No Time Like The Present…For a System Review

IT isn’t this magic box in the closet — it is a system, a conglomeration of moving parts and processes working in concert to perform tasks, much like a car.  A car has an engine, doors, lights, and numerous other systems.  Some of these systems depend on each other and some stand alone.  They all share a commonality — wear.  Everything on a car eventually wears out and breaks.  Some of these breaks are more critical than others, like the engine or the brakes.  You regularly have these systems serviced and when necessary parts of them are replaced when the time comes.  You take your car to a mechanic and on his professional recommendation perform the regular service as needed.  Why then do most of us refuse to maintain our IT systems?

There is no time like the present to start though.  With Windows Server 2003 on the way out, the Windows 10 desktop operating system on the way in along with new versions of server products from Microsoft, not to mention the never-ending march of new hardware like firewalls and switches now is a great time to review your systems and to get started on a regular plan of maintenance for all of your IT systems.

A system review is a great place to start.  Much like a car inspection or a checkup at the doctor’s office, a system review is a chance to take stock of your systems, gage wear, and develop a plan for upgrades, repairs, and even replacements.  I like to start with the part of IT everyone sees every day — the computer sitting on the desk.  Taking a full inventory or even a sampling of systems to determine how old they are, RAM installed, and storage available are the first things to check.  Take a look at the operating system.  If it is Windows XP make note, because it is past time to replace those machines.  Take a look at the operating system and see if updates need done.  Take stock of any software being used that might be obsolete and need updated.  Taking a log of complaints at this point is also recommended as it helps point you toward problems employees have that are affecting productivity.  Now do the same thing for the servers.  Knowing the software installed, the hardware specifications, status of the operating system, and the age of the system will help you determine the best course of action here in your maintenance strategy.

Moving on to looking at some of the more exotic parts of the IT system like switches, routers, and firewalls should also be included on your maintenance check list.

If you can determine how long a device has been in service that is a bonus.  Many of these devices are “smart” and run an operating system called a firmware that occasionally is updated by the manufacturer.  Finding out what the latest version of the firmware is and if the version doesn’t match your device you probably should add this to your maintenance plan.  These devices also typically have a support lifetime.  If you have been running the device for 5 or so years and the manufacturer has ended support for the device planning for replacement is probably a good bet.

One area you might not be thinking about is your data.  We store huge amounts of, for lack of a better term, stuff on our servers.  Much of it has a very short useful life and can be readily deleted.  Other things are more important and though we might not ever need to look at them again except in special circumstances need to be saved.  This data can be archived onto an external drive or DVD and stored so it is no longer using up storage and backup resources allowing backups to cost less and complete faster.

Armed with this information and a few pointers, it is time to plan and implement.  Create a maintenance plan for the next 6 months or even year that is prioritized from most pressing to least.  Start working through the plan.  Don’t do all this work only to let the plan languish.  Put someone in charge of making sure it gets done.  Use your favorite consultant, maybe even set up a day or 2 a week for them to spend on site working through the plan, but please make sure it gets done.  I cannot stress that point enough.  My work more often than not centers on putting out fires and recovering from disasters, but you know that I am happy to see that work diminish because your business is changing its metaphorical IT oil.  You will be surprised how much better everything runs when you do.

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