One of the most significant effects of the internet on business IT principles has been the demand for constantly available networks.
While a certain amount of planned downtime used to be acceptable, the rise of online business has required 24x7 availability, with websites constantly open for business.
Obviously, business-to-consumer websites need to be always online in order to sell goods, but it is just as important for other businesses that their data resources remain accessible for staff, customers and supply-chain partners.
Sales tariffs, customer databases, inventory systems, knowledge-management assets: all must be up at all times if an organisation is to call itself truly global.
For smaller businesses, reliability is just as important. Blue-chip organisations have the advantage of layers of support structure so that companies can continue trading without pause even through catastrophic power failures, terrorism and acts of God.
Smaller firms cannot afford such heavy-duty protection. But with sensible planning they can work around most issues.
Mitigating risk is critical, so begin at the beginning by buying from a company that has a good reputation for quality and support. Buying from a small vendor, or at least one promising no service or support, is a false economy.
Also, take on board the fact that people and processes are just as important as techie issues. Security is key: your server room should be physically secure, with access rights tightly controlled. Don't dish out passwords and user names to anybody who calls.
Control what is happening on your computer systems by creating clear user policies. Don't let users download email attachments, for example, and block at the server any executable files that might be carrying viruses or other malicious code.
Err on the side of caution when it comes to adapting your major server resources. In IT, making lots of changes is often a short-cut to creating problems.
If you're installing software, adding memory or bolstering storage, try to do it in isolation first. With servers in particular, recruit expert help from your supplier.
Very importantly, back up. A regular routine of storing data to a medium other than the company's primary server can save a lot of trouble for a modicum of effort.
In the past, when a lot of company information was non-digital and storage was largely tape-based and expensive, back-up was associated mainly with larger companies.
But today, with tens of gigabytes of disk storage available for pennies, back-up is a stone-cold no-brainer. You don't even have to do it yourself: online storage services allow firms to back up automatically to an offsite third party that makes data available via a web browser.
Every business needs a 'Plan B', and planning a fall-back position is critical in ensuring reliability.
So-called 'failover' technologies provide an answer of sorts. The term failover describes making sure that in the event of a system failure, data processing and storage continue on another server.
Successful failover entails 'mirroring' data and infrastructure, duplicating components wherever possible. This can be carried out internally or outsourced to a third-party datacentre, which will protect against power outages and can reduce running costs.
In web servers, the mirroring strategy is very popular, ensuring that customers and business partners can continue to access company websites. Duplication comes at a cost, but it does ensure peace of mind.
Finally, the web plays host to a huge knowledge base. Click through the links on this site and find your own. Reliability is not just a technical issue: it is key to the information resources and processes of your company.
Time invested in establishing a reliable IT network is time well spent.
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