A forward-looking guide to buying IT equipment for SMEs

Editorial Type: Opinion Date: 12-2019 Views: 129 Tags: Networking, SMEs, SSD, Hard Drives, Storage, On-premise, Pulsant
Working out when to upgrade business technology is not just about physical capability but also about supportability for new applications. As many SMEs understand, components inevitably degrade over time, leading to unexpected interruptions and in the worst-case scenarios, significant data loss and the serious consequences that come with that.

A hard drive (HDD) lasts about six years as its spinning disks wear out after continuous usage, while the integrity of the data stored on an aging disk deteriorates due to excessive wear, the presence of contaminants, radiation and heat. Comparing the lifetime of a solid-state drive (SSD) is complex because its length is greatly determined by the total terabytes of data written onto it. As a result, in order to minimise the risk from aging components it is essential that the performance of applications is monitored regularly and SME's are up to date on the options available to them.

If the technology had a reasonable specification when purchased, then unless it has become incompatible with a company’s chosen new application (more likely due to an aging operating system than the hardware), IT staff should be monitoring the performance of systems and applications and assessing whether any perceived slow-down is affecting employees’ efficiency. User satisfaction is crucial for the success of IT initiatives, so performance monitoring shouldn’t be limited to tracking IT resources such as CPU, memory, disk, etc, but all aspects of the experience. To do this, IT operators and administrators can assess end-user availability and performance with the aid of user experience monitoring software.

If the performance does remain acceptable, then the only real driver is reliability which is affected by ageing components such as fragile motherboards and on-board circuitry, power supplies or disk drives. Keeping a close check on reliability across all the hardware and determining the failure rate may well make the decision an obvious one, even if the equipment itself is still capable of operating the software that the business depends upon.

On-premise versus cloud: the costs
Housing a server on-premise is an expensive undertaking which involves everything from air conditioning systems to power distribution, networking and power backup. All of this requires significant levels of capital investment and on-going operating expense.

Alternatively, cloud has an array of advantages such as greater agility, cost savings and faster time to market. There’s no need for hardware in the virtualised environment and businesses can pay for storage which is cheap and easy to do. Apart from paying for bandwidth and connectivity, there is no cost associated with getting data into the cloud; however, there can be unbudgeted costs associated with getting data out of the cloud. The processing of information and returning results is where costs can often start to rise.

A full move to the cloud may not always be desirable because of concerns over security and control and in this case, the answer is often colocation. By moving their servers to a trusted vendor’s facility, SME’s can uphold absolute control over their data without maintaining a costly, dedicated, potentially insecure, in house data centre.

The key cost advantage of colocation is that providers host multiple customers within each data centre, allowing them to spread the cost of maintaining systems and offer high service levels at a reduced overall operational cost. Also, unlike on-premise, SME’s can scale their data centre footprint as their business grows, without the up-front capital expense that would be needed to expand an on-premise server room.

A new model for technology services
With many SMEs considering making infrastructure changes following a prolonged period of remote working, it is likely that a lot of them may want to consume services differently in the future. For example, the scale of outsourcers and their investment in data centres, technology and staffing means that organisations can consume the resources they need, only when required, using an OPEX model.

This avoids the need for up front capital costs, depreciating assets, and investment ahead of peak periods. Flexibility in cloud services also enables businesses to scale up and down as needed, using a pay-per-consumption model to match the organisation’s income stream. The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of having the right IT infrastructure in place and after gaining a lot of useful experience in remote working during 2020, as we close in on the new year many businesses will now need to consider wider infrastructure changes for the longer term.

Supporting long-term remote working
Because some SMEs are relatively lean in terms of their own technology expertise, they may consider outsourcing for the advantages this option provides. It is possible for SMEs to achieve significant savings on IT resources and they can benefit from quicker troubleshooting, more robust support channels and as a result less time and money spent ensuring infrastructure reliability.