An enterprise network is a hardware and software infrastructure that connects a company’s computers, servers, and other devices. It allows employees to connect to shared resources and provides access to internal and external applications.
A large company may have an extensive enterprise network that connects buildings around its headquarter campus with high-speed Internet and other necessities. Enterprise networks can also be found in small businesses that work on local area networks (LANs).
How enterprise networking works
An enterprise network includes various hardware components, including routers, switches, firewalls, and load balancers. These hardware components support software applications such as operating systems and network management software, as well as procedures and processes that work together to help enterprises exchange data.
Different departments in a company may use their hardware devices on different parts of the same enterprise network. What they all have in common is the need to communicate with each other so workers can exchange files, make phone calls, and perform all the other essential tasks required for doing business.
Each device uses its own operating system and configuration settings, but those must be able to talk to each other through an agreed-upon protocol such as TCP/IP or IPX/SPX. To facilitate communication between devices on an enterprise network, there’s also likely to be a router or switch somewhere along the line. These devices act like traffic cops; they receive packets from one device and route them to another based on the addresses contained within those packets.
What components make up an enterprise network?
Enterprise networks consist of various components, which vary based on your company’s size, requirements, and technological choices. Often, an enterprise network includes endpoint devices like PCs, laptops, mobile devices, and servers; network devices such as repeaters, bridges, routers, switches, firewalls, and storage; communications protocols; and area networks like LANs, wide area networks (WANs), and campus area networks (CANs).
- Routers: This device directs data traffic between networks. It is used to forward data packets between different networks.
- Switches: Operating at Layer 2 (Data Link Layer) of the OSI model, these are network hardware devices used to connect multiple devices on the same network; they can be used to manage physical networks or software-based virtual devices.
- Load balancers: Load balancers are devices that act as a “reverse-proxy” and distribute network traffic across multiple servers to ensure efficient utilization of resources.
- Servers: A server is computer hardware or software that provides services to other network users or devices, called “clients.”
- Proxy servers: Proxy servers act as intermediaries between clients and other servers.
- Firewalls: These are security devices that monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic and decide to allow or deny access based on predefined security rules.
In addition, network administrators also use network management software to monitor and manage enterprise networks, as these tools enable them to effectively troubleshoot issues, optimize performance, and ensure the network is functioning as intended.
Top 3 types of enterprise networks
There are three common types of enterprise networks: LANs, WANs, and cloud networks.
Local area network (LAN)
This network usually connects computers and other devices in a small area, such as an office building. It’s local because it only covers a limited geographic area and typically uses cables to connect devices.
Since LANs cover a small space, there isn’t much concern about security or privacy. While there are hundreds of LAN providers on the market, the best enterprise LAN provider for you depends on your specific network needs and enterprise infrastructure.
Wide area network (WAN)
A wide-area network (WAN) is any computer network that spans larger distances than a LAN. A WAN may span cities, states, countries, or even continents. In contrast to LANs, which use cables for connectivity, WANs often use telephone lines or radio waves to communicate between network nodes. The internet is one example of a WAN.
Enterprise IT departments can also take advantage of cloud computing resources. Cloud computing uses virtualization technology to allow companies to rent server space on a pay-as-you-go basis instead of purchasing their hardware.
Cloud computing allows users to access applications and data from anywhere using any device with Internet access. These applications reside on servers hosted by a third-party company known as a cloud provider.
4 benefits of an optimized enterprise network
An optimized enterprise network can increase overall productivity and efficiency, giving your organization a competitive edge.
- Enhance employees’ productivity: A well-designed network increases employee efficiency by making it easier for them to access information quickly and complete tasks on time. This, in turn, reduces errors and helps organizations operate more smoothly.
- Improve customer service: An optimized enterprise network can help a company provide better customer service by allowing it to offer faster response times and streamlined operations so that reps can attend to customers faster.
- Enhance security: An optimized enterprise network can help you keep your data secure by reducing potential vulnerabilities and minimizing potential threats. It also protects against attacks, giving you peace of mind that your business’s sensitive information will be protected.
- Reduce costs: An optimized enterprise network can help you reduce costs by helping you consolidate your systems and streamline your operations. This, in turn, reduces expenses like hardware and maintenance fees. It also helps improve employee productivity so that you can operate more efficiently with fewer resources.
3 common challenges of enterprise networking
Networking in one form or another has been a critical element of any enterprise for decades now — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gotten easier. Even as some features and practices are streamlined, other new complications continue to pop up.
Enterprise networks can get complex as you add more devices to your network. More devices mean more network traffic, IP addresses, and connectivity to manage, operate from multiple locations, and use multiple data centers and cloud environments. Troubleshooting and diagnosing issues with the network can become challenging and time-consuming in such complex network environments.
Malicious actors often target enterprise networks to perpetrate cyberattacks, cause service disruptions, and gain unauthorized access to business data as well as customers’ sensitive data.
Data from the IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report shows that the global average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.45 million, a 15% increase over 3 years.
With the increase in distributed workforce, the rise of cloud computing, and the adoption of internet of things (IoT) devices, the attack surface of enterprise networks has significantly expanded, creating new security challenges.
Network monitoring and management
Network monitoring and management play a crucial role in maintaining the smooth functioning of a company’s network infrastructure. Organizations need to invest in high quality, advanced network monitoring tools and knowledgeable experts to ensure optimal network performance.
These usually come at a fee that may not be affordable for companies with limited resources, though there are free, open source alternatives for those with the IT expertise to implement them.
We analyzed the top enterprise networking challenges that may impact your service delivery, growth, and competitiveness and discussed in detail how you can afford those changes.
Best practices in planning and deploying enterprise networks
Connectivity is key to optimizing workforce productivity, IT service delivery, and overall operational efficiency within your organization. The size of your company, number of employees, industry vertical, location(s), equipment, and budget all play a part in determining what type of network will work best for you.
Here are five best practices for planning and deploying enterprise networks.
Network design is optimally based on a well-structured company communication plan. A company needs clearly defined goals and objectives regarding how it wants to communicate internally and externally. This essential plan will make things easier for everyone involved in creating an effective network infrastructure.
Define your needs
Before jumping head-first into building out complex network infrastructure, take some time to define precisely what you need from your new system — before deciding which vendors or products to use.
Do your research
No matter how much experience you may have with enterprise networking, it’s always a good idea to do your research before committing to any particular vendor or product. There are many options available today, so spend some time evaluating each one against your specific requirements.
Hire a professional
Whether you are looking to build a new network from scratch or simply upgrade your existing infrastructure, hiring a professional consultant and/or dedicated team member will ensure everything goes smoothly and according to schedule.
Make sure everyone is on board
When bringing together various departments (IT, marketing, and sales) within your organization to discuss your plans for implementing an enterprise network, ensure everyone is on board with their respective roles and responsibilities throughout the project lifecycle.
Monitoring enterprise network performance
To keep your network performing optimally, it’s necessary to constantly monitor its health. Hence the importance of implementing a network monitoring tool or software in your enterprise.
To effectively monitor your network performance, start by defining your performance metrics. You can do this by setting key performance indicators (KPIs) that you want to monitor, like latency, bandwidth utilization, packet loss, and response time.
Afterwards, select a network monitoring tool that offers the capabilities you need, and then configure alerts and notifications within your network monitoring tool with predefined rules for when a specific event occurs.
Top 6 enterprise network trends
Today’s enterprises rely on more than just single networks; they have extended infrastructures of various networks that come together to form an enterprise network. While, on one hand, it’s considered a standard part of business operations, enterprise networking is also very complex. As such, the following are several key trends shaping enterprise networks.
Virtualization provides an excellent way for businesses to make their networks scalable while reducing costs by using fewer hardware resources. Virtualized enterprise networks can support different types of traffic simultaneously without any interference or degradation in performance — and allow businesses to quickly respond when there’s a change in traffic flow or new users need access.
Enterprise architects automate complex network management tasks with a combination of hardware and software. Automation makes self-healing networks possible, which is key in enterprise environments where downtime is costly. To keep things running smoothly in an enterprise environment, IT staff must have some way of automatically dealing with problems before they become full-blown outages.
SD-WAN allows enterprises to create virtual connections over multiple underlying links simultaneously; if one link fails, traffic can automatically shift over to another without interrupting service or losing connectivity. This flexibility makes SD-WAN far more resilient than traditional overlay designs.
Managed network services
Enterprises are using new network service delivery models, like Networking as a Service (NaaS) or Software-Defined Networking (SDN).
NaaS allows enterprises to offload responsibility for their networking infrastructure by leveraging cloud services from managed service providers (MSPs). Meanwhile, SDN enables enterprises to treat their entire network as a single resource they can control through software platforms.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Companies are implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions to improve network visibility and security. With AI and machine learning, companies can optimize their network infrastructure for peak performance and business agility.
Zero trust network access
A zero trust network refers to a security architecture that requires access to resources on an enterprise’s network to be approved at every layer of authorization. This is especially important for companies with sensitive data, such as healthcare providers and financial institutions. Zero trust networks can also serve as additional protection against ransomware attacks and other data breaches.
Bottom line: Keep an eye on your enterprise network activity
An enterprise network is the backbone of an organization’s ability to communicate and share data. This system extends beyond just computers; it also includes phone systems, fax machines, IoT, applications, and other communication and data devices.
Due to its extent and importance, there’s a need to constantly monitor and analyze your network behavior for abnormal patterns, security breaches, and issues that may degrade the performance of your network.Be sure to implement these network management best practices for optimal performance. We also analyzed and reviewed the best network management tools to streamline the process.