Do you have plans to expand your business — either through slow, steady growth or more quickly via an acquisition? Do you want to use the latest technology to offer your customers better, faster service?
Whether you are measuring growth in people or in technology, you will almost certainly need a faster, more up-to-date IT system than the one you have today to keep your business running smoothly.
Simply upgrading one part of the system or adding users — without making sure you have the necessary capacity in network bandwidth, storage, and other parts of the IT system — could cause bottlenecks. Your company may lose potential customers if it takes the sales team too long to generate quotes, for example. Employee productivity may decline if your system has frequent outages.
So if you want to accomplish tasks like upgrading your payroll system, you need to make sure you have the necessary network bandwidth and storage space. If you expand to new locations, your employees will need speedy, secure connections to your business systems.
The key to successful expansion is an IT system designed for growth. This can allow your business to adopt new technology as it is developed, leading to stronger sales and better customer service. And it will help your IT system keep running smoothly even as you add employees and customers.
This means you should build an IT system that will scale — using your future needs, not your current ones, as a starting point.
It takes a lot of time and money to plan and install an up-to-date IT system and you want to be sure the new system will scale with your company’s needs. But it’s not always easy to predict just what those needs will be several years from now.
Start by considering your business goals. Perhaps your business plan for the next three years will involve adding employees, implementing a robust manufacturing system, or upgrading your finance system. All of those will likely require more bandwidth, better network capabilities, and more storage than your current system offers.
Next, look at every component of your system and what upgrades are needed. It’s crucial to understand not just how each component of the system works, but how they interact with each other and how each component can scale. Every element of your IT system needs to position your company for growth — and for growth to be possible, all the elements of the system need to work seamlessly together.
For example, consider not just how much internet bandwidth you are using today, but how much you may need for more video-heavy uses in the future. Estimate how many more employees you hope to have in three years, as well as how many more customers you plan to serve. Plan for a firewall that will protect your network today but also in the future. Choose switches for your network that will serve you well several years from now as well as today.
As you make these plans, you may identify some specific problems that your network upgrade needs to solve — and you will find a variety of solutions available. For example, if you’re looking for a way to keep your company’s network protected from cyberattacks, a managed firewall may be the answer. If you are concerned about being able to quickly recover from a ransomware attack, without losing days of production and thousands of dollars, you may want to look at your backup system. Your assessment may also discover equipment issues, like servers that are no longer under warranty and need to be replaced.
Once you know your goals, you can create a plan for implementing a robust IT system that can also scale with the company and its network needs.
Because upgrading an IT system takes time and costs money, it may be tempting to simply wait for your current system to break, then buy a slightly larger replacement for whichever part has malfunctioned. This saves money for now, but your company risks having potentially significant downtime with no notice when the system goes down. Lapses in network security could lead to a ransomware attack that costs thousands of dollars in lost production time and remediation costs. And if the current network is slow, you may already be losing money because employees are forced to work inefficiently.
It’s much better, then, to clearly assess your current system and future needs — and address any deficits before they cause real problems.
During the planning process, it may seem like a good idea to keep costs down by buying smaller or slower versions of the equipment you need. Or you may want to skimp on something like antivirus software, which does not directly help you produce products or pay your bills. After all, it can be difficult to justify paying for an IT system that offers more capabilities than your company needs right now.
But cutting costs on protection or on the power of your servers or network may well end up costing even more than you would have paid to upgrade. A minimum level of IT performance is required to reduce the risks to the business.
It’s better, then, to plan and build a robust IT system.
If you have the right IT professionals on staff, they may be able to develop and implement the plan. However, they are all likely busy with day-to-day tasks, and assessing the company’s current and future needs — then designing a system that will meet them — takes time and focus. In addition, most small to midsize companies do not have IT staff members with deep experience in every aspect of an IT system.
You will likely want to work with an IT services firm to upgrade your IT system. Approach this decision as you would engaging any other professional: start with a needs assessment and then get multiple bids. Make sure you have the right criteria for evaluating proposals. For example, what sort of certifications do employees of the IT services firms hold? How much experience do they have designing, building, and maintaining IT systems for companies in your industry and of your size?
The goal of a network upgrade should be to fix any current problems while leaving headroom for growth – in the size of the company, the demands of the technology it uses, or both. Remember that every component of the network is important, from the cabling to the firewall. If one part of the system breaks, the whole thing can fail.
Even if you are hiring an IT services firm to design and build your network upgrade, it’s important for you to have an idea of what problems you need to solve and an understanding of how the parts of the network work together.
Here are seven issues to consider as you talk to IT services firms and evaluate options for your network:
A network upgrade is successful if the network just works when it’s done without users having to think about it. Smoothly running network systems must be well designed, integrated, and configured. Simply listing all the parts of a network and then buying the cheapest one is not a recipe for success and will put your company at a disadvantage. It’s important to verify that the various components have been tested together. That way, they will run smoothly when connected on your network, allowing your systems and employees to work efficiently and without interruption. If you don’t have employees with the expertise to advise you in these areas, consider engaging an IT services firm.
Like most network components, switches come in many varieties. You need to know whether a particular switch can handle the data throughput your company needs. It’s also important to understand how easy the switch will be to configure and how well it will scale as your company’s needs expand. The right switch will enable performance and ease of administration — and it can help your company grow.
Storage arrays offer many advantages — they can help speed recovery after a network outage, for example, and they generally offer faster performance and easier performance tuning than internal storage. Whether you need one and how it should be configured depends on how many servers you have, how much data you have, your plans for expansion, and your plans for network resilience.
Business internet connections can be complicated. It’s a good idea to work with a broker who has access to multiple data services from a variety of vendors in your area. The specific options will vary depending on your location. The broker can help you understand who offers service in your area and how much bandwidth you need. Then you can match the best options to your need.
Firewalls are your first line of defense against external attacks on your network. These attacks can be very damaging, leading to lost production time and lost business. And while it may seem unlikely that your business will be hit, the fact is that bad actors are scanning networks for vulnerabilities all the time. Firewalls have technology built in that can stop many of these attacks. It’s important to have up-to-date technology in the firewalls. For example, new firewalls have geo-filters that allow the system to block areas of the world where many attacks originate. A robust firewall can keep your network — and your business — safe.
You want a compute plan that supports your overall business strategy. The technology is constantly changing, and in order for your compute environment to have a longer-term useful life, you need headroom in your requirements. To arrive at the best plan, understand the servers you have now and your plan for growth. Generally, plan for 3x growth in performance with any hardware purchase.
If your systems go down — whether due to a firewall failure, equipment failure, or human error – you will become quite focused on how quickly you can restore your systems. Your data backup system is a key part of this. To develop a robust backup system, start by making a plan. How quickly will you need to restore data should an outage occur? Analyze the speed of restore — not only with the backup system but also with the network and compute infrastructure and storage capacity — to understand data flow bottlenecks. If quickly restoring data is essential to avoid crippling your business, it may be worth the expense to set up a sophisticated backup system that will help restore data quickly. The risks involved in not being able to restore your data when you need to can be substantial.
As you plan your next-generation IT system, think beyond today to envision how much larger and technologically sophisticated your company will be in three years. Then find a partner who can help you design, build, and perhaps even manage that network.
A managed IT service provider with deep experience and knowledge of your industry may be best suited to helping you devise the right strategy for your business and choose equipment that will meet your business needs and budget.
We recommend that you interview multiple providers as carefully as you would a senior manager for your company. Look at their background and experience. Check references. Ask about their past experiences — the best and the worst. Most importantly, match up the needs your business has with the skill sets that a provider company can offer.
At CNS Partners, we have more than 20 years of experience working with mid-sized manufacturing organizations. We know your specific IT challenges, from network design to backup systems.
To learn more about how to create a high performing and successful IT systems, download our eBook “CNS Partners Expert Guide to High- Performing and Robust IT Systems.”
If you are ready for a discussion, please reach out to us for an IT Infrastructure Strategy call.