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
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
I'm not worried about United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
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

Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Chief Financial Officer

120-150k: Accountancy Action: We are looking for an experienced CFO from a min...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker