Why Are You Afraid to Upgrade Your Infrastructure?

Why Are You Afraid to Upgrade Your Infrastructure?

By Holly Wainwright

When people can’t connect, can’t communicate, or can’t access critical data… they tend to become unhappy, to put it politely. Network and system administrators often hear the full voice of people’s fury when systems fail.

As a result, network and system administrators approach change with caution.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” captures the attitude of many I.T. managers—especially those who get calls when systems are down. These folks know that even a small change may wreak havoc. A new device driver degrades network connectivity. A software update solves one security problem, but causes another. A change to a server or firewall setting removes remote access. I.T. folks live in a world where every detail matters.

Excessive caution can create an outdated infrastructure, though. When a switch fails, a cautious manager buys a device of the same make and model—and slow 10/100 Mbps speed, instead of a faster 10/100/1000 Mbps device. Or when asked to add WiFi to a new office, the cautious admin chooses 802.11n devices—instead of faster 802.11ac—“because that’s what the other offices run.”

But when infrastructure becomes too painful to use, a professional these days may use his/her own equipment—even if formally banned—to get work done. A laptop, a fast connection via a smartphone, and a web browser may be all they need. Yet this setup raises security, support, and maybe even legal concerns.

Managers and I.T. leaders can combat excessive caution with a few tactics.

Maybe not surprisingly, the first tactic is to appropriately fund infrastructure upgrades—and updates. Networks, storage, and backup aren’t always seen as attractive investments. But all are essential to ensure smooth operations. When your team suggests that you replace an aging tape system, they’re trying to keep your organization current.

Make sure your tech team stays well informed about today’s tools. Keep track of the technologies that organizations similar to yours use. Look at what the small, newer companies in your sector do. Smaller companies and startups tend to be less constrained by past investments—or past thinking. Share the innovations you discover with your colleagues. (This type of information can be excellent use of your organization’s private social network.)

Let your tech team members learn from peers at conferences. At a conference, people see and hear about the latest developments in the industry. The formal sessions should be aligned with your organization’s focus, and the conference needs to be one that your team member wants to attend. Beyond the sessions, though, a lot may be learned during casual conversations in a lobby or during a meal. Have people take notes and capture ideas throughout the conference with a shared document.

Give people time to experiment with new tools. A good network or system administrator won’t trust a tool until they test it themselves—or learn from a trusted I.T. advisor that “it really works”. Expect your team to buy and try new hardware and/or software solutions two or three times a year. Again, ask each team member to document and share what they learn.

In cases where a test may not be practical, take a field trip. Visit a site—or trade show—to see a solution in action. If you rely on an outside service provider, ask to see a system in use at another client’s site. A person-to-person conversation increases your team’s understanding of the real-world performance of a solution. Even a virtual field trip—via a video—can help. (If a site visit or video review isn’t possible, request a detailed case study.)

Of course, not everyone likes change. Sometimes, you may need to replace a person who refuses to update their skills. The same is true for vendors: you want a vendor that stays up-to-date, not one that sticks you with solutions built for last year’s problems.

The next time you encounter a “we’ve always done it that way” response, look through the list. Have upgrades been funded? Are people well-informed? Has industry networking been encouraged? Are people allowed time to experiment or see new tools in action? Do all five of those things, and you’ll likely end up with better infrastructure—including backup, of course—and a better tech team.

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