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Understanding Your IT Needs

Your business's IT infrastructure can be surprisingly complex. Learn more about how different technologies work together below.

Your Business's IT Infrastructure

Virtually every business now requires some investment in tech to function optimally. How does it all work together? There are a few core elements to a modern IT system to understand:

  • Your Internet (Wide Area Network) connection, including downstream and upstream bandwidth, latency (ping), jitter (critical for Voice over IP telephone calls), and uptime.
     

  • What do we mean by downstream and upstream bandwidth? Bandwidth is a measurement of how many bytes per second your physical connection to the Internet can send and receive. If you rely on a cable, cellular, or DSL Internet connection you may have noticed that your downstream (download) bandwidth is significantly higher than your upstream (upload). This is because these types of Internet connections are asymmetric, meaning, generally, your download speed will run about 10-20 times faster than your upload speed.

  • This is fine for many business users, but if your business relies on sending large files (like videos, medical imagery, or uncompressed photos) to cloud services online, you'll feel the sting of low upload bandwidth. In this case, bonding two or more Internet connections can improve things, but often at fairly considerable cost.

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  • Latency (ping) and jitter are both critical metrics in your Internet connection's overall performance. Latency, or ping, is defined as the amount of time it takes a packet to be sent from your device to a server, like Google.com. Most ping tests are performed at the transport layer of the network stack, using ICMP packets, and as such may provide a decent estimate of how applications like Voice-over-IP will perform, but Round-Trip-Time (RTT) is often the gold standard for predicting how things will perform at the application layer (like VoIP). As a simple rule of thumb, the lower your latency, the better--this influences how fast Internet browsing "feels" and how fast web services load.

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  • Jitter is related to ping, but with one important distinction: jitter is defined as the variation in latency over time. That is, say you send 1000 packets to a server at IP address 9.9.9.9. Your first few packets take 10ms to reach the server, but the next few take 20ms, then a few take as long as 60-80ms, then drop back down to 10ms. This scenario means your Internet connection, or the path your packets are taking to a given  server, are suffering from high jitter. High jitter negatively impacts web-based applications such as Voice-over-IP and online gaming, which are highly sensitive to variations in ping or latency.

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  • Uptime is another crucial metric to consider when evaluating Internet service providers for your business. A modern ISP (internet service provider) generally measures their uptime in terms of "nines"--that is, how many decimal points after 99% can they guarantee? An uptime of 99.9% would mean that, on average during a given year, you'd experience about 526 minutes of downtime per year. This might not seem like a big deal, but you never know if this downtime will come all at once or in small blocks, which can mean a serious headache for your point-of-sale terminals and other devices you rely on in your business.

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  • Your hardware, including client PCs, servers, and phones.

  • We refer to client PCs as “endpoint devices” in the technical service industry. Any PC or device (like a smartphone or tablet) used by an employee of a business is an endpoint device. Thus, when we sell “endpoint monitoring” as a service, it means we’re actively monitoring each endpoint on your network and looking for problems.

  • Desktop PCs may seem fairly mundane by modern standards, but they’re still an important part of a business’s IT infrastructure, as they’re generally more cost-effective than a laptop with similar hardware specifications. It’s critical to ensure that all endpoint devices are properly configured, patched, and secured in order to minimize downtime and loss of revenue for your business.

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  • Servers: with the proliferation of cloud computing and more affordable access to cloud business apps, like Microsoft Office 365, so-called “on-premises” servers have seen a decline. However, some businesses still rely on physical servers at their locations and there are good reasons for keeping hardware in-house instead of migrating it to the cloud.

  • Applications where latency is important, specialized hardware is in use, or where large amounts of data are being sent over the local network frequently favor on-premises servers.

  • For example, if your use case involves sending big video files or photos in RAW format over the network, an on-premises server with large capacity hard drives makes more economic sense than sending those big files to a cloud service like Google Drive, where storage is much more expensive and you’re limited by a comparatively slow Internet connection. 

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  • VoIP phones, ATAs, and fax machines: while the fax machine has slowly faded into obscurity, VoIP desk phones and ATAs (analogue telephone adapters) remain a common sight in businesses of all sizes. Some businesses do rely on fax, but the fax machine has largely been supplanted by IP fax, or “e-fax”, which allows the user to send faxes from any computer, over the Internet. Voice-over-IP, meanwhile, is an industry unto itself and articles could be written just about IP phone service.

  • That said, your IP phones are a critical part of your business and making sure they’re secured and updated, without breaking compatibility with your SIP provider, is essential. Analogue telephone adapters are used to connect generic cordless or corded telephone handsets to IP phone systems, and likewise must be managed to ensure the security of your network and phone system.

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  • Internet of Things devices: perhaps the most volatile entry on the list, Internet of Things (IoT) devices are often poorly secured from the factory and are not usually well-supported by their manufacturers after the devices are sold. So, it should come as no surprise that IoT devices require special attention in order to keep your IT infrastructure secure. There are IoT device manufacturers that do care about the security of their devices, but many, sadly, do not. Things like security cameras, wireless thermostats, wireless doorbells, and so on are all considered IoT devices.

  • Your software, including Windows:

  • While some businesses are Mac-only, the vast majority rely on Microsoft’s Windows operating system (OS). Windows by itself is an extremely complex piece of software and requires a good deal of active management in order to maintain its security and performance. Your operating system is critical, as all of your other software sits on top of it; if Windows goes down, everything else goes down, which may include losing access to barcode scanners, cameras, sensors, and other important hardware. While Microsoft pushes out security, feature, and bug-fix updates for Windows on a regular schedule, they don’t offer any additional support, such as enrolling your employees’ computers into your local Active Directory, or configuring Exchange for you–that’s where we come in.

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  • Your business software: business software is a massive industry, and includes highly specialized applications for businesses in finance, energy, banking, medicine, and more. Your business’s software may be under an active support contract with the software developer, but many business owners find that the software they rely on is either no longer supported by the publisher, or requires outdated hardware to continue functioning.

  • Navigating the business software landscape can be overwhelming, and migrating from one app to another is frustrating and regularly daunting. We do extensive research to keep a running catalogue of recommended business software for a variety of industries and can help you migrate your workflow from an outdated or unsupported application to a modern and functional one. 

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  • Security and Access Control:

  • This is a big one. Your IT infrastructure’s efficient operation depends on a properly configured security solution, which involves several different moving parts. A firewall appliance, endpoint security software, access control/permission management, and two-factor authentication tokens are all part of a modern security implementation for your business. You may have sensitive data which you’d like to grant access to only certain employees–this is where access control comes into play.

  • Access control allows you to partition off various parts of your business’s data, giving some people access to some parts without giving everyone access to everything. This is inherently more secure in that it ensures that no one person (besides the owner) carries the veritable keys to the castle. In addition to that, two-factor authentication, including physical hardware tokens such as YubiKeys, serves to strengthen security by requiring users to access business systems with more than one identity factor (also known as multi-factor authentication).

  • Generally, when discussing best security practices for accessing privileged information, we want a user to have something (a hardware token, for instance), to know something (a username and password), and in high security environments, to be something (biometrics; a retinal or fingerprint scan to validate a user’s identity). 

Integrating all of these things into a coherent system that works for your business can be an insurmountable task for a business owner with so many other demands on their time. Geeks for Business is ready to work with you to understand your unique needs and to design a managed service plan that keeps your business running, no matter what.

Get in touch today to see what Geeks for Business can do for you!