IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

IT Technology Lifecycle Management for Small Business

Posted by Michael Silverman on Fri, Dec 27, 2013

IT Technology ChangeThose who know me know I believe that business requirements drive technology investments (not the other way around).  So let’s assume everyone agrees with me on that, but what about managing existing technology investments?  A few of the more common technology management scenarios we see in small businesses include:

 

  • Upgrading when the existing technology literally fails and becomes unusable

  • When a visiting engineer tells you, “Houston, we’ve got a problem”

  • When introducing a new business application, the vendor “requires” new equipment

     

IT managers, or outsourced Managed Service Providers, should always steer management with technology management recommendations proactively.  Hardware does get older; new software versions come along; hardware and software even becomes obsolete.  Lifecycle management is a subset of technology management and should be reviewed regularly by either internal staff or your outsourced Virtual Chief Information Officer.  I utilize a Risk Assessment worksheet to document everything critical to my client’s IT environment from hardware to software, local and remote technology.  Some of the considerations, beyond business drivers, include the physical age, performance metrics, end of life, and end of support data for hardware and software.

So, you might ask, “what’s the risk to my small business if I’m not managing and attending to my technology’s lifecycles?”  Worst case is you’re exposing the business to unplanned downtime.  One of the most common examples is an expiring agreement.  Virtually every business has a domain name used for accessing a web site and managing the flow of email.  If the registration for your domain name expires, the business is not only at risk of disruption of email flow or access to the web site, but another organization or individual can actually take ownership of your domain name, forcing you to find a new name.  Some other expiring agreements associated with lifecycle management include SSL certificates (equally as disruptive as domain names) and both hardware and software maintenance agreements. 

Second in line to expiring agreements is dated hardware or software.  Let’s start with hardware.  In general, my greatest concerns about hardware reliability occurs right after new equipment is deployed and after 3-4 years of its useful life.  The graph below provides an illustration of the typical lifecycle of a piece of equipment.  During the first 90 days or so, there’s a risk of premature failure.  ANP will “burn-in” new equipment for a series of days to try to catch this potential risk.  Once through the first 3-6 months, failure rates become quite infrequent.  As equipment ages beyond 3-4 years, the risk of a component failure dramatically increases.  This risk can be mitigated through effective business continuity planning.  We’ll typically leverage redundant components and systems in our designs and discuss the cost/benefit relationship to insure the client is making the most prudent business decision.

 


lifecycle management

The last aspect of technology lifecycle planning is driven by the manufacturers and software developers.   It’s referred to as End of Life and End of Support.  Many of the major manufacturers publish End of Life documents.  I’ve included a few common manufacturer links to their lifecycle web pages.  One of the most notable, near term events, is the pending Microsoft Windows XP SP3 End of Support date, April 8, 2014.  This means that as of April 8th, Microsoft will no longer provide automatic fixes, updates, online technical assistance or, most importantly, security patches, potentially leaving your business vulnerable to virus attacks or security breaches.

Technology Management Guidelines

Although every businesses situation is different, the following guidelines provide a good rule of thumb:

  • Upgrade desktops every 5-6 years, including upgrading operating systems and the Office suite.  For the next upgrade, evaluate the feasibility of thin clients or virtual desktops

  • Upgrade key physical servers every 4 years.

  • If you’ve begin to virtualize servers:

    • Upgrade virtual guest servers based upon the application vendor’s guidelines

    • Configure the virtual host servers “N+1” so you can function if one server fails; stagger purchase dates; monitor performance, then replace upon failure of a host unless performance dictates.

  • Storage systems should be evaluated at the 5-year mark
  • Network switches:  At end of support, usually 5 years
  • Routers, Firewalls: At the end of software maintenence

In summary, it doesn’t matter whether you’re large or small, driven by technology, or just consider it a necessary evil; you need to have a Technology Lifecycle Management strategy.  I’ll leave you with a few guidelines and resources.  As always, drop me a note if you’d like to discuss lifecycle strategies, or request a free network assessment to determine where your IT equipment is on the lifecycle graph.

 

Request A Free Network Assessment

Resources

Topics: Business IT, IT Assessment, Business technology, Managed Service Provider, IT Technology, Lifecycle management

How To Save Money On Your IT Solutions

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Jul 31, 2013

IT Solution ExpensesThere are two faces to IT investments and costs.  As a business owner or as an IT manager, you can look outside of your IT department and consider what areas in your business need more control, perhaps a better process, or more consistent deliverables. You can also look inside your IT department and ask yourself where can you save money and get better results.  This week, let’s take a look at inward facing or internal IT costs.

Here’s a few ideas on how you can maximize your results from your internal IT expenes.

Consider migrating some or all of your IT solutions into the Cloud

You have seen the Microsoft ads on TV regarding the Cloud or you own an Apple iPhone and you see the ability to save your pictures and emails into Apple's iCloud.  The Cloud is here to stay and can become a big part of your company’s IT strategy.  There are two major types of cloud operations: Cloud storage and Cloud based applications. All companies need to store documents. If they go with physical solutions like hard drives, backup tapes etc., it can get very expensive, very quickly. Cloud storage allows you to store all your documents off site, often at a fraction of the cost of physical storage solutions. Beyond that, you will have access to your documents as long as you have an Internet connection.

Cloud based applications come in many varieties, with the most popular being based around the office suite, or a hybrid of storage and application. Solutions like Google Drive which takes Google’s office suite and combines it with a storage and sharing solution, is completely
based in the Cloud. The goal of Google Drive and other solutions, like Microsoft Office, is largely to provide a platform that enables easy collaboration and sharing at a fraction of the cost of more traditional on prem solutions.

Integrating Cloud based solutions can often times save you a ton of money, not only in operating costs but also long-term maintenance. As these services depend on a data connection and not sheer computing power, you won’t have to replace your machines in order to upgrade to new software. This means lower costs all round for the small business owner.

Deploy or outsource a Voice over IP Phone System

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been around for a number of years and many companies, large and small, have integrated it into their offices. Because VoIP uses an Internet connection to send and receive phone calls, there’s no need for expensive cabling and switchboards.  Aside from lower overhead, many VoIP providers offer calling rates at a
fraction of what most conventional dial-tone providers charge. So, companies that make lots
of long-distance calls can really benefit with VoIP.

While many businesses have integrated VoIP solutions, most don’t go beyond that. If you use a fax machine, did you know that you can either digitize that and eliminate the fax machine, integrate it with most modern email programs or use your VoIP connection to transmit fax data.

If you have a sales force who is constantly on the road or giving presentations, why not look into a Web conferencing system. Many systems, like Cisco's WebEx, allow users to hold conferences and share documents or presentations without having to leave the office.

Outsource your IT support to a Managed Service Provider

While this may seem counter-intuitive – why would a company want to pay to save money? Managed Service Providers (MSP) usually charge a monthly fixed fee and offer a full service solution that aims to keep your IT systems running. Through preventative maintenance and proactive management ensuring systems are running, IT costs are often reduced in the long run. Beyond that, the chances of a major service outage are drastically reduced. Should anything happen to your business MSPs can have you up and running more quickly allowing you to minimize potential downtime losses.

There are literally thousands of ways you can save money on IT and maximize your resources, and often experts like us can help you extend savings even further. So, why not give us a call and see what we can do. Also, stay tuned for part three of this article, covering how to save money on tech systems that your customers interact with.

 Unchain Your Office

Topics: Budget, Business IT, Business technology, Managed Service Provider, VoIP, cloud save, Cloud. Savings from the cloud, voice technology, businesses operating in the cloud, Cloud-Office 365, Office 365

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