Mar 10 2011

Keep an Eye on Your Invisible Technology

An up-to-date networking system can save businesses from performance and security headaches.

Now is the time to apply a spring-cleaning mentality to all the invisible parts of your business infra­structure. Users see computers and printers, but they don't see network components, routers, security software, servers and the backup system. They're invisible, yet essential.

Routers: Think Beyond the Box

Companies tend to buy a decent router to connect to the Internet, then ignore that box ever after. The router lights blink to show it's running, and that's good enough for a while. But the router hardware needs software to run properly.

Business-level routers can upgrade their firmware and security software, but consumer-level routers often can't. If your router is more than 3 years old, consider upgrading the firmware and security software and possibly look for a replacement. Malware is always improving, and a 3-year-old router’s firmware and software will soon be overwhelmed. If you have more than a dozen users, consider upgrading to a business router for better protection and manageability.

Network Switches Keep Things Flowing

The next device carrying critical information (such as March Madness brackets) from the Internet to your computer is a network switch or wiring hub. If you still have wiring hubs, upgrade those without a second thought.

Too often companies buy robust new computers but bog them down by connecting them to wiring hubs running at 10 megabits per second. That's the opposite of drinking from a fire hose; it’s more like putting out a fire with a garden hose. Even the newer 100Mbps connections are only one-tenth of maximum speeds supported by Ethernet ports on new computers today.

Make sure all shared devices, such as shared disk systems and routers, connect through 1 gigabit Ethernet ports. These switches are more affordable now than ever and will boost overall network throughput considerably when replacing old wiring hubs.

Modernize Your Storage Strategy

Smart businesses redirect user files from individual computers to a shared file system, either to a network-attached storage (NAS) unit or a full file server, usually running Windows Server software. Both have hard drives that wear out. If you're using NAS storage or a server more than 3 years old, your disk drives may be planning a vacation. When they leave, they'll take your data with them.

Hard drives are cheaper today than ever before — so cheap, in fact, that you can upgrade your server using petty cash. Consider replacing your server disks with new ones, especially if you have any non-redundant disks.

When disks were expensive, single disks were used constantly. Today, because disks are inexpensive, every system should be at least RAID 1, which is two mirrored disks. If one dies, your data and your work will continue. When upgrading, bring all single disks in shared systems to at least RAID 1 (two disks) or RAID 5 (4 disks).

Don't Take Backup for Granted

Finally, take a close look at your backup processes. Far too many companies find out the hard way that their supposedly reliable backups are anything but.

Disk-to-disk backups are much faster and more reliable than tape systems; if you rely primarily on tape, rethink that decision. The advice about old hard drives still applies, so check the age and condition of any disk-based backup storage devices. Your old backup software probably needs an update, too. Just make sure to verify that all data locations added since you initially configured your backup processes are protected.

Also, consider picking a data folder on a client or server hard drive, renaming it and tracking how long it takes to replace that folder using your backup processes. Decide whether that delay is acceptable. Repeat monthly, and update your backup processes when possible to keep the restore time low and your confidence level high.

Of course, when you do all this, no one will notice the improvements. But that's the point: Your invisible technology, when working properly, stays invisible, and your business keeps working.