Friday, 16 December 2011

Future Equipment Shortages

IT Equipment Shortages
The recent severe floods in Thailand have created an issue with the supply of certain types of computer equipment.
There are two main aspects to the issue. First of all, future supplies of hard disks and handy drives will be limited as Thailand was a major supply source for them. Secondly, the price for those that are available is increasing rapidly.

This means that if you are considering purchasing a new server or drives within the next three years, you need to consider acting on it now. Suppliers are already limiting the amount they will sell per day and some have said that servers will not be available after Christmas. Dell have stopped selling hard disk drives completely and will only sell a new server if a hard disk fails.

Suppliers are also saying that they don’t know if they will have stock replenished in early 2012 or not. Otherwise, it may be 2014 before more hard disks are manufactured.

Although this is an imminent problem for disks, drives and server replacements, ultimately it could extend into PCs and laptops. It has already started to affect new car manufacturers as they use these components in on-board computers.

The message from this is clear; if you are thinking of renewing or extending any computer equipment in the short to medium term, you need to be addressing it now, as there may be no supplies available or the price may have increased considerably. Also, if your current server, disks or drives fail, you may struggle to get replacements quickly so you need to ensure you have an appropriate business continuity plan in place, as the impact of a failure has increased significantly.

It is, of course, possible that this is all just a sales ploy from the suppliers and manufacturers. We genuinely don’t think this is the case though, as we are already starting to see the effects. We’ve also provided a quote below from one of our suppliers that demonstrates the scale of the issue.

“With regards to the hard-drive situation in general, there is no guarantee of how long stock will last or when we will be receiving new stock. 60-70% of hard-drive manufacturing has been affected by the floods in Thailand and as it stands, we do not know if we are going to be getting new stock in 2012 or 2014.

Companies such as Google and Facebook, who historically use HP servers, have already reverted to contingency plans for their own products as they are unable to source from HP and this would have a knock on effect to their business and stature as a worldwide brand.

The message that is being communicated at the moment is buy now or you don’t know when you can buy again.”
This article from an IT trade publication also gives more details on the issue;

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Value of Certifications

Microsoft and other IT providers and vendors often provide certification schemes. These schemes provide IT support customers with some reassurance that the organisation has a degree of competence and knowledge.

Receiving a certification will require engineers in the organisation to undertake a course of study and pass practical exams. They also have to continue to study and practise their skills to retain the certification, in a process known as Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The certifications can also be at different levels, from entry level through to more advanced stages, plus the organisation can also achieve certification depending on the number of qualified engineers it has and the systems it uses.

Certifications can give organisations needing IT Support a method to assess competency levels. Without this measure, the decision might need to be made on relationships or costs, but by comparing certifications the prospective customer can check that the organisation and its engineers have achieved at least a minimum standard.

This is particularly important when looking at IT support for an organisation, as opposed to support for home-based computers. For your home computer you might be content with an individual who is knowledgeable on IT matters and who can set up your internet and email.

But for a business or organisation with several computers networked together and needing remote working abilities, you need a completely different level of proficiency – from both the individual engineers and the organisation. And that’s where certifications can give you some reassurance that the organisation really does know what they are talking about and can be relied upon. They have to provide an ongoing minimum level of competency and proficiency, or they will lose their certification.

P&L have a number of different certifications, including Microsoft Partner (Silver Server Platform) and Kaspersky Antivirus Sales Specialist. In addition, the two principals are both members of the British Computer Society.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Business Continuity and Disaster Planning

Continuity & Disaster Planning
The news is regularly full of reasons why businesses need to look at continuity planning.

Whether it’s the recent riots, the fires at Peckforton Castle and Chester Enterprise Centre, or floods following rains, there are plenty of threats to your business.

It could even be something as simple as road works cutting the phone cable to your office, bringing down not just your telephone lines but also your internet connection and access to emails.

Have you thought how you would cope if something like this happened to you? And if you have thought about it, have you set up robust systems to protect yourself and tested them?

As with many of these things, the first thing to look at is your requirements. If you run a 24/7 real-time operation with hundreds of people depending on you, then your business continuity is vitally important. But if you have an office because it’s convenient but in reality everyone could work from home remotely using their mobiles and laptops, then it’s not such an issue, providing it didn’t last for a long time and you had a suitable back-up routine.
Here are some of the continuity arrangements that you might like to think about.

Back-ups. These ensure things are recoverable if anything happens, but they don’t stop the event from happening or reduce the impact. Remember though that your back-up storage should be off-site. If your premises has a fire or flood and your back-up is stored on-site, then you can’t get at it so it will have been completely pointless from a continuity perspective. You want to be able to load up and get going again as quickly as possible.

Physical security. As prevention is better than cure, you want to stop as many dangerous elements as possible from getting at your IT. This includes making sure everything is locked and physically protected, but also the online aspects. Hackers can access your system whenever you sign onto an internet connection so make sure all your firewalls, antivirus and spam protection are up-to-date – automated updates are usually provided every day. Don't forget about password protection and screen locks.

Mirrored Services. If the priority is to carry on working seamlessly (known as ‘business continuity’), rather than recovering quickly (known as ‘disaster planning’), you will need some form of mirrored application. In effect, this is a duplicate of your systems that would be activated if your normal operations went down. This could be as simple as an email continuity system, an overflow telephone system to a telephone answering service, wireless internet or a full mirrored server providing seamless service to staff and customers.

We’ve produced a couple of articles on different forms of business continuity and disaster planning which you might find useful (What is Disaster Planning & Business Continuity and How to help your Business Survive Disasters), and we also have a blog post on a specific form of mirrored servers – virtualisation.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Virtualisation and Mirroring

Mirroring involves having a duplicate of your systems that acts as both a back-up and a means of providing continuity if your systems went down. There are several different methods of mirroring, ranging from a server with an identical configuration to your own but with no data on it (known as ‘bare metal’), to a full duplicate in real-time where everything is the same.

Service can be seamless with a full mirroring approach, providing location is not an issue. So you might have a mirrored server in a separate location with independent links into your system, so that you could switch over to it if needed.

Virtualisation is a form of mirroring that offers a significant extra benefit. It reduces the processing power needed on any one piece of equipment, therefore reducing the likelihood of its performance deteriorating. It does this because a separate, physical, identical server is not required as it is with other full mirroring approaches. Instead, a combination of hardware and software systems are used to create a ‘virtual’ server (hence the name), rather than a physical object duplicating what you already have. 

This combination of hardware and software brings with it an extra layer of complexity and cost that might not exist with other mirrored applications, so the cost-benefit equation needs to be looked at. But for organisations that need seamless continuity, it is a solution that provides additional benefits.

As with many other aspects of developing your IT, speak to a reliable IT Support organisation with expertise in the area, if seamless business continuity is an area you would like to investigate.

Monday, 12 September 2011


Many organisations and people think that backing up is complicated, tedious and expensive. But it doesn’t have to be - using the right tool can make it very easy to do. The trick is making sure you get the right tool and then applying it correctly.

You also have to think about what needs to be backed up. This could include individual computers or your servers. Many organisations have a shared drive on a server. If everything is saved here there is no need to back up the individual computers, but the server will need a regular back-up. However, if staff have laptops which are used remotely, then they will need to be backed-up.

So decide first of all exactly what needs backing-up. When you’ve identified this, you can start to look at the right solution. It may also involve a multiple approach, e.g. a daily back-up of the server, an automated routine to back-up laptops when they log on to the shared drive and a weekly back-up of desktop computers.

The level of backing-up can also be important. For example, servers might be backed-up locally using a hard drive and/or they may also be backed up over a connection to an off-site facility. This is like a back-up to a back-up, but if it’s vital that your data or programs are available without any downtime, then you may need it.

It’s also important to check that your back-up routine actually works. Your server crashing is not the time to find out that your back-up system hasn’t worked for the last 6 months. So check the back-up periodically to make sure it can be relied upon. A back-up that you cannot rely on is more than useless, because you will have spent time and possibly money on it, but the one time when it was really needed, it wasn’t there. So not only are you without the data you need, you’ve wasted your time and money too.

If you ever want to discuss your back-up routine and whether it is appropriate for your needs, speak to a reliable IT Support company. They should be more than happy to talk through your requirements.