Network Design Overview: Is This IT Career Right for You?

World of networking concept

Networking is the important practice of interfacing with individuals and groups through regular communication. It involves establishing relationships with people who can support one another in different areas, including personal lives and professional careers. It's important to develop networking skills to increase your business and personal opportunities.


While social networking is a key activity in life, computer networking is critical for IT communication systems. It's how we communicate with one another through our various computer systems. Any end-to-end connectivity between two IT systems involves passing through networking devices. For this reason, network engineers are critical assets in any IT -fueled organization.


With the increased dependency on network infrastructure, and the rapid evolution of technology, the networking career has evolved over years. One computer networking job specialization that is in high-demand in today's market is computer network design.


What is network design?

The first step to building a network infrastructure is to design it. The design process is oftentimes a complex one involving multiple calculations to correctly ascertain the required capacity to accommodate an organization's data traffic requirements. Network design is the integration of different network devices to achieve end-to-end communication between network hosts. Some requirements are common in today's networks, such as high levels of availability, performance, reliability and low latency, all of which are a must for excellent customer experience.


The output of the design process is usually a detailed network topology and a design document referred to as a Low Level Design (LLD) document containing detailed information about the network infrastructure such as IP addressing and device configuration.


What do network designers do?

Designers design networks through a series of well-planned and executed steps. The process begins with collecting customer requirements. Customers can be internal, such as employees inside a company, or external: outside clients who want a network infrastructure for a company's users and servers. The collection of requirements is critical because the network designer will size the network based on specified requirements.


For example, if there is an e-mail server that serves company employees, a network designer will need to allocate adequate network bandwidth for e-mail traffic. The number of concurrent connections to the server is multiplied by the session bandwidth, resulting in the required total bandwidth. Any error in these calculations or the data collection may result in network saturation via e-mail traffic that negatively impacts other applications.


The design should also account for anticipated and feasible future expansions of the current infrastructure. Planning for future growth is much less expensive than building a new network to accommodate increased traffic.


The second stage of the design process is selecting the correct devices and equipment to efficiently and effectively achieve identified network requirements. This stage is highly dependent on a designer's level of experience. It generally involves researching many available vendors and studying equipment datasheets to ensure the purchase of the correct devices for your needs.


Network guy fiddles with cables

The final design stage is to purchase and implement the various network devices. A network designer's responsibilities at this stage will depend on their role inside the organization. For small or mid-size organizations, it's common for a designer to handle all of the purchasing and installation duties. In larger organizations, different teams of designers may be assigned specific tasks. Whatever the situation, the network designer should supervise these tasks to ensure that correct equipment is purchased and implemented according to the design plan.


Importance of designer skills

Network design is a mix of knowledge, experience and skills. A designer's knowledge and experience are critical when selecting among the variety of available vendors and equipment. Designer skills assist in integrating the infrastructure components together to build an efficient and effective network. It's the skills of the designer in choosing the right design to achieve network requirements that distinguish one designer from another.


Different network designs can meet the same requirements, but may differ significantly in cost and efficiency. This can result in a network being underutilized, resulting in a waste of money and resources. Designer skills are an important factor, and they are developed over years. The knowledge part is easier to gain and will be addressed below.


Job evolution

Over many years, the IT industry has evolved from consolidation to segregation and now back again to consolidation. During the early period of IT adoption around the world, the relatively small size and scale of systems naturally consolidated the role of tech gurus — IT administrators simply managed the different IT systems in an organization.


With the evolution and widespread use of IT, it became necessary to segregate responsibilities in order to achieve efficiency. Companies had different administrators for each of their different systems. This led to a number of new titles and responsibilities including: Windows administrator, network administrator, security administrator, storage administrator and so forth.


With the recent adoption of Cloud technology, consolidation of IT administration responsibilities is once again obvious and mandatory. The automation of IT systems provisioning and the deep integration between infrastructure layers allows for the introduction of cloud engineers with multi-faceted responsibilities. This applies also to network designers who are now exposed to IT systems other than networking. Additionally, the dynamic nature of required network resources puts more pressure on network designers to design agile and flexible infrastructure.


Impact of the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is another revolutionary trend in IT that is raising the bar for network infrastructure requirements. With the objective of connecting everything in our lives to the internet, the need for reliable, highly available, scalable and agile infrastructure is now a necessity. 


This required level of automation and flexibility puts more pressure on a systems' vendors and infrastructure professionals. The interactions between multiple infrastructure components to accommodate the IoT dream requires a more consolidated skill set of infrastructure professionals. Successful network designers will make it a point to be aware of new technologies and to prepare for their rollouts in the market.


Cisco's design certs for network professionals

Peeps on the network

For years, Cisco adopted the strategy of availing learning resources for network professionals as a way of increasing interest in Cisco products. Their certification programs proved to be one of the top resources for learning network technologies.


One Cisco certification track is Network Design in which Cisco offers four certifications:


Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA): An entry level cert for network design engineers verifying that they can design basic campus, data center, security, voice, and wireless networks. CCDA is recommended for engineers starting a career in network design.


Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP): Aimed at senior level engineers with experience in networking and who need to increase their design knowledge. CCDP engineers can create advanced designs according to more complex requirements.


Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE): For expert-level network design engineers who have interaction with the business side of an organization and who can coordinate business needs with budget, and operational constraints into network design by integrating different components. CCDE equips network design professionals with a deep level of technical networking knowledge.


Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr): aimed at senior-network infrastructure architects who create a network's technical specifications to support organizational objectives. CCArs have a solid grasp and understanding of business strategy and are able to translate it into technical infrastructure requirements. 


Although the four certification programs are very competitive, the CCDA and CCDP are the most commonly achieved certs, and are recommended for network design engineers new to the field. Whether or not one decides to pursue CCDE and CCAr certifications is a decision that should be carefully evaluated according to an organization's objectives and one's career goals.


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About the Author
Ahmed Badr

Ahmed Badr is a network consultant with more than 10 years of experience designing, implementing and operating large scale network infrastructures. He holds a BSc in Communications and one in Electronics Engineering, and a Master of Business Administration. He also holds a CCIE certificate in Routing and Switching since 2008. Ahmed can be contacted at: