind is racing to bring about a solution. However, I hope all of your installs and Go-Lives are uneventful. When it comes to technology, we would love things to be cookie-cutter, but they might not.
A site build from the ground up involves many teams and tasks. A couple of words on paper does not do it justice. However I hope this serves to open your mind especially if you have not had a chance to participate in such a project. I would love to hear your thoughts as well.