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What is enterprise networking?

Enterprise networking is traditionally centered on LAN standards with hardware switches, router devices, ethernet cabling, WIFI connections, and integrated firewall software all commonly used to create a Local Area Network. Companies like Cisco, Palo Alto Networks, Linksys, Juniper, HP, Fortinet, and other vendors specializing in the manufacture of high-speed networking equipment that is designed for the requirements of modern enterprise organizations. Network routers and switches serve the dual purpose of connecting a LAN to internet service providers through fiber-optic or broadband WAN infrastructure as well as enabling high-speed data transfers between local machines in an office, education, or manufacturing environment.

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In a Local Area Network (LAN), multiple desktop computers are connected together to share resources like internet connections, printers, software, and files. User accounts are established for secure access to a network from desktop devices or mobile phones. Users typically need to sign in through a password system or other means of identity verification. Enterprise networks often run VPN software for users that encrypts their data when connecting to websites or servers outside of a LAN. Firewall software is used to establish rules, such as prohibiting websites for office browsing or mandating user connections from particular IP addresses for internal services. Firewall configuration is an essential part of enterprise networking, along with device cabling across desktop computers, for corporate LAN orchestration and administration.

Firewalls ensure the security of operations from outside connections and can also be used to scan incoming data transfers for malware, worms, or viruses. Security is considered the primary concern and major responsibility of enterprise network administrators. To improve enterprise network security, firewall administrators seek improved methods to scan incoming data packets for viruses and malware to prevent infections that can spread with phishing attacks, worms, and ransomware.

Innovation in enterprise networking occurs primarily at the level of the switches, routers, and hubs, each with increased speeds for data transmissions, improved analytics for network monitoring, and integrated firewall software support. Hardware advances have led to greater use of virtualization in enterprise networking, where large servers can be partitioned for use by multiple employees on a network simultaneously, as with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or multi-CAD environments. Advances in enterprise networking are currently being driven by new standards in software-defined networking (SDN) such as SD-WAN (Software-Defined WAN) and Virtual Extensible LAN (VXLAN).

Enterprise networking benefits

Enterprise networking is the central aspect of all corporate IT departments in the world today and has been a traditional path to a professional career in the industry for millions of people. Each and every business has to create a unique solution for their enterprise network according to the requirements of their workflow, production processes, consumer demand, logistics, etc.

  • Increased efficiency through collaboration: On the most basic level, enterprise networking allows business employees to work together on individual workstations while sharing resources like files, software, and peripheral devices in an office, factory, or campus. 
  • Controlled access to company's resources: Employees can share an internet connection while the business can use the firewall configuration to establish rules for authorized usage. Administrators can deploy services like VPNs that encrypt data transmissions inside and outside of a LAN, using secure authorization processes on logins to regulate access to network resources.
  • Shared access to proprietary software: Enterprise networking enables local servers to allow employees to share access to proprietary software that requires a license to use. Client devices can connect to a local server to access database information related to customer orders, current inventory, or historical business records. 
  • Increased worker productivity: Software development teams can push their code from a sandbox environment to a production-ready web server using collaboration tools and version control. Private cloud orchestration can be combined with third-party SaaS applications to increase worker productivity using innovative new tools and platforms under secure firewall regulations. APIs can be used to pull in financial information from markets or trading platforms for real-time analysis and decision-making. Public-facing applications can be offered to the consumer through an in-house data center, hybrid, or multi-cloud architecture with web servers.
  • Minimized costs: The combination of virtualization with enterprise networking allows businesses to save money on hardware through a more efficient allocation of resources. SD-WAN and VXLAN standards allow businesses to extend their networking facilities across cloud architecture with the same security standards and firewall settings as an existing LAN. This can promote greater efficiency in the management of storage, database, and software resources across corporate divisions, creatives, or programming teams. Enterprise networking allows businesses to build integrated computer and software facilities across all aspects of an organization according to the unique requirements of every division, device, and employee. The ability to set rules for access on a network firewall and scan data packets in real-time for security concerns are fundamental to all switch, hub, and router platform devices. Enterprise networking includes a huge ecosystem of third-party software products for analytics, monitoring, and security which can be installed to further optimize ongoing business operations.

How enterprise networking works

Enterprise networking works through high-speed switch and router devices that mediate data transfers between desktop computers, servers, and other devices. Network switches and routers connect physically to fiber optic and broadband connections and are often used to run firewall software as part of firmware on the devices. Network administrators and service technicians connect desktop computers to routers in offices, education facilities, or manufacturing contexts through either ethernet cabling or Wi-Fi. Each endpoint device is designated with a network identification number and user accounts must be established to allow employees to log on with verified credentials. Systems administrators set the firewall rules and restrictions on internet access for the network as required by organizational management requirements.

A corporate LAN server may be used to run software applications under proprietary licensing agreements for multiple users simultaneously or to share printer resources. A private data center can be established within a LAN that serves database applications and other software to staff, where web servers address the public under HTTP/S and TCP/IP standards for file transfers. LAN server access is typically limited to authorized employees only. Over the last 10 years, enterprise corporations have increasingly engaged public cloud hosting companies and platforms for IT services that must be integrated into corporate security policies. Firewalls must now be configured to support SaaS applications that are remotely hosted under secure, encrypted web connections via VPN. Email transmissions, downloads, shared files, and installed local applications must all be scanned by firewall agents to ensure network security in a corporate environment.

LAN connection speeds depend on the router, cabling, and networking standards implemented in the design of the system. Ethernet cables provide a maximum of 10 Mbps on data packet transmission speeds. Fast Ethernet enables transmissions up to 100 Mbps and Gigabit Ethernet supports speeds up to 1000 Mbps. Some network configurations use a combination of inter-rack, management, and top of rack switches for better speeds between local routers, servers, hubs, and network firewall devices. SD-WAN appliances provide secure transport independence between any link technology, enabling the use of MPLS, internet, or 4G for greater flexibility in enterprise networking vs. ethernet-based routing systems. VXLAN and SD-WAN are designed to work with enterprise network systems built on hardware virtualization standards (VMs with hypervisors) in production and operations.

Enterprise networking architecture

According to the established categories of OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) standards, there are seven main layers involved in enterprise networking from the physical layer to the application layer. The OSI networking standards can be used to distinguish between the use of switches, routers, and hubs in enterprise networking architecture:

  • Switches such as the Cisco Nexus 9000, 7000, and 3000 series operate as Layer 2 devices by governing the logical link control layer and the medium access control (MAC) layer together.
  • The MAC layer supports both Ethernet and 802.11 wireless specifications for data packet transfers across all established network connections.
  • Routers are used to connect to switches as Layer 3 devices. Routers establish the IP address system for all connected machines that allow for communications and transfers between nodes or endpoints on a network.
  • The combination of routers and switches allows network administrators to build a LAN with support for TCP/IP connections over the internet or for internal data transfers over an intranet.

Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) protocol operates between the data link and network layers as a Layer 2.5 protocol outside of the original OSI standards. MPLS protocol optimizes network data packet transfer speeds based on the shortest path between devices. MPLS supports the Ethernet, ATM, SONET, and Frame Relay standards, as well as T1 and DSL on router devices. Some networks also rely on hub devices that speed up data transmissions to downstream devices on the basis of preferential MPLS direct routing across the LAN infrastructure.

Most enterprise networking equipment manufacturers such as Cisco, Juniper, Palo Alto, Fortinet, pfSense, and Arista bundle integrated firewall management software with their switches and routers. There is a lot of debate between IT professionals as to which firewall platform is best or easiest to use for network security. After establishing the physical infrastructure of an enterprise network through the combination of switches, routers, hubs, and cabling or wireless connections, administrators must then secure the platform through proper firewall configuration to maintain endpoint security. Additional layers include automated data packet scanning for anti-virus protection, network analytics with real-time monitoring, and the installation of speed optimization utilities.

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