I was poring through some tips on how SMBs can protect their network by Michael Dragone at WindowsITPro. While the article was written from a network-centric perspective, it got me thinking about how small and mid-sized companies can better manage IT in their companies in a more proactive fashion.
So I've put together a trio of proactive practices that I feel could benefit SMBs. As usual, you are welcome to chip in with suggestions of your own on what works and what doesn't. Or perhaps you have first-hand experience relating to the points below? I look forward to hearing from you.
Mind Your Inventory
One way to proactively manage IT would be to maintain an inventory of all your IT equipment, including software licenses and hardware appliances. This makes sense from two levels: to ensure that employees do not pilfer the equipment for their own use and also to facilitate tracking of information where the details can be critical, such as license count and warranty validity dates.
A related suggestion would be that instead of relying on the default serial number of products, consider assigning your own identification codes to hardware components and then labeling them with a hand-held labeler. This makes it easier to tell similar products apart. Similarly, equipment handed to employees to facilitate their work should be handed back when they leave the company. In fact, the process to do so should be incorporated as part of a standard checklist that Human Resources will ensure before handing over the final paycheck.
Map Your Network
Because most SMBs start off small, administrators often get away with not mapping the network by giving the excuse that there is nothing worth documenting anyway. Before you know it, the network has grown into a sprawling mass and network problems take much longer to rectify as it is hard to work backward.
My recommendation is to ensure that the network in your SMB is documented, even if it consists of nothing more than a dozen workstations, some printers and an Internet router. Map it and file it, and continue to update it in tandem with the growth of your network. If you don't have a full-time IT staffer who is able to handle this task, perhaps you can make it part of the job scope for the vendor contracted to help with system administration.
Should catastrophe strike, the schematics of your network documentation as well as your inventory of equipment comes together to become the "fire-escape route" that can be easily read and understood by all - even external vendors.
Don't Buy 'Just Right'
Remember when you were 8 to 12 years old, and your parents took you out to shop for clothes? Did they choose clothing that was an exact fit or did they tend to buy something slightly larger? While it would obviously be incongruous to buy clothes that are three sizes too big, most of us will shy away from buying something that could be outgrown in less than a year.
The above analogy applies to buying hardware. While IT managers and administrators need to exercise prudence with the budget, it is important not to spend money on underpowered equipment that need to be replaced in short order due to inability to keep up with growth.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to work out how much laxity you should exercise; it boils down to preference, budget and the specific needs of your company. For example, it might make sense to purchase a 48-port network switch even when there are 36 nodes in use, or to pay a little more and physically wire your office to gigabit specifications even though you're only using fast Ethernet at the moment.