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.

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