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, 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.’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.”

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

KYC Analyst, Birmingham - £200-£250 p/d

£200 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: KYC Analyst, Key Banking Client, Bi...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone