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Save on I.T. with Common Sense and Technology
By Duane Ragland
(April 2009)

Common Sense Goes a Long Way

Speed up repair time and minimize mistakes by documenting your network, servers and workstations, including application settings, install and setup introductions. Setup security correctly to prevent accidental damage such as unintended modifications and/deletions. Do not install unnecessary or non-business related software. Even software that is not designed to cause problems can do so. Many applications that work fine on one system may have problems on another due to software or driver conflicts. The pretty pictures and cool effects can cause as many problems as any virus or spyware. Most are poorly written and are unpredictable.

You will get a better return on your investment by purchasing quality hardware. Superior hardware will last longer and perform better. This will cut down on service calls and downtime. Quality software will allow users to perform task more quickly and have fewer issues. Avoid heat; your system needs adequate airflow. Heat will cause hardware to wear out quickly or fail outright.

Pick the correct set skills for the job. All computer professionals are not the same. They vary in experience, formal training, subject knowledge, work ethics, etc. Like doctors and lawyers there are several disciplines. For the same reason you would not have a heart specialist do brain surgery, a desktop support person should not be setting up your server. A system administrator should not be writing code or setup a database.

Continuously monitor your system. You need to know the state of your system at all times. If a hard disk is about to fail, you can react in a proactive way. If you are receiving errors on your system you can address them before they cause a catastrophic problem. You should also perform routine preventive maintenance to keep your system in peek working condition. Do it right the first time. The planning, design and setup of your system will do more to save money long term than anything else you can do.

When it comes to service, make sure you and your I.T. company are on the same page. The break and fix mentality says wait until something goes wrong and then I will fix it. If you took this attitude with your car you would never change the oil until your engine failed, you would never replace a tire until it went flat. The problems with this in relationship to a car are obvious. The cost of fixing an engine that ran out of oil far exceeds the cost of changing the oil routinely. However, for some reason most people do not give the same thought to their computer systems. It costs less to prevent problems, the dollars spent on hardware, software, and service is only a part of the overall cost. Think about the loss of productivity due to underperformance or system failure, employee and client frustrations due to problems when the system is not performing properly or is completely down. In a break and fix relationship there is no benefit for your I.T. company to do it right. Your I.T. company should have the same agenda as you. It should be in both of your best interest that your system runs properly and does not go down. Service contracts can put you and your I.T. company on the same page. If they cannot bill you for their time, they do not want your system to have problems any more than you do.

Feel free to contact me or ask questions at t info@it-on-demand.net or call (541) 323-3037.
477 NE Greenwood Avenue, Suite C, Bend, OR 97701 • Service: 323-3571

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(January 2009)

I have been a Microsoft Certified Trainer since 1997 and hold the highest Microsoft Certifications in NT4, Windows 2000, Windows 2003, Windows 2008 and have been contracted to train the I.T. staff of several fortune 500 companies including IBM, Phillips Oil, and Symantec.

What I have learned in that time is that many business owners and managers do not give much thought to their computers or network infrastructure until there is a problem. Ask yourself, as a business, would you be able to survive if your corporate or financial data was damaged, destroyed, stolen, or became unavailable for period of time. It is far less expensive to prevent or minimize problems than to correct them after the fact. Not to mention less disruptive to your business.

Common computer and networking mistakes:

  1. Allow administrator rights on local machines or your network. What most people do not realize is that when you run a program, that program has the same rights as you do. This means that you can inadvertently load malicious software on your system and not even be aware of it. This also means that if you have a virus or some other malicious software on your system, it also has the rights to do whatever it wants, including destroying or stealing data. Even password protected data such as QuickBooks, or your email is easily bypassed if you have administrator rights. You should only use an administrator account when necessary.
  2. Improper file security and systems management.  Misconfigured file access can allow employees to accidentally modify or delete a file or access confidential data. Properly configured file access can easily prevent this.
  3. Do you know what software is installed on each machine? Viruses are not the only type of harmful software. Even software that is not designed to be harmful can cause serious problems. Programs that make your desktop look cool or programs that add features to internet explorer can cause serious problems. Many of these programs are poorly written and can slow down or even lockup your system. You should never load or allow the installation of any non-business or unnecessary software.
  4. Does anyone access your network remotely? This is a very valuable and convenient tool. However, did you know 80% of all networks contamination comes from remote desktop and VPNs? Most I.T. people simply focus on the security of the remote connection, which is important, however if the computer that is accessing your network is contaminated with a virus or other malware, then it can spread that contamination to your network. You need to make sure that the remote system is secure
    prior to accessing your network.
  5. Have you ever been educated about your network? If not you should have someone do so. Reliable and secure data is a management issue. Most I.T. professionals view problems from a technical point of view not a business point of view. I feel that I.T. should educate you on your system so you can make the right choices for your business. The proper management and security of your data is your business, where would you be without it?

Do not assume that your I.T. personal has setup your network correctly, know it. Many of the above mistakes are made every day by I.T. professionals due to lack of training or experience, however just as many misconfigurations are due to laziness or convenience. It’s not their business that is at risk, it is yours.

Feel free to ask questions by e-mailing me at info@it-on-demand.net or call (541) 323-3571.

(December 2008)

Each month I will provide readers with advice on a variety of common computer and networking issues in a non-technical, easy to understand format. I will also provide a forum for you to ask questions via e-mail.

I have been a Microsoft Certified Trainer and network consultant for over 10 years. I have been contracted to train the I.T. staff of several fortune 500 companies including IBM, Phillips Oil, and Symantec.

Many business owners and managers are not aware of the potential dangers of hardware or software failures until it is too late. Ask yourself, as a business, would you be able to survive if your corporate or financial data was damaged, destroyed or stolen. Most of us would find it difficult. Data protection is not a cost, it is an asset.

There is always a cost to every decision, including no decision. I had a client in Los Angeles that I spoke to about correcting his backup procedures and hardware for months, to no avail. What was originally a $600 Saturday afternoon project turned into a $15,000 two week nightmare. Plus, there was data that was never recovered. No matter what you do, no matter how much you spend, problems will occur. The difference is how much damage to your business, if any, will result.

It is vital that you as a business owner or manager set the criteria for the protection of your data, not your I.T. person. Your I.T. person can use various technologies to achieve your goal. However it comes down to a cost versus risk management decision. This is difficult, if not impossible, if you are unaware of the potential risks, costs and solutions available to you.

Question you should ask yourself:

  • How much data, if any, would be lost if my server crashed? How much would it cost and how long would it take to recover or replace this data? How long would it take to return my system to its original state?
  • How much business would be lost while my system is down?
  • What would I do in case of fire or theft? Do I have the ability to recover data that was damaged or deleted days or weeks before anyone noticed the problem?
  • Are my backup systems actually working properly? How do I test them?
  • Does my backup strategy correctly support e-mail and database back-ups? 
  • Should I backup only at night or throughout the day? Is all data on my server or is some on individual workstations? If so, are the workstations being backed up? How often?

The answers to these questions will help put the cost of preventing data loss into perspective.

There are several different types of backups, with pros and cons to each. The different types are an I.T. issue. Your tolerance to the destruction or loss of data is a management issue. Once you establish your criteria for recoverability, then your I.T. person can use the different technologies to accomplish the task of assuring minimum data loss in case of disaster.

In the coming months I will be writing about using different technologies to protect your data from accidental or deliberate modification, preventing unauthorized access to sensitive data and other security issues.

I will be hosting a free non-technical seminar for business owners and managers discussing issues such as data protection and security in more detail on December 10th at the Loft of Bend. RSVP required. Feel free to ask questions or RSVP for the seminar by e-mailing me at info@it-on-demand.net.

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