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Mind your business

…or let someone else mind it for you if you don’t have the in-house resource to ensure a robust and effective IT infrastructure. Andrew Metcalfe, managing director, of Opal IT runs through the key must-do’s.

So, any successful digital PSP will know that it’s vital to have a smooth and robust IT infrastructure that can facilitate slick production systems, solid CRM solutions and the smooth operation of its digital print equipment. But what do you do when things go wrong? Actually, what steps can you take to ensure the problems don’t arise in the first place?

Well, first up – and hopefully an obvious point – ensure that artwork or production staff keep all work on a centralised server. Normally, the easiest way is to have a large ‘pot’ of data held on a RAID array – a collection of disks presented to the user as one larger disk. They help to negate issues when one or two disks fail, which in turn reduces downtime.

Of course you need to judge the size of the required storage based on current annual disk usage across all users, then at least double that figure to accommodate future growth. And bear in mind that you may well handle much more data than you initially suppose – at Opal IT there are clients with several terabytes (1024 gigabytes) of data and some with over 100TB’s.

The RAID needs to be fast and use the best disks possible – it’s just false economy to use anything else as cheap storage will inevitably fail, and the rebuilding of the data and downtime is extremely costly. And you know the upshot of that – losing client data can so easily result in losing the client.

In addition, implementing an archive solution can greatly reduce ongoing storage costs by freeing up space from live data volumes. You can archive to disk or to tape. LTO Tape technology is much quicker and cheaper than continually expanding RAID storage. LTO-7 is the latest technology, and a single tape will hold 6-15 terabytes. Once a job is finished it can automatically be moved direct to Tape and the original taken from the RAID. Two copies need to be kept at all times.

An automated way of backing up the data can use the same Tape library for archive; this is the most recommended and used way. Rotating tapes and making sure they are offsite or in the fireproof safe for easy access is vital in the event of a fire, flood or theft.

Further redundancy can be achieved by setting up a Cloud backup of company data. This must be encrypted and need it be said that it’s imperative you are signed up with a reputable firm. Whichever backup solution is chosen, someone must be tasked with checking this daily to make sure it’s working. Many times we have seen that when a disaster occurs the tapes haven’t been swapped, nor basic checks carried out. As part of an additional service, your IT company should be able to handle all of this – for a charge.

Having access to your RAID usually comes via a server, which the users connect to. Typically, most companies are now virtualising their servers. This is a great way of consolidating many different servers over lots of hardware onto two or three servers. Normally it’s configured so that an entire server can fail but everyone keeps working. It’s much easier for upgrades of software and reduces the need for ongoing support.

If a company has multiple locations, replicating the data between them can be done using software that runs in the background and only moves files that have changed. This minimises load on the servers and the internet line. In the event of a disaster, staff can access data from the other site.

Moving some internal systems to the Cloud can be hugely beneficial by reducing internal server footprint and ongoing support and energy costs. Office 365 for email is extremely popular and allows a company to run its email offsite but utilise Microsoft technology – but again, it has to be backed up and the infrastructure taken care of. The same applies to running accountancy applications or CRM in the Cloud, however. If internal systems are not Cloud-enabled, they can still be deployed to Cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure or AmazonAWS. These are essentially Windows Servers running on Microsoft or Amazon’s hardware but they are private to your business. The costs can be difficult to manage as usually it’s based on the upload of data, so this can vary month to month. In most cases, it’s best to take a ‘hybrid’ approach, where some on premise solutions are mixed with Cloud services.

The Cloud allows companies to take a hands-off approach to infrastructure but this advantage can be offset by ongoing subscription costs. Companies also need to ensure that their internet connectivity is robust. Losing the internet can mean losing access to everything – which is why having an internet leased line, point-to-point WiFi connection, or at least multiple fast broadband connections, should be a minimum.

Monitoring internet security – itself is a huge topic – needs to be done on an ongoing basis. It’s important to limit access to Phishing sites for internal users, make sure all anti-virus software is up to date on a daily basis, and all computer operating systems are kept up to date with the latest patches. And need it be said that all files received should be scanned. If you run a FTP server, this should be isolated off the main network. Staff should be educated on the need to check domain names when receiving invoices and emails, while any bank details that change before payment need to be verified via telephone directly.

Companies also need to ensure that they have a grip on which Cloud file sharing applications are being used – including Microsoft OneDrive or DropBox – to prevent any damaging data loss. UTM devices can be used to monitor threats, lock down workstations with an end point management solution and implement software and anti-virus update servers to manage all of this centrally rather than leaving it to users to remember.

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