Networks the Keystone Way: Business-Class Hardware

We’re back with the second post in our "Keystone Small Business Network Strategy” series. Rightfully so, #1 was Data Backup. Read it. It will most likely save you much groaning and headaches at some point.

Today, I’m focusing on #2 Business-Class Hardware.

"What do you mean by Business-Class?" It's not something the average person thinks about, but hardware manufacturers certainly do. The difference between consumer-class and business-class is typically visible in configuration and price.

Workstation vs. Home PC

If you're at Best Buy, checking out that $400 computer that doesn't include Microsoft Office, it's consumer-class. There is nothing wrong with consumer-class computers. They're fine if you're using it for 30 minutes a day to check your email, buy a few items on Amazon, post on Facebook, then shut down and go back to your life. Those computers have a place in the world, but that world doesn't include a business office where computers are up and running, actively used for upwards of 30-40 hours a week or more.

There is a light in my house that we burn 24 hours a day. It's the entrance from the garage. The fluorescent bulb recently burned out after performing flawlessly for over a year and a half. I didn't have a replacement fluorescent bulb, so I used an incandescent bulb until I could switch to an LED bulb with an estimated lifespan of 18 years. The incandescent bulb lasted two weeks.

Business-Class = fluorescent
Consumer-Class = incandescent

Servers, "The Cloud," and Not Servers

Servers are also widely misunderstood. Yes, there are lots of cloud-based services you can use today that can replace some of the software that once ran on your local server. No, in many cases, a cloud-based server will not completely replace your need for a local server (or save you money.)

Some feel the temptation to cut corners and use an old workstation as a file-server. This is a terrible idea. Servers are designed to continue running when a component goes bad; workstations are not. Servers are designed to serve. They're built to efficiently distribute data across a network to multiple people at one time; workstations are not.

Workstations have another issue when employed as a makeshift server. When a workstation has a hard drive failure, it will crash and no longer run. At this point, you're going to be on the hook for a new hard drive, reconfiguration of the computer, and re-installation of your data. This is a horrible way to test your backups.

When a server has a hard drive failure, it beeps. It beeps loudly. This beeping usually prompts a Keystone client to call and ask "hey, what is this awful screeching noise?" The good news is a server continues to operate (yes, it is magic) when a hard drive dies. Keystone calls Dell to file a warranty claim (yes, we buy warranties with business-class computers) and a few hours later - while the server continues to run - we swap out the bad hard drive for a replacement. No down time without access to your mission-critical files, no reconfiguration, no standing around twiddling your thumbs waiting to get back to work (a paid on-site vacation for your employees.)

Yes, business-class servers and workstations cost more...but they're built of better components, will last longer, run faster, and save you money and frustration in the long run.

Hardware Life-cycle

Computer hardware doesn't last forever. I know it hurts you to read that... but it's an inescapable truth. Death and taxes are unavoidable for humans and computers. Every year that passes, the likelihood that your computers will need maintenance goes up.

For example, let's say that one of your three-year-old workstations needs repair at a cost of $250. You would rather spend that $250 than $1,000 on a new workstation. The trap you've fallen into is that a three-year-old PC has a very high probability of having more problems in the very near future...causing you to continue spending capital on a computer with one foot in the grave. By nursing it along, you're delaying the inevitable. By replacing it, you could put that $250 into a new workstation that has a much lower probability of failing in the next three years. It's an investment in productivity (newer = faster) and a greatly reduced cost of ownership (repairs.)

Sure, you may know someone who is still using an eight-year-old computer. I could tell you about the 100-year-old man who lives down the street. He too requires a lot of maintenance, is slow, and has a very high probability of dying soon just like your old PC. Your business network is a tool. A tool that should be making you money. Squeezing the life out of that tool and not replacing old equipment is costing you far more than you think you're saving by nursing it along.

So when should they be replaced? Workstations should be replaced every three years and servers every five years. If you do it right, you replace one-third of all your PCs each year, making your technology budget similar from year to year. Replacing everything at once is painful.

Overwhelmed? Give us a call, we are happy to help guide you in the right direction.