A common challenge that comes with the design role is making everyone involved fully understand the implications of the different decisions that need to be made. Any business decision maker you communicate with will need to use business terms to justify an investment decision. It only makes sense that you do the same when speaking to them. You need to be clear with the challenges and requirements that the investment will address. So if you don’t present a solution in a way that the CxO understands, you will have a hard time convincing them to sign off on a certain solution.
It is fundamental to understand the customer early on, before moving into the technical design. This includes understanding their business strategies, their business requirements and their functional requirements. You also need to get beneath the surface and see where the currents flow so to speak, to see the implied requirements, what makes the wheels of the business turn and what their challenges are.
In a typical customer scenario that I was tasked with, the customer was growing their business to move into new markets. They were focusing on winning larger customers and needed to consolidate ten existing data centres. In order to engage with the customer and build their new data centre, I lead a design process that can be described like this:
Step 1 – Set the scope. What does and what does not to be delivered.
Step 2 – Identify the requirements. I normally do this through a workshop and a number of interviews at both the CxO and network engineer level.
Step 3 – Create the High Level Design (HLD) that translates the requirements to technical solutions. The HLD describes things such as which technologies to use and why, how these technologies meet the requirements that the customer envisioned and which platform(s) to use and why.
Step 4 – Create the Low Level Design (LLD) based on the HLD. This covers all the nitty gritty details. All the device configurations and tuning parameters are explained at this level.
Step 5 – Perform a Proof of Concept (PoC) to validate all aspects of the design with actual hardware and software versions. For example, do the convergence times work according to the design? If the requirements state that the data centre shall converge within one second, is this requirement actually met? The documentation of the PoC also functions as a baseline for operations when the network is live.
Step 6 – Provide tailor made training for the customer environment reviewing the design, technologies and the specific configuration.
Step 7 – Implementation and final handover to the customer’s operations team.
In every step of this process, a sign off from the customer is required before proceeding to the next. Ensure that the customer accepts and understand the value provided in each step of the delivery. Communication is key and this approach keeps the customer engaged and aware.
I encourage everyone with a technical background moving into the network design role to make themselves comfortable with the language of business decision makers in their geographical region. Read, watch, and engage in discussions around business.
In the next blog post my colleague Daniel Dib will describe in detail the second step of the design process, Identify the Requirements.
About the Author
Emanuel Lipschütz is a CCDE and four time CCIE (RS, Sec, SP and DC). He is passionate about the business-driven approach to network architecture, adding business value by refining and improving their use of technology. At the age of 17, Emanuel founded a consulting business that was to become a Cisco gold partner. He is currently CTO and network architect at Conscia Netsafe.
“I really enjoy meeting new customers, understanding their business and how they use their network and technology today. In many cases my role is to capture different needs in an organization, as someone who speaks with both the CxO level executives and technical staff.” – Emanuel.
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- Cisco Learning Network CCDE Study Group
- Me on LinkedIn: Emanuel Lipschütz
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- CCDE study materials for the Written and Practical exams
- Related Unleashing CCDE blogs: Business Requirements in the Network Design Process with Daniel Dib, CCDE: Book of Questions, CCDE: The Pillars of the Earth - Part 1, CCDE: Design Use Cases - Part 1, CCDE: Come Together