Virtual solution to a data dilemma

How to upgrade IT systems without wasting time or money on any unnecessary features

Many businesses find that, as they grow, the IT system fails to grow with them. They begin with a couple of PCs networked together by the director who’s always fiddling with these things at home, they grow unmanaged and then it’s time to get the whole thing under control. Or it’s done professionally, in an organised fashion – and then it turns out you’ve grown to a larger size than your existing systems were designed to support.

Years ago, the only option would have been to get a consultant in to redesign and re-engineer your system. This is still a good starting point, although the systems in whose direction they are likely to point you have changed drastically. Specifically, they’ll use two phrases a lot: one is “outsource”, the other is “cloud”.

Ben Gladstone is the chief executive of the outsourced IT company Conosco, and specialises in setting up systems for smaller and growing businesses. He believes a lot of companies suffer from an abandonment of common sense when it comes to new systems. The overall specifications, he says, should include low cost, scalability, redundancy and a quick restore after a failure (“redundancy” in this case meaning that one or two of the computers should duplicate the work of another, so if one component goes wrong the spare can kick in immediately). “For a small business, these are hard to achieve at a realistic cost,” he says. “They really demand replicated servers in separate locations – unless you use hosted solutions, also known as ‘the cloud’. Google Apps is the leading contender for email – and you also get Google Docs, which might replace your MS Office.”

The wiser upgrader takes all this into account, and then doesn’t do it all at once, according to Joe White, managing director of Gandi.net, which specialises in cloud services. The first thing to do, he suggests, is to make sure your supplier understands your business and preferably has worked with similar organisations. They can then get an idea of what you’re going to need, but be careful. “You tend to find that companies use about 10-12 per cent of their servers’ capacity,” he says. This doesn’t make economic or ecological sense.

Gandi’s answer, unsurprisingly, is to let them virtualise your systems. Virtualising means making one system function as more than one physical computer by putting it all into software. This can be done across the globe.

“Geo-locating can be useful because you can have different parts of your website located across different parts of the world,” says White – so if one part of your website attracts primar-ily an American audience, that part can be located on servers in America, for example. This won’t make any difference to you as the site owner.

Beyond a certain size of business, you’ll need to look at a data centre, whether it’s in-house or outsourced to the cloud.

Chris Smith is sales and marketing director at on365, which specialises in this sort of infrastructure. He observes that many companies put the server computers into the nearest available space – which doesn’t always work.

“The selected office space takes away ‘people space’, so is often forced upon the team as being the space that is the least attractive for office space,” he says. “It may have general building water or waste pipes running over it, refrigeration pipe-work, condensate drains etc, all passing overhead.” These all put the IT system and the data residing on it at risk.

Mitchell Feldman, managing director of the Internet Group, who focuses mainly on sales and marketing, adds another dimension. “Align IT requirements with future business plans. It is essential that a company’s business plan acts as a blueprint for the design of the new IT system. An IT infrastructure should be developed to support the company’s future growth plans, not work as an unrelated entity.

“Conduct a thorough risk analysis – consider what role IT plays within the business, and carry out an impact analysis to fully understand and prepare for the ramifications of any system failures.” Note that, whatever any supplier tells you, the system will fall over at some stage – and there needs to be provision for what happens then, and just how often it’s reasonable to put up with this in the contract. This is called the Service Level Agreement (SLA) – and any SLA that specifies a system will work 100 per cent of the time isn’t realistic.

There are a few practicalities to bear in mind. Conosco’s Gladstone suggests avoiding customisations, as they can be costly to fix when they go wrong. Look for next-day on-site support whenever there’s a problem, and have that written into the contract. Gandi.net’s White suggests avoiding upgrading everything at once – replace things when they break and not before.

A related area is knowing not only why you’re replacing your existing IT but why you’re opting for whatever is the new version.

Alastair Williams is the data management practice lead at Centiq. Although he acknowledges the cloud can have huge benefits, there are caveats. “One such area is around unstructured data management. When combined with intelligent archiving policies and process management, storing and distributing business documents within the cloud can have significant benefits,” he says. “The danger, however, is simply moving data to a new location without addressing the ‘why’ behind it. Ignoring this will simply move escalating costs to a new budget line.”

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little