If your business is expanding, it can easily start to outgrow its IT infrastructure. These days, IT touches on almost every area of the business so ensuring that all of the necessary hardware, software and services are in place to support this infrastructure is essential.
For smaller companies that may lack in-house resources and expertise, it can be daunting to know where to start. In this guide, I’m going to look at how you can work towards building a scalable and sustainable infrastructure that will be able to support your business for the long term.
There are three main parts of any IT infrastructure: hardware, software and communication. To a certain extent, the advent of cloud computing has thrown these elements up into the air a bit (no pun intended) but essentially the three elements of any IT infrastructure remain the same.
Hardware is at the core of all IT infrastructure because, even if you are running systems from the cloud, you still need endpoint hardware for people to be able to access them. If you are running systems in-house then once you reach more than four or five users, you need to start thinking about getting a server.
It’s important to note here that requirements for servers, in particular, can increasingly be virtualised. This means putting the server in the cloud, so you save on space and energy costs and have much more flexibility. You can scale up as the business grows, or to meet seasonal demand, without the expense and lead times associated with buying new hardware. It also strengthens your response to problems as it becomes easier to switch to another system in the event of failure.
This is a very broad area as it covers everything from the operating systems that run your computers and mobile devices to the productivity tools and databases that you use to run your business. For most functions, whether it’s an office suite or something more specialist, there are now numerous providers and products so it’s vital to choose the right package for your specific business model – not just today but in the future.
Look carefully at your current requirements but also at what you might need as your business starts to expand. Changing to a different system further down the line can prove to be disruptive and costly. On the other hand, sticking with inadequate software could restrict your flexibility and growth.
You need connection to the outside world of course. Email is essential for any business but you also need to account for the fact that more and more systems are now using the cloud, either for storage or to run as-a-service software. Increasingly, your internet connection has other demands placed upon it too; phone systems, for example, are switching to VoIP. All of this means that your bandwidth requirements are going to increase.
You need to find a service provider that is able to deliver the speeds and bandwidth you require and is able to do so consistently.
Now that we’ve looked at the core parts of IT infrastructure, it’s time to look at the factors you’ll need to take into consideration when bringing these three elements together.
First things first; you should always try to keep things consistent. Standardising your hardware and software where possible helps to ensure that everything will work well together and also that any later support headaches will be minimised. This is especially true of software. Whilst Microsoft and Google products will have some compatibility, they’re ideally better suited to working with other products from the same company.
You also need to ensure that your infrastructure will be able to grow with your business. Fortunately, this is much easier than it used to be as the latest cloud-based systems are infinitely more scalable than those of the past.
Ease of use is an important factor too. People won’t get the best out of IT systems that are difficult to operate. Overcomplicating your systems will also make IT support harder and will likely lead to problems should anyone involved in setting things up or maintaining systems decide to leave the business.
Now we know what’s involved in IT infrastructure and what to think about when putting it together, but we’re not finished yet. There are some important things that you must ensure to make sure your systems deliver at an operational level. Probably the most vital of these is cyber security.
We all see news of high profile data breaches and may think that – as a smaller business – it will probably not happen to us. But hackers and cybercriminals are no respecters of the size of an organisation and may, in fact, target smaller businesses that are less likely to adequately invest in the best security resources, systems and processes.
You need to take the security of your systems very seriously indeed and always keep any firewall and antivirus applications up to date. You also need to educate your staff on issues such as using strong passwords and being aware of the threats posed by attacks such as phishing emails.
If you store personal data relating to your customers or staff electronically then there is another aspect to security and that’s complying with data protection regulations such as GDPR. If you are taking card payments there are regulations surrounding those too.
It’s easy to think that if systems are in the cloud you can delegate these security issues to the service provider, but you remain ultimately responsible for your company’s information. When you are planning your IT infrastructure, you need to build in security systems and procedures from the start rather than try to bolt them on later.
The more your business relies on IT, the more even a small problem can have major repercussions. When putting together your infrastructure, therefore, you need to plan to make it reliable.
Even issues such as a slow network or internet connection can cause major difficulties and lead to bottlenecks that disrupt the entire business. This means planning networks to reduce latency – the delays that occur in sending data – by making sure that there is sufficient bandwidth and that speeds are sufficiently high. This applies equally to your internal LAN but also to wide-area networks linking any remote offices or home workers that you may have. Remember that the more you rely on the cloud, the more critical the reliability of your internet connection becomes.
We’re all storing more and more data and this too can result in bottlenecks. Data you need on a regular basis needs to held somewhere from which it can be accessed quickly. But you also need to plan for storing older, archive data and put in place a strategy to take regular backups and ensure you can get data back in the event of a problem. Again, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that putting everything in the cloud will automatically solve your problems. You still need a disaster recovery plan.
IT infrastructure is at the very heart of your business so it pays to get it right. As we’ve seen above, there are a lot of factors to take into account. Ultimately, you need to decide whether to take on this task in-house, or whether to outsource it to a specialist with the expertise to help you.