Monday, February 2, 2009

(Really) Small Office Environments

Many thanks to Jeff Hengesbach for this blog entry!

There are a lot of very small businesses. I'm thinking about 20-30 or fewer people, and likely only 1 or maybe 2 servers. There are a few reason this interests me. First, in the past I've done 'side' work in a few of these environments. And secondly, every time I enter a place of business of any sort, I'm always looking for technology and how it is being used. For the folks helping these smaller organizations out, I like to scale back some 'bigger' business concepts and show how they are advantageous for everyone.

The one thing that never ceases to amaze me, when I gain knowledge of it, is the age of the oh-so-critical systems these companies rely upon. My background and philosophy on physical (x86) servers life-cycles is 3-4 years and replace. I follow this cycle for multiple reasons: 1) OEM warranties are cost effective in this window, 2) Always run warrantied equipment, 3) Computational power leaps, storage costs plummet in 3-4 years, 4) It fits a good window for OS / application upgrades and, 5) Equipment is not that expensive in these environments. Of course for large / complicated systems these arguments don't hold as much water.

Over the past few years, I've seen 2 organizations lose servers from aged hard drives and other major component failures. They thankfully both had good backups, but where still out a bunch of time during the replace and rebuild process. If you think disk mirroring / system mirroring is a backup solution, please read this article on

The direction I'm heading with this is to ask small shop IT to consider the use of virtualization. On a small scale the solutions are virtually free, pick the one your expertise best fits. Consider the cost of a down system seriously - it will happen. A Virtual Machine image can be pulled from backup(choose your media wisely), up and running on PC bought from the local big box store in very short order(depending on your VM solution). Get your replacement server, copy the VM over and the case is closed. No Windows hardware driver issues, Authoritative AD restores, configuration oversights, etc. Virtualization will also make for a near painless experience when it comes to keeping physical servers upgraded.

If your small office IT support isn't up to speed with Virtualization, ask them to get there or find new help. The benefits are too great and easy to reap to let them pass by.