Whether or not you have the resources to purchase the highest end of the technology scale, there are steps you can take to ensure a solid network backbone that helps alleviate and soften the blow of the glitches that plague our computer-based world.
It's actually a fairly straightforward three-step process -- don't buy new technology too quickly (give it a chance to mature), purchase extended service agreements to avoid costly technical service calls and establish a back-up process. Sounds simple, but today's world is all about details, and it's in the details of those steps that you will find the successful implementation of technology.
"If there is a failure with your system or network you want to be in a position to get it backed up and running in the shortest amount of time, so it's important to understand what extended service is and what it does for you. A lot of people don't want to spend the $300-$500 on it, but there are two options if it goes down -- call a local person to fix it, or call the company that services it. If it has extended care, a single service call is worth the cost of an extended care program. It just takes once to learn, because the average technical call is $1,000 a day," says Kevin Linville, who's the information technology systems administrator for Spring Hill Camps, with locations in Michigan and Indiana. "You also don't want to get a brand new database product unless and until it has been fully tested. When Windows 95 came out, for instance, in the first 15 days there were about 100 patches. It's prudent to be a little cautious. Once a product gets to its first service pack, it becomes more stable. You want it to be stable so that you're not spending time fixing it."
When it comes to backups, Linville recommends that you double the size of your hard drive and copy all information to a backup system every night. For instance, if it takes 60 GB of hard drive space to run an application server, you'll need 120 GB.
"It's part of the plan of standards and strategies, where if our database is corrupted I can get the database back up and running in minimal time," says Linville. "One of the big problems is that backups are rarely verified. People rely on the software to do the job, but they don't go back and ask themselves, 'Is it really there? Can I really restore it?' We're in kind of a unique situation because we have generators, so we have access to our server room with about four hours of life should we lose power. Staff can come to my office and we could run our various applications for four hours without generator power. We have one server as a standby that we can take to another location and run it locally if we had to. We have 800 acres at this site with three infirmaries. My goal is to have a plan in place in case some catastrophic happens."
As every camp should have an emergency plan in place that takes care of campers and staff in case of some type of disaster, every camp should also have a cohesive and coherent plan to safeguard its network and information.
Part of Spring Hill's plan is to not only back everything up every night, but to regularly take that backup to a safety-deposit box.
"If I need to get to it, I can go get it. If someone on staff lost something, I can go get it for them. That's the networking strategy -- to have a complete plan -- from equipment and management software to applications," says Linville.
One of the potential dangers in a small office environment is having a mish-mash of programs, each with their own "language", that don't communicate easily, if at all.
Creating a network that integrates efficiently is all part of a systematic plan; a plan that should be given the same attention that camp programs and facilities are given.
Linville says that another benefit of an extended service plan is access to advice on how to set up a plan and implement it. Do you have questions about how to integrate your new database and marketing program with your existing applications? Make sure to tap the resources of those who know their products inside and out. Further, you should make sure that, regardless of time zone, you're able to get the support you need at the time you need it.
The old tug-of-war between Mac and PC relates to integration, as some organizations would rather not mix and match the platforms for fear of crossing the lines, so to speak.
Linville says that Macs and PCs can work in the same environment; it's just a matter of a little bit of preparation and flexibility.
"Our graphics person or video person needs a Mac. The protocols don't change to make a network communicate. They might be named a little different, and you may not be as familiar, but they can work together and work together seamlessly," says Linville. "We have eight Macs on our network. I need to embrace that Mac, because if you have a graphics person who needs the Mac to do their job well, and if you tell him you're not going to allow Macs on the network, it can become a relational issue, and they're not going to perform well. The IT department is a critical cultural part of an organization. We have a generation of people coming to work who want the diversity of using a Mac or a PC. We have a data location for our marketing people to do videos, graphics and so forth, and it's networked on a server so they can access the information they need. They use a lot of Adobe and Macromedia products; they're making products that can be used on both platforms, without having a separate software for each application, so it's becoming a lot more user-friendly. They're not any different, because they require the same protocols outside the actual workstation. It's not even an issue, because they can communicate at the same level, though they have different functions."
An additional strategy to consider is a guideline that allows work groups to access what they need without having access to everything on the network.
"Part of our strategy is to have work groups for departments with access to certain locations of data, including the Macs and PCs. It's important to have software in place that will entitle you to create groups where they can see things applicable to them," says Linville. "A lot of times it's overlooked in a small office environment, but you can still do that. If you have a shared drive for everything, and the director has private information that others shouldn't see it can cause problems."