Leveraging Existing IT Assets: A Fiscal Fitness Plan

By Drew Robb

The recession is officially over. At least that is what the economists say. But that doesn’t mean IT budgets suddenly will open up.

According to a recent report by Giga Information Group, “The great majority of enterprises are and will be focusing on leveraging their existing IT assets more effectively in 2002.”

So for now, it remains a case of making do with what you have, while figuring out inexpensive ways to extend the life, performance and functionality of existing resources. To help out, here is a three step fitness plan to economically boost your system’s health.

Improving Endurance
Corporations typically utilize a three-year PC refresh cycle. But for the last several years, processor speed has greatly outstripped the needs of most business applications. While a 2.2 GHz Pentium 4 may shave a few milliseconds off processing a letter, that doesn’t translate into a bottom-line advantage.

As a result, last year Gartner, Inc., of Stamford, Conn., switched from recommending a three-year refresh cycle to a staggered refresh. Those needing additional computing power, such as engineers, high-end graphics or data mining specialists are upgraded more frequently, while most users receive a new machine every four years.

This strategy, however, is flawed unless new machines retain their original capabilities. On Windows operating systems, in particular, workstations and servers suffer steady performance degradation due to disk fragmentation, anywhere from 20% to 200%, according to tests conducted by software testing firm NSTL, based in Conshohocken, Pa. Unless defragged regularly, these machines become sluggish long before they are scheduled for upgrade.

“Some companies, unaware of the impact of fragmentation, are likely to resolve such a performance impact with more expensive acquisitions of higher-performance hardware,” says International Data Corp. analyst Steve Widen. “However, it is just a matter of time before fragmentation impacts the new machines because this process only temporarily masks the performance problem.”

In addition, the excessive disk I/O caused by fragmentation leads to premature hard drive failure, wiping out the anticipated hardware cost savings. It is therefore imperative to install a networkable disk defragmentation program in order to keep the machines running at their peak and extend their useful life.

Staying Compact
Storage demands continue to explode with ever-increasing file sizes. Enterprises typically find their needs doubling every year. While disk capacities are also growing, some companies are reducing their server room footprint using “pizza box” and “blade” servers.

As an example, nStor Technologies, Inc.’s NexStor 3150 servers can cram up to eight 73 Gigabyte disks (584 GB total) into a single 3.5-inch-high unit. This means up to 9.1 Terabytes of storage fits into a single rack. Compaq ProLiant BL blade servers are another alternative. Each server – including hard disk, CPU and memory – sits on a card, rather than in its own box. Twenty 30GB servers reside in a single 5.25-inch enclosure sharing power supply, fan and wiring. Up to 280 servers fit into a standard rack. A blade server architecture not only saves money by eliminating shared components, it may significantly cut power requirements.

Slim Down
Some companies are finding they can trim costs by slimming down. By using thin-client applications they can simplify software deployment and management, eliminate bandwidth upgrades and gain added life out of workstations. And, when it does come time to replace client hardware, they can do so using solid-state thin-client terminals instead of PCs, thereby reducing capital outlay and maintenance costs.

When using a thin-client application, all processing takes place on the server. All that travels over the network are keyboard/mouse inputs from the client to the server which then sends a screen image back to the client. Users gain fast access to enterprise applications even over slow dial-up connections.

Technology by Tarantella, Inc., based in Santa Cruz, Calif., takes a slightly different approach. Rather than sitting on application servers, its Enterprise 3 software resides on a Linux or UNIX box between the users and the servers. It takes the data from servers or mainframe and coverts it into a web document which it relays to the user. Clients access programs via web browser.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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