CEO’s Quick Reference Guide!

As the person running the company, you need to know a few things about IT. Things like containing costs, knowing when to pull triggers, and knowing when to hold tight for something better coming around the corner.

First off, let’s look at costs. To be in line with industry norms, your costs should be somewhere between 2% at the low end and 5% at the high end of gross sales. The lower number is used when you have more basic needs such as e-mail, phones, a small web site presence, and maybe a server or two. In short, you’re not using an e-commerce model as your lifeblood. The higher number indicates that technology is not only key to your business, but you must continue to make strategic investments to not only sustain, but grow. In short, it’s your competitive lifeblood.

On the basic end, that is closer to 2% and sometimes even less, the real concern is whether you are under spending and not leveraging technology enough. Web sites need a refresh every two to three years, and the search engine optimization (SEO) must put your top twenty phrases on the first page of a Google search. Server and other infrastructure items like firewalls and switches have a useful life of about five years. Laptops and PC as well, but don’t try to save money by not replacing monitors as it’s a small price to pay to ensure you’re folks eyes work well! In short, as long as you’re keeping your equipment fairly current and on a plan to replace 20% of the items per year, it should be a pretty steady cash flow. Keeping software and hardware maintenance contracts is nearly always worth the money with few exceptions.

On the higher end of the spectrum, the question becomes not so much as to whether you need what you are buying, but more so about what you are investing in. Are your investments providing either a) significant savings or b) higher returns in your technology dollar investment than other technology spending? For instance, VMware saves a lot of outfits a lot of money. It involves using less hardware, less electricity, less cooling, with more disaster recovery (DR) ability. It’s a win from every angle possible. The harder decisions lie in weighing the benefit of more strategic items, like upgrading or changing an ERP system or swapping a large data center to 240V to save money on electricity which always increases in cost. This is where strategic planning takes place, and it’s what we do at Roundbrix. We look at the entire picture, but what exactly is that?

The entire picture consists of all the components and needs to be the basis for any metrics and improvements. Included are hardware purchases and leases, support costs, software costs, hardware/software support costs, telephony costs, annual technology-related contracts, ERP costs and others. If you can negotiate multi-year contracts for foreseeable expenses like ERP support, as long as you have the cash and the return is greater than most other investment vehicles, it may make sense to prepay for a few years. Let’s not forget the bills for phone circuit/usage and internet circuits, both of with should be reviewed as often times there are savings to be had there as well. For good measure, if you incur downtime, that too is a cost. We’re strong believers in understanding and planning software and hardware cycles to create the largest win possible. For instance, if you are moving to a different version of ERP application software that is newer, but a large change, buying a server creates a relatively inexpensive, yet strong fallback position. Another example might be that you’re moving. Do you spend $10-$20k out-of-pocket to move that 4-year old phone system? Another option is to buy new or possibly lease it, and only have a payment of $600 or so, saving you $10k-$20k for those larger out-of-pocket items as moves get pricey fast!

At Roundbrix, we’re in our 11th year and have a “been there, done that” set of skills through simply having managed the ship well through many a stormy sea. We know how to keep things afloat and can help you safely to shore!

Six Keys to Avoiding Data Loss

At Roundbrix, we take data very seriously. After all, it’s the only thing we really cannot replace. Given that, there’s a few safeguards that we recommend so your data sleeps as well as you do!

1. Know Where Your Data Lives. This may sound silly, but what if you had nightly backups running, lost something, and went to restore the data only to find out you weren’t backing it up? Folks, this happens more than you would ever want to know. Often times data is on desktops when it should really be on a server where it gets backed up. Good company policy and procedures with occasional QA here is best practice.

And remember, if you install a new program on the server, create a new volume on a server or a new database, know that it has to be selected to be backed up. Just because it’s on the server doesn’t mean it’s backed up!

2. Backup Nightly with a Verify Pass. This is key to ensure that your data is restorable from the media. We used to call this “read after write” as it simply verifies that what is believed it wrote is indeed what can be read back. A simple check box verifies that all is well come ‘restore‘ time!

3. Take a Backup Offsite at Least Weekly. This is where you have to think through your pain threshold for data loss. In other words, if you’re building burned down, would losing a week’s worth of data make it even more painful? If the answer is an emphatic ‘YES’, then that means you need to take a tape offsite more frequently than weekly. Do remember a couple of things about taking tapes offsite. First rule is they don’t survive well in heat or moisture so get a proper transport and storage container. Second rule is ensure it is secure as the tape includes all your company information and if misplaced, creates a liability. You’ll want to account for your tapes periodically to ensure one didn’t ‘fly the coup’. If you’re a Roundbrix client, you can use our secure biometric-secured facility to store your backup data as frequently as you would like.

4. Periodic Reviews of What is Being Backed Up. This little step that we like to do every quarter to catch new areas created. Face it, we get busy and things fall through the cracks as we’re only human. Also, we occasionally find new databases that not only aren’t being backed up, but not set up properly for maintenance, safety and controlling growth. To know how to set up a database maintenance plan, see the article we previously wrote here.

5. Redirect My Document Folder to Server using Group Policy. Desktops and laptops will fail, but what’s important is that it does not take sensitive company data with it. Also, if it gets stolen or misplaced, has this just put your entire company at risk? Folks, keeping autonomy between the company data and the desktop/laptop device any more than absolutely required is simply good business. One of these failing should not send dangerous ripples through an organization like “Oh, Ed had all the company financials and client lists on his computer and now they are gone!”

6. Know How You Would Restore From Scratch. In a crisis situation, this is not the time to “figure things out”. We have “been there and done that” so rest assured we can get you back to where you need to be is short time. After all, the name of the game is first prevention, and secondly restoration. If the restorations took a month, what would be the point?

Current Projects

  • Access to SQL Database Conversion
  • Server upgrades
  • High Availability Firewall upgrades
  • Network Engineering and Performance Monitoring
  • – MAS Migrations

Ten Ways to Slash IT Costs!

Internet Circuit – Important to know is which carriers provide service to your building and their transport offerings. For reliability, fiber rules the roost. But some areas have more than one carrier so you need to compare offerings. Also realize that you don’t have to wait for one contract to expire to re-up at a better rate, if you plan on staying with the same carrier. Additionally, know what offerings are available as a change in architecture may make doing business more cost effective. For example, using offerings like Cox’s Metro-E offering which connects one site to another via Layer 2 Ethernet.

Unused phone lines – Go through the bills and call every number on there. Remember you’ll have a few lines that may be dedicated to your burglar alarm, elevator, or fire notification system. Other than that, you need to know where they all go and lose the ones that are not in use.

SIP Trunks or Voice PRI versus CO Lines – On the telephony side, if you have more than 10 lines, you may want to compare the cost to see what SIP trunks or a dedicated PRI may cost. If you have to add a piece of equipment, often times the carrier has a promotion and will chip in here. Remember, their goal is to get you off of analog lines as we move to the all-digital world.

Server Warranties – Deciding out of the gate when purchasing a server how long you will keep it will always benefit you, as opposed to extending at a higher price a couple years down the line. Face it, when cutting the initial deal to get the server, it’s more aggressive discounting. But once you’re on it, you lose the leverage on price negotiation as they know it would always be less expensive to renew a contract for server maintenance then bite-off another server deployment.

Deployment Turns – Getting these reduced makes a ton of sense. Let’s look at a 10-year period. If you replace servers every 3 years, it’s three turns in that ten-year period, but every 5 years, it’s only two turns. If you push a server to seven years, it’s only one turn every ten years for the first couple decades. Exchange servers, as one example, are typically goof for 5-7 years.

Printer Consumables – Face it, the cost of the printer is rarely an issue. This day in age, with paper reduction a strategic initiative, it makes sense. The goal should be have fewer, strategically-placed printers going forward and limit color. And it’s not just the cost of the paper and paper-handling printers, it’s the ink and the time for finding that one piece of a paper in our paper jungle. Time to kick this paper habit.

Multi-Year Domain and SSL Renewals – Instead of doing this every year, do it every so many. You not only get a break for multi-year, you’re not revisiting the same task every year. SSL certificates should only be extended until the end of the useful life of your Exchange server.

Buy Second Hand Equipment – Yep, you heard me right. Often times, we run into situations on two-to- three-year old hardware. We had an APC environment monitoring system that crapped out. We probably spent $1,500 on the unit, $500 on different probes for water detection, humidity, and others, plus programmed it meticulously, saving the configuration file of course. It simply crapped out. To replace it would cost me about $2k plus the time to learn a new system, and reprogram/fine tune it. Instead, I found a used one on eBay for $100 and voila, the out-of-pocket cost to get back to where I was came to a couple hundred bucks, labor included and we simply had to reload the our configuration. Also, try the folks at MetrolineDirect.com for used phone equipment.

ElectricityAll the newer UPS and Servers can run on 208VAC. This will save about 15-20% on your electric bill as it pulls down half the amps or less. Also, if PC’s can be turned off, especially on weekends when interior air conditioning may not be operating and interior office temperatures can soar, causing PC failures. Printer and copying machines nearly all have a sleep mode as well that can save a bit.

Labor Smart – Often times, I see a high-end IT tech pulling cables, or doing more menial tasks, even though their backlog is huge. This just does not make business sense. Reviewing to ensure you have your most cost-effective resource, even if that means getting someone outside to perform the task. Face it – you don’t use a pickup truck when a Prius will do!

We also hope you will all enjoy a great Fourth of July weekend!

Ed