Dave Kinsey 2013-09-19 00:32:29
How Many Servers Does Your Firm Really Need? If the servers at your firm outnumber your people, you likely have way too many. If your firm is expanding, a single server may no longer be enough. Perhaps you would prefer to retire all your servers and run your practice through the “cloud.” In any case, it makes sense on a periodic basis to review your server architecture to ensure it’s engineered to meet the needs of the firm. Naturally, folks in the IT field love to work with the latest, greatest and most powerful new equipment. There is no question that new technologies can improve functionality and reduce costs. There is, however, a clear tendency for technical folks to over-engineer and design networks that are overly complex, needlessly expensive to maintain, and inherently less reliable. One of the more recent technologies is called server virtualization; while very useful, virtualization can also have a negative effect if not managed properly from a business standpoint. This technology allows several physical hardware servers to be consolidated onto a single physical server. These servers then become “virtual servers” or “VMs.” This strategy absolutely needs to be considered as part of any design where there are multiple servers. Unfortunately, each virtual server incurs costs for licensing, patching, monitoring, management and upgrades just like a dedicated physical server. As a result, it’s important to keep both the number of virtual and physical servers to the minimum amount required to do the job correctly. Simpler generally means cheaper, faster and more reliable. I’m not advising that you go “cheap” on hardware. You want the good stuff. Not the most expensive, but rather mainstream good technology. You also want to refresh it regularly with newer technology every 3-5 years. Unless you’re getting your people to work for free, few things will cost you as much in productivity and labor than trying to make that 5-year-old PC or server give you just one more year. Your server and network infrastructure should be modern, but straightforward in design. Externally hosted or “cloud” options should be considered in your design, but being off-site does not get you off the hook for ensuring all the details of the design make sense. Additional considerations for hosting include data privacy, issues with non-performance/ insolvency of hosting provider, handling transition into and out of hosting provider at the termination of agreement, in addition to technical considerations. Just about every software vendor wants a dedicated server for their product. They are afraid of applications stepping on each other and argue that if a server reboot is required, dedicated servers will impact fewer applications. That’s great in theory, but IT people often get carried away with this. The fact is that modern server hardware and operating systems have become increasingly more robust, are designed to take advantage of multiple processor cores and are engineered to avoid software conflicts. Modern servers do not require reboots nearly as often as their predecessors. Your technical folks need to keep this in mind and not blindly create too many virtual servers which add unnecessary cost. There are server environments where even a few minutes of downtime (think amazon.com) can cost a fortune. These “high availability” data centers have layers of redundancy which are very expensive to deploy. Still, having some redundancy built into your design is worthwhile when executed properly and with restraint. IT directors can get carried away here to the point where complexity actually decreases stability. Too often these decisions are made without real sizing and performance data. Add to this mix hardware vendors pushing the latest, greatest server technology, network technology, and storage area networks (SANs) and you can end up with some pretty crazy designs. SANs are very fast and generally highly reliable arrays of disk drives. They have their place in the architecture of many larger companies, but they belong in very few professional firms. Google doesn’t use them because it’s not the right design for them. While you may find them in smaller firms, A SAN generally has little value in any firm with under 1,000 people. SANs can have software failures where the resulting cleanup and data restoration required can get downright ugly. It’s best to avoid this unless you absolutely need it. Modern servers are able to store a very large amount of data on built-in arrays of very fast hard drives at an excellent price point. Of course, the single largest concern with any server must be ensuring that the precious data it holds is backed up and secure. This concern is not just limited to on-premise servers - for example vanilla Office 365 Exchange hosting provides only limited backup data retention by default, and additional steps must be taken to ensure adequate backup retention is in place. Have a question for the IT Expert? Email firstname.lastname@example.org Dave Kinsey is the owner and president of Total Networks. Total Networks is the technology partner to many law firms throughout Arizona. Services include document management, backup and disaster recovery, business communications and general IT support (for firms with or without in-house technical staff).
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