Commentary: Strive for IT network perfection

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The “Five Nines” (99.999) refers to the “perfect world” of near 100 percent uptime in an information technology network. Between scheduled maintenance of servers, routers, firewalls and LAN’s to intervention both reactively and proactively for viruses, worms, etc., it is, from a practical standpoint, nearly impossible to achieve 99.999 percent uptime. Short of such digital perfection, what is a good compromise in the quality of service as well as affordability? To insure that your technology is working for you when you need it, what problems do you need to address? Two of the biggest obstacles are telecom providers and security issues. There is a maze of options, as well as pitfalls to avoid. For small and mid-size businesses, outsourcing is often the best solution.
The current fallout in the telecom industry is reinforcing several industry tenets, including redundancy, reliability, and cost effectiveness; at the same time, changing the way they are achieved. You can’t necessarily rely on the big names. This is evident by the number of bankruptcies and the loss of market value of almost all telecommunications companies and Internet service providers. The big national or regional providers are publicly traded and are affected by the economic environment. Most of those that are significantly financed by venture capital don’t survive to the second round, or succumb to market forces beyond their control.
The biggest pitfall here is the lack of customer service from the big providers. It is amazing how hard it is to contact the right people at those big companies when you really need them. When your service is down, you need resolution immediately, not in two days or five days when the next available technician can be dispatched.
Perhaps the most frustrating obstacle is the inability to talk to the same technician or engineer again, so you must explain the problem from the beginning all over again every time you have to contact them. The answer lies with smaller, more local companies that achieve their redundancy and reliability by dealing with multiple providers. They are able to compete cost effectively by modestly aggregating services and lowering prices while still maintaining service levels. Tier two and even some quality Tier three Internet service providers provide value and can provide a quality of service that makes high speed direct Internet access affordable and justifiable. Customer service is usually a hallmark of these smaller companies. If they are lackadaisical about their customers, they won’t be in business for long. You have the option of dealing with the same engineer or technician who knows the particulars and peculiarities of your network.
The two main threats to your secure network are hackers and viruses. Larger companies are spending large amounts of money to make their networks more and more secure. They are making it increasingly difficult for hackers to penetrate their networks. So, many hackers just move on to easier targets such as the small to medium sized businesses that comprise the bulk of our local economy. This is why it is increasingly important for small to medium sized businesses to address these security concerns.
A cost-benefit analysis can help make the decisions easier. How important is it for your network, and/or your Internet access to be up all the time? How long and when can you afford to be without Internet access?
Proactive businesses can inoculate themselves from the high profile viruses that are attacking them by hiring full time security personnel. Instead of spending three days purging a virus while a network is down, the security specialist can keep the virus from getting into the network to begin with. For small to medium sized businesses unable to justify the employee expense of a security specialist, outsourcing becomes the only reasonable option.
When looking at outsourcing solutions, the IT companies that are thriving tend to be privately financed, locally owned, and are in business for the long term. They are more immune to economic chaos beyond their control. They are able and motivated to keep their customers as close to the “Five Nines” as possible. Increasingly, companies are finding that outsourcing is the key to solving the problems of IT design, security, website development and hosting, and email. Even high-tech companies can’t always afford to solve these problems in-house, or to waste in-house resources on areas that are beyond the company’s core expertise.
Bill Lahman
Tech Link