You may have bought new hardware, brought all your software up to date and provided your staff with training in the relevant skills but it doesn’t guarantee a fault-free IT system. Events have a habit of interfering and creating challenges to the most carefully considered IT system. It could be a failed hard disk, a failed software update patch or overheating in your communications cabinet they all have the capability of disrupting the smooth working of your computers and hence the output of your office.
Robustness in the design of the system is the first line of defence. Whilst it may not be practical or cost-effective to consider every possible failure mode understanding the nature of possible problems and providing safety mechanisms is a critical first step. Storing critical data simultaneously on multiple disks (Redundant Arrays of Independent Disks- RAID) is the minimum I would recommend for any office with centrally stored data. Protection against short-term power outages (Uninterruptable Power Supplies – UPS) is also invaluable to allow safe shut down of a server when an office is struck by a power outage. Beyond this one starts to look at failover facilities for critical services. Large practices may have multiple servers that allow instant switchover of services small practices won’t have access to these resources but can instead consider how they might use alternative available hardware to provide emergency file-sharing or resort to a secondary hosted email service if your internal services fail.
At the user-level remember that a spare, ready to go workstation can be a cost-effective way of keeping somebody working when his or her computer starts to play up.
Internet services are now ubiquitous for the continued operation of any office. Whilst large offices may secure Internet connectivity by purchasing a leased fibre line with a high level of contracted uptime. Even leased line providers often provide a backup Internet system such as contended fibre connection or a standard ADSL line. Smaller practices too should consider redundancy for their Internet connection options. A second ADSL offers a degree of protection but generally using two different technologies will provide more comfort. Consider a cable-based Internet connection or even a USB device that uses the mobile phone network.
Beyond designing in robustness, the next step is to keep a close eye on your systems. Even if you have failover redundancy built into your system you will need to know when these systems have been brought into use or to warn of other impending risks from failed antivirus updates to data storage reaching the available limits of capacity.
In house resources may be able to conduct some of these regular checks but automating IT system monitoring is not only a good use of the technology but can provide an auditable trail of checks, indications of trends which may cause future problems and providing regular reports on the health of an overall system.
The systems typically utilise a software agent either deployed at a server level only or alternatively on a workstation as well. The other component is typically a cloud-based administration, alerting and reporting interface. They are primarily designed for Windows-based networks. Monitoring of apple computers, where it is provided, is typically at a lower level. At its best monitoring software can achieve real-time hardware and installed software asset tracking, and reporting on a processor, ram, hard disk and antivirus statuses, they can typically also provide centralised windows operating system patching and in some cases administer third-party software updates.
In the context of the robustness of your information technology, the key attributes to look for in such monitoring systems whether sourced internally or provided by others are real-time alerting of events that may put your systems at risk and also intelligible reporting of overall system status to assist in the management of your IT system.