Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Outsourcing IT Management Mitigates Risk

While every good organisation has an IT management strategy, it is not always possible for an SME to employ several people with the skills required to effectively manage the various elements of an organisation’s IT. An outsourced IT model will mitigate risk from a lack of skills, threat of staff turnover and budget restrictions.
Having a supervisor is all well and good when there is a problem with a PC, but such an employee seldom has the skills to assist in other areas of IT. This is the challenge for most SMEs – their view of IT is very operational, meaning there is little long term strategy in place.

In other words, an SME may spend quite a bit of money getting the basics in place, but they will seldom have considered all aspects of their IT strategy. The goal is to empower SME customers to make the right IT decisions.

There are numerous areas within IT that need to be considered; everything from servers, to desktops to connectivity needs to be taken into account. In addition, other areas of concern include the company’s expansions plans, potential hardware replacement costs, taking care of software licensing and so on.

The outsourced provider should assist clients to determine what their IT requirements are, how to plan their Opex or Capex spend, how to understand the difference between core requirements and business-specific needs and how to get operational again in the case of a disaster. It is an imperative to work together to ensure that their IT works as an investment rather than a liability and will assist the business moving forward, rather than costing it money.

In my experience a number of SMEs make the decision to do it themselves simply because they don’t have the information available to help them in making the right decisions. However, the benefits of outsourcing should be plain – moving from a Capex model to an Opex-driven one; access to a large base of skills and resources; and handing the management and strategy of your IT to an expert are among the key motivating factors in this regard.

As part of an outsource model, the service provider will offer a holistic view of the customer’s entire IT strategy. So for example, the provider should ensure that the customer has an effective disaster recovery (DR) plan in place, which is something the SME itself doesn’t always properly consider.

Using some basic mathematics can show just how beneficial an outsource model can be. For example, an SME that has a 60-user site that needs server and desktop maintenance, hiring an entry-level engineer (at around R12-15 000 per month) and a more senior engineer (at around R20 000 per month) would mean a business would be spending approximately R30-35 000 per month for a basic set of resources.

For that sort of investment with an outsource provider, an SME could have access to a network, servers, telephony and desktops as core services, as well as access to a call centre for first line support. In addition, their licensing management, backup and DR strategies would all be taken care of and backed up by service level agreements (SLAs). It would also mean no worries around staff turnover and skills upgrades. And with a large pool of resources to call on, they would have access to a greater number of skills than they could reasonably expect to employ.

Going on your own can easily lead to uncontained costs, whereas an outsource service provider is focused on saving you money while also providing you with business flexibility, ease of maintenance and simplified management.

Ultimately the goal must be to assist the SME to them make the right decisions, based on the right information supplied by the outsourced provider. The aim is to help the SME think about the things they would otherwise never know to ask.

31st March 2012, World Backup Day

World Backup Day is not only a call to action for businesses to review their backup and security strategy but also a stark reminder of the value of business critical content.  WD, a leading hard drive manufacturer, urges Small Medium Businesses (SMBs) to put together their own backup plan using its top five tips.

So why is backup so important to SMBs? Data is not only intangible and irreplaceable without a backup copy, but it is probably also the single most valuable asset of your business. The question is not IF you will lose your data, but WHEN. Whether it is due to accidental deletion by an absent-minded employee, intentional vandalism by a rogue vendor with access to your network, or a massive attack of thousands of infected computers, losing your data is a business reality. The question is, can you get your data back—and how fast?

According to a study carried out by Price Waterhouse Coopers a single incident of data loss costs businesses an average of $10,000¹. Gartner also reveals that 25% of all PC users suffer from data loss each year and that 80% of businesses that suffer a major data loss or failure for more than 24 hours close within a year ². Not properly backing up your data can result in data loss that can have a detrimental impact on business:  damage to your brand, loss of customer trust, civil and/or criminal penalties, shareholder lawsuits, and more.

Says Anamika Budree, Western Digital Country Manager, South Africa: “Having a backup strategy is not only crucial for larger enterprises. Many small businesses don’t expect the worst case scenario of losing all their data through fire, flooding, cybercrime, corrupt data or damage to hard drives. The results can be devastating if this information cannot be retrieved.”

Whether they're personal or professional, digital content and important files are invaluable and often irreplaceable if lost or compromised. WD has put together some tips for SMBs that want to reduce the risk of data loss

1.       Keep your data and applications backed up
Often, businesses do not consider backing up their applications when they devise their backup solution. They back up the data files they create, but they often do not think to back up the installed software and operating system files. It is important to create an image of your servers and computers to make sure that the data, applications, and operating system can be completely and seamlessly recovered to their “pre-disaster” status.

2.       Point of recovery time – what lifespan of data is the most important?
Backup systems are quite flexible regarding how much historical data they can recover. Do you always need to recover the last six months of data? Is having the most recent weeks’ worth of data all you really need? The point of recovery date and time are an important consideration.

3.       Online or on site - you should not only backup the data locally, but also keep a copy in off-site storage to ensure faster data disaster recovery times.
You may want to also consider cloud services found on NAS drives like WD Sentinel which offers users the ability to connect to a "public cloud" storage provider, giving businesses an economical and integrated disaster recovery solution against earthquake, theft and fire or water damage. In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, an SMB could lose everything if its place of business were compromised. WD Sentinel also performs automatic daily backups so all of the files on up to 25 computers in your network are backed up and protected and offers complete data protection with built-in hardware and software redundancy for all of the connected devices in the network.

4.       Test. Test. Test - The only thing worse than not backing up your data is not properly backing up your data.
Imagine that a disaster strikes your neighborhood and all your business data is completely destroyed. If you go to recover your data and find out your backups are corrupted, the wrong files are backed up, or some other terrible scenario has occurred, what will you do? Test your backups to make sure that your data is properly backed up.

5.       Don’t forget your servers - Your business data is not just what’s in the “My Documents” folder
The data in your email server, application server, and any other servers you use (including your website and hosted data) must be backed up as well.

¹Price Waterhouse Cooper Study 2008: Information Security Survey
²Gartner Research Group