Every small business owner has experienced it – the dizzying speed at which technology is evolving, the myriad of solutions out there, the outrageous cost of so-called “solutions” proffered by self-confessed experts, and the tendency to “In-Source” I.T. responsibilities to a technology-savvy employee who quickly becomes frustrated, overworked and under-utilized. The outcome of this scenario is the overwhelming number of small business environments with ill-maintained computer networks that are out of date in terms of security patches, backups, updates and a coherent licensing structure.
Inevitably, the network is bound to face some growing pains that will hurt the bottom line for the business owner: unexpected downtime, system crashes, email outages, problems with spyware and viruses, expensive upgrades and constant patches, waiting for I.T. support from the local guru who may not show up for a couple of days, crashed hard drives, incomplete backups, inadequate software installations, out-dated hardware etc.
With a little effort and strategic investment in proactive maintenance, a lot of money can be saved by small business owners and here’s how:
- Install an enterprise-class server Operating system like Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2003 or 2008. If you cannot afford the Microsoft product, start out with a free offering like ClarkConnect. This is very important because these suites come with a solid firewall and in these days of increasing internet attacks, a business class firewall will offer the kind of protection that will keep intruders at bay.
- Keep all systems up to date on patches for operating systems, anti-virus software, spam blockers and other critical software in the business environment.
- It would do well to do some testing of security patches before deploying to the entire company. A flawed patch from Microsoft is not unheard of. Having a virtual machine for testing purposes is a big help in this regard.
- Find good software that can automate your backup schedule. Backups are very critical, but they can be tedious if you have to manually do them every day. A good backup systems means you are not putting your business at risk.
- Store copies of your backup files in an off-site location. It will not do you any good if the building goes up in flames or drowns in a flood with your critical data and backup disks.
More importantly, have a service provider monitor your network so they can alert you if something is out of place. It could be a failing piece of hardware, software behaving erratically, a computer or server that shut-down, a virus-infection on a workstation etc.
If you are really in a bind for cash or are just starting out, consider a hybrid environment where you have open source desktops and servers and one or two Windows computers for those legacy applications that require the Microsoft platform. Linux desktops have become so advanced that a lot of small business owners are migrating. Dell, HP and IBM support linux desktops and servers.