Matching Hardware to Needs in IT Infrastructure
Investing in the right hardware is crucial
When does a business know it’s time to upgrade hardware components of IT infrastructure? Sometimes, upgrading can help increase productivity and decrease downtime. First though, it’s essential to find out what hardware needs actually exist. The next steps lead to getting the right hardware.
First Make a List
Start with an inventory assessment of existing hardware and the job duties, tasks, and software it is used for. Then list any inadequacies and limitations hoped to be overcome by new hardware solutions. Finally, list any hardware needs that are completely unmet.
Next assess the current software being used and correlate that to the hardware in terms of speed, storage space, server needs (cloud or onsite), and amount of time the software is typically used. Include email, cloud-based software, applications, and interactions, as well as software utilized and housed on each individual workstation or device, plus share drives and server-based software.
Also list monitors, screens, video-conferencing equipment, cameras, back-up devices, printers, 3D printers, telephony, routers, the keyboard and mouse used for each workstation, and any other peripherals connected (wired or wireless) to the company IT infrastructure.
For retail and wholesale components, include point of sale hardware. For companies that are ingrained in social media, don’t forget cameras, phones, tablets, pads, and other devices used to create and share. Drones and GoPro are other hardware options that are growing in business use.
The cloud is another consideration once the assessment is complete. Would it be more advantageous for the server to be in the cloud than in the back room? Internet speed, need, and availability will play into this decision, along with costs.
Get Professional Help
Consult with IT specialists to determine best solutions once hardware needs have been assessed and the information is compiled. Some companies may be able to address this with inhouse IT staff, others may benefit from partnering with an IT support company that offers implementation and consulting services.
Whether developing a cloud or a path to a cloud, some semblance of a network, server, and data storage is required to make it all work smoothly. The more multi-faceted, complex, or graphics intensive the work being done, the more robust the hardware needed. For example, workstations for architecture, engineering, construction, publishing, media, gaming, and other mega data task mastering will need different systems than most accounting or administrative workstations.
We asked for expert advice on how to match hardware to needs to IT infrastructure and found a wealth of information by contacting Resource Data, Inc., (resourcedata.com) a local IT consulting company providing software development, GIS, and system engineering services.
Who is most qualified to determine the best hardware to meet needs? Resource Data’s Lead Systems Architect Bear Remien says, “Depending on the complexity revealed during the process of gathering requirements, selecting the best hardware might require little skill because cost or the market narrows the options down fast or could be a lengthy process of evaluating vendors and products. In complex situations, the organization needs to bring the right people to the table—those who understand the short-, medium-, and long-term needs, and those who best understand the current landscape of vendors and products. An important point is to make sure that the people involved in selecting hardware truly are qualified, not just the most qualified people available. The wrong IT hardware can haunt organizations for years, but getting the selection right is often challenging.”
What are the most significant factors when meeting hardware needs? “Knowing the business needs thoroughly and knowing the products available. Product selection is usually easier than it initially looks—where many competing products look the same at first glance, when a thorough set of requirements is applied to the product selection process, often only a few emerge as contenders,” Remien says.
Where will companies find the best value in hardware for commercial use? “Among standard IT equipment, the most commoditized areas are workstations and servers, and commoditization means value. When vendors seem to have little room to bargain, it tends to mean that the products are mature and profits are lean,” Remien says. “In terms of choosing where to spend money on a computer network to get the most value, the answer is anywhere capital dollars reduce labor costs. Automation in the form of mature and reliable technology always provides the highest value. So spending on hardware is smartest where it buys technology that is powerful enough to meet the business needs over its planned lifetime and mature enough to work for months or years with little IT engineer intervention. A good example is network hardware: high-quality, fully-featured switches, routers, and firewalls will run for years with little work beyond routine maintenance, but cheaper equipment can produce extremely hard-to-track-down problems. Yet, the savings between good and bad network gear within a medium organization’s IT budget is no more than a few percent.”
When does a business need to change-out or upgrade hardware? Every three years? Every five years? If there isn’t a typical time-frame, when do companies know it’s time?
“The lifespan of a given piece of network hardware is usually driven by three characteristics: the quality of its components, planned obsolescence, and the rate of change in the market. At one extreme, a well-made network switch in a SCADA environment like a power plant might still be in use twenty years after its installation; at the other extreme, a low-end laptop stands a good chance of failing after just a couple of years. Most equipment falls into a lifecycle between three and seven years, but within that range, changing out equipment is really a question of needs and costs. Every business will need to take a good look at what it needs from its hardware, establish a tolerance for risk, and plan ahead for spending. Getting the formula wrong can result in overspend, losses due to unplanned downtime, or frustrated employees using slow equipment,” Remien says.
The Right Hardware
How big of a role does having the right hardware play in IT infrastructure? “Essential, and foundational,” Remien says. “All businesses have mapped some portion of their processes to IT hardware and software by this point, and for many, virtually no work is possible without smoothly-running IT systems. Bad hardware affects everything downstream: a malfunctioning server can’t get data to workstations, and the employees on those workstations can’t do their jobs without data. Beyond simple it-works-or-it-doesn’t problems, the quality of hardware directly affects efficiency as well: bad performance means less work gets done, which means less revenue. In some businesses the link is strong and easy to see, like the movie theater that can’t fill a screening in time because every credit card takes thirty seconds to swipe; in others it’s more subtle, like the manager who’s fifteen minutes late to a virtual meeting because her laptop can’t connect. In the end the organization pays for good hardware in the IT budget or pays for bad hardware everywhere else.”
This article first appeared in the April 2017 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.