Disaster Recovery

Top three technologies all IT consultants should learn

Keep your IT consulting skills relevant by familiarizing yourself with the following three technologies.
Few industries innovate more quickly than information technology. That's good and bad for IT consultants providing desktop, server, and networking sales and service to clients. IT's fast innovation pace is good in that it speeds new products, more efficient systems, and better solutions to market. It's bad because IT professionals who don't maintain pace with the changes quickly find their skills become stale and outdated.

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.

Server virtualization

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.

VoIP

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.

Image-based backups

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.

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...

6 comments
apacsydney
apacsydney

I think virtualisation is an opportunistic skill in the current times. Any suggestion as to where I can pick up a course on virtualisation without spending heaps ?

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

Every time I call a call center I get connected to somewhere on Mars, outer Mongolia, or perhaps the North Pole? Excruciatingly bad signal quality, and that does nothing for your business's image. Just when it looked like the technology had matured, everyone switched to narrow-bandwidth wireless. If you can't guarantee fast links to everyone you phone, don't go VoIP.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

I don't think these technologies are cutting-edge and state of the art. But the opportunities are persistent. My office fields calls weekly from SMB clients seeking to move off old PBX and analog telephone systems to VOIP, so I feel correct stating most IT consultants should be able to address those concerns. Just this week I had two different clients ask me whether they're at a point where it makes sense to virtualize their infrastructure. Is that state of the art? No. Was virtualization a mature technology when their original equipment (which now must be replaced due to age) was rolled out? No. Therefore, consultants need to be up to speed on virtualization, which is picking up mindshare, market share and traction even in the small business space. Should enterprise administrators supporting 5,000 users need to be learning these skills now? No, I would hope that, based on that environment, they already possess this nowledge and expertise. This article wasn't for such professionals; it would be hard to write an article that equally covers the needs of SMB consultants and enterprise professionals simultaneously,most would agree I hope.

pkesel
pkesel

These are all old news commodity technologies targeted at operations. They're not business game changers, so what are the real opportunities? Knowing these certainly won't differentiate you in the enterprise consultant market space.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

That is one of the dangers of IT. Often we're called in when the client's existing systems are a house of cards awaiting just the slightest wind to topple everything. That's why I'm careful about even logging on to a new server to check backup status, hard disk space, etc. Who knows how perilous that law office's previous network/phone system was before he began work?

reisen55
reisen55

Be sure you have this one down. A good colleague of mine once believed he knew IP addressing - he did - and so could understand VoIP on his own, spent $600 on a phone system and installed it. I was not a party to this decision but he did so at a lawyers office and promptly brought his phone system down ... total. Nothing worked. If there are two critical things NOT to kill in a law office, one of them is the phone system. The second may or may not be the computer network but possibly the coffee maker is a close second. But wipe out the phone and you are in lawsuit land. He next had to spend over 30 hours on free time rebuilding the mess, dealing with providers and straightening the mess out. First class disaster. So be careful here. We are already working with one critical aspect of a business, phones complete the picture ... handle with care!!!

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