I want to ring in the New Year with some suggestions on technologies to check out and strategies to pursue that will help improve your own IT efficiency.
Outsource your e-mail hosting. There are so many inexpensive solutions that will host your e-mail domain that it doesn’t make sense to have this in-house anymore. These services will make sure the backups are done, screen out spam and malware, handle support issues, and deliver redundant and reliable service to you.
Google’s Gmail hosting is an example of a free service that I use (a corporate version is $50 per user per year), and it’s now rebranded with many larger ISPs, too. One of the largest Exchange outsourcers is 123Together.com, which charges $10 per mailbox per month for its smaller customers. “We go to extreme measures to make our applications secure,” says Ravi Agarwal, the company’s founder. “We monitor our firewalls so that you don’t have to, and we haven’t had any security exploits yet.”
Stock spare servers and cut down on your support contracts. If you can purchase servers as commodities and in quantity, you might be able to cut the cost of your support contracts—at least in terms of no longer needing rapid response on failed components. The temptation, though, is not to immediately replace any spare server that you bring into production.
You also need to ensure that each server is exactly the same on the inside: With some vendors, a multiple quantity order doesn’t guarantee that the same parts are inside each machine.
Consider dynamic provisioning of virtual servers. If you haven’t gotten into using virtual servers to run your applications, then now is the time to take a closer look at what dynamic provisioning means and how you can use it to manage your peak application loads without having to invest in a lot of additional hardware that will be idle the rest of the year. With dynamic provisioning, you can create new instances of a virtual server when you need them, and take them down when the load drops.
A number of software products can manage these kinds of situations from major virtual machine vendors, including VMware, Novell and Citrix. As the physical-to-virtual conversion tools get better, it becomes easier to create a new virtual image of your existing server without having to create an entirely new operating system from scratch.
Start buying disposable laptops. Forget the fancy top-of-the-line models. And since Homeland Security can confiscate or copy the contents of these expensive systems’ hard drives when you re-enter the United States, it might be time to take another look at what you’re giving your users these days. Sure, most people use laptops as their main PC, but buying cheaper ones means you can stock spares, you don’t have too much at stake if they are lost or stolen, and you can replace them more often with newer models.
Consider just-good-enough endpoint protection. Given that XP isn’t going away anytime soon, it makes sense to start looking at ways that you can harden your Windows desktops without having to buy into a bunch of six-or-seven-figure Network Access Control solutions. I’ve tested the Napera appliance, which works with both Windows and Macs, and it’s a nice low-cost solution for less than 100-node networks. If you haven’t upgraded your XP to Service Pack 3, now is the time to start putting that into place, since the security improvements are worth the hassle of the upgrade.
Finally, look at printer fleet-management tools. You probably don’t think that you can save much money with your printers, but tools such as those from Netaphor and Synnex can deliver quick returns and pay for themselves in reduced operating costs and improved efficiencies.
Major printer vendors all have some kind of utility—such as HP’s WebJetAdmin—that tracks usage. However, you need something that can work across printer brands and cover your entire network to discover and monitor them. Plus, many old printers are very costly to operate, and these fleet-management tools will also allow you to find them quickly.
Happy New Year, and may you have a great 2009!