One of the most exciting — and at the same time, most
frustrating — things about information technology is the rapidity with which
changes occur and new hardware and software products emerge, with fantastic new
“must have” features that make it easier for you and your employees
to do your jobs.
There are two extreme approaches to upgrading:
companies, especially those in the tech industry themselves, desire to be
on the cutting edge and always have the latest and greatest. These early
adopters toss out their old systems and replace them with the new as soon
as it’s available.
companies, especially those in more “traditional” or
conservative fields, go by the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”
philosophy. They tend to hang onto their old tried and true technologies
and upgrade only when forced to do so because a new feature set is
absolutely required to get the job done or, more often, because the old
machines finally break down and the currently available replacements don’t
support the old software.
These two strategies have something in common: they aren’t
really strategies at all. They’re both reactive — the first driven by reaction
to the marketing of new products, and the second driven by reaction to
necessity. The smarter course is to develop a plan and timeline for upgrading,
taking many factors into consideration — including scalability. A long-term
plan must take into account future growth and changes anticipated by your
company and the way those changes will affect your upgrade needs.
Categorize and prioritize
The first step in putting together your upgrade plan is to
categorize and prioritize potential upgrades. Some categories of upgrade items
(monitors, scanners, printers)
devices (firewalls, biometric and smart card readers, IDS appliances)
devices (routers, switches, network printers)
infrastructure (cabling, Internet connection)
Of course, you don’t have to upgrade all of the items in a
particular category at the same time. For example, you might plan to upgrade
the client computers in a particular department, such as the graphics
department, based on those users’ greater need for the features of new
operating systems and applications. Or you might upgrade only certain servers,
such as your mail servers, to take advantage of a new release of the mail
server software that will make it easier to support your mobile users.
Thus you may want to create subcategories, such as “Client
computers — accounting department,” “Client computers — graphics
department,” “Client computers — upper management” and so forth.
Similarly, software is a very broad category and you may upgrade operating
systems and/or specific applications while continuing to use older versions of
Once you’ve identified the categories and subcategories, you
can prioritize them based on the cost/benefits ratio of upgrading a particular
category or subcategory. What items are serving as the bottlenecks that keep
work from getting done as efficiently as it could with newer equipment and/or
software? For example, if you’re losing business from your e-commerce site
because of the site’s slow performance, speeding up the site is an upgrade
priority. But you still must analyze the cause of the slow performance to
determine whether you need to upgrade your Web server hardware, Web server
software, or your network infrastructure (perhaps moving from a T-1 to a T-3
Internet connection, or spreading the load across a Web server farm instead of
overloading a single server).
Of course, in real life your upgrade priorities may not
always be based strictly on need. If the big boss wants the top of the line
multi-processor workstation with 4 GB of memory and a high performance video
card just to read email and compose the occasional Word document, there’s a
good chance he/she will get it. In general, though, don’t over-upgrade. Plan to give your users the hardware and software that’s required to
most effectively perform their job tasks – and no more.
Upgrading some categories may be dependent on first
upgrading other categories. For example, you may not be able to upgrade your
productivity applications until you first upgrade the operating systems — and
you might not be able to upgrade the operating systems until you’ve upgraded
It can work the other way, too; if you upgrade the operating
system, you might be forced to upgrade the productivity application because the
old version doesn’t run well (or at all) on the new operating system.
These dependencies affect your upgrade priorities and
Once you’ve decided to upgrade a particular category or
subcategory, you shouldn’t jump in feet first and roll out the upgrade to every
system or device in that category. What if the upgrade causes major problems
that make systems or the network unusable? The most prudent strategy is to roll
out each upgrade in phases. Test it first in a non-production environment. This
gives you a chance to work the bugs out without any impact on employee
Next, select a pilot group to test the upgrades in the
production environment. If the new hardware or software entails a learning
curve, roll it out first to power users, those who are more technically savvy
and thus better able to handle the new way of doing things without overwhelming
your support staff. Once they’ve mastered it, they’ll serve as a resource for
helping other users make the transition when you roll it out to the rest of the
department or the rest of the company.
Keeping it scalable
Your upgrade plan should be set out in writing, and you
should get input from different departments and different levels to help you
create a plan that will create the least disruption and proceed smoothly.
You’ll need to know about any plans for expansion (geographic and in terms of
personnel), so you can include the additional locations and/or users in the
upgrade plan. Likewise, you’ll need to know if there are restructuring,
consolidation or personnel cuts in the company’s immediate future. It would be
a waste of time and money to upgrade systems that will sit idle a few months
down the road.
Upgrading can be costly and traumatic, but sooner or later
it’s inevitable. Proper planning, with scalability in mind, can make the
difference between a smooth deployment of nifty new technologies and an upgrade