Even though our customer base is widely diverse, we get some of the same questions from each customer. Here are 7 frequently asked technology questions we get from our customers.
1. How can I create redundancies in my network to minimize outages and down time?
The best way to approach setting up network redundancy is to first look at what systems you rely on and where the possibilities of failure are present.
Most businesses have most of or all of the following:
- ISP (Internet Service Provider)
- Possible ISP Failures (examples)
- IP or Configuration Change by the ISP
- Downstream ISP Partner Issues
- Physical Outage Due to Construction in Your Area
- Environmental Outage Due to Storm or Natural Disaster
- ISP Redundancies
Often times overlooked as a major failure source, ISP redundancies can add a high level of outage protection. Purchasing ISP from two different vendors allows you to failover to the secondary ISP as a backup. Firewalls with failover capabilities can provide a manual or automatic failover option.
Cat(X) Ethernet cabling will eventually deteriorate and break down. Testing your cabling or upgrading your cable to a higher speed will help reduce the amount of network traffic issues and outage due to aged cabling. Older buildings are more susceptible to old cabling and rodent attacks. (Nothing spruces up a rats’ nest more than some shiny blue Ethernet cable insulation.) Running two runs to every location also provides you with port failover in case one line becomes unusable.
Have one switch or firewall installed? You should have two. Hardware failure is the most common network failure event. It is also much easier to prepare for. With technologies such as switch stacking, you can link network switches to provide single management for multiple switches. Redundancy is achieved by spreading multiple network ports on a device over two or more switches. In case of a device failure, you have a secondary path for connections. This also provides load balancing for Ethernet traffic, a bonus.
2. When creating a technology plan, how many years should I plan out to?
We have all heard “Do you have a technology plan?” Our first response is typically based on a 5 year and 10-year plan. More than likely based on having to respond to job interview questions. The reality is, you have to plan much shorter out than even 5 years. A typical technology plan should be a 1 to 2-year plan and a 3-year plan. Technology changes much too fast to plan out further than 3 years. More than likely, your business needs will also change by then. One-year planning is the most common as it is typically done for budgeting cycles and sometimes spills over into year two to tag the next year’s budget.
3. I have backups, but how protected am I from data loss?
There is a little confusion on what kind of data protection backups provide. Most IT providers set up retention schedules on a 1 - 2 week or 10-day schedule based on the requirements and budget provided by a business. Meaning for a 2-week retention, you have 2 weekly full backups with night change data going back two full weeks. This backup schedule is a rolling backup and moves with you throughout the year. So anything beyond two weeks is unrecoverable.
Here is an example: I deleted a file off the server 3 weeks ago. I just realized that I need it. My retention schedule is set for 14 days which means my files can only be recovered back two weeks. The file is non-recoverable.
The reason retention schedules seem so short has to do with the cost of storage and the amount of it we need. In order to recover files older than your retention schedule, you need to setup a bi-yearly, yearly, or even monthly full backup that is never updated. This will cost you more money in storage, but will give you archived data to go back to. In the all-powerful adage, time equals money, where time is how far back you want to be able to save and money is ultimately storage cost.
4. I have multiple lingering IT projects to complete. How do I identify, prioritize and get them completed?
It’s the same old problem that IT departments have been struggling with for quite some time. I have too much to do, but lack the budget and/or labor power to do so. Obviously each IT director has a better view into their business than we do, but what we can provide are ways to approach that tower of projects building up. This is not an exact equation to solve all of your headaches, but hopefully it will get your thought process going.
- Lay out all of your projects and prioritize them on impact to your business. By impact, we are referring to positive impact that increases business efficiency.
- Now make three budget cycles representing the next 3 years. Start placing the high impact projects in the first two-year budget cycles without going over. If you want, you can add an approximate 10% budget to each year cycle.
- Take the remaining projects and fill in the remaining budget areas in the 3 years with the smaller, less impact projects. You ultimately want to place the high impact projects in the first two years.
Most businesses will stay pretty firm on IT budgets. But you may be able to get some extra funds if you can justify the amount of productivity you will get back from a project. Don’t forget to keep aging hardware in mind when prioritizing your projects.
5. How do I improve my Disaster Recovery plan?
What’s a disaster recovery plan? Just kidding. But in all seriousness, many businesses don’t have a DR plan. When talking to our customers that don’t currently have a DR plan, we can usually put them in two categories, customers who don’t think they can afford it, and customers who do think they need it. Disaster Recovery encompasses more than just IT, but since we are the IT experts, we’ll just stick to the IT part. DR plans are designed to react to unplanned outages. Whether it is theft, damage (sprinkler system triggered, vandalism, electrical spike), hardware or software failure, you need to be prepared to react. If you have a DR plan in place, here are some helpful tips to improve your current plan. If you don’t have a DR plan in place, give us a call.
- Have your plan extensively documented. Make sure every step is clearly documented for someone to follow. Assume that someone with little technology skills could follow it. Meaning, you should make two versions of it. One version that allows someone to get ahold of the right people to react. Maybe it’s as easy as having a list of all of your service providers. From your ISP, to your IT Company, to the Electric, Plumbing and Heating vendor.
- Create a Disaster Recovery Response Team. Identify key people within your organization to be part of a Disaster Recovery response team. Train all of them in your DR plan and how to react to it when you experience an event.
- Have local and offsite backup copies. When disaster strikes, you should have two locations to recover from. A local copy will provide quicker access to restoring your data. While a cloud or offsite backup is needed as a separate location for your data that is safe from the disaster event. For those of you that only have one location, the cloud is a great place to store your backups.
6. Everyone talks loosely about ‘the cloud’. What would I use the cloud for?
This is typically a larger discussion with a review of your business process. But for the sense of answering the question in broad terms, the cloud has many uses. Here is a list of ways a business can take advantage of ‘the cloud’.
- Microsoft Office 365 is ‘in the cloud.’ Microsoft provides SharePoint, Office applications, and individual OneDrive cloud storage for its subscribers. While SharePoint and Office applications are still catching on, Microsoft OneDrive has been a favorite for users as it provides online cloud storage for personal files similar to Dropbox. Office 365 is available to both personal and business users.
- Offsite backup storage is becoming a popular use for cloud services. Remember the good old days of taking your backup tapes offsite as a DR solution? With the advent of cloud services and faster (affordable) internet speeds, pushing your offsite backups to the cloud eliminates the need for offsite tapes.
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) allows businesses to place programs in the cloud and access them from anywhere remotely. There is no longer a need to host applications on a physical piece of hardware anymore. This option works great for businesses with aging hardware that only use their onsite server for a few applications, file storage and email. Those services can all go to the cloud with IaaS, OneDrive, and Office 365.
7. I have seen some proposals for “All You Can Eat” managed services. What is the advantages and disadvantages of the “All You Can Eat” support model versus an hourly rate support?
“All You Can Eat” (AYCE) support contracts have been around for a long time. They are currently making a resurgence in the field of IT support. You may be familiar with this ‘cost per pc’ model where businesses pay a total monthly charge based on the amount of PCs (or users) they have and receive unlimited support for those users. To be competitive, we’ve also offered the same kind of support model.
In some environments the AYCE model can have its benefits. The drawback is in the fine print. Many AYCE support contracts require a 1-year agreement. They also often only include a helpdesk type resource. So be ready to pay for an engineer or onsite technician. Most times they do not include any projects or new installations. The biggest selling point behind them is Predictable IT Costs. (As predictable as the fine print anyway.)
We try to give our customers the best of both worlds. The benefit of predictable IT costs, no term contracts, and any resource we offer. We offer a monthly fee based support model that only charges you for what you use called a NetSecure Support Plan. We take a predicted amount of support hours, that we arrive at with our customers, and space the payments out over 1 year.
It is not a contract term, but just spaced out to fit a yearly budget cycle. The support hours never expire and can be rolled over to the next ‘term’ if requested. Unlike AYCE support, which resembles more of an insurance agreement, with a NetSecure Support Plan you are not billed for work that is not being done.
Hopefully this article has been able to give you an idea of what other businesses are currently inquiring about. If you have questions of your own, or want to know more about these topics, please contact us at Network Center, Inc.