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7 tips for managing IT infrastructure of SMEs

While big business is all over its back-up and redundancy strategies, SMEs are all too often, not giving full consideration to what could happen should disaster strike.

The spate of natural disasters, including the Brisbane floods, hit many businesses hard. While some had no back-up strategy at all, others had their back-up equipment and data stored in building basements that were the first to be taken out in the serious floods.

The impact of disasters on an SME’s business can be devastating. Customer orders, contact information, financial records, supplier contracts, correspondence and emails, stock records – what would you do if you lost it all?

Businesses without disaster recovery facilities need to be aware of the consequences should the unexpected happen and they lose their vital information and means of communications. Unfortunately, it’s only when they have a disaster that they give due consideration to outsourcing their systems, such as when the air conditioning goes out on a weekend, power goes down due to a storm, or worse.

If there is no additional air conditioning backup, machines will fry. Hard drives do crash, and they do lose data. It’s a bit like insuring a car. You don’t really think about it until you have a crash.

A couple of years ago, a well-known fresh food supplier had a fire rip through its hub, destroying its proprietary IT system which essentially ran the entire business from data storage to business intelligence, sales management, stock and its financial and accounting system. It took three months to get the business back to normal operations once new equipment and software had been put in place.

SMEs don’t really think about this. IT managers in SMEs have a lot on their plate these days. They are managing CRM, WAN, telephone, back-up, dealing with mobility, and adapting to new technologies. So it’s not surprising they probably haven’t thought about the impact to the business if the IT system went down.

SMEs who own and manage their own IT facilities need to be planning for a number of things: have they got an uninterrupted power supply; are the back-up capabilities sufficient; are the cooling systems within the building adequate to support the IT systems, and is there back-up air conditioning in the event of a cooling problem.

When you manage your own IT infrastructure, you need to worry about this and it adds another layer of complexity that business shouldn’t need to worry about.

A solution is putting your IT infrastructure in a safe, secure environment. Purpose-built, enterprise gradedata centres offer a number of benefits business who are running mission-critical IT systems. These include 24/7 “smart hands”, redundant power, physical security, ability to easily scale-up infrastructure, reduced costs and greater flexibility, improved utilization of leased premise. And less worry.

7 tips for SMEs managing IT infrastructure

1. Have a back-up plan

Considering the IT systems you run in house now, what would happen if one of them fell over or worse, if they all fell over?  What would be the consequences of losing the data that sits on those systems?  Calculating the cost to your business of an IT disaster is an exercise that is well worth doing.

2. Power can be expensive

A lot of power capacity can be expensive to deploy to a standard office building. Find out if there any limitations on power that can be delivered to your building as this could be critical to your growth path.

3. UPS is critical

Ensure you have the correctly sized UPS for your IT equipment to allow for an orderly shut-down of IT equipment in the event of a prolonged power outage.  In the event of primary power failure – could you get someone on site 24×7 before your backup UPS is exhausted?

4. Don’t risk cooking your equipment

Work out what cooling requirements you will need not just for your current technology infrastructure, but critically, for projected future requirements. Some IT infrastructure produces a lot more heat than others.

Hot IT equipment reduces IT efficiency as CPU clock speeds reduce, which increases power-draw as fans turn on. This can eventually lead to the shutting down of your IT equipment if the temperature gets too high.

5. Physical security

Ensure you have the correct security posture appropriate to your requirements as well as your clients. For example, having your company comply with security systems such as PCI DSS and ISO27001 could be important to your clients.

Physical security can mean having audit logs of all access to your infrastructure, CCTV footage stored and a granular access control system to ensure only authorised members of staff can access certain area. Remember, sabotage can come from within.

6. Property Leasing

Check whether your on-premise IT equipment will not affect future negotiations with your landlord. If you have made a sizable investment in infrastructure in your building, it can sometimes hinder future negotiations for leasing rates as landlords know how expensive it is to move a large amount of IT equipment.

7. Consider outsourcing your Infrastructure

As soon as your reliance on your IT infrastructure becomes mission critical, you’ve got a problem.   Relocating your IT assets into a data centre environment makes sense, both from a redundancy and back-up perspective, but also from a financial perspective.

Data security and privacy: Out of the server room, into the fire

Data security and privacy is no longer just an ‘IT’ issue, the conversation between business and consumers regarding virtual data is now more pressing than ever before.

Where do you keep your most private and personal information? As few as ten years ago, your most vital private details, your photos and documents would more likely than not have been locked in a safe or stowed securely in a cabinet drawer. Today, the digital revolution means that our most important information from our passwords to our images, even our music, book and video collection, even the tracks of our online and offline activities, are moving to virtual storage. But what does this mean for the Australian consumer?

Well, firstly we should be more aware than ever about the security of our virtual information. When we recently conducted national research in data storage and consumers, we found that 40 per cent of Australians have rising concerns regarding their data security and privacy. And who could blame them? In the past year we’ve had major security breaches and data losses reported from companies like Sony, LinkedIn, even the government contractor tasked with delivering e-security alert services.

Whilst some may raise their hands in the air and cry ‘there is no such thing as security when it comes to online information’, legislation is already playing catch up to today’s digital world. The Privacy Amendment Bill 2012 states that organisations must take reasonable steps to protect the personal information they hold form misuse, interference, loss and unauthorised access. It will give the federal Privacy Commissioner the power to fine companies as much as $1.1m if they fail to do so.

Besides the very real legal threat, any business that holds customer data – and today that is practically every business – needs to also be aware of the increasing role that data security will play attracting and retaining customer. According to our research, 79 per cent of Australians either currently consider or believe they should consider, how and where their data is stored. Only 26 per cent currently trust businesses to hold this data responsibly. When it comes to virtual data, organisations are sitting on a trust time bomb.

IT has traditionally been a specialist area, often managed in a silo. But it is one that is breaking out of the server room. Business are grappling with ‘digital’ in general, technology is increasingly becoming a CEO issue – not just a CIO one. A report by Deloitte Access Economics from August this year underscored this when it suggested that firms in many Australian industries risked losing half their revenue within three years if they didn’t embrace the digital arena.

Data security is an issue that is now appearing on C-level agendas. As Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Neil Gaughan was quoted in Computerworld: “Every organisation, large or small, needs to ensure they have a defence-in-depth strategy for protecting the vital assets on which their business depends.”

Most people, even educated business leaders, may not associate their virtual information with a physical location – it might as well be up in the sky as sitting in a server. For managers seeking to develop an all-embracing digital security platform, the first step is to get the bricks and mortar of your systems right – and build the network safeguards around a strong foundation.

But solving the dilemma of customer data is not solely about having the safest servers, the best firewalls and the latest security technologies. It is about understanding who your customers are and how they feel about their data. In the UK, think tank Demos recently looked at this issue in their white paper ‘The Digital Dialogue’. They found what constitutes ‘personal data’ varies widely. They also identified five categories of people when it comes to data sharing: non-sharers, sceptics, pragmatists, value hunters and enthusiastic sharers.

According to the Demos report: “Data sovereignty is the next big consumer issue”. For companies looking to defuse the trust timebomb, they must have collection and handling strategies that cater to this range of customers categories, and data storage strategies that give people confidence that their data is secure. There is no one size fits all solution, but the time is now to ensure all your IT and related systems are being operated with security in mind.

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