Banking optimize

10 best year-end tech practices for SMBs

For a lot of IT departments, the end of the year means a slower pace - which makes it the ideal time to catch up on a host of essential (but often deferred) tasks.

For a lot of IT departments, the end of the year means a slower pace - which makes it the ideal time to catch up on a host of essential (but often deferred) tasks.


Year-end. Ah, a perfect time to roll into the office late, leisurely grab a second cup of coffee, and finally enjoy a slowdown on the help desk. With so many holidays, staff burning additional vacation, and year-end shutdowns, an IT department can finally catch its breath, right?

You already know the answer.

With large numbers of employees out of the office, this is a prime opportunity to get a little housekeeping in order. Here are 10 best year-end technology practices all small and midsize businesses should follow to ensure systems and data are properly maintained.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Restore backups to confirm proper operation

Sure, you're running backup operations every day. But are those backups completing properly? And, the media upon which they're stored -- is it dependable? Gartner is routinely quoted as saying that as many as 71% of tape recoveries fail. Recover backups to test systems to confirm that the appropriate data is being backed up and that the backup media enable recovering the data properly.

2: Review disk image inventory and status

If your organization deploys workstations or servers using disk images or leverages disk images as backups, confirm that those images are current. Test redeploying disk images to nonproduction systems to make sure they enable proper deployment or recovery and make adjustments for any new hardware or software applications introduced during the past year.

3: Physically clean servers and PCs

Depending upon the physical environment, laptops, desktop PCs, and servers can become contaminated with dust, dirt, and debris. I once supported a manufacturing and processing facility that couldn't afford to build a proper server room. So many metallic contaminants would collect on the motherboard that the risk of creating short circuits proved very real.

Open systems and remove dust and dirt from the intake and exhaust vents, CPU fans, cooling sinks, and the like. Use a special electronics vacuum, as canned air often just blows contaminants deeper into fans, heat sinks, and other components.

4: Defragment hard disks

Possibly the most tiresome task IT professionals complete, even in the age of supposedly self-defragmenting operating systems, is defragmenting hard disks. Laptops, desktops, and servers all require regular defragmentation, especially if you want to prolong disk life and maximize performance. Consider deploying a third-party utility or writing custom scripts to schedule defragmentation routines during off hours. Either way, any good year-end maintenance checklist requires confirming that disks are properly defragmented.

5: Audit software licenses and media

When failures or disasters occur, the biggest obstacle to quick recovery is the inability to locate license keys, registration codes, and installation media. All small and midsize businesses should regularly audit application licenses and installation software site-wide, including all branch and remote locations. Confirm that all license information and installation media are safely stored in a secure location. Spiceworks is one tool that can help automate the audit process.

6: Perform network stress tests

Over time, employees and departments install or deploy additional workstations, systems, and even networks. It's not uncommon to find a bullpen space sharing a single Ethernet drop with eight additional workstations via a network hub or switch. Year-end provides a great opportunity to test networks for problems. Several network tools are available, such as Foundstone Blast and Wireshark, among others.

On a more simple scale, perform rolling ping (ping -t) checks to make sure workstations aren't dropping packets when connecting both to local servers and WAN-side sites. Such sustained tests help confirm proper physical cabling, eliminate NIC issues, and verify routers, switches, and other network equipment is performing properly.

7: Audit user accounts

Human resources and information technology departments get busy. Various projects and initiatives arise throughout the year. Occasionally, users may leave the organization without word getting back to the IT department.

Schedule a quick meeting with an administrative staff member who can provide an accurate list of current employees and authorized contractors. Crosscheck that list against the user accounts listed within Active Directory (or your organization's equivalent user database) to confirm that no user accounts exist for staff who have left the organization. Kill accounts that are no longer required.

8: Confirm equipment inventory

Perform a physical count of hardware assets. Build a detailed inventory. Catalog network devices, laptops, desktops, servers, and other equipment your department is tasked with managing. Include printers, monitors and similar peripherals within the asset list you build.

Finally, compare the asset list to the prior year's inventory. Compensate for decommissioned or newly purchased equipment and confirm all organization assets are accounted for properly. Spiceworks, again, can assist in mapping a network and locating networked devices.

9: Clean printers

Printers are the workhorse of many businesses, yet the only maintenance many network printers receive is toner cartridge replacement. Visit all network printers. Vacuum them of loose toner, clear exhaust vents of dust and debris to ensure proper cooling, and consider running specially formulated cleaning pages to help clean internal components. You can also perform other laser printer cleaning tips, such as using toner cloth to clean printer cartridges.

10: Clean your cube or office

It sounds like an easy, breezy last step right? Clean your office? But it's not, necessarily.

As you uncover scraps of paper, Post-It notes, and old mail, you may well find demo software applications you were supposed to test, software licenses and install media that need to be filed, invoices to pay, and old components needing repair or proper disposal. Just as year-end is the appropriate time to clean systems of dust, dirt, and debris, so the same is true for your desk and office.

Get organized. The start of a new year is just around the corner and you're going to get to do it all over again.


Check out 10 Things... the newsletter

Get the key facts on a wide range of technologies, techniques, strategies, and skills with the help of the concise need-to-know lists featured in TechRepublic's 10 Things newsletter, delivered every Friday. Automatically sign up today.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

21 comments
iam4u3
iam4u3

I think that this is a wonderful blog, but it's not target for people who are in third world countries. for example. In South america the end of year is when the I.T departemtns are totaly over worked. If you work in a call centre worse yet...computers and networks dont even see a screen saver. JUST A THOUGH!

verbalinho
verbalinho

microsoft pays you a LOT heh you're not even yourself

wcdj
wcdj

Thank you so much!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

All bets are off until January. This is my busiest time of year. I've got all I can do to keep up with calls. The extra stuff can just wait until next year, after business drops off.

Michael.Ross
Michael.Ross

I like the list. Many of these things are definitely items that SHOULD be done more regularly than once a year, but let's face it, these are housekeeping tasks that often get set aside in the face of more pressing matters. One thing I would add would be upgrades. If we really are talking SMBs, then this would be a really good time to upgrade the systems you rely on. Make sure servers are patched, firwares are upgraded, etc. Finally, don't forget to treat yourself. In the past, I made it a point to work during the week between Christmas and New Years. That was always a great time to brush up on a new skill. Grab that Perl, PowerShell or any other book that you've had on your desk and enjoy some quiet time to "learn and play".

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Just how many SMB's do you think actually have nonproduction systems?

staffordd
staffordd

Erik- This article is well written, it's all very, very good advice. I am not in ANY WAY contesting that, and you've done an excellent job. But it makes me want to scream. Why? Because these are NOT, SHOULD NOT BE "end of year" tasks. These should be ongoing, every month, every week for some - NOT just ONCE A YEAR ! DEFRAG once a YEAR ????? Once a DAY would be better. CHECK YOUR RESTORES only at the end of the YEAR? I am flabbergasted. For true quality, most of these should be part of an ***ongoing routine*** (and I know what the response to this will be, as already stated above "wish I had the time" - "I don't have time"....) - my response to that is - yes you do, because if you don't, then your systems are in peril, because you are doing NO routine maintenance. I hear people in my office saying this all the time "I'm so busy, I don't have time". I then carefully observe their work habits, how much self-discipline they have. How much are they concerned with real quality? Do they routinely test - (all of the items in your article), on a monthly or weekly or quarterly basis? If the answer isn't positive to most of those questions - then the problem isn't that you "don't have time" - you don't have time, because you are DISORGANISED, and you have no discipline, you have no ROUTINE, you have no maintenance plan, you have no QUALITY control. You "don't have time" because you don't ***manage*** your time well, and you are probably doing EVERY task in firefighting mode - why? Because you don't have processes automated, routine, and regularly tested. THAT is how you achieve quality - not by running around "fixing things" as they break, making you "SO BUSY" that you have "no time" to do things right - when it's BECAUSE you don't DO THINGS RIGHT that you don't "have time". PLEASE think about this, rather than reacting to it. It's the truth. I've SEEN it, over and over again. Not sure if you are going to see this, unless you step back and look. And you have to be HONEST with yourself. Am I disciplined, organised, automated - do I have routines that ensure quality??? In any case - once a year is not NEARLY enough for many of these important processes. NOTE: I am NOT an IT person, I am a data management expert. Along with that comes the ability to observe behaviour, and I base what I say on what I have seen in the IT departments I have worked for. Always the same "I am SO busy!! Can't see the wood for the trees..." Look at the behaviour, the lack of discipline, the lack of routine - and you will understand WHY. have fun! d.

Tom-Tech
Tom-Tech

"As you uncover scraps of paper, Post-It notes, and old mail, you may well find demo software applications you were supposed to test, software licenses and install media that need to be filed, invoices to pay, and old components needing repair or proper disposal." Let's be honest, if you get to December and still have all that stuff outstanding and no-one's chased you up on it, you can probably afford to not do it and just chuck it all in the bin. Merry Christmas!

nrutt
nrutt

In schoools /colleges add clean projector filters

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

If you had, you would know exactly how condescending and misinformed your rant sounds to me and others like me. In call response, you don't manage your time; it is managed for you by your call load. Sure, there is slack time, and you take maximum advantage of it to clean your vehicle, verify your parts ineventory, and yes, maybe even do some PM. But you're always subject to being called and having to leave your work half-finished so you can respond to the latest high-priority outage.

wfs1946
wfs1946

The one thing I've told those that say "I don't have enough time to do these things", I tell them that they also don't have the time to handle a major emergency when everything crashes. Which will take more of the time "I don't have. . ."? Now, here's the "but" to this. Not only was I the IT person, taking care of the network equipment, the backups, restores and all the other things mentioned, I was also the Service Technician that went out to "repair" all the customer problems on their computers. I too, would say "I don't have the time". I went to three different Time Management classes in an attempt to help me find the time that I kept saying I didn't have. In all three classes the instructors all told me that my job, the way it was structured, was not conducive to Time Management. I'm not trying to make excuses here but sometimes it isn't always the technicians fault for not having time. Sometimes you need more than one person in a department doing the job, then time could be found. Everyone, please find time to do the work but also, importantly, find time to enjoy the holidays with your family and friends. Merry Christmas!

rebeccaaward
rebeccaaward

I agree wholeheartedly. I see it so often. People spending all their time reacting to issues that if they had taken just a few minutes to be proactive, the issue would never have happened. I don't know how many times I have heard things like, "we don't have time to look though all those logs" or worse "we don't have space to *store* all those log files", and then when there is a problem, it becomes a monster because no one noticed it (because the logs hadn't been checked or are no longer available), so no one knows how long whatever it is has been happening. Yes, those things should be done on a much more regular basis, but once a year is better then never, I guess.

staffordd
staffordd

First of all, my name is "Dave" - not "you". "If you had, you would know exactly how condescending and misinformed your rant sounds to me and others like me". So I am an idiot, and you know everything. How interesting! You know NOTHING about me, or where I have worked, or what I have done. And the points I made have nothing to do with me, they are to do with people that walk around talking out their backsides with the time-worn phrase "I'm SO busy..." Which translates directly into "Look at me, I need attention". "Look how busy (and IMPORTANT) I am" This is used, by little people to try to get others to FEEL SORRY FOR THEM. If you truly can't manage your time then it's possible that you have accepted a job where there are ludicrous expectations, and you don't have the cajones to PUSH BACK when you are asked to do more than a day's work in a day. "In call response, you don't manage your time; it is managed for you by your call load." Wow, really? I'm so stupid I OBVIOUSLY can't understand THAT. (drools with vacant stare). If your company has insufficient resource to manage the call load, then they are irresponsible, and are treating YOU like a piece of garbage. But what are you - a man or a mouse? What you do is, you put your foot down, and you TELL (push back, it's called) your management "I need additional staff to handle these calls". If they DON'T GET YOU ADDITIONAL STAFF, you quit, and go to work for a company that does not TREAT YOU LIKE CRP. It's that simple. But, if you are so stupid as to ALLOW YOURSELF to get put into the untenable position of being FORCED to cope with a truly unreasonable workload, then it's YOUR OWN STUPID FAULT. Don't come crying to me with "I'm so busy, I have SO MUCH work to get through" and playing the whole Nick Nielsen Martyrdom card (which I am sick to death of the whining here - it's effing nonsense) - instead, be a man, push back, stand up to your slave owners and tell them that they either give you the staff/resources or whatever, or you are walking. If they DON'T COMPLY (e.g. respond reasonably) then...YOU WALK. There are plenty of companies that DON'T treat their employees like serfs or slaves - the trick is finding them, and AVOIDING the shyte ones that DO treat you this way. "Sure, there is slack time, and you take maximum advantage of it to clean your vehicle, verify your parts ineventory, and yes, maybe even do some PM". NOW who is being condescending? It's clear you didn't understand my post at all, because my suggesting is, if regular, routine PM is implemented, then there will BE no "slack time", it will just HAPPEN when it's SCHEDULED to happen, REGARDLESS of call volume, because you will HAVE THE RESOURCES you need. Or you will have quit and gotten a REAL job with a REAL company. By doing the PMs regularly, you will have far fewer crashes, disasters, emergencies - things will run smoother - calls will be resolved faster - you HAVE TO WALK BEFORE YOU CAN RUN. A lot of times, you have to STOP, then WALK, then RUN. People are constantly trying to take short cuts (I'm so busy, I don't have TIME to do the PM...) followed by, a week later, a whole system FALLING OVER because you, Nick Nielsen The Martyr, were...you guessed it "too busy". I see a pattern here, of behaviour, of denial, and it's not a pretty pattern, is it? "But you're always subject to being called and having to leave your work half-finished so you can respond to the latest high-priority outage". You do NOT "have to leave your work half-finished" !!!. What a load of bull testies. If you are ORGANISED, if PM activities are scheduled and NOT DEVIATED from, when you have an emergency, other staff can pick up your "half-finished" work for you (IF you have done any CROSS-TRAINING, IF you have task hand-off routines for emergencies, IF you TRAIN, if you PLAN, IF you DELEGATE (instead of trying to carry the WHOLE WORLD on your own shoulders). You basically called me a condescending ersehole without even TRYING to understand what I am saying. I am an older person, clearly older than you, and my experience tells me the truth of this issue. Do you know why I understand what you are going through, why you think the things you do???? Because 20 years ago, Mr. Nick Martyr, I was JUST THE SAME AS YOU. I was SO BUSY. I was responsible for EVERYTHING. NOBODY understood me. I was trying to do EVERYTHING myself. I had no routines. I never delegated, because I couldn't TRUST anyone to do the job as WELL AS I COULD. The guy that sits next to me - he behaves the same way you do. As do many men and women of a certain age. I used to BE YOU. I actually quit one job because the work was being delegated to other employees who I felt DID NOT CARE when compared to me. The arrogance, the self-importance, the RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION that I felt, the idea of "my work" being entrusted to these "morons" was too much, and I quit a perfectly good job as a MATTER OF PRINCIPLE. I wouldn't make that mistake now. Having BEEN the Martyr, having been the guy who tried (and routinely failed, as you will when you try to take on too much) to handle EVERYTHING personally, and now, having seen the futility and the STUPIDITY of how I was - now, when I see it in others, I can only laugh. In twenty years time, you will understand EXACTLY what I am saying. Right now, you are blinded, blinkered, your mind is FIRMLY closed to the idea of delegating, having routine PM to avoid disasters, etc. You are in FULL firefighting mode, and that mode can only end in disaster piled on disaster. Again - how do I know this? Because I worked in that mode for years. THEN I GREW UP. I am not condescending, I am NOT misinformed, and what I posted was not a rant, it was an ACCURATE observation of real human behaviour. It obviously hit a nerve with you, which means that it's spot on accurate - and that's because I used to BE LIKE YOU (shudder). You, and OTHERS LIKE YOU, should read my words and give my opinions, which are based on EXPERIENCE, AGE and careful observation of human behaviour, some consideration. Your offhand dismissal of what I wrote, however, is typical behaviour for the "Martyr" character - the weight of the WHOLE WORLD rests on your broad shoulders, Nick Nielsen. But it doesn't have to. You have OPTIONS. You are not a cornered animal (although you are BEHAVING like one) you could LEAVE YOUR JOB and find a better company that does not make unreasonable demands on it's employees; you could TRUST your colleagues and DELEGATE work (instead of trying to handle it all yourself); you could institute and implement a thorough CROSS-TRAINING program so many employees can swap between many crucial functions both routine and emergency, and you COULD reduce emergencies dramatically by doing a little bit of extra work up front. You choose, however, to ignore this good advice, bury your head in the sand, call me a condescending ersehole - but you are so superior, so all-knowing, that ONLY your viewpoint can be real. Interestingly, I've been both you, and me, in my life time. Firstly, a young, insecure, man unable to delegate, trust or plan in an organised way. Secondly, now, able to do all those things - and, I am busy, but never, ever "too busy". And I don't HAVE emergencies - because I have PLANNED for them. I have TRAINED colleagues for them. I have DELEGATED tasks where appropriate to cover during times of challenge. You of course, won't do those things, because, oh yes, what is it again - the endless refrain - oh, that's it! You're TOO BUSY. Off to go throw up now, I don't like being told I am condescending and misinformed when I know I am not, and having a child tell me "how things are" (especially a blinkered, BLIND child) just makes me feel physically ILL. To me, personally, having behaved that way when I was younger, anyone who says "I am too busy..." is NOT managing their time well, is NOT organised; is in permanent firefighting mode, is not able to delegate, is not able to entrust colleagues with important tasks, has no training program whatsoever, and has blinded him or herself to the concepts of PUSHING BACK, asking for resources, delegating and otherwise managing and organising their work life to an acceptable scenario. And that's just the way it is. If you don't like it, I actually don't care - because I will succeed via delegation, trust, pushing back and selecting a fair employer, and you will struggle and struggle and struggle some more until you realise that my way is the way that WORKS, and your way is the way to total frustration - a dead end - which is probably what your job is, a dead end. I would recommend changing something, and if you can't, then leave. But you already have judged me, you just know it ALL don't you? as an ersehole, a condescending and misinformed idiot. That was nice. What a nice start to my week, and obviously written in a holiday spirit. So, Mr. Nick "Martyr" Nielsen, I hope you have a horrible week, and that someone is as rude and horrible to YOU as you were to me in this counterproductive, whiny, MISINFORMED CONDESCENDING post. Whining is so unpleasant. But that's what you are doing, every time those words come out about how god dam busy you allegedly are. You obviously have a lack of skills (although you are VERY GOOD at whining about how overburdened you are - POOR Nick!), and it will take you a lot of time to GET the skills you need to AVOID the bad, bad situation you are in. You COULD have benefitted from my experience, you could have LISTENED, but instead, you decided to blast me with a message of HATE "YOU would know how CONDESCENDING and MISINFORMED YOU are - DAVE"...what a nice way to treat someone you don't even know. I'm a person, not a "YOU". I am entitled to my opinion, and I DO NOT appreciate you calling me names in front of my peers. However - this post is to me, my "Old Testament" style response to your cruel accusations (which are entirely false, I might add, I am neither condescending NOR misinformed, if that describes either of us, it's more likely describing YOU) - so, an eye for an eye. But I wouldn't expect you, at your "stage" of "development" to understand the difference between Old and New Testament techniques, so there shall be no turning of the cheek here - there shall just be the justice of my truth, which we will leave to public opinion to withhold. Who agrees with Nick, that I am condescending and misinformed and I have NO understanding of the issue? Who agrees with me, that Nick is not using the tools available to change his situation from a negative to a postive one, and is so blinkered that he CANNOT see the clear way out that I can? (After carefully considering the points I have logically made, of course, not REACTING to them) Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Have fun! I really resent what you said, it was SO unnecessary, SO ungracious, so...I respond in kind. Have a terrible week. Signed, "You" (your "name" for me) - the non-person, the most condescending, misinformed ersehole on the planet - I am so stupid, you are right, I am wrong, God, I am just so, so stupid! And now Nick has made me see that. How very helpful, to realise how dumb I've been, and now, I have the TRUTH from Nick, and obviously, ONLY HIS TRUTH is real truth, anything I know or think or say is meaningless - so please, join in with Nick in climbing up his own backside to kiss himself and adore how he carries the ENTIRE WORLD on his BROAD, BROAD shoulders. What a MAN !! Impressive. "You have obviously never performed any kind of...real work in a real company with real people with real expectations with real training with real delegation with real emergency procedures". bye bye by the way, don't bother responding, I won't read ANYTHING you write (I promise you that) because I lost ALL RESPECT for you the moment you SLAMMED me and called me names in public - that was unforgivably rude, and at the stage of business development you are at (Primitive/Martyr Complex) it's clear you don't, and won't, understand a word I am saying anyway... So bye bye Nick Nielsen. Hope you think about this post on Christmas morning, when you are TRYING to enjoy your Christmas. Hope you get called into work on Christmas morning for an unexpected emergency to, which will prove how very, very IMPORTANT you are !!!!!! BE HAPPY !!!! you are SO IMPORTANT, and EVERYONE is looking at you !!!!!!!!! Got enough attention now???? Whine, whine, whine ... disgusting, childish behaviour. "I'm so busy I can't get ANYTHING done..." No wonder, with the amount of thought you've put into it! (None). Sigh. :-)

Glastron
Glastron

Self important Dufus. Look it up.....

santeewelding
santeewelding

Is yours. And, your supposition is Pollyanna. One exclamation point, by the way, would have sufficed. Two indicate excitability, which a professional is not. You are dismissed. You may go, now.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

He's probably very good at what he does. But I don't think his observations apply in my case...or in many others. In his original post, he states: [i]I hear people in my office saying this all the time "I'm so busy, I don't have time". I then carefully observe their work habits, how much self-discipline they have. How much are they concerned with real quality? Do they routinely test - (all of the items in your article), on a monthly or weekly or quarterly basis?[/i] He then accuses and condemns: 'If the answer isn't positive to most of those questions - then the problem isn't that you "don't have time" - [b]you don't have time, because you are DISORGANISED, and you have no discipline, you have no ROUTINE, you have no maintenance plan, you have no QUALITY control.[/b]' (my emphasis) He then later states: [i]I am NOT an IT person, I am a data management expert. Along with that comes the ability to observe behaviour, and I base what I say on what I have seen in the IT departments I have worked for. Always the same "I am SO busy!! Can't see the wood for the trees..."[/i] Data management, not field service. Observation, not experience. And those observations most likely in an office environment; I've not seen many data managers out where I'm at. I don't think he has a clue what my work environment is like and stated that his assertions [u]sounded[/u] "condescending and misinformed." His interpretation of that was that I was calling him an idiot; he apparently felt the need to respond as such. I think he's wrong when it comes to call response and said so. If I had no respect for him, I would have accused him of graduating from an American school.

wfs1946
wfs1946

Neither one of you impress me as being professionals. Whatever happened to mutual respect, whether you like each other or not? This is supposed to be a forum of professionals helping professionals. I would help either one of you if I could because of that, whether I like you or not ... Which, by the way, I don't!!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

C2H5OH wrote that. I thought it did very well. No profanity, no name-calling, not even a spelling error.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

You know damned well we read minds. :0

santeewelding
santeewelding

In far, far fewer -- or, no words, at all. Must be your youth and misspent testosterone, young man. Having met and grinned at you personally, old guy, I don't think so.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

That's one hell of a rant, and all because I disagreed with you. Or was it the dismissal that set you off? Either way, no skin off my back. Hope you had fun typing it up. May you have the Christmas you wished me. edit: And, by the way DAVE, DAVE's name does not appear in DAVE's TR handle. If DAVE is going to take offense at being referred to as "you", DAVE might want to change DAVE's TR handle from staffordd to staffordDAVE or even DAVEstafford. It would then be so much easier for those of us who might possibly be so ignorant and uneducated that we disagree with DAVE's exalted intellect to show the proper respect. Or not. {hawks and spits}