One of the biggest decisions facing today’s businesses is their choice of IT provider. Finding a provider who you can trust to deliver a secure network solution, leaving you free to focus on the day-to-day running of your business. But identifying the best fit for you can be challenging: often when seeking advice outside your own area of expertise you don’t always know what you don’t know. So appreciating which questions to ask is a vital step towards making the right decision. Here are seven key questions a capable IT Network Engineer should be able to answer to your satisfaction:
1) What qualifications do your Network Engineers have?
Network programming is a highly specialised field requiring a combination of technical skills and policy expertise. All work in this area should be reviewed and implemented by a qualified Network Engineer. Being qualified in this case means not only having a degree in network engineering but also being certified in the hardware they are using.
2) Which manufacturers of networking hardware does your company work with?
An IT firm with depth of expertise will have worked with more than one hardware manufacturer and be able to explain to you the benefits and drawbacks of various brands. Being able to work with more than one manufacturer will enable your provider to recommend the hardware solution that is best for the unique needs of your business.
3) What do you perceive our greatest data risks to be and how should we structure our network?
A qualified Network Engineer should be able to identify the data risks your company faces and describe them to you in a way you can understand.
They should also be able to demonstrate a working knowledge of your network’s structure. Many small-to-medium businesses in New Zealand set up and operate their computer networks without necessarily having a detailed understanding of all the components involved and their configuration. Your Network Engineer should be able to describe your current Network Architecture – both the physical equipment and its functional organisation – and make recommendations where necessary for improvement.
4) What safeguards do you put in a network design to limit data loss?
Data loss is a major issue for businesses of all sizes. While breaches in security tend to receive a lot of public attention, there are other causes of data loss which are more prosaic but capable of being equally devastating – including hard drive failure, fire and water damage, power outages, accidental deletions, and file corruption due to malware. Ask your prospective IT partner about their data loss strategies and look for detailed answers on the safeguards they use against multiple data-loss risks.
5) What is the most complex network you have engineered?
Placing the care of your network in the hands of an external provider requires considerable trust. As well as employing qualified engineers, your IT company should have demonstrated hands-on experience with networks similar to yours. This needn’t mean that they have worked with other companies in your industry – what’s more important is that they are familiar with the requirements of companies who work at a similar scale to yours.
6) What firewall do you consider the most secure?
An effective firewall is perhaps the most important single part of your network’s security system. As with hardware, many solutions with different strengths and weaknesses are available, and a good IT provider will have worked with a variety of different firewalls and be able to recommend the best solution for your business.
7) How have you scaled networks to accommodate an organisation’s changing needs?
As your business grows and develops, your IT needs will change too. Smooth growth will require a thorough knowledge of the current state of your network combined with experience in a variety of scaling methods. Ask your prospective provider about their work with companies in a similar position to yours, and expect detailed answers about how their network solutions have grown with their clients’ needs.