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It’s not exaggerating to say that an organization’s IT network is its foundation, providing the means for all business operations to function. With digital transformation on the mind of every senior living CEO these days, having a right-sized network is the critical first step.
In short, a well-engineered IT network is your business’s number one priority.
When it comes to building a network that runs smoothly today and well into the future, three keys matter:
- High availability
- Performance capacity
- Secure connection
Chris Cuomo, lead network engineer for ThriveWell Tech, likens a network to a highway, transporting information between your company and all of the people it needs to communicate with inside and outside its walls.
If a crash or breakdown occurs, you need alternate routes to continue business operations. If you have business operations that require high bandwidth, such as telemedicine or a building full of residents streaming Netflix, you don’t want other ‘drivers’ on the highway stuck in traffic jams behind them.
Here, Chris shares the behind-the-scenes work needed to achieve these three critical IT network objectives.
High availability and network redundancy
High availability means that you can reliably access your internet-supported systems and applications and that they load and work quickly. This comes down to building in redundancy.
An IT network provides transportation for business operations, says Chris, and just like any commuter knows, you need to have alternate routes in place.
Basic network redundancy starts with your physical infrastructure components, cabling, switches, routers, firewalls, and more – which must be laid out in a design that provides for seamless failover in the event there is an “accident” on the highway. Add to that multiple ISP connections to your outside resources and you have achieved the foundation of basic redundancy.
By adding redundancy, you’re providing a pathway around an obstacle, Chris adds. Essentially a well-designed network provides multiple “highways” to get to the destination of information you need. ThriveWell Tech designs networks with those goals in mind to keep the traffic moving and avoid unhappy commuters.
So why do so many IT networks fail on high availability? The most common reason is the budget available to implement the design. Network infrastructure components have hard costs. It’s temping to cut back on some or use substandard versions. However, senior living providers must consider the cost of workforce and business downtime. One of the most common questions ThriveWell Tech engineers are asked to answer is, “Why were we down?” Our most common answer: “No one paid for redundancy.”
Assessing network needs and priorities
For new clients, ThriveWell Tech performs an initial IT network strength assessment. Engineers research a senior living provider’s network-linked operations and systems for optimum bandwidth and then analyze traffic on the network. Then, they add 10% to 20% on top of the recommended optimum bandwidth into their network design.
Once a well-designed network is in place, ThriveWell Tech creates a timeline and budget for their clients to keep the network components refreshed as they near end of life.
Since IT infrastructure costs are a challenge for most businesses, ThriveWell Tech engineers work with clients to identify the most critical business operations and then prioritize a plan accordingly. For many CCRCs, Chris notes, skilled nursing is the first place they build redundancy.
A good starting point is what Chris refers to as ‘The Edge’. At a minimum, senior living providers should create network redundancy to the outside resources and applications that your staff needs to do their jobs. You can have the best internal network design in the world, but if you can’t get out of it to access those resources it’s pointless. Consider a four-lane highway going past Disney World but there’s only one exit that is blocked due to an accident. The kids in the back seat are not going to be happy.
When it comes to WiFi, size matters
Senior living communities are playing catch up to a new generation of seniors whose technology expectations – and WiFi network demands – have changed dramatically.
ThriveWell Tech performs a comprehensive WiFi survey prior to deployment of any access points and sizes the Internet links that support the WiFi with todays demands in mind as well as factoring in future growth.
“The current generation of residents grew up with a phone on the wall, but they’ve already come to expect reliable, quick access to much higher-tech communication,” Chris says. “They have multiple devices, IoT, and expect seamless WiFi.”
If a senior living community has 100 megabytes of internet bandwidth and has 1,000 residents who want to stream Netflix, it doesn’t take long to do the math.
ThriveWell Tech analyzes the needs of the client and how critical the function is that they need to perform when determining overall bandwidth requirements. Then, ThriveWell Tech engineers its networks with Internet connections for residents’ use that are different than those used by the staff supporting those residents.
Strong WiFi performance relies on the right network infrastructure and Internet pipes to gain access to external resources. Behind every access point there’s a host of physical components that ultimately exit to the Internet or other external resources. “If you build your network with pipes that are too small, it’s like trying to push a basketball through a garden hose,” Chris says.
Building cyber-security into your network
Phishing and other forms of cyber-attack are continuous, ever-evolving, and sophisticated. Ensuring that your enterprise systems are secure – and your residents’ networks – is just as important as having a solid IT network.
Data encryption, multi-factor authentication, and WiFi micro-segmentation are all tactics that help ensure IT network security. ThriveWell Tech works with senior living clients to determine their needs and matches quality vendors to their budget.
“There are industry IT security standards and most providers honor those or more. We might use CISCO or Extreme WiFi for a client that requires micro-segmentation, but Meraki can provide a quality solution for a client who has a smaller budget,” Chris says. “You have to be flexible and understand that network improvements come incrementally for most businesses.”
ThriveWell Tech also helps clients formulate cyber-security policies and procedures, and connects them with vetted providers of cyber-insurance.
As with network redundancy, the key with cyber-security is adding layers.
“Who is one of the biggest targets for hacking? Microsoft. You need cyber-security systems in place that could recognize when one of your vendors has been compromised,” Chris says. “We just rolled out Imprivata for our largest client, which requires two-factor authentication. Security is never convenient, but when you get hacked that’s not convenient either.”
IT Network Assessment & Implementation
For more than 20 years, ThriveWell Tech has been providing MSP services, enterprise solutions, network assessment, design, and implementation, virtual CIO and IT strategy, and more to the senior living industry. Contact ThriveWell Tech for your IT network assessment and roadmap forward.