When the going gets tough, IT gets going

Routine IT tasks often get left until an economic downturn puts a curb on IT spending

Routine IT tasks often get left until an economic downturn puts a curb on IT spending

In the current economic climate, the likelihood is that large IT projects are going to require significant justification if they are not to be put on hold. But this does not mean that IT departments have to fall idle. For some companies, this enforced hiatus may be a good thing.

Now is the time to examine whether those big projects are really necessary after all.

For example, the first thing many companies do when a network performance problem occurs is to throw bandwidth at it. By installing faster routers or more switches they hope that the network will perform better and that the problem will be solved. This solution might work in the short term, but it can also be a significant waste of money.

What happens next time new users are added to the network, or demands are placed on it by new, bandwidth hungry applications? Another upgrade? More often than not the underlying problems will eventually return and you're back to square one.

IT departments need to understand fully what is happening on their networks, but how often is the classic user complaint "the network is slow" really investigated properly? Do IT departments know where the growth of traffic is? Are there network bottlenecks, and if so where are they?

A process of rigorously analysing the state of the networks should be carried out before starting expensive upgrade projects, but in times of prosperity, it can be easier to take the path of least resistance and go for the simple boost in networking power.

However, only when existing network faults and error logs have been properly investigated can IT staff see whether the current network is being used as well as it could be, and what actions could be taken to increase efficiency.

The results of such investigations can have real, positive effects on the IT budget. In many cases, the scope of the original project may be greatly changed, directing existing, or additional resources to the real source of the network problem.

By analysing network performance, spend can often be reduced, but by analysing network security, potential costs can also be avoided. This is another area that is often overlooked in the normal bustle of day-to-day network operations.

The potential suspension of large IT projects gives staff the perfect opportunity to evaluate company security systems to ensure that they are correctly configured and doing the job they're supposed to.

For instance, perhaps the best way to evaluate network security is to run penetration testing using "ethical hacking" techniques - but how often are these tests actually carried out?

It is difficult to know how effective the security is unless you know how many times it has been breached. If security flaws are discovered, further investigation should be carried out to discover where and how.

Firewalls also need to be checked continually and often re-configured. In many cases, this will not have been done since the initial configuration.

These are all actions that should be carried out as a matter of course by IT departments to ensure that systems are running at optimum efficiency.

However, the day-to-day pressures of rolling out new applications or adding new users can mean that many are overlooked.

Ironically, it is often only in times of economic downturn when IT directors are under pressure to curb IT spending, that such activities take place.

Alan McGibbon is managing director of Scalable Networks

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