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Presenting a case to a small biz for an upgrade?

By ObiWayneKenobi ·
I am looking for ideas as to how to effectively approach the management of a small business to consider an infrastructure upgrade. I work for a small publishing company (around 25-30 employees I think) and relatively soon I'm probably going to be transferred from the production dept. (where I do graphic/layout work) to the MIS department (which is where my background is, anyway).

Now, I don't want to come off as an arrogant know-it-all who frivolously spends the company's money (after all it IS a small company) but the existing infrastructure is sorely outdated. I'm talking more than half the PCs running Windows 98 (at least one runs MILLENIUM); in fact the computers seem to run a mishmash of OSes.. a few run XP, quite a few run 98, I think one runs NT Workstation 4.0, etc.. Office 2000, you get the picture. There's also around 5 servers, I think. Our main in-house software program is written in Foxpro for Windows 2.5 (or 2.0, or something like that). We run Pagemaker 6.5 for layout, which as I understand it is no longer supported by Adobe. In short, I feel that the company would be better off with a complete infrastructure overhaul.

The problem, of course, would be explaining this to upper management since they're going to be reluctant to shell out the mega-bucks to do a complete revamp like I feel is needed. Also, they subscribe to the "If it's not brokeen, why fix it?" metality. There may or may not be legacy application issues as well; I am relatively new to the job and company so I'm not sure. In a case like this, should I just keep quiet or subtly suggest the upgrade, so I don't come across as wanting to overstep my bounds and end up getting fired? I *really* feel the company would benefit in the long run by reworking things from the ground up, but I doubt management will see it that way.

Any thoughts/suggestions for this neophyte?

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Two routes

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Presenting a case to a sm ...

How much is support costing now and how long will it be possible to keep supporting it vs how much would it cost to support new kit and and how much longer would it last for.

Or sell the MD a super duper spangly up to date PC that he can't use without an upgrade to the infrastructure.
Seriously, from the sound of it, your kit is old enough to have been depreciated, so the hardware itself has no value to the business.
So your only real angles of attack are that it will become obsolete and be unable to support a business function or it will become more and more expensive to support a business function.

Try a phased rollout, one server at a time. Can you with new kit reduce how many servers you need. Do check out the legacy software angle though that's the biggest potential cost looming on the horizon.

A good mental trick, is if you personally had to foot the bill for a change, having accepted it was necessary, how would you accomplish it at best ROI/least cost. Most ideas like this fall down because the proposer forgets that money trees don't exist. Steer clear of added value and go for reduced cost when you pitch. The former, if it actually happens is a bonus.

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Best advice I ever got ....

by trdgyrl In reply to Presenting a case to a sm ...

The best advice I ever got on this very same topic was this: you don't move into someone else's house and immediately rearrange the furniture.

Sure, it may be your space now, but if you move too quickly you will DEFINATELY come off as a know-it-all. And since you are still fairly new to the job and company that would be counterproductive, right?

It does sound like the company is in dire need of an overhaul and there are some ways to approach the situation.

First, I'd ask around your collegues if there are any plans to upgrade? Any phased approach already in the future plans. I'd also find out if there is any type of asset inventory available. If not, that could be a fairly simple task to take on initially that would yield HUGE results. List the equipment, OS or firmware version, applications running on each piece of equipment AND data that resides there.
After that asset inventory is complete you have the ammunition to develop a phased approach to upgrade. It is so very important to know what data resides where and also where it traverses.

Develop a 3 year plan to upgrade/replace the equipment (yes, it sounds like a long time, but when you're talking big $$ figures short-term, large layouts are scary to upper management)

Some things to think about are:
-age of hardware vs. average lifetime of same hardware.
-is support still available for this hardware
-versions of software (start with OS and firmware first, worry about applications later assuming nothing is currently broken in the applications area)
-are those OS/firmware version still supported?
-are patches and updates still made available (NT for instance certainly is NOT supported anymore.)

here's the one that I like most: how are all the systems currently being managed? and kept up to date on their patches, security fixes etc? If there is no central management tool then upgrading and consolidating on a single platform would make the ongoing management simpler, more efficient and more cost effective over time.

Good luck!

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Great advice!

by jc2it In reply to Best advice I ever got .. ...

I have heard something similar. Never make a major change until you have been in a new position for six months. This could be critical in IT. You may just not know what you are breaking until you have already broke it.

The three year plan is a great idea. I would also recommend that you triage the computers that need to be replaced.

Make sure the replacements fit the task they are required to perform. If someone does not need Internet access for thier job, then wait for the 2nd or 3rd years.

A Brief Example:
Year One: Replace many of the 98 boxes and any computer with significant issues (ME box). Replace at least one third of the desktop machines that need replacing for security purposes (98, NT4.0, ME).

Year Two: Replace the second third of desktops. Replace any older servers (This gives you pleanty of time to determine thier full usage).

Year Three: Replace the remaining old PC's.

Things to keep in mind. Someone's old PC might be someone else's new PC. You may need to replace an XP box in the design department in year 2, that can be given to a receptionist. ALWAYS reformat and wipe a disk drive before you get rid of it. Whether it goes out of the building or to another user.
Also, install the OS that you are standardizing with on all old PC's that have not outlived thier purpose (Probably XP PRO).
Help yourself out by standardizing hardware as much as possible. If you are replacing 10 PC's then buy them all at the same time and go from there. This will allow you to use tools like Norton Ghost more efectively.
Create as few Ghost Images as possible. This will help you in setting up a new PC, or fixing a bad problem.

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Think outside the box and watch the bottom line

by Deadly Ernest In reply to Presenting a case to a sm ...

The current system is mostly outdated and unsupported software. Almost none will run on the new versions of Windows and by the time you get them to agree it will be Windows Vista meaning mega-mega bucks - little chance. A new Windows operating system will generally mean brand new applications as well.

As previously suggested first check on what they have in the pipeline and budgetted for in coming years. While doing the rest below keep this info in mind at all times.

No down to the tin tacks. What ever happens there is going to be some costs and a high learning curve. The thing that will frighten people will be the learning curve. The biggest technical problem will be getting new peripherals to work with the older operating systems and applications. Soften the people ****, see what alternatives there are to allow them to extend the use of their existing software and thus lessen the learning curve.

One alternative that I can see right away is to use a version of Linux that looks much like their existing Win 98 systems, there are a few around, or near enough to make the switch over easy on them. Purchase and install programs like Crossover, or free ones like WINE; these will enable you to run the Windows based applications in Linux, especially the older applications that wont run in the newer Windows systems. This will reduce costs, and should also enable you to actually perform software updates that improve performance on the existing old hardware - thus reducing the immediate costs and buy more time for the hardware update expenditure. Such a move would enable you to standardise all the desktops and servers onto the same basic version of Linux and also reduce the learning curve for the technical staff.

What ever you do you will need a thorough cost analysis of the whole project over 5 years or more.

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Thanks for the assistance

by ObiWayneKenobi In reply to Presenting a case to a sm ...

Once I make the move I'll have to ask the MIS Director (who I'll be working under) if there are any plans to do a phased upgrade... how should I approach this matter though without again coming off arrogant? Obvoiously I should wait a while after my transfer to mention it...

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Ask him whether he thinks

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Thanks for the assistance

that there are any areas of concern you should concentrate on in your new position. What will he be looking for from you in the comming months.

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Get settled in and then ask your new boss

by Deadly Ernest In reply to Thanks for the assistance

if he has developed a strategy to deal with any problems that MAY arise from the software in use that is no longer supported. I would do this with a memo or such with attached print outs from the Microsoft website where they say that they no longer support Win 98, and the MS announced end of support dates for Win NT 4 and Win 2K (not sure when they are) and any other software that is already out of support. I would also mention the difficulty in getting working drivers for the older opertaing systems when new equipment is bought. No point buying a new printer if the thing can not be made to work with the old operating software.

Write it up along the lines of 'hey boss not sure if you know this?'

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Small steps

by Blackcurrant In reply to Presenting a case to a sm ...

It has taken us almost 5 years to get our system up to date, and the final phase of that will occur during the next 6 months.

I work for a small company: 1 server, 30 PC's.

You mention you have 5 servers? Well, I would suggest that the first thing to do would be to consolidate these into 1 server with a professional backup application.

The new server will be able to communicate with all your existing PC's. The next step, later in the year perhaps will be to gradually replace the PC's with new ones. Once this starts happening, and management start to see the benefits that upgrading offers, they may be more amenable to a speedier rollout of new hardware.

It has taken my company this long to upgrade simply because the money for a full-single-upgrade does not exist. We had to prioritise hardware and software upgrades, initially replacing only what really had to be upgraded.

You need to be able to demonstrate how a phased upgrade would benefit the company. Your first step is to accept that this will be a gradual process. It would be great to be able to do this in one go, but it would be a lot of pressure for you in terms of training both yourself and your staff in the new equipment. A phased rollout allows you time to fix teething problems, and then have the solutions available for your staff should they require them.

Good luck

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Interesting, never met a small biz with only one server...

by ObiWayneKenobi In reply to Small steps

I'm not 100% sure of the number of servers... there's at least three that I know of/use.

I've noticed that *every* small business I've ever worked for has always had at least 4+ servers... one had I think close to 14 (including two mirrored servers that were offsite). Most of them, when asked, said it was because whoever set up the network figured it would take a load off of the network server to split it into different servers for each function (files, email, web, Db, etc.). I somewhat agree but... wouldn't the cost of maintaining 5 servers outweigh the benefit for a 30-something strong organization?

I think this particular company could probably keep the servers at 3 to be efficient: one as the main network/DNS/Active Directory server, one to store data (we have very large databases in FOXPRO since we do research for the books that we publish, not to mention the fact that each book is typically around the 100MB area when finished), and one for a web server (we have a setup for our clients that give them an ASP-driven website; I'd like this to eventually move to .NET as well. The web server consistently crashes for unknown reasons, which is another case for an upgrade). This might actually be the setup they have now; again I'm not 100% sure yet but I'll make it a priority to find out after I get settled into my new position. I believe we also have a seperate ISA server, but I see no reason why this couldn't be consolidated to another server

Thanks again for the assist, everyone. I'll be able to post more information once I'm in the MIS department and I'm privy to all that knowledge.

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You are right

by Blackcurrant In reply to Interesting, never met a ...

The company I work for only uses one server - but we are looking to setup an SMTP server soon, so that would make 2, also, I would like another to provide redundancy - so you are correct - I was thinking of things from my perspective. Boy - if my management could get the money for a professional setup, I would be very happy :)

PS - I get to replace 3 remaining Win98 systems this year.. oh yes!

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