What is IT infrastructure? As it applies to your business, it refers to the combined suite of hardware, software, and network resources required to operate an enterprise information technology environment. It is the backbone that allows the delivery of business value through IT applications and solutions to employees, stakeholders and customers/clients. While it is often implemented internally and deployed within organization-owned facilities, it can also be provided as a service, both through physical colocation or using cloud services or a hydrid of both.
Why you should put a spotlight on your IT infrastructure management? Do you feel any (or all) of the following apply to you?
- Constantly busy staff but the day to day operations (the boring stuff) constantly suffer from lack of attention
- Poor or non-existent documentation
- Poor storage management
- Ongoing intermittent network or server performance issues
- Backup and disaster recovery systems and processes are not fully tested and are in a “I’m pretty sure it’s all recoverable” state
- Infrastructure planning lags behind business decisions and is always in catch-up mode rather than proactively planning and building a stable platform for current and future business critical applications
- Lack of senior management buy in for your infrastructure budget
- Virtual machine bloat
- Dev and test environment bloat
A recent study shows that 30% of all physical servers in data centers are essentially comatose, using energy but providing no useful information. This is occurring not because of technical issues, but IT management issues. Don’t let this happen to your business.
How to Develop Better IT Infrastructure for Your Small, Medium, or Large Business
1. Pick the Right Team Size
Many organizations neglect to hire an adequate number of IT personnel and system administrators. This can throw your infrastructure management off, having too few concentrating on too many tasks. On the flip side, you can get overzealous and overdo it on the IT hires, leaving too many cooks in the kitchen. How do you determine the right size for your IT infrastructure?
One thing to look at, is your anticipated server count. For years the industry has speculated on the perfect ratio of system admins to servers. Some experts state one admin per 10 physical servers and up to 500 virtual servers. Others quote an SMB average of 30:1 for physical servers and 80:1 for virtual ones. The industry consensus is that there is no consensus. We’d be remiss to state there was. There are more variables to consider beyond server count, including staff size, data communications flow, customer/client base, growth projections, and more. Only an expert can dictate your IT team size. If you don’t have an expert CIO on staff, you will want to bring in a consultant to help you accomplish this task. More on that at the bottom of this article (item #7).
2. Build it for Scalability
Your infrastructure needs to be able to adapt as fast as your business does. This ability to accommodate growth and change should be addressed mainly within processing and storage. No amount of “big data” should get in your way. When it comes to storage, plan for two years down the road, not what is in front of you today. That doesn’t mean adding a great deal of unused capacity as much as it means to ensure capacity can be easily and cheaply expanded later. Scalability must also prepare for staff. If you’re planning a sound infrastructure at the moment, you clearly plan to grow your business in the years ahead. Will your business requirements, employee-count and hierarchy look the same? Probably not. Anticipate what your business requirements will look like in two to five years and build your infrastructure accordingly. Performance and capacity monitoring systems are an indispensable tool to track usage over time and to provide historical trending to assist with scaling your IT infrastructure over time.
3. Build it Intuitively and document everything
It is possible to over-customize your infrastructure. What may make perfect sense to you and your staff (who already understand the intricacies and nuances of your IT systems) may not make any sense to someone joining the team or taking over a management position. As a business owner or CEO, you may have plans to remove yourself from key day to day elements. Would the system fall apart in your departure? Would it fall apart if your CIO left, or other key player on your IT team?
Avoid excessive complexities, over-engineering, and patchwork efforts that put bandaids on current problems with the anticipation that IT will return to them later. Instead, implement a mandate that demands permanent solutions to technical problems and provide a very clear breadcrumb trail that allows all to follow.
Build a documentation process into every task. Good documentation is the backbone of an efficiently run IT infrastructure operation and can save time in resolving critical issues as well as in orienting new staff in an efficient manner.
4. Choose Supportive and Trusted Software Vendors
Choosing and managing hardware, software and SaaS vendors can be instrumental to infrastructure success. One key to integrating in-house and Saas services into your infrastructure is support. Before you enter into a long-term contract with providers, when possible, use the “try before you buy” model as the early stages of the relationship can be an indicator of the support you will receive. Action, reaction, and communication during times when something goes wrong are the gauge. Do they respond immediately? Do they charge extra for the most minimal of support? Right from the get-go you (and your IT staff) should build peer relationships with the provider’s engineering and support team. This direct line of communication will aid in all advanced troubleshooting initiatives while providing better insight into the workings of the software product.
The other key, is uptime. Whether public (customer/client) facing or internal your IT systems need to be online 99% of the time for your critical software to run as it should. Does your vendor guarantee this?
On both accords, reputable offerings can include Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps, Salesforce.com, QuickBooks
5. Mandatory Yet Engaging IT Training for Non-IT Staff
Your new infrastructure will run much smoother if everyone in your business is on board, even if their own day to day has no impact on your systems (although, everyone is connected in some manner). Provide your entire staff with training on the new system, touching on everything from IT team hierarchy to cybersecurity policy. For the training to be effective, it must be delivered in a relevant and jargon-free manner, allow remote staff to learn in a mobile-friendly environment, and be collaborative and ongoing where any updates are made to your business’ IT systems. For more clarity on how to conduct successful IT training for your staff, view this article.
6. Consider IT Infrastructure as a Service?
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is connected to the other core cloud computing services that include Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). IaaS delivers a business virtual computing resources over the web. Under this model, a third-party provider hosts user applications, hardware, software, servers, storage and other IT components on behalf your business.
In effective IaaS, chores such as system maintenance, backup and contingency planning are managed as well. IaaS isn’t for everyone, with a perceived lack of control and vendor security being among the primary concerns. Keep reading.
7. Have an IT Infrastructure Expert Build it for You
While the above path is relatively clear, you probably have some big questions, especially if IaaS is a consideration. Planning and implementing your IT infrastructure is one of the most important decisions your organization will make. Don’t take it lightly. By bringing in an expert consulting firm, you access years of extensive experience in auditing, designing, and implementing IT systems architecture. It is imperative that your consultant has set-up infrastructure to include everything from single-server environments to multi-site, high-availability clusters, an essential capability that accommodates small, medium, and large businesses alike.
With the right expert, you also gain access to valuable partnerships that will be essential to the success of your infrastructure. For instance, MAKE IT has agreements in place with some of the biggest names in the industry. This includes Microsoft, Dell, Cisco, HP and more. How will you know if you’ve found the right consultant? Look for the proof in the pudding and review their IT infrastructure client list.
Ready to build a better IT infrastructure for your organization? Contact MAKE IT to get started.