It is important to acquire and maintain an effective IT environment that can adapt to your company’s growing demands and changing needs. In many small and mid-size businesses, current IT systems may not be up-to-date or easy to manage, which sets the stage for potential problems down the road. Some critical components of an effective IT infrastructure include servers, storage devices, workstations, software, and connections coming into your office.
What’s at Stake?
The main concern for most businesses that experience downtime is the potential loss of profits. The average small business stands to lose $12,500 per hour of complete downtime (i.e., when staff cannot work and customers cannot be served). Multiply that by an eight-hour day and the result is a staggering $100,000 for a small business.
Companies that suffer from server downtime are subject to not only loss of sales and productivity, but also customer satisfaction. However, one of the most threatening ramifications of server downtime is loss of data; only 6% of businesses will survive after enduring server data loss.
The Solution: High Availability Systems
If a business cannot accept any downtime due to system failures, there are options to provide high availability. The two most popular ways to provide better resiliency against system failures are cloud computing and virtualization.
Many businesses are looking to cloud-based solutions to provide high availability. Cloud computing generally refers to moving software, service, or hardware from the company’s internal server systems onto the Internet. Although some companies have what are known as “private clouds,” cloud computing generally refers to another company managing, maintaining, or providing all the services for a specific computing function.
Cloud solutions can be a cost-effective way to offload system infrastructure expenses to a third party and move a capital expense to an operating expense. It can also reduce IT management requirements by outsourcing those functions to the companies that maintain the cloud services. Additionally, the cloud provider includes backup services, hardware redundancy, and higher levels of security in its systems than can be implemented in a small business.
However, there are disadvantages to moving systems to the cloud. Some considerations before moving are the financial stability of the cloud company, guaranteed availability (usually provided by SLAs), infrastructure security and data breach responsibilities, and data ownership. Consider consulting an IT professional before making the decision to move.
For companies that cannot move their systems to the cloud, the virtualization of their servers is highly recommended. In its basic sense, virtualization is the separation of the hardware and software of the computer.
Traditionally, computer hardware was purchased with a single preloaded operating system dedicated to one function (e.g., file servers, e-mail servers, SQL databases, or accounting systems). In the small business environment, these systems would run a Microsoft Server operating system. Most servers are built with redundant power supplies, redundant hard drives, and high-end hardware components, thus limiting hardware failures. The operating system was also more reliable than desktop systems, with better built-in security.
However, even with all these protections in place, there is still a chance of catastrophic failure. Virtualization allows for continuation of computing services in case of this type of failure by separating the hardware from the operating system and replicating the operating system (along with all the running software and data) across two or more physical servers. Additionally, multiple operating systems can work on one physical server, potentially reducing the overall capital expenses.
While virtualization can add cost and complexity to IT infrastructure, the value that it brings to an organization can easily be quantified compared to the expense of downtime.
Downtime and security threats cannot be 100% prevented, but they can be minimized through a comprehensive approach that will prepare you and your staff in case of disaster. Planning for the possibility of downtime is the first step in keeping your business operational. It will also provide greater insight into the systems already in place and how they can be better used in your business.
Spend time with technology professionals to come up with a comprehensive plan. Since systems will change over time, review this plan annually. Just like setting budgets and financial forecasts, your business will benefit from this type of planning and review.