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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited
Information Networks: Planning and Design
Information Networks: Planning and Design
David Etheridge and Errol Simon1992Prentice-HallNew York290 pp.ISBN 0-13-465402-1$26.95. Available: Prentice-Hall International (UK) Ltd, Campus 400, Maylands Avenue, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire HP2 7EZ
Keywords: Computer networks, Design, Planning
Until several years ago, many organisations operated without the benefit of formally planned computer networks. Organisations that implemented formally planned networks employed small numbers of highly trained, and organisationally isolated personnel.
In the IT environment, however, several years is an eon. As computer and information networks evolve into fundamental business tools, they command the increasing attention of users and managers across functional lines. Those who want to participate in the design of their own networks, however, often find that expertise in information and computer network planning is hard-won. The thousands of trade magazines, books and manuals currently available only add to the problem, as they require readers to review, sort through and select from myriad sources. One way to become conversant with the fundamentals of information and computer networking is to first read a general, broadly-focused treatise. In this category, Information Networks: Planning and Design by David Etheridge and Errol Simon, serves well. Be advised, however it is a dense read.
Information Networks: Planning and Design was published in 1992 and has ambitious goals: to explain the process of, and propose a methodology for information network analysis and design from a systems-oriented view. The methodology is preceded and supported by thorough discussion of communication requirements and networking technologies. The authors also touch on organisational and management issues that are influenced by information networking. Finally, the book includes introductions to data modelling and systems analysis.
Etheridge and Simon recommend their book as a college textbook and a reference for systems managers. Perhaps the authors did not foresee that the topics about which they wrote would rapidly become the domain of workers at every level of most organisations. Accordingly, the book may be useful to a broader audience, including beleaguered functional managers wondering how to acquire the skills needed to describe their networking needs to systems designers, or even to plan their own networks. For those who must become experts in a short time, or who just want to review basic terminology, this is a helpful resource. The book is organised so that one may quickly access brief definitions, as well as in-depth discussions about various aspects of network design.
Part one (chapters 1-3) classifies the kinds of communications that must be accommodated in an organisation, and describes some of the required technologies and the environment in which they work. These first three chapters contain clear descriptions of complex technological entities (e.g. networks, client-servers, ISDN, packet switching). The authors also present concise tables that simplify complicated passages, (e.g. a classification of network types, and a taxonomy of images).
In part two, Etheridge and Simon describe their methodology for developing information networks a "how-to" list that can be tailored to individual network specifications. The methodology consists of a set of guidelines that the authors call strategic planning for information networks (SPIN). Chapters 5-11 chart SPIN-based network development, including strategic planning framework, strategy, feasibility, analysis, design, implementation and network management.
A caveat here some sections of part two may be read as historic description rather than current knowledge. For example, a discussion of open systems interconnection (OSI) consists of almost 20 pages, yet OSI is rarely mentioned these days (OSI is a proposed set of rules that would let normally incompatible computer systems exchange data. Initially considered the holy grail of computer-mediated-communication, OSI was eventually overcome by market forces and remains a theoretical and mythical goal. Mythical goal or not, one would not want to e-mail a vendor and ask if his/her product is OSI-compliant). Similarly, Ethernet, a now-ubiquitous network topology, has evolved into many hybrid forms since the publication of this book, and requires further research before inclusion in new networks. While readers will benefit from understanding the history of even outmoded technologies, would-be network planners must determine for themselves the currency of technologies mentioned in this book.
Some of the technological discussion here is outdated, but that problem is mitigated by the authors' emphasis on strategic planning in part two. Etheridge and Simon expertly interweave strategic planning methodologies with information system design. For those unfamiliar with analyses strength/ weaknesses/opportunities/threats (SWOT ), technology impact analysis (TIA) and critical success factors (CSF), this book is a bargain. The authors have obligingly condensed the theory (and laborious planning techniques) of many experts into a series of lists and guidelines.
These guidelines are integrated into the SPIN methodology which prescribes specific methods to use during the phases of network implementation. SPIN guidelines encompass the entire information network planning process, starting with how to analyse the network's business objectives, and ending with how to buy equipment and manage standards development.
Readers eager to explore the mathematical and procedural details to which the authors refer, will appreciate the book's appendices. Appendix A explains the mathematical equation for calculating the information capacity of a communication channel.
Appendix B details the use of structured systems analysis and design method for application sizing and Appendix C introduces readers to queuing theory. The glossary is inclusive and clearly written.
Finally, the authors have included a reference list, organised by chapter, designed to guide readers who want more detailed treatment of important points.
In Information Networking: Planning and Design, Etheridge and Simon have provided a solid foundation for understanding information networking. Although some of the technology discussion is dated, the authors correctly emphasise that their contribution is knowledge of the communications, organisational and management issues involved.
Although the authors' intended audience was students and systems analysts, the book will also prove useful for those who want to pick up basic concepts and contribute to the effectiveness of their own information networks.
Joanne SilversteinSchool of Information StudiesSyracuse University