Newsletter – August 2014
How should you budget for IT?
Cast your mind forward 5 years. Will we still send so many emails? Will we be satisfied with a keyboard to fill in web forms to order stuff, or use passwords to log on to secure systems? The changes in speed of access and capability will be many. As facial recognition, voice recognition and biometrics develop, our concept of how we communicate with the machines will change. The effect of Cloud computing will drive down the cost of infrastructure and create new potential for business solutions.
Already today there are smarter ways to do things and smarter ways to drive down the risks associated with aging IT systems that are likely to add value to your business. The question is how much should you spend?
We have tried to set a guide based on a percentage of revenue but that is too vague for many businesses where maintaining margins is hard work. Often a better answer lies in reducing waste or risk. It is important to first of all understand your risk around IT through loss of systems or loss of competitive edge in the market place. Then look to business processes with high cost and look for technology to reduce that waste and so reduce the cost per product.
That cost may be in marketing, sales, inventory, materials or time. The savings will build the business case for spending on IT.
Building a business case
There are some clear costs to IT that you can work into your business case. If you are using PCs, servers and mobile devices there is a cost to buying them and maintaining them. This may be a fixed cost if outsourced or a variable cost if you buy the equipment as needed. PCs will vary from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand depending on the demands you are placing on them from an email station running a couple of small spread sheets to a workstation running 3D design tools. You should anticipate 3 to 4 years of performance from the right PC but to stretch it further will have hidden costs in increased downtime, maintenance costs and poor performance relative to newer machines.
For each new starter in your business you need to factor in annual cost of a PC, a device and software or if you are using Cloud factor in monthly fees. Again these will vary from application to application but you should be able to figure out what your costs will be. There is also a cost of supporting each person in your business on their IT tools which will either be a direct cost or a hidden cost. The costs are hidden when you have no formal support arrangement and your staff waste productive time fixing their own IT problems or working around them. Direct costs are usually lower than hidden costs because problems are fixed efficiently. Management of an individual’s IT environment will cost from a few hundred dollars a year to a few thousand depending on the complexity of the systems being used.
Dealing with growth
If your business is growing through any of the critical points of 5, 12, 20, 30 or 50 staff you may need to revisit your infrastructure strategy and change how you share, store and protect your data. As you pass through any of these phases you will need larger more expensive systems unless you have adopted a scalable Cloud solution that allows you to simply add one more team member to the account. Of course not all applications have a Cloud version yet so you may need to invest in a hybrid solution with some servers and some Cloud.
The more you can push to Cloud the less capital expenditure you will need to budget for but keep an eye on the comparison costs over a 4 year period. Many Cloud solutions are cost effective for the enterprise but not for the smaller business. For a fast growth start-up the cost of Cloud is not the issue as it is all about the freedom to grow without the need for expensive upgrades.
Understanding your business and getting the right advice on the suitable technologies may give you the advantage you are looking for. It is a great time in the IT technology cycle to be on top of your business and well informed.
If you are not sure or you need some advice then please give us a call.
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Virtualisation offers businesses a way to create a more secure, low cost IT environment, while improving productivity and efficiency.
What is virtualisation?
Virtualisation is the technology that has been quietly driving the cloud computing revolution and is now gaining recognition in its own right as a way to improve business productivity and efficiency.
“Virtualising” allows servers, networks and applications to run independent of their underlying hardware systems. This technology is now seen as a way for businesses to create a more secure IT environment while offering flexibility to workers at the same time.
You can virtualise your servers, storage devices, network devices and desktops. What all of these technologies have in common is the ability to run systems independent of their physical hardware layers. For example, with desktop virtualisation, a user’s computer or handheld device would not run its own copies of applications, but rather a virtual instance of those applications running on a VM. To the user, it appears as if everything is running locally – there is no difference.
The virtualisation model is especially attractive to IT managers in BYOD environments. Employees could easily access instances of applications and data on a variety of devices without needing to store anything locally, making access secure and compliant with business policies.
The benefits of virtualisation
The argument in favour of virtualisation can be convincing. Instead of having to maintain, update and troubleshoot separate applications across numerous machines, a virtualised environment would allow an organisation to install and manage all data, applications and updates from one central location.
As a case in point, consider what happens when an employee loses or accidentally damages their laptop or device. Your IT team must then work to restore all the data and applications that once resided on the device – a process that could take hours, even under the best circumstances.
If the employee had been running a virtualised desktop on their device instead, then a spilled coffee does not equate to instant disaster. Instead, your IT team would simply issue a new laptop to the employee, who would then connect to the VM where everything is already running and ready to go. Your employee could be back to work in minutes, rather than hours.
Most organisations have yet to embrace virtualisation
According to a 2013 study, 40 per cent of office workers stated they had never heard of desktop virtualisation, and 80 per cent of decision makers said they didn’t know whether or not they would benefit from the use of virtualisation. Conversely, 73 per cent of workers said the ability to access work files remotely would be important to their jobs.
What these findings reveal is that there is still a big knowledge gap in many organisations regarding virtualisation even though it could benefit many employees by allowing them to work and securely access files from anywhere.
Making virtualisation efficient for your business
Some experts point out that between the costs of having to maintain powerful servers and multiple desktop licences virtualisation can remain out of reach for some organisations. To address the perception of virtualisation being an expensive, niche technology, some providers are working to create low-cost enterprise solutions which can deliver Windows applications as secure mobile services.
To determine whether or not virtualisation is right for your business, you need to look at how much control you want over your environment, your business’s security requirements and your budget. But as more people learn about the ability of virtualisation to provide a secure yet flexible IT environment, this technology is sure to make more of an appearance in the workplace in the years ahead.
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Where do we need to protect our network from Internet nasties?
A brief history
Security software on our PC has been common practice since the mid 1990s. Back then we needed to protect against viruses passed around by floppy disks and it took months for a virus to propagate from its source to be on PCs around the world.
The viruses were no less destructive than today but the rate at which they were created and spread meant it was easier to keep track of and deal with them.
That all changed in 1999 with the Melisa Virus which spread around the world taking over mail servers and spreading itself to all known contacts. In a matter of hours it was delivered globally causing spikes in internet traffic and taking servers offline for days while solutions were sought.
The world today
These days we are seeing more new types of attacks and more methods of gaining access to our devices than ever. Even the most computer savvy people can be infected by well-hidden ‘malware’ (malicious software). Computer usage policies and user training can help but it simply isn’t enough anymore.
Points of entry that need to be secured
We are all pretty good at buying the security software we need for our PCs these days but it’s no longer enough as we increasingly adopt mobile devices.
Today viruses are spread by email, websites, across our company networks and other more traditional methods. Yet there are some pretty simple ways to add layers of protection to our virus defences to reduce risk and improve our chances of dodging the security threats:
- Protection at the gateway – scan emails in the cloud before they land on our mail servers. Make sure your Cloud provider offers this as part of their service.
- Protect the servers – install the appropriate server-based software on the servers to block network attacks
- Protect the PCs – do not be complacent even if you are not on a PC – Macs and Linux are at risk today as well. Don’t just rely on Antivirus software – you need complete Internet Security protection.
- Protect your devices – Most devices have no security installed, which serves as a ‘back-door’ into your network. Make sure your Apple, Android or Windows-based device has the appropriate security software installed.
If you are not sure about what to do then seek advice because your network is only as strong as the weakest link.