Aug 20 2008

Joe Glessner

IT Manager<br>Howe Electric<br><a href="http://www.howe-electric.com" target="_blank">www.howe-electric.com</a><br><strong>2007 Revenue: $50 million</strong>

Photo: Robert Houser

How would you rate your IT budget this year?
We have budgeted about $10,000 over five years for tape backup. Now we are looking at spending in excess of $20,000 over the same period to install a disk-based storage array while keeping the tape system available so we can off-load it to a redundant disaster recovery site.

While I’d love to buy a SCSI-based storage array, we may not be able to afford that and could very well opt for network-attached storage because we did not expect this expense for another two years.

What is the top technology that you can’t scrimp on?
The new disk array to meet our storage needs. First, the file sizes of standard programs such as Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007 (when using the 2003 file types) and the latest version of Autodesk’s AutoCAD are larger than ever. Second, the average desktop today has 80 to 100 gigabytes of hard-disk space, so software makers haven’t focused much on controlling file sizes. Third, Windows XP takes about 2.5GB of disk space on most client PCs, while Windows Vista can take up to 10GB. Compound these factors among dozens of workstations, plus the additional capacity needed for most of the other new applications we use, and the situation is pushing us to move from our existing LTO-3 tape backup to purchasing a new disk array.

What’s another important technology trend affecting your business?
At the same time that we are at the breaking point for storage, Microsoft is pushing companies to migrate to Vista. Because I have existing iptables firewalls combined with proper use of Active Directory’s Group Policy securing our network, the most compelling reason to migrate to Vista — enhanced security — is a nonissue at our company.

While I’m not really worried that our network is overly vulnerable, as a practical matter we may be left with little choice but to migrate to Vista. Up until a month or so ago, it was still possible to buy XP licenses for new PCs, but buying those licenses to replace dying machines with original equipment manufacturer licenses was risky because there was no guarantee that the hardware manufacturers were going to support XP on the new hardware.

In the end, the reality is that we will likely migrate to Vista sometime in the next two years. We’ve planned to replace 15 PCs outright next year and another 15 the year after that. However, all 30 must be replaced to run Vista, and if we need to do that this fiscal year, this is another unexpected cost at a time when we need to spend our scarce resources on storage.

(made some cuts)
"I need to expand my staff, and I'm unable to do so due to budget restrictions."

How are you measuring ROI on a Vista upgrade?
The difficulty in moving forward with a forced upgrade is that the people making the business decisions are going to be hard-pressed to understand why it must be done. Unlike with past Windows OS upgrades, I have had a very difficult time in defining precisely why the upgrade from XP to Vista is necessary. Telling the budget committee that ‘Microsoft says we need to upgrade’ is not a solid enough justification. And Vista isn’t going to just go away.

Migrating to Windows Vista may also mean we have to replace our vertical­-market customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning packages to ensure they are compatible with Windows Vista. I have also had to shelve other IT projects, such as replacing our domain controllers and switching out our external firewalls (which were planned expenses for this fiscal year), because there’s only so much money in the budget.

What’s your advice to other IT managers?
Stop ignoring Windows Vista. Rather than letting events overtake you, understand the trends and how they will impact your business, then develop a realistic plan for meeting your company’s storage needs and migrating to Vista. Keep in mind that the total cost you present is likely to be several thousand dollars more than management is used to spending on IT, but it’s your job to explain why the company needs to make the additional investment.

While it has been proved that strategically deployed IT can deliver a competitive advantage, always keep in mind that without top management’s buy-in, nothing is going to happen.



Joe Glessner is IT manager for Howe Electric, a union electrical contractor in Fresno, Calif. Before coming to Howe, Joe was worldwide manager of technical services for Yosemite Technologies, a large provider of backup software.