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Topic # 133407 21-Oct-2013 13:26
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Over the last year I've been asked to help out a few local businesses with their IT needs. Just simple stuff and often just some advice, but I'm currently being 'encouraged' by a one to replace their existing solution. It would be fair to say 'I know enough to be dangerous' when it comes to networking so I'm a little hesitant.

I have a couple of switches at home, three wifi points to cover the entire section, an HTPC, a server, a couple of laptops, a couple of phones etc and we stream music, videos, files everywhere and have it all backed up with Crashplan. Nothing I would consider major and nothing costing significant amounts of money to achieve.

In this particular case the company who currently manages their solution is telling them they have to spend $5k to upgrade a server they spent nearly $10k on less then 4 years ago and this is the third business I've seen with a similar story.

They typically have only a couple of employees (the most has been 8) and we're only talking about text files. There is a mix of hardware/software but nothing you cant buy over the counter at Harvey Norman and they all have local installations of Office and just save files to network drives.

Yet I'm seeing 24 port switches and massive server cases in huge cabinets (some with very impressive cooling solutions), VOIP installations they don't use, network jacks in each corner of every room regardless of whether there is a PC in there, servers which have cost $000's but are running SBS2003 (one was simply a desktop running XP), they have email and web server's set up but don't use and one had been convinced they didn't need a local backup because the cloud would take care of everything. One install was only half way through and they had already paid $10k for an office with only three people and one printer.

As I said, I'm far from an expert, but am I right thinking this is overkill these days ?

I've been reading about NAS' recently (the Synology DS212 in particular) with the possibility of replacing my current C2D server and I think one of these would do the job just as well. A couple of WD Red's, an external drive for local backup and a subscription to Crashplan, job done. Even without the NAS, using a desktop would be easy enough with remote desktop.

Or am I over simplifying something which is in fact far more complicated ?

I'm not asking for anyone to give me a definitive answer to how I should do this, just a "Yes, it should be that simple" or a "No, you are a fool" would be enough :)



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  Reply # 919182 21-Oct-2013 13:40
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Semi-random thoughts:

I come across over-sold solutions regularly, though this is of course a matter of opinion.  Larger support companies have sales targets to meet.  Nobody ever died getting a second opinion about an IT installation.  If I received a phone call from a business asking me to come over for half an hour to do a sanity check on someone else's quote, I would do it (and hope to win some business of course).  I would charge for it the second time.  I can safely say that as we seem to be in different parts of the country.

Unless you are willing and able and available to support it, don't supply it.

The HP business computers we supply and support are substantially more reliable and supportable than the consumer-level gear from Harvey Norman.

We back up Cloud solutions locally.  Just in case.  A backup is not a backup until a test restore has been done.

NAS devices are great for central storage for a small site.  Just back up using a Windows workstation so your backup drive works in Windows and that is also the environment you recover files using and you can see the backup has worked.  I've seen people rely on the NAS backup-to-USB and be let down.

Good luck.




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  Reply # 919205 21-Oct-2013 14:06
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It's a difficult sector to please. Under-spec, and the customer will throw a tantrum that "We spent $xx on this and it's so slow!", over-spec and they'll complain it costs too much. Most places struggle to balance what they expect from the gear with what they're willing to pay. Oftentimes suppliers will over-spec to avoid the backlash of complains about performance. Having spent $10k 4 years ago means it's well and truly time for an upgrade in most cases, imo.

As to what's suitable, it depends very heavily on what the business does, and what it expects out of it's technology. I know some 20-person companies that only need very basic IT requirements, and also some 3 - 5 man bands that spend $100k+p/a on their gear to keep pace.

You've also got to bear in mind reliability and support, sure it's all good to say "But hey, you can do it cheaper!", but if the "cheaper" includes a device not designed for such heavy use, with a lesser warranty, you may have problems. You may get by at home if your NAS is a bit slow to copy your movies around the place, or if it develops a fault and you have to wait a few days for a replacement/part, but it's not practical for most businesses to do so, and most small businesses (and some large ones) don't tend to have very good DR plans, to be honest.

On that note, I'd normally suggest that a fairly average office-type small-medium business should expect to spend around $2000/user/year on their IT needs. of course, as above, this can vary greatly for specific cases.

Too many businesses want to do things on the cheap, and then they complain when it backfires. Likewise, there are lots of cowboys (and big players, too) that want to sell you the solution that meets their financial goals, not your business goals.

 
 
 
 


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  Reply # 919288 21-Oct-2013 17:03
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Pretty common state for a small businesses with no full time internal IT.

An action plan of:
- Upgrading their internet connection to vdsl or ufb
- Moving email and every day docs/forms to Google Apps or Office 365 and ditching internal servers.
- Reviewing their current phone system vs a hosted voip offering
- Moving websites that are running on internal hardware to a reputable hosting provider
- Setting up a NAS for local storage and backups

.. makes perfect sense.

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  Reply # 919293 21-Oct-2013 17:35
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These are just my immediate off the cuff thoughts.

It might be worth while creating a business model (on paper) of the different types of business demographic one is likely to deal with. In software development we call this a 'persona' but it is just as effective when describing a business. The persona is a good way of seeing things from the point of view of the business and includes the technical (or non-technical) perspective.

One creates an ideal model for each of the different types of business demographic that one might deal with, for each model, there may be two or three personas representing different ways the model might be implemented. For each of the models I would create several solution sets (ideal, alternative and mixed to deal with risk etc.).

For example, consider one has a people centric model (lots of non-technical business process), and the persona used is one where people don't have a high degree of technical ability - how would that affect the candidate solution set?

Some questions I would try to reflect in the models

1) Capital outlay/expenditure that the business has (as well as capex and opex considerations)
2) The depreciation cycle used and how funds are recovered (for example 3 year replacement)
3) Your upstream vendor relationship and whether this can be transferred to the customer
4) COTS software/hardware licensing, upgrading and support
5) Maintenance vendor relationships (who do they phone for support 24/7 etc.)
6) In-house technical ability and how it affects the solution set
7) Equipment disposal and replacement, Security and data retention, privacy act and other legal requirements
7) KPIs and follow-through - how do you know the solution is working?
8) Disaster recovery and how will this be tested.
9) Bespoke hardware/software, licensing, support and integration.
10) Impact on/changes/identification of existing related business process.






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  Reply # 919399 21-Oct-2013 20:58
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Ragnor: Pretty common state for a small businesses with no full time internal IT.

An action plan of:
- Upgrading their internet connection to vdsl or ufb
- Moving email and every day docs/forms to Google Apps or Office 365 and ditching internal servers.
- Reviewing their current phone system vs a hosted voip offering
- Moving websites that are running on internal hardware to a reputable hosting provider
- Setting up a NAS for local storage and backups

.. makes perfect sense.


+1, I have done just this for 3 small businesses recently, but added AWS S3 (Sydney) backup in addition to onsite USB backup of Synology NAS, and provided webdav (via Netdirve on Win7) access to file services to provide light cloud access to file services.

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  Reply # 919599 22-Oct-2013 11:51
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I would suggest that it is probably not the wisest idea to just go around randomly pushing a businesses data up into the cloud - not unless you can guarantee they are not affected by the privacy act.




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  Reply # 919617 22-Oct-2013 12:01
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Some interesting thoughts here.

This is not necessarily something I'm looking to get into, consider it more an education for me for when I have the same discussion with someone else next month ! I am getting asked more and more for second opinions on existing solutions so it doesn't hurt for me to get up to speed with the options.

For small business (and I'm talking 3/4 people small) I don't see why upgrading to VDSL, moving email and website to a hosting solution and having a NAS for local storage/backups with standard templates in the cloud is a bad thing.

The people I'm talking to don't necessarily want 'something for nothing' but IMO there are now more options for small business and spending $10k on a local server/solution every couple of years is no longer one of them.

Thanks for the replies.

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  Reply # 919633 22-Oct-2013 12:45
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Consumer IT requirements do not equal small business IT requirements.

By all means challenge a quote and ask why things are being done the way they are, but I wouldn't go around accusing someone of providing the wrong solution without a darn good understanding of the business needs/wants and technical understanding to back it up.



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  Reply # 919655 22-Oct-2013 13:00
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lxsw20: Consumer IT requirements do not equal small business IT requirements.

By all means challenge a quote and ask why things are being done the way they are, but I wouldn't go around accusing someone of providing the wrong solution without a darn good understanding of the business needs/wants and technical understanding to back it up.

Absolutely agree, I wouldn't dare accuse someone without being 110% sure of what I was saying. That's why I asked in my original post if I was over simplifying something I didn't fully understand. 

 

Still, that can't stop me from asking the question when the business needs are so simple.



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