We are well into the new year and now is a great time to review some key points for the overall health and security of your network.  Here are five items that are often overlooked, or they are rarely revisited once the initial network setup is done.  Failure to address these concerns on a regular basis (we recommend quarterly, or at least annually) could result in a hefty unplanned IT expense in the future.   It could even lead to a data breach or data loss, where the costs to your business and your reputation could be catastrophic.

Backup / Disaster Recovery

Though it may appear that I’m overstating the obvious, I continue to hear stories from prospective clients that they have no idea if their system is being backed up or not.  Surprisingly, many of these companies currently have IT consultants or outsourced support.   I cannot emphasize this point often enough: your backups are the most important component of any business network, bar none.  Whether you handle your backups yourself, or you have an IT service provider, someone should be receiving regular (at least nightly) backup notifications.  I also strongly recommend an annual or quarterly “dry run” of your disaster recovery plan.  Your network is only as safe as your last successful backup, so make sure they are working and can be restored reliably.  There are other good business continuity technologies I like to see in place for our clients, such as failover Internet connections and image-based cloud hybrid backups.  But, at the very least, make sure you can get your important data restored when you need it.

Storage

It is wise to regularly review your usage of network storage, and account for expected growth of your data.  As hard drive and cloud storage get cheaper per GB, and files (especially media files) tend to grow larger and larger, it is important to plan for expansion of your data space.  There are a couple of dangers caused by low available space.  One is simply that your servers and applications won’t work when they run out of space.  Whether it’s an Exchange or SQL database, or a volume where your swap file resides, having no available space will cause your productivity to grind to a halt.  The other problem that arises when you start running out of network space (and if you don’t have disk quotas or other user management policies in place), is that users start saving important files on external USB drives, or their workstation hard drive.  Quite often these devices are not backed up, and the risk for data loss can increase several fold.

If it’s in your budget, plan ahead and expand those server datastores or add a NAS or SAN to your environment.  And, it costs next to nothing to put an acceptable use policy in place for your employees, so that your business data is always stored where it is supposed to be.

Hardware Warranties and Software Support Subscriptions

An often overlooked maintenance step is keeping track of the warranty expiration dates on your hardware.  This is important not only for server hardware, but PC hardware as well.  It’s much less of a hassle to replace a hardware part when it’s under warranty.  Workarounds for hardware failure can be a lot more expensive than other IT issues, especially if it is a hard drive or RAM on a critical system.

It’s also wise to make sure your software subscriptions for support are kept up to date.  This is especially true for your mission-critical third-party applications.  Without an active support plan, many vendors will not even pick up the phone or answer an email.

End-of-life Software

In the past several years, we’ve grown accustomed to operating systems and applications that seem to run forever.  As creatures of habit, we’re also averse to learning anything knew, preferring to stick with what we are used to, even if what we’re used to is no longer reliable or safe.  When a vendor marks its software as end-of-life, it is usually for good reason.  Software and operating systems that are no longer supported are considerable security risks.  You may think you are saving money and getting all the useful life out of your old systems, but you could actually be putting your company on the fast track to a big data breach, or a loss of service.  There’s rarely a good excuse for keeping 10+ year old systems running in a production environment.

Change the administrator password

Last, but certainly not least, is your administrator passwords on your systems.  Though your company may not be under compliance regulations, it’s still recommended to change your password at least annually.  In some smaller or more “loose” work environments, the admin password tends to be passed to employees who use it to workaround roadblocks or other issues on the network.  While it is best practice to not share the admin password in the first place, regularly changing the admin password helps to mitigate the security risks.  Always choose a strong password that is also a long string of characters.  Both the length of the password and its complexity are helpful in thwarting cracking attempts.  It is also best to not use dictionary words or easily guessed sequences of characters.

A Good Start

These five tips won’t cover all the bases when it comes to a secure and reliable business computer network, but they are a good start in the right direction.  A managed service provider or IT consultant can be a big help to reaching these goals and maintaining them, leaving you free to run your business.

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