A company can’t live without IT, and your setup can make or break your business.
How you configure your ideal IT infrastructure depends a great deal on the size of your business and plans to scale. But there are a few basic requirements that apply to everyone:
For hardware, you will need:
- Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) devices for consistent power
- Wireless devices or the ability to accommodate them
- Printers, scanners, copiers — and a fax machine for the occasional old-fashioned customer (You can get all-in-one machines that combine functions)
- Servers, unless you plan to keep 100 percent of your data in the cloud
For network systems, you will need:
- Internet connections
- An email system
- Antivirus software
To avoid complaints about a slow network, some experts advise spending about 20 percent of the cost of your server on networking equipment.
Though many companies go with a solely-Windows or a solely-Mac platform, it’s best to mix and match so that if a virus or hack brings one system down, you have an alternative. For servers, if you have a Windows model, consider getting a Linux-based network attached storage box in case Windows gets knocked out.
Setting up a basic system requires budgeting and making sure that your planned office space works for the equipment and devices you need.
Your next layer of decisions centers on how you will manage your systems.
Small and mid-sized businesses often don’t have the budget for a full time IT staff to manage networks and applications, let alone help with special projects that require extra support. But no matter how limited your budget, it’s not a good idea to simply set up your IT system and hope for the best. If something goes wrong, your company may not be able to function for days, or even weeks, while you search for help.
For that reason, many businesses outsource some or all of their IT in the form of Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) plans.
To visualize how these services work, check out this very clever infographic of “Pizza as a Service.”
You’re already familiar with SaaS — it’s cloud-based apps like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Salesforce, and Google Apps.
Companies that deliver these products manage everything, including updates, runtime, data, virtualization, servers, storage and security. All you do is download the apps. SaaS apps are usually related with email systems and collaboration, customer relations management (CRM), and benefits management.
The only potential problem with SaaS is Shadow IT — employees can download apps without IT permission, which can create conflict with other systems. It’s best to make the IT manager aware of all the apps you company is using.
In PaaS, a vendor provides a platform on which you can develop software. The vendor takes care of everything behind the platform — the operating system, server hardware and software, and network infrastructure — so that developers are free to concentrate on building products. Most PaaS systems use server virtualization. Google App Engine and OpenShift are examples of PaaS.
PaaS allows you to create new products without investing in additional hardware and networking until you’re ready to deploy them on a large scale.
IaaS provides on-demand service through the cloud for servers, storage, networks, and operating systems. It’s great for occasions when you need extra capacity — for example, if you need to scale up for the holidays.
If your business is growing rapidly and you aren’t sure of future capacity, IaaS lets you scale gradually, without purchasing more equipment until you get a better handle on your needs.
You can use the public cloud through a provider like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, or a private cloud only for your company. Or you can use a “hybrid” model, employing the public cloud for some functions and the private cloud for others. Because of its pay-as-you-go, easy-in, easy-out features, IaaS is spreading rapidly. According to Gartner, the competitive IaaS sector is expected to grow 33 percent this year.
Today’s options give businesses unprecedented flexibility for managing IT. Once you have your basic system in place, you can experiment with various combinations of SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS until you find the rhythm that works best for you.