With the speed at which technology is evolving today, businesses are constantly needing to update their IT infrastructure in order to stay relevant. From laptops and printers all the way to data centres and servers, new innovations require better, more advanced models to keep up with improving software. Change is an inevitable constant in business as a result. Refreshing IT improves hardware performance and employee productivity, all with the aim of becoming more streamlined and efficient as a business.
However, it doesn’t come without its consequences. Sometimes, the introduction of new products can cause friction. While designed to help evolve and improve a company, working on new, more complex systems can often result in downtime for an organisation, whether that is in the installation process or with employees struggling to use new hardware. On top of this, by selecting the wrong IT upgrades, an organisation can actually hinder its longer term progress.
For modern channel partners, the risks of troublesome IT developments are arguably doubled. Not only do they have to deliver premium IT services that enable customers to operate effectively and with minimal friction; they also have to continuously evolve their own support infrastructure, to maintain the same level of output and quality of service they help clients to achieve for themselves.
The dreaded downtime
In today’s round the clock, fast-paced channel environment, the biggest risk in evolving IT support infrastructure, quite frankly, is downtime. Whether the entire process has gone completely wrong and you’re out of operation for hours, or you run into a couple of hurdles that halt things only momentarily, in the ‘always on’ landscape of today, any downtime is a problem. Of course, the less time offline, the better. But if you can upgrade your hardware smoothly with no problems and maintain continuity on behalf of customers, then that is clearly the preferred option.
Unfortunately, these things do sometimes go wrong. If you’re upgrading small pieces of hardware such as laptops or printers for customers, then it’s a fairly simple case of switching out the old for the news with next to no hassle apart from secure data erasure - which can be handled externally by specialist engineers. However, when looking to advance complex support capabilities on more robust hardware such as data centres, more problems are likely to arise.
How can downtime be mitigated?
Much like anything else, the key to evolving IT support is to know what you’re doing. Often, it will be the case that more complex operations (such as upgrading data centres) are outsourced to reliable experts, but there are a few key steps in the upgrade process that can completely eradicate any downtime whatsoever.
Planning is essential. This spans across a wide range of potential roadblocks - assessing the hardware support that customers need, compatibility of software to other resources on a network, and figuring out how to complete the task with no disruption (or as little as possible). In days gone by, this was easily solved through a quick heads up to workers, and scheduled downtime outside of office hours where the upgrades were made. Back then, this was at very little cost to many organisations.
However, in today’s channel, with flexible working, varying time zones and an ‘always online’ approach from VARs looking to add as much value as they can, the slightest bit of interruption could be very damaging. That’s why you plan for every eventuality, and find a way that works best for your organisation and ultimately, least affects the end users.
The second step is to test. In complex operations, testing is vital to facilitating a smooth transition from old to new. It’s paramount to figure out upgrade processes, and that only comes through experience. The best way to create experience is to test. What potential problems might you run into? How long do various steps take? What is compatible and what isn’t? For the larger, more specialised upgrades it will greatly reduce how much troubleshooting is required, and will aid the planning process - an area which might require outsourced support in order to get right.
Finally, redundancy is vital. During upgrades, keeping critical workloads online is a must, and being able to rely on a back-up component during the transition is essential to completing works without suffering from downtime. In the case of data centres, though creating a slow process, redundancy will allow operation to continue almost as normal, by upgrading one node at a time if necessary.
Creating a seamless transition
With advancing technologies and breakthrough innovations seeming to crop up on a weekly basis, evolving IT infrastructure in ways which keep both support providers and end users online is a must. In six months’ time, the processes put in place could well be made redundant at the hands of rapid technology development, and businesses in the channel need to be prepared to evolve in a moment’s notice if they are to continue meeting service-levels and remain competitive.
The industry is becoming more competitive by the day, and companies that fail to move forward will inevitably get left behind. With that in mind, it’s important that businesses select the right partners to work alongside. With their expertise, specialist engineers can advise on what to upgrade and when to upgrade it - offering the maximum effect for long term progression - and they might even complete the work for you as well. Business continuity is imperative, and the right partner can make a critical difference.
Richard Tarlton, Support Team Manager, Cameo