One of the biggest arguments amongst IT professionals and the companies they serve is keeping their systems up to date. Two specific hot topics are:
- Software Upgrades
- Hardware Upgrades
I’ll be separating this blog entry in to two separate parts to cover each topic, following a conclusion which ties the two together.
Software upgrades have traditionally always been a nuisance. Whether it be the IT professionals putting new software into place, or being the end user having to deal with the bugs associated with the new software, both of the above parties have to battle with software upgrades.
These software upgrades are essential for continued operation. On the technical side of things, these upgrades provide fixes for known issues, provide new enhanced features, and often resolve and fix major security flaws or other types of flaws inside of software that could put your company and your company’s data at risk.
Smaller updates are easier to deal with, most of the time there is an actual piece of software that installs or manages these small updates. Larger updates and/or upgrades often require intervention and have to be performed by a technical person.
It’s often very important to keep track of updates and test them whenever possible before deploying them to a production environment. On some complicated infrastructures, applying something as small as a small security fix could bring down multiple integrated Line of Business applications. In an event like this it could cause huge problems!
You should always spend a decent amount of time and resources (whether it’s staff and/or software to manage updates) to make sure you keep your systems up to date.
If you don’t maintain these systems, and don’t perform upgrades and/or updates, you can seriously cause numerous security concerns for your company, and make it rather difficult to perform required major upgrades in the future since nothing has been maintained.
Just as an example, ignoring security updates could leave a huge security hole that could be exploited by a virus, or malicious piece of software and infect many of your systems.
Another example, is when it comes time to do larger upgrades, or migrate systems to new servers, the migration/implementation time could be multiplied 2-10 times just because you haven’t kept your systems up to date.
Hardware upgrades are always a touchy topic, while IT professionals would like to keep all the systems they maintain up to date, it doesn’t necessarily always fit the budget of the company.
One of the most important values that I pass on to my clients, is the importance of maintaining equipment that has a valid warranty, and also making sure you are using a manufacturer/vendor that provides immediate responses on warranty replacements.
I can’t tell you how many environments I have been called in to, where a company was fed-up with their old IT Solutions provider and called us in to resolve an issue, only to find out:
- Equipment Age – They need to purchase new equipment, since replacement parts aren’t available anymore, and the equipment’s warranty has expired. In most cases we try to “hack up” a temporary fix to get them operational until we can properly design, sell, and implement a new system.
- Vendor Warranty – We are called in to resolve an issue on a new server environment, but it turns out the equipment just came off warranty after 3 months. Not all hardware vendors are the same. We (Digitally Accurate) prefer HP since their standard warranty’s often go above and beyond other vendors expensive (additional purchase) warranties. In these cases where there isn’t warranty, it’s often required to pay for support to identify exactly what has failed, and it is the expense of the company to replace the failed equipment. (What if it’s hard to identify what has failed and you end up purchasing equipment that didn’t fail?)
- Consumer Grade Equipment – Some IT Solution providers, and/or IT staff feel they can build their own servers, or purchase off-the-shelf consumer grade equipment for business use. Consumer grade equipment has a shorter shelf life, horrible warranty, lacks redundancy stability, and cannot be diagnosed and troubleshot in the same way that commercial grade equipment can. In these situations we often recommend replacing the equipment after a temporary solution can be found.
All of the examples above mean time and money wasted, and blame sometimes varies between both the IT Solutions Provider and the actual company itself trying to cut costs. In situations where you do have a valid good warranty from a recommended vendor, you can often have hardware replaced under warranty by the next business day, minimizing downtime. Using commercial equipment that is redundant, you can often have failure occur without even causing downtime.
It is imperative to consider your IT infrastructure as an essential component of your business and spend accordingly. A lot of businesses don’t understand that when the IT systems go down, that their company goes down as well.
So do you hold off on software and hardware upgrades for years and years? Do you live with the mentalities that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it? Truth is you need to find the perfect little soft spot in the middle.
Security and critical updates need to be applied urgently when possible. Upgrades or updates that increase features, functionalities, and correct software flaws are also important, but not as important as security/critical updates.
Major version changes of software should be tested, scheduled, and only implemented when all of the above have been done. This are often only important when the business requires a feature of a “new version” or when the “new version” has a significant change that affects the technical side of things (performance, integration, etc…). Also it’s important to maintain your support contracts with your software vendors to make sure you receive the “new version” upgrades for free if possible.
Hardware should be upgraded when either the equipment is coming off warranty, or when you need to upgrade for performance/capacity reasons.
Small environments can often utilize hardware upgrades as the perfect time to implement major “new release” software upgrades. Large environments should AVOID this as their systems are often more complicated, integrated, and complex.