Know How

Five worthwhile business IT purchases

There’s an old phrase that goes “a fool and his money are soon parted”.  When perusing the world of available technology, it wouldn’t be too difficult to spend a lot of money very quickly.  It is worth taking the time to research purchases before placing an order, to separate the marketing hype from reality with regard to the benefits you are likely to see, in terms of productivity and value in a business environment.

 

Here I shall identify five purchases that I believe are worth the investment for most SMEs.

 

1 – Solid State Disks (SSDs)

Traditionally, the first port of call when looking for a low-cost way to upgrade a PC has been to purchase additional Random Access Memory (RAM).  There are two main reasons why this has been the case; #1 – it’s relatively cheap compared to the cost to upgrade other components and #2 – RAM is usually very easy to fit.  However, the RAM in your computer isn’t always the weakest link.  Increasingly we are seeing that the read and write speed of the hard disk is the cause of performance bottlenecks.  When they first hit the market, SSDs were very expensive compared to traditional hard disks with moving parts, but SSDs are now available at a price point that won’t break the bank and the real world performance increases that we are seeing are much better than those achieved by simply bunging in a bit more RAM.  A good IT professional will be able to take your existing hard disk drive and clone its contents to an SSD.  Your PC will retain all of its software, settings and data but will boot faster and perform better when carrying out day to day business tasks.

 

2 – Cloud-Based Email

The term ‘cloud’ has become an overused buzzword in technology marketing.  The truth is that most of us have been using cloud-based email since before the phrase even existed, through services like Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo.  Businesses however have tended to maintain an enterprise grade email system on an in-house server, more often than not powered by Microsoft Exchange Server.  For SMEs, this is becoming an increasingly expensive way to do things.  Since Microsoft scrapped the Small Business Server (SBS) model of server operating system licensing for businesses, an onsite Exchange server becomes a costly investment.  Many businesses are therefore turning to the ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) model offered by Office 365 for their business email solution.  In the early days, I wasn’t all that impressed by the platform, it seemed clunky and unstable.  Latterly though, I have found it to be a solid and reliable system, and at £3.00 per mailbox, per month for an ‘Exchange Online’ mailbox from Office 365, it is a wise choice for SMEs.

 

3 – Uninterruptable Power Supplies (for Servers and Networking Equipment)

The Uninterruptable Power Supply or UPS is by no means a new technology.  These trusty devices have been saving the day for businesses all over the world for many years now.  Occasionally though, we do find businesses that do not have one of these little gems in the loop between the mains power and their server.  The UPS contains a battery backup which provides emergency power to your server / switch / router in the event of a power failure.  A good UPS will also come with a data connection and control software, so that if and when the power does fail, a signal is sent to your server to tell it to begin a graceful shutdown.  This stops your server dropping like a sack of spuds when the power goes out, potentially resulting in data loss and damage to components.  As well as providing elegant shutdown, a good UPS will also provide surge protection.  Some clients go as far as having a UPS attached to every PC in the business.  In terms of brand, APC lead the market but there are a couple of other emerging brands out there that are also worth a look.

 

4 – Gigabit Switches

Most businesses will already have these but it is worth checking.  If your networking equipment hasn’t been replaced in a long time, there’s a good chance that the backbone of your internal network is a 10/100 switch.  This means that data transfer between your server and client workstations is probably significantly slower than it ought to be.  Gigabit switches are standard kit nowadays and can have a noticeable impact on internal network speeds.  Also, with the proliferation of high speed fibre-based internet connections, it is now entirely possible that your connection to the outside world is being hampered, not by the bandwidth provided by your internet service provider (ISP), but by the limitations of your local area network (LAN).

 

5 – Air Conditioning Units (for Server Rooms)

Not strictly an IT purchase in the purest sense, but a must-have for any business that is serious about getting the most out of their most expensive IT equipment.  Too many servers in SMEs are stuffed in a corner somewhere, surrounded by junk and without ventilation, or are in a room that is far too hot for optimal performance and lifespan.  I would strongly recommend that businesses don’t scrimp in this area and employ the services of a professional air conditioning company to provide a solution properly calculated to deal with the heat generated by the equipment in the room.  This is not to say that the room needs to be like the inside of a refrigerator though.  The ideal temperature is the subject of some debate, but you can’t go far wrong at around 20°C in most cases.

 

Jon Grubb
Operations Director
Trenton Business Systems

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