Three important and timely technologies consultants should ensure they learn now are: server virtualization, VoIP, and image-based backups. By becoming familiar and building expertise with these innovations, tech consultants can keep their skills remain relevant.
Whether the flavor is Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware vSphere, virtualization is mature enough that even small businesses can benefit from it now. As server processing power, speed, and storage capacities have grown exponentially, many organizations no longer need to deploy and maintain as many physical boxes when a couple of carefully planned and managed virtualized systems can fit the bill.
The trouble is many consultants aren't familiar with the virtualization technologies. Fortunately, classes, Web-based tutorials, and informative books are available to help close the knowledge gap.
Voice over IP (VoIP) telephone systems enable businesses of all sizes to better meet their telephony needs while better controlling costs. Resist it all you want, but it's coming to the network you manage if it hasn't already.
Clients committing to VoIP platforms require that the IT consultants audit the in-place network to ensure switches, routers, and cabling are all up to the task. The more comfortable consultants become with virtual LANs, QoS, and PoE equipment and requirements, the better.
Consultants can help themselves by partnering with a provider of a popular VoIP platform (such as ShoreTel or Avaya). Alternatively, consultants might wish to develop expertise deploying their own solution, such as one powered by Fonality.
While automated offsite backup applications may be winning headlines, smart consultants encourage clients to implement image-based backups to drastically shorten recovery periods. When catastrophes occur — in Louisville, KY, we've seen a hurricane, an ice storm, and a flood all within a two to three year span — the question shouldn't be whether a client's business operations can be recovered but how quickly can they be recovered.
While offsite backup routines are an important component of a disaster recovery plan and their importance should not be underestimated, image-based backups have enabled my office to recover clients from catastrophic server failures in less than four hours. That includes time driving the hard disk containing the backup image across town to be reinstalled on a new chassis.
If a consultancy is to truly leverage all the power an image-based backup program packs, it'll require a commitment; this means considerable effort must be invested on getting up to speed on maintenance and recovery routines. Potential image-based backup partners include Acronis, FarStone, and Symantec.
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 of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.