The IT Needs of SMBs

by Tim Perry
Pearl Technology

All organizations reach a point when their IT infrastructure will need to be upgraded or rebuilt to stay competitive.

Large corporations have been using technology as a core component of their businesses for decades. They invest large amounts of capital to implement, expand and maintain their IT infrastructures. They have entire departments dedicated to perform maintenance and support of technology, and they have developed methods to update and upgrade equipment and software to take full advantage of advancements in technology.

Not that long ago, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) used technology as a means of record-keeping events from the past—whether it be the accountant recording financial transactions, a salesperson documenting information about a prospective client, or a data entry clerk entering orders into a software system. Fast forward to the present, and you’ll find SMBs taking large strides toward relying on software and hardware technology as essential business tools. All signs point to the future of business technology becoming more and more integrated with businesses of all sizes.

Understanding End of Life
All too often, SMBs make an investment in computer hardware and business applications without understanding these systems have limited usefulness. After a certain amount of time, computer hardware becomes obsolete and business applications need to be upgraded. Without internal IT departments making recommendations for upgrades and updates, it is up to the business owners and employees to determine their IT needs. So how do SMBs know when it’s time to replace aging computer equipment and outdated software applications?

If a company’s business applications are running slowly, its employees can’t work to their full potential. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do your computers take forever to start or restart?
  • Does it take a very long time for computer programs to open?
  • Is browsing the Internet at home faster than doing so at work?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are likely past the point of refreshing outdated equipment.

The older your IT equipment becomes, the more likely it is that you will experience a hardware failure or exceed a capacity limitation that could bring your business to its knees. When (not if) that happens, how long can you afford to be without your IT equipment? For most SMBs, the loss of their IT infrastructure means lost productivity and lost revenue… and that adds up very quickly. Think about how long your business could operate without a server, a critical business application, or Internet access.

Hardware manufacturers and computer programmers build their products with predetermined life cycles. At the end of the life cycle, the product is referred to as being “End of Life.” After EOL, manufacturers no longer provide hardware or software updates. Simple replacement parts are often no longer available, leading to significant cyber-security vulnerabilities.

Rules of Thumb
A good rule of thumb for replacing business servers, firewalls, switches and other network equipment is every five years. For workstations, the typical replacement period is more like every three to four years. Why?

Well, for starters, business equipment is used more steadily for longer periods of time than the typical home computer, so they experience more wear and tear. But other reasons include increases in the performance and capabilities of newer equipment, as well as increases in the hardware requirements for new operating systems or line-of-business software. If you find yourself limping along from one major IT repair to another, or suffering from the poor performance of your servers or network, you are probably fighting obsolescence—and are desperately in need of updated equipment.

In the computer manufacturing industry, there’s a guiding principle called Moore’s Law, which is more of a theory than a scientific law. It basically states that computing power should double in the amount of performance every two years. Ever since the inception of Moore’s Law in 1965, the theory has held true. This phenomenon allows the computer industry to offer more processing power and data storage capacity in lighter and smaller computing devices for the same amount of money. This should be very good news to the owners of SMBs. Unfortunately, there are many whose older technology has prevented them from surviving in today’s digital age.

Preparing for Upgrade
When evaluating the age of your software, it’s easiest to determine the version of the application and the version the manufacturer is offering today. How big of a gap is there between what you are using today versus the most recent version? Check with your software vendor, but a typical application is only supported up to two versions back. For example, if you’re using version 15 and the vendor is currently selling version 17, you’re probably okay. But if you’re on version 13, there’s a good chance your application has reached its end of life and/or end of support.

Most computer applications are sold with an optional support and subscription service agreement. These agreements allow you to upgrade your software to the latest version at no additional charge. Check with your software vendor to see if you have such an agreement. And when making future purchases, you should include the option for upgrading to the latest version.

Perhaps the most important reason for upgrading is that old systems running old software are far more vulnerable to cyber-attacks than those running the latest software with the most recent updates. If your hardware systems are too old to run the latest operating systems and software programs, your business is vulnerable to cybercrime. In the wake of increasing security breaches, this is a pressing concern not to be ignored.

Not all SMB budgets can absorb the costs of such upgrades all at once. Understanding your budget and IT infrastructure needs are the first steps to establishing a refresh cycle. Having expectations up front enables businesses to determine what they can afford and prioritize accordingly. Make plans to replace a certain percentage of hardware and software every year.

All organizations reach a point when their IT infrastructure will need to be upgraded or rebuilt to stay competitive. By considering these tips, your organization will be better prepared to do so. And when making any kind of upgrade, consider speaking with a solutions provider. They can provide in-depth expertise on a wide range of topics and options not available on the back of a box or at a retail store. iBi

Tim Perry is Director of IT Solutions at Pearl Technology. For more information, visit pearltechnology.com.

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