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!

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WebSite Performance Monitor and Attack Preventer!

Having a well-designed web site is great, but there are a few questions worth asking to ensure it is not only doing the job for you, but it is also not creating a liability. Yes, you heard me right.

You see, web sites contain data –  and they must. There’s data you intended for your audience, and other data that are only for the eyes of others- or just a little at a time.  There is a process called SQL Injection Attack. What happens is that hackers find a way to retrieve all or important data illegally for their own purpose, which could include putting you out of business or ruining  the good name you may have spent a veritable lifetime to build!

At Roundbrix, after protecting your data, security comes in a close second. It’s so important to us, we are our own priority consumer. But instead of keeping this great process and anti-hacking weapons to ourselves, we want them available to other outfits as well. After all, it’s Good Guy or Gal against Bad, right? So here’s what we’ve done. We’ve created the following total toolset that not only protects your interests .

SQL Injection SmartStopper. We use logic here that not only identifies when someone is trying to steal your data, but we identify them and block them.  We can also collect forensics if a law suit is involved to provide expert testimony on the prosecution end. There is a small setup fee and a smaller monthly charge to receive automated notifications of what was identified and what was blocked – automatically!

Web Performance Monitor.  We are able to monitor many pages of code and give precise response times. Warnings are sent out when thresholds you establish are exceeded. We can let you know exactly where and when it is slow. And when it’s down, we’ll notify you immediately. We also allow you to monitor specific keywords on web pages. Testing database performance and ensuring all is up and running is also part of this toolset.

Heartbeat Functionality. Here’s just another area where we separate ourselves from the crowd. We NEVER assume that because you hear nothing, that all is well. Our tools report to us if they are not operational, so in our scenario,  no news is bad news. It’s like your kid calling you to check in. If they don’t call, you don’t automatically assume all is well. Same holds true with intrusion performance monitoring tools. They need to report in just like in the Civil War, when the first cries of “Two O’Clock and all is Well” rang out to ensure the individual monitoring the enemy had not been taken out.

Related services.  Roundbrix offers a full suite of services to help you answer a number of questions as well as provide quick remediation to these and many others.

Are the database and internet servers properly tied down to one another?

Are database indexes optimized for performance?

Is the Internet server as fast as it should be?

How do I maintain proper PCI compliance?

Are your firewall permissions excessively creating exposures?

Is important information like client credit cards stored?

Is there a more secure way to conduct web commerce?

Is data stored properly and not kept too long?

As we most proudly enter our 11th year in business, we have never been better equipped or more resolute to helping companies succeed while keeping those with a patch over an eye at bay!

Call us for a free evaluation and quote!

When Two is Greater than Three or Disaster Recovery for Free!

This title reminds me of a childhood cartoon of Rocky & Bullwinkle when announcing the next episode, there were always two names for it. Here are a few examples:

Boris Lends a Hand or Count your Fingers!
Rocky and the Rock or Taken for Granite
Landslide on the Rails or Bullwinkle Covers His Tracks
All in Fever Say Aye or The Emotion Is Carried
Claus and Effect or Yule…Be Sorry

If you’re feeling nostalgic and need a bit more of this Rocky & Bullwinkle, here’s the YouTube link on Rocky & Bullwinkle starring Robert DeNiro.

To move on, we’ve been working to share the great news of the recent advancements in VMWare, specifically VSphere 5. But the very nature of this technology is so awesome it warrants another look, especially for your Disaster Recovery Plan and Property Use Tax bill, especially if you’re in Orange County!

Disaster recovery with VMWare. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you get more functionality for less money. Remember that CPU utilization on an average server is only 15% unless it’s a heavily used database or application server. In summary, there are fewer and fewer scenarios where a Virtual Machine is not the solution. We firmly believe at least 75% of all servers should be virtualized.
So getting back to the 3 > 2, here’s the scenario.

In the above scenario on the left, if one of the three physical machines fail, you’re basically down in that area with all that it does. Not a good place to be if you’re planning on running a business. You get to react and perform damage control because you have just become a firefighter!

In the above scenario on the right using a VM Cluster, when one machine crashes on VMHost 1, it can automatically failover to the VMHost2 and life goes one. In being consistent with best practices, distribute your risk between VM Host machines. As is the case in life, flexibility and adaptability is what this is all about.

Orange County Use Tax. One of the areas I take issue with the most. When calculating use tax, it is based onPurchase Price, not what it is worth. So I have a 5-year old server that cost me $8,000 when I bought it, and today it is worth $500. The use tax is based on the $8,000. Not fair, but that is government. How you get even is with less physical machines as it’s just plain less tax. Go from ten physical machines to four, and your property use tax is reduced by 60% on these items for years to come, not to mention the savings in electricity! At the end of the day, monies paid in taxes could be better used for other business purposes or maybe give someone a raise – like me!

Group Policy – Scaling without Increasing Cost

It’s no secret that when a company grows, costs rise. One simple reason might be payroll. Another might be the need for more space or additional resources. In the Microsoft suite of tools there is something called Group Policy (GPO). Simply put, this is the ability to impose security and workflow disciplines in an environment. This can be done on both a machine and user basis, and can also be grouped. Here are a few examples:

Rerouting ‘My Documents’ to a Server: At the end of the day, if a PC crashes or a laptop is stolen, what happens to the documents on it? If they were not rerouted to the server, you had better hoped they were backed-up, although this is not the case. This tends to result in some angst and anxiety as folks grapple with data loss or worse yet, possible exposure of confidential company and customer data. Had ‘My Documents’ been rerouted to the server, no such exposure would have resulted.

Mapping a Share: This can be done on individual or global levels. It means that you can maintain uniformity in your outfit, so that “Drive K” on one computer actually refers to “Drive K” on anyone else’s computer that has permissions to this share. Additionally, you can have folks that can “view only” separate from those that can “Edit, Create or Delete”. The name of the game here is to give permissions as required, but not excessively as that creates exposures.

Assigning or Replacing a Printer: Say 50 people are individually mapped to an “All In One” machine that performs copying, printing and faxing. But alas, it’s at “End of Life” and they gave you a smoking deal on a new one that does twice as much in half the time! You have two choices here. You can visit 50 desktops or you can push out the new machine with a few clicks and voila, everyone has it nearly instantly.

Preventing Unauthorized USB Devices: These USB drives are great. But when trying to contain internal security and folks taking confidential data offsite, these are among the greatest of liabilities. You can lock it down so that no USB mass storage devices are allowed, perhaps except for a few authorized individuals. Again, it’s not looking for bad, it’s about protecting the mother ship.

Forcing Password Changes: We see more Post-It notes than you can imagine with passwords. Moreover, these passwords are rarely changed. These should be changed either every three to six months or when a security breach is encountered, especially if you have systems that are accessible remotely. Group Policy makes this automatic.

Forcing New devices to have Anti-virus Software before allowing Network Access: We love this one, as folks tend to accidentally bring in infected devices, including MACs, which sometimes are not affected, but are quite effective as ‘carriers’. Regardless, we have the ability to ‘force’ compliance to ensure that those new devices requesting access to your network are compliant before they are allowed to touch any data.

Distributing New Application Versions: A new version of a client/server application is released, but now comes the laborious task of loading on 30 PCs or so. Never fear. If there is an install package, often times referred to as a MSI (Microsoft Installer) package, it likely can be distributed automatically.

At the end of the day, there’s a reason you’re on a Microsoft Network. What is key is to leverage that the functionality so it earns its keep – like the rest of us!

Ed

Basic, Managed and Complete Hosting Options – Choose Wisely!

You won’t get an argument from me when it comes to the cost-effectiveness of hosting. It’s a really good thing and a no-brainer in many cases. With the new “Cloud” word, which is defined differently by so many outfits, we’re going to take a closer look at the options here and the risk versus benefit equation. You need to ask yourself a few questions:

Do you want your server in house or hosted with true oversight?

Do you need dedicated hardware and bandwidth?

Do you want to manage your servers or do you want them managed?

Although there are many flavors of hosting out there, the two types of I think most often are Basic Hosting and Managed Hosting. But at the end of the day, we feel another option is necessary that significantly completes the entire picture, and that is Complete Hosting, which Roundbrix offers to its clients. You’ve heard the term you’re in good hands with Allstate. The same applies with Roundbrix Complete Hosting offering. Let’s review the options in more detail.

Basic Hosting is defined as providing air conditioning, electrical, Internet access and a secure space where you can place your equipment. You are responsible for all hardware, software, backups and network security issues. You’re also responsible for all failures and remediation. Think of it as an empty apartment with utilities. The biggest downside to Basic Hosting is that those very same resources that are shared to give you the most bang for buck can also swing the other way. An example might be that some hosting providers put too many customers on a single server in an effort to maximize their profit, but you may experience intermittent performance problems as a result. Another example is they may pool too many customers on a smaller internet connection, providing a lackluster experience for those trying to access your systems, whether it is an end client trying to access your website, or your employees trying to access a hosted application.

Managed Hosting is defined as looking after the hardware (if it is provided) and ensuring it’s up 24 x 7 x 365. It provides you with the same climate-controlled, clean power, internet circuit and physical security as Basic Hosting. The difference really comes into play by providing additional services of value, like providing dedicated hardware (at a cost), system backups and providing the option for dedicated bandwidth. If hardware is being leased or provided, it’s up to you to clearly understand when things break, who fixes it. Some outfits may monitor performance, but again, the name of the game here is no assumptions. When there’s an issue here, it may be that it’s not ‘their’ issue, leaving you with a bitter taste or scrambling to find a resource to help resolve the issue. Unfortunately, we see this a lot more than you might think. Your issues are important to us and we will always address them in a timely manner.

Complete Hosting includes the remaining pieces, many of which can hurt or cause unexpected stoppages or risks. This becomes a matter of total ownership. Additionally in my mind, Managed Hosting should also include managing the backups, disk space, looking at network and server performance including RAM and CPU, staying on top of maintenance contracts and other expirations and renewals, anti-virus, strategically planning for replacement of firewalls, switches, and servers at the core of your infrastructure. With complete hosting, you also have more flexibility at every level.

Due Diligence for Managed Hosting. At the end of the day, it’s important to weigh your options wisely and make the right choices. For the ultimate peace of mind, Complete Hosting is the best way to go, but know who you’re dealing with and where your data is, including backups. Remember, your customer lists and financials are likely very sacred and need to be held close to the chest. Ensure you know the answers to these five questions before moving forward with anyone:

1. Where are my servers and systems and are they shared, if not customer provided?

2. Where exactly is the actual call center and what are the hours of operation?

3. If they perform backups, where are the backup stored? And for how far back?

4. Is the bandwidth dedicated or shared? How much dedicated or bursting up/down speed?

5. Am I notified promptly when there is an issue?

With computing infrastructures, much like life itself, nothing is perfect, but stacking the cards in your favor clearly lessens your risk. At Roundbrix, we are unique in that we will manage the entire enchilada and work with you to stay on the correct strategic path, allowing you to focus on your business. From our shop to yours, you’re in good hands!

Ed

Allstate and “Good Hands” are a registered trademark of Allstate Insurance Company.

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

Roundbrix – Moving to Take your IT Dollar Further!

What’s important to you? We think it should be the best use and longest life of each dollar spent on IT. It means really evaluating a few facets of each purchase.

Total Cost over Useful Life must Equal Business Value. Yeah, it’s a mouthful, but let’s think about that for a moment. The annual cost must be of business value, in other words, the benefit should be equal to, or preferably greater, than the cost. Here’s how we figure it out.

This must include all costs. Cost of item, tax, shipping and handling. But also important are items like annual maintenance and foreseeable costs outside what is covered. The name of the game has to be to cap your costs, but in doing so, you may overpay. Hardware support is a gamble in two ways. First, you’re betting that the cost of the support is less than a few service calls. Secondly, what is the most important thing to understand about support contracts is that you will always receive more timely response support over those that have no contract. So at this point, you need to figure out what an hour, or a day – or two – of downtime means to your operation. This is really what the hardware maintenance contract hedges against.

Software support must be factored in as well, but before signing up to 15-25% per year of retail cost (not what you paid for it), ask yourself a simple question. Am I going to benefit here? The answer lies in evaluating the situation. If you’re deploying a new ERP system, by ALL means, get the support for the first year to get through it. But once it’s stable and assuming you’re not in need of constant updates tied to a software agreement, that money might be better used for other business purposes. You can always re-up later

Very important here is to be realistic as to useful life. When considering the purchase, ensure you are not under buying to save a thousand dollars, but then your solutions only lasts for three years and you were thinking six years. This short-term savings just cost you a ton of money, and you not only have to repurchase, but pay the cost and endure the pain of redeployment.

If something (like a server or a phone system) is scalable, meaning you can buy what you need today and add to it later without performing a forklift upgrade, that may be another way to pull out a win.

Probably the most important point here about useful life is how a few dollars can hedge an earlier-than-expected retirement of your systems. Thinking down the road a few years and being just short of a clairvoyant will serve you well.

As we have been at this for many years, we know how long stuff lasts – period. We thought we would share our experience here to help you make better and more informed decisions .

AVAYA IP Office – 7 years minimum. Look, there are no moving parts and upgrades are a couple hundred dollars and a few hours, it’s a solid telephony solution.

Cisco VoIp – 5 years maximum. Our experience here in supporting these systems has been that a couple years in, it requires an expensive upgrade to remain compatible with the latest Windows systems on which the Agents reside. A workaround here is to run XP in Virtual Mode. The other reason that life is limited to 5 years is that the servers/hardware they place them on are typically only warrantied for 5 years max.

Exchange Server – 5 to 7 years. Most companies here skip every other version of exchange, so most folks going to Exchange 2010 today are on Exchange 2003. This helps defray deployment costs by ‘skipping’ a deployment cycle. And these days, Dell and soon others will warranty servers for 7 years, as it makes business sense.

Firewalls – 4-5 years. This is typically as long as the manufacturer is comfortable standing behind the product. Also pay attention to “trade-up” programs and try to pre-purchase at least two years of support as it’s cheaper that way.

Switches – 7 years+. The HP Procurve line carries a lifetime warranty, so unless you need more functionality, like PoE (Power over Ethernet) built-in, use it as long as you can.

In the end, it’s all about the best use of strategic IT dollar and how you stretch and leverage your expenditures.

We’ve moved! We now have a 50% larger data center with more rack space, all the bells and whistles, and are able to host more cost- effective solutions like cloud hosting, SBS hosting, web hosting and proactive system monitoring. Also, if you’re moving, we can be your stop-gap for mission-critical applications as we can host your systems as you transition.

Recently, we also have become both a Juniper Networks and Barracuda Networks partner to add to our list of strategic partnerships. The way we see it, if we can deploy the solutions for companies, we don’t need to make as much in the sale of the hardware and software solutions, controlling your total cost of deployment.

Ed

4G Wireless Networks – The ISP Game Changer!

Every so often, a technology comes along that truly changes the game. The latest one to do so is the 4G networks popping up everywhere. It will no doubt take some time to retrofit all from 3G to 4G, but talk about taking it to next level! The speeds here are comparable with physical land-based facilities, like copper or fiber. Also understand that 4G is all IP-based, so this is another significant shift in technology.

I tend to measure an ISP network connection by a few metrics, and these rules need to hold true when comparing 4G to copper and fiber land lines.

Reliability: No compromise here folks as it needs to work 100% of the time (or very close to it). If it’s not up, you’re not in business.

Latency: It’s likely to increase a bit traveling through the air. The other issues here for 4G might be weather and temperature issues, which would increase retries.

Bandwidth speed repeatability: A connection needs to be repeatable to be able to have something you can ‘count on’ in the course of doing business. This may be a sketchy area.

Cost: Cost per Mb must be comparable, as should the terms and penalties for early termination.

Who should adopt soon: Where I see 4G taking hold first is replacing flaky and underperforming DSL connections. It only makes sense. I also see it replacing land lines for the person who spends a ton of time on the road, given adequate 3G coverage in all the areas they frequent. Remember, it’s going to take some time for 4G to be widely available.

Though certain bandwidth speeds are published, look for wireless carriers to cap speeds to protect the core. Look for them to also cap monthly bytes. You just need to know what you’re getting – and not getting- for the monthly recurring cost, plain and simple.

Also, Sonic Wall and other firewall providers will soon offer 4G options to get us away from the terrestrially-based connection, so they need a little time to get their offerings on the table if other than a single computer scenario.

Who should wait to adopt: Outfits that require 3Mbits up and down and unlimited monthly data downloads, especially those that have a lot of folks using VPN into a central site or using Terminal Servers or Citrix Technologies for your field folks. Yeah, these cost more, but there are no restrictions and repeatability of bandwidth speed and latency are critical here.

You folks should wait this out until the field issues and costs settle out a bit. Also, see if a guaranteed repeatable bandwidth and static IP “Business Offering” type service makes more sense. In a few words, let’s take the “Wait and See” approach to not put our business at risk as the economy is just starting to turn in our favor. This is not the time to make mistakes or take unnecessary risks for the sake of technology.

At Roundbrix, we believe technology is always best leveraged when it has stabilized from numerous standpoints, including cost, performance, and acceptance by the vendor community. This helps alleviate risk from adopting too early and paying the price with a negative experience. Roundbrix will be testing 4G over the next few months and we’ll write again and share our findings at that time.

Ed

Seven Ways to Reduce IT Costs

We at Roundbrix see this as a new economy. A recalibrated economy, examining every dollar and ensuring the best use of that dollar. In a word, true value must exist.

From our years in the field and in the finance offices, we assembled a few tips to help you control the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for your shop. Without further adieu, here is the list.

Deploy PCs in Quantities of two or more. Whether you are using in house resources or outsource your IT, this is a winning strategy. Let’s say to assemble from out of boxes, build, load software, deploy, migrate data, and QA with the user takes three hours for a single unit. For two units, it would take about 4 hours, reducing the cost to two hours per unit built and deployed. Three units would take maybe 5 hours. The cost per unit goes down until you deploy 5, then it stays the same unless you start imaging, then the cost goes down anew.

Deploy Servers in Quantities. The same methodology applies here, but not to the same extent nor the same economy of scale, unless they fulfill the same purpose. If a server build and deployment cycle takes 20 hours, two might take 30-35 hours, but still some savings here, unless they are domain controllers, then all bets are off as these are always a bit more complex.

Group Policy (GPO) Usage. This one item is incredibly multi-faceted. This really leverages the benefit of having a domain. This is where you can manage items in total or in groups of computers or user types. Say for instance you have twenty people in marketing that use a Xerox machine. The machine craps out, and you need to redirect all their print jobs to the Xerox on the second floor, but it’s a different model. With Group Policy, it would take a few minutes, if that, whereas without Group Policy you would need to visit all 20 desktops. Using Group Policy will save money, time after time.

Use Cox for Internet and Voice PRI circuits. Right now, these folks are the best game in town, bar none. This includes cost, quality of services, reliability (up time), communication, and you actually talk to the same folks, time and time again. We see Cox as the Costco of voice and data services. They have also extended their reach into new territory and continue to do so at a rapid rate. If they didn’t service you area a year ago, they very well may now.

Buy HP G7 Servers. When it comes to rapid deployment and ease of maintaining current firmware, HP has the edge. The cost is not only cheaper than Dell a lot of times, but they offer this incredible package called ICE. ICE stands for Insight Control Environment and includes a set of tools like Craftsman for a mere $300! From being able to rapidly deploy multiple servers, to having full troubleshooting via ILO-3 (Integrated Lights Out) which reports consolidated multiple HP server statuses to the System Insight Manager (SIM), which in turn, sends out notifications. So if a fan, power supply, or hard drive fails, you know about it the second it happens. An additional neat thing about the G7 is it’s built in SAS port on the outside. Adding a tape drive or additional storage has never been easier. No more SCSI cards!

Review Phone Bill in Detail. We can only begin to tell you what we see. When you get a phone bill, you go on auto-pilot and may just pay it. This might warrant a review once or twice a year. Three things that drive up costs typically go wrong here. The first item is as lines are not used, they are typically not disconnected, so you pay every month for facilities you no longer use. The second item is falling out of contract with some carriers, like Verizon, resulting in immediate large rate hikes. The third thing is to pay attention not only for the cost per minute, but the billing increments as well. It seems that folks are pretty good for domestic toll-free and long distance (you should not be paying more than $.03 per minute for either of these), but a lot of money is made in the local market, that is Zones 1,2, and 3. Some carriers, like Cox, will include all local traffic for a flat fee. If you do a lot here, say more than $100 per month, it’s worth jumping on this offer.

Pre-Purchase Maintenance Contracts for full useful life of hardware. If you buy a server or PC and plan to keep it for 5 years, it is far cheaper to buy the maintenance up front, than to buy a 3-year, and then renew for two more. According to what we have seen, 50% or more can be saved here. Face it, when it comes to servers, you want to maximize their useful life to minimize the number of technology turns (redeployments) so you minimize your IT labor costs over the long haul. We have bought a server from Dell a few years back and bought it with 3 years maintenance, as that was all they offered back then. The initial cost was about $800 for 3 years. When we went to renew for two more, it was $1,200 more. So we have $2,000 out-of-pocket here. Today, you can get 5-year contracts that are much more cost-effective and protect your investment without the hassle or cost of having to renew.

In short, these are some great ways to save a few dollars that can be better used for other purposes. We have more ways to save money as well and would be glad to set up a time to discuss cost-saving opportunities with you. To start the New Year off right, why not give us a call and make saving money your New Year’s resolution.

Happy 2011!

Ed Leard