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20 Questions You Should Be Able to Answer About Your IT, Part 1

Apr 14, 17
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Blogger: James Osborne, Technology Consultant at Osborne Technology Consulting

This is the first in a four part series of blog posts from our 22 March ITMA meeting, “20 Questions You Should Be Able to Answer About Your IT”.  This post covers Hardware, Software and other equipment.  Part 2 will cover Security Concerns and other Policies.  Part 3 will cover DR/BCP and IT Department Processes, and Part 4 will cover Miscellaneous Topics.  The presentation itself is available HERE.


#1 – Do you have a hardware refresh policy?
If you aren’t refreshing your hardware you are losing money in productivity. This could be due to down time from using older, possibly failing equipment.  This could simply be from not having as powerful equipment as is available.   For example, if you’re still using traditional hard drives your staff may be spending four or five minutes each reboot twiddling their thumbs.  Newer Solid State Drives cut this time dramatically.

Generally speaking, we try to replace our laptops and desktops at least every four years.  But you should also remember your servers, printers, scanners, UPS’, phone hardware and networking equipment.  At no point should you be running hardware that the vendor will no longer warranty.  If they don’t trust it enough to be willing to accept your money for a warranty, you shouldn’t be relying on it.  Remember, as equipment gets older, the cost of support/warranty/agreements goes up.


#2 – What is your software update policy?

Sometimes it’s difficult to test Microsoft updates. However, not applying security and critical updates can leave you vulnerable, and possible cause software conflicts. Many people take critical updates, and try to check out other updates, but that can be an awkward process.

All of our software packages get updated from time to time….some very frequently, some only a few times a year.  Falling behind will often cost you more than keeping updated, both in terms of dollars and cents and time and productivity.  As a consultant, I often find people using a four or five year old version of Quickbooks because they didn’t want to spend the money to update it.  When they have problems, my time alone is usually more than it would have cost to stay current.  Depending upon what’s happened, their lost productivity may double that cost, or more.  Often, not getting the latest features and enhancements will cost you in productivity.  And, if you don’t update, you frequently find yourself unsupported.


#3 – Do you know how much “spare juice” your system has?

Few things are worse than running out of disc space.  Workstations performance drops when disk space is less than 10%.  Users never clean up files.  Odds are they have at least five or six copies of any particular spreadsheet on their computer.

In a virtual environment, it’s very easy to spin up new VM’s for a new server, or to test something out.  Most times, you’ll thin provision a hard drive, because it gives you the best performance.  But, as you use it, it will consume more and more space.  If you’re not monitoring things, you can easily find yourself dramatically over provisioning space and running out of free space.

You can over provision RAM and CPU cycles, but you have to be careful.  If your get to greedy, you can find your performance on all VM’s impacted.

You also need to look at your print environment.  The printer or copier that you had available for one workgroup two years ago may no longer be sufficient for their work load.  Or, it may be overkill.

You also need to monitor your access points – too many users for an access point will greatly degrade service for all involved.

Finally, will your UPS keep all your equipment connected and running, and for how long?  Is it long enough?  Have you reconsidered your battery backups in light of your current load?


#4 – Do you have a growth or capacity plan?

Knowing what your current capacity is will help you anticipate growth and plan for more VM’s, faster printers, additional AP’s, additional switches, more powerful UPS’s, etc.

Management should help you with planning for future growth, but you should also track current usage.  Watching growth patterns can be difficult, but necessary for budgeting and implementation planning.


#5 – Backup support and equipment vendors.

We all have vendors we prefer to work with.  We may like the sales guy, or go to church with the owner’s family.  But, cultivating multiple relationships can help protect your interests.  Sending our requests for proposals to multiple vendors on a regular basis can help ‘keep them honest’ in that they don’t assume they have your business locked in.

Having multiple vendors in your pocket is also a good safety net…. you never know when your vendor will lose the tech you like or change their business model.  Both have happened to members in the past.


How good is your network documentation?

Jun 18, 16
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Blogger: James Osborne, Technology Consultant at Osborne Technology Consulting

How good is your network documentation?  If you were to win the lottery today and retire to Bora Bora (my version of the ‘hit by a bus’ scenario – I find it less depressing), would your replacement be able to ‘hit the ground running’?  If ‘aliens took your building’, would you be able to recreate everything? Do your current vendors provide you with documentation after they complete project work?

We should all know how important network documentation is to any organization. While you know your server names, and some of your IP addresses and print queues, do you really remember routing rules in your firewall?  Or all of the security groups and who has access to what? Good documentation frees you from having to remember how things were configured when you need to make changes. Good documentation also assists you when you have new staff trying to do something, or when you have a consultant working with you for some project. You can send them to the documentation rather than holding their hands for the entire process.

Virtually none of the clients I’ve worked with over the years have had great documentation; most have had no documentation. This doesn’t mean their networks weren’t setup properly, or well maintained. It just means that whoever had been working with their technology didn’t bother to write down what they knew. I’ve always tried to keep accurate and ample documentation wherever I’ve worked, and it’s always been worth the extra effort. It’s saved me from having to remember every little detail, and it’s been useful when I’ve had to hand things over to others. I’ve always feel it’s something that the client is entitled to – they’re paying for the hardware and software, and deserve good documentation of what they purchased.

While working with one of my clients recently, we brought in another IT consulting firm (Mirazon) to assist on a project. I’d worked with Mirazon before, and always found their engineers to be competent and friendly. I was surprised this time when they presented me with 40-odd pages of documentation at the end of the engagement. The documentation included numerous screen captures, and an updated network diagram. Finally, their documentation was subject to in-house peer-review – an engineer who hadn’t worked on the project came in and double checked the documentation.

I discussed this with the engineer who’d worked on the project and he commented that Mirazon endeavors to make this standard practice for all of their work.