What Questions do I
need to be Asking?
Over the past few months I have
acquired some new clients.
Based on my surveys of their networks and from my
initial meetings with them they were under the assumption
that they had a good setup when in fact their setups were
mediocre at best. So I have compiled a list of questions
that a business owner should take into consideration when
bringing on an IT consultant or to ask your current IT
Ask for credentials
and/or run a background check? You wouldn’t hire an
accountant or an attorney without getting some background
information on where they came from, what they can do, and
who they have done it for so make sure to get detailed
information on your IT consultant.
Your IT consultant has more access to your system
than anyone. They can see what you see, what your accountant
sees, what your attorney sees and every other piece of
data/information that you have on your network. If they
can’t start looking for a new consultant.
Have they worked for big business?
This isn’t mission critical but it is very important because
it can save you substantially in terms of support costs. If
you have a consultant who has worked for a company with a
1,000 employees or more is going to be more versed in
getting you setup in a streamlined process.
1 out of 10 networks that I go into are setup the way
a true client/server network should be setup. The rest are
setup like a couple of PC’s networked in someone’s home.
Do I have a true
companies with more than 2 computers have a system that is
designated as the “Server”.
In my opinion once you get past the 2nd or
3rd workstation moving to a true server is the
right path to take. It will cost a little bit up front but
the cost will be made up in support within the first year.
If you do have a server the first question is what
operating system is it running. Most small business used
Microsoft products so it should be running 1 of 3 operating
systems. Windows 2003 Server, Windows 2003 Small Business
Server or if it is a little older maybe Windows 2000 Server.
If it is running XP Professional or XP Home you don’t have a
Does the Server have redundancy?
A server should have some safety nets established that make
it less susceptible for failure.
The most critical
component is that you should have at least 2 physical disk
drives. This way they are mirrored so if one drive fails
your system continues running at reduced performance until
the drive can be replaced.
Also you can have enough memory so in case a module
goes bad it can easily be removed without taking the server
down completely. Also redundant power supplies are good
component especially in this area of the country.
Can it be expanded?
Expansion in two ways.
1. Can you add to the current system? Add disk space,
increase memory, add network cards, video, etc. 2. Can you
add a second server into your current setup? In some cases
it is less expensive and more beneficial to add a second
server than to upgrade the existing server.
It’s always better
if it is an option to split your server up into multiple
servers and split the computing tasks between them.
Am I backing up daily?
I cannot stress enough the importance of backing up your
data every day. Depending on how much data you have there
are several methods to do it. External USB is the most
capacity for the money, Tape drives, USB Thumb Drives,
Writable DVD/CD, etc. If so who’s verifying that the backup
are working and the data is valid? If you are backing up how
often do you restore some data from the backups to make sure
that it actually works? I have had clients think they were
backing up daily and when they went to restore the data it
was corrupt and unusable. It is equally as important to test
your restore to make sure it works when the time comes. In
some way or another you will have to restore some files from
backup at least once a year.
Do I have a copy of my data stored off
site? Easy to do just take a
copy of your data off site at least once per month if not
weekly or daily. What’s the process/procedure for doing
this? This needs to be habitual so come up with a process or
procedure to make sure it gets done. Some people store their
backups in a safe onsite and think it is OK. Only a small
lock boxes and safes on the market are water proof.
Do I have a wireless network and if so
is that wireless connection secure?
Vendors have done an excellent job of making wireless
devices easy to install. The only downfall is that a
majority of home and some businesses do not have their
wireless connection secure. (If your wireless connection is
not locked down you are 100% exposed. Your firewall for your
network is irrelevant because it let’s any one in with a
laptop through the back door.) So ask the question to
whether or not you have one and is it secured.
Do I have control of my information?
If you want to change providers what information do I need
to have in my possession?
Documentation is the most overlooked area of IT. It’s
a simple thing to do but IT consultants do not like to do
it. So here is the information that you as a business owner
need to know. With this information you will have all the
information you need to have total control of your network.
master password to your server. Usually this account is
login for your router/firewall.
software specific passwords. If you use QuickBooks, ACT, or
any vendor specific software for your business. What are the
Registrar login: Godaddy, Network Solutions, etc. Where is
your .com registered?
your .com hosted? All registrars provide hosting but that
doesn’t mean your email and website are hosted at the same
place. There are millions of hosts out there so you need to
find out yours.
4. Unused Programs –
Most machines if purchased from a retail store or online
vendor come with prepackaged OEM software that you will
never use on the PC. The first thing I do when I get a PC in
is go to Add/Remove Programs in the control panel and remove
all programs that are not needed on the PC. For instance if
you don’t use AOL take it off, along with any vendor
specific software. If you buy a COMPAQ take off any software
from COMPAQ as an example. HP, DELL, GATEWAY applies as
5. Memory – Memory may
be the most important area, often overlooked that is simply
vital to your PC. If you are running any version of Windows
XP you need at least 512MB of memory. To check what you have
now, go to START > RUN and type WINVER and press OK. It will
tell you the “Physical Memory Available to Windows” If this
number is below 500,000KB you do not have enough. It takes
256MB to operate XP and by the time you add Word, Excel,
Outlook, QB or software specific to your industry your
computer is starving for memory. The difference between
256MB and 1024MB on a new machine is around $150 and well
worth the price. This difference can mean adding a few more
years to life of your PC investment. So what is the minimum
amount of RAM in a new machine I would suggest no less than
1024 MB. The next generation of Windows Vista the
requirements are only going to increase.
Your network in a small or large business is many times the
single tool that your employees use constantly. Ensure that
your IT firm is doing PC audits to address issues and most
of all, empower your staff to take small measures that pay