Spring is here, and while most of us have probably been busy sprucing up our homes – opening the windows, getting rid of the clutter and making everything feel fresh and new as we emerge from the colder months – have you done the same for your IT infrastructure? It too, needs a good spring cleaning.
Most companies follow a process of ongoing operations monitoring and control for their infrastructure elements. However, “spring cleaning” should be a deliberate annual exercise where you make decisions around phasing out old assets, upgrading to new technologies and cloud platforms, and getting rid of data you no longer need.
Why It’s Important
First and foremost, a lean IT environment reduces resources requirements, so spring cleaning provides significant cost savings. If you don’t clean up your systems on an annual basis, you can end up working with older systems that have poor computing power. Spring cleaning improves system performance, enabling your developers to deliver projects faster, sometimes in half the time – which cuts down on the cost of development, and as a bonus makes for happier clients. Upgraded systems also consume less power, so are more cost effective to maintain.
Spring cleaning is also a great opportunity, since you’ll be evaluating your IT infrastructure, to do a tech refresh and execute or move forward with a cloud strategy. Migrating any existing assets to the cloud can provide significant cost benefits, as well as more flexibility since it allows for the option to scale up and down based on load and company need. Moving to the cloud also enables you to regularly upgrade to the latest tech whenever you want, versus being tied down to older in-house technologies until they reach their ROI.
Spring cleaning makes IT processes lean, so it also enables quick IT decision-making. For example, your de-cluttering exercise might reduce your number of systems from 10 down to 3. If you now only have to review 3 systems to get the information you need in order to make a decision, the process can go much more quickly.
Finally, one of the biggest challenges facing the industry currently is data overload. The data that is relevant to your business now may not be in 2 years, and will absolutely not be in 5 years. However, companies often wait years before they take a hard look at the pile of data they’ve collected, and then really struggle with identifying which data to remove; at this point they’re willing to invest millions of dollars in analytics tools to help them figure out which data is relevant and which data they can let go of. Spring cleaning helps ensure companies hang onto only the data they can turn into actionable insights, and scrape off the irrelevant data. If you invest in data cleanup as part of an annual process, you can ensure you have healthy data on an ongoing basis versus waiting until it becomes a problem.
Where to Focus
There are five main areas that should be looked at regularly – the “closets to clean,” if you will:
Set up health and performance benchmarks against which you can measure your IT equipment’s age, usability and performance. This will help you decide if you need to replace, retire, or reuse the equipment for low intense jobs. High availability systems shouldn’t require any downtime for these changes; however, for lower availability systems, if any downtime will be required, of course make sure it’s during low peak hours.
Also take a cloud assessment of your various IT infrastructure and applications, determine if they can be migrated to the cloud, and then execute on that strategy. For example, at Incedo we developed a Cloud Assessment Framework, which can be run on any infrastructure or application and judges its suitability for cloud migration. This is a great opportunity to move your cloud strategy forward, so make sure it’s part of the cleaning process.
Your company can be exposed through the network, so it’s critical to perform regular vulnerability assessment checks to ensure tight network security. This involves an annual cleaning out of old, unused or vulnerable network paths and rules. It’s important to conduct penetration testing from outside your network to determine where there are holes in the system, particularly based on new changes you’ve recently implemented, then patch them up and test them again every 6 and 12 months.
IT Asset & Application Management
Put processes in place for Software Life Cycle Management to ensure proper compliance and business enablement. This will help you keep up with regular software version upgrades and retirement.
End User Computing
A year on year hardware refresh and proper e-waste management process is also an important part of spring cleaning. It’s critical to keep an eye on the life span of your equipment, including the entire gamut of mobile devices, and ensure proper disposal of any assets you’re getting rid of. For example, laptops have a life span of about 5 years. After that, we need to upgrade them before they start to cause issues; at Incedo, before selling or disposing of them, we remove the security parameters and ensure all data is removed before they leave the company. We never give hard discs to anyone – not even our e-waste partners; we destroy them ourselves, to ensure that no company data is compromised.
Do a complete security review and refresh around authorizations and access controls – not just for the network, but also across all applications. Throughout the year employees might request certain authorizations, but they may be inadvertently left open for far longer than necessary. Most companies have a process in place for checking this, but it’s not always followed; spring cleaning is a good opportunity to revisit it every year, and remove any authorizations and access controls that are no longer needed.
How to Spring Clean Effectively
Spring cleaning starts with base-lining your requirements and ends with executing them. There is prep work that needs to happen before you begin. Think of it as a life cycle with three main components:
- Conduct Regular Audits: Review your IT policies and infrastructure on a regular basis so that they’re implemented in the best interest of the organization. This should be a standard part of your operations, so you can consistently make note of areas that need attention. In order to conduct audits, you need the proper tools.
- Select Tools & Techniques:The selection of tools plays a vital role as they give you the exact status of your system and case at hand. They help you understand whether your IT asset is updated to handle modern applications, or if you need to retire it. If you need to get information on the performance of your database, for example, you should have a specific tool for that, and a technique for how to use it. Once you have your tools in place, set up a monitoring process.
- Set Up Effective Monitoring:The tools need to be set up properly to monitor at the intensity required for each system. Monitoring should also be set up at different intervals – you want to collect samples of information during peak and non-peak times – so this should be a standard part of your operations.
A couple of other tips to keep in mind during the process:
- Don’t Be a Hoarder: Make unemotional decisions. Often during this process, people don’t want to let anything go; it’s the IT equivalent of being a hoarder – they think they might be able to use the asset at some point. But the decisions you make must be logical and business-focused instead of emotionally loaded. You must be able to let go of assets, whether it’s data, hardware or software, if they no longer serve the purpose of the business.
- Embed in the Organization:This exercise must be part of the organization’s goals, a continuous loop or endless operation. It needs to be pushed continuously, versus being a one-off activity.
Spring cleaning is critical to keeping your IT lean, providing cost benefits, supporting IT decision making and keeping data healthy. All companies should make this part of their process, but particularly those with high performance systems and significant computing needs. Those that don’t are risking systems downtime, loss of data, and both operational and business costs and risks due to working on outdated systems that are prone to failures. Being diligent about keeping your IT infrastructure running smoothly, with strict processes in place to review and clean it up every year, can save a lot of hassle, time, resources and costs in the long run.