Spring Cleaning and the Importance of IT Maintenance in 2018
I’m all for vintage equipment, don’t get me wrong.
I’ve got a turntable and records, we keep an Atari in the office, and I still have the same toaster oven I had in college (please don’t ask the year!).
But when it comes to hardware, servers, and overall IT maintenance in the business environment, there’s no room for error with outdated equipment.
In fact, a report from last year acknowledges that a large majority of security attacks and other cyber disasters (like the WannaCry Ransomware outbreak) are geared towards companies and IT systems that use outdated software and hardware.
As a managed services provider, it’s Copeland’s responsibility to inform our customers (and all technology-reliant companies) to prioritize IT maintenance each year (at the very least).
Part of this process should include the physical cleaning of your workstations and server rooms.
And there’s really no better time to take a look at your IT maintenance plan than in April for some good old fashioned spring cleaning.
The Importance of IT Maintenance
IT infrastructure should be monitored and spot checked continuously throughout the year, and at least once per year your company should conduct a thorough review of the hardware, software, and firmware that you rely on each day.
Even though upgrading outdated equipment can be somewhat of a daunting task, if not expensive, the data proves that not doing so can be much more expensive.
Depending on how you look at it, upgrading your data center can be an expense, or an investment into mitigating risks and reducing opportunity costs (downtime, customer aggravation, tying up internal resources).
Plus, installing more efficient servers and computers help reduce operational and energy costs. You can also prevent downtime that could arise if older systems were to suddenly malfunction or quit on you altogether.
Upgrading to more recent technology can also make an impact internally since you’ll be running on the latest systems and leverage efficiencies created by new software or processes.
In some cases, your prospects might value that you are working with the most up-to-date software and best-in-class data centers, which has helped more than a few companies win new business.
Now, a hardware refresh doesn’t need to include every piece of equipment in your office or server space.
Here are a few ideas of what to check for as you’re working through a data center maintenance plan.
Software and Hardware Refresh Cycle
The 1/5 Refresh of PCs
One helpful rule of thumb for refreshing your systems is the 1/5 rule for PCS:
- If you set a schedule to replace one out of every 5 computers each year, after a time, no part of your system will ever be older than 5 years old.
As the world get better and better at creating new, amazing technology, it ends up pushing the older, obsolete technology further and further behind.
Basically, 5 years on the technology timeline is forever ago (what kind of cell phone did you have in 2013?).
For some equipment that has top end hardware installed, a 6-year maximum age is acceptable, but the quality of the hardware should be assessed each year as you’re conducting your review.
Replace Category 5 Cables with Category 6
While you’re conducting a spring cleaning of your data center this April, look out for any dated Category 5 cables.
Originally designed to handle data speeds of 10Mbps to 100Mbps, the Cat 5 cables are no longer suitable for large businesses networks, and as every year ticks by they will continue to grow obsolete.
Look into replacing this old connections with Category 6 cables. Cat 6 cables will provide a number of benefits for your system, including:
- More Speed – Cat 6 cables can support speeds up to 10 Gbps, which is hundreds of times faster than Cat 5.
- More Bandwidth – Cat 6 network cable supports bandwidth of up to 550 MHz and performs much better over long distances compared to Cat 5 cables, so you don’t have to worry so much about bandwidth limitations or issues by upgrading to Cat 6.
- Cat 6 is compatible with Cat 5 cables – New Cat 6 cables are backwards-compatible with Cat 5 cables and the installation means better bandwidth allotment.
- Prepared for the future – Your system won’t become obsolete after a transition to Cat 6 infrastructure because you will already have a future proof cabling infrastructure implemented.
Ensure Firmware is Up-To-Date
Firmware is a small piece of software that makes hardware do what it’s supposed to do. It acts as the link between the hardware and the operating system within the devices you use.
Firmware updates can be used to add functionality, fix bugs, and fine-tune the performance of a device. The updates are typically sent by the manufacturer or software developer, although it can sometimes be up to the end-user to find and install the firmware updates.
In your office, you’ll want to ensure firmware is updated on at least the following equipment:
- WiFi routers
- Networking equipment
Units that are connected to the internet and your network are extremely important to keep updated, since the information that passes through these channels can be vulnerable to security breaches.
“All of your information is going to be passing through that router,” says Craig Young, a researcher with the digital security company Tripwire. “So if it’s compromised, it can really impact your privacy and the security of your devices.”
Keeping manufacturer information, log in details, and user manuals handy might be tedious, but it can save a lot of headaches in the future.
Update Weak Passwords
It’s imperative that everyone in your organization is using strong passwords that are updated regularly.
Hackers don’t necessarily attack businesses – they attack individuals and can gain access to important company details.
It’s more important than ever because in the past, alphanumeric passwords of 8-10 characters were considered fairly strong, especially when capitalization or special characters were used. But today, it’s becoming easier to build extremely powerful and fast password cracking tools that can try tens of millions of possible password combinations per second.
Therefore, long, complex phrases and randomized combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters are highly encouraged in 2018.
Without a doubt, strong password practices – like randomized password generators, frequent updates, different passwords for different applications – can be bothersome, if not downright annoying for staff members.
The best way to encourage and enforce these password practices is to create a team-wide processes around the practice and to empower your team with a user-friendly password management tool.
Remove any 10/100 Switches, Replace with 1 Gigabit
Take the time to assess your network speed capabilities, and replace any slower 10/100 switches with more powerful 1 Gigabit switches.
10/100 switches are ethernet switches that detect the speed of the device on the other end. While 10/100 switches (ones that detect 10 Mbps or 100 Mbps) are suitable for one machine performing streaming and high-bandwidth activities, or multiple machines performing simple, low bandwidth activities.
For most workspaces, a 1 Gigabit switch is required so multiple workstations can perform high-bandwidth activities simultaneously.
Cleaning the Physical Space Around Your IT Systems
Clean Up Server Rooms/Clean and Dust All Machines
A thorough cleaning will make the room look neater and provider a cleaner workspace for your technologists.
Organized cabling is important for both aesthetics and functionality. Not only does a well-organized cable setup look impressive, it is much easier to work with should an issue ever arise.
Keeping cabling organized also helps maximize space and airflow in your server room, leaving room for more equipment if you’re ready to expand while keeping temperatures down.
Cleaning will also help the performance of your servers.
When dust and dirt has been caked onto the areas around fans, it can slow down fan performance and put your servers at risk of overheating. (Any dust tumbleweeds can also pose a risk as a fire hazard.)
Cleaning and dusting in a server room is a bit different than your run-of-the-mill spring cleaning. Here is some more information on cleaning computer monitors and equipment.
Remove Unused Equipment
In addition to cleaning and dusting your server room, it’ll also be important this spring to look for unused equipment that you should detach from the network and/or physically remove from the space.
This helps maintain plenty of airflow and prevent overcrowding in your server room.
Old equipment that is not used but still attached to the network would add unneeded strain on your system during boot up and while in use.
These unused pieces of equipment could also be vulnerable to attack if they are linked to the network but not updated and utilized on a daily basis.
IT Maintenance Recap
Spring cleaning your data center is a combination of a straight-forward surface cleaning process and a technical updating process.
- Firmware, switches and network cables should all be updated with the latest equipment.
- At most, 20% of your computers and servers can be nearing out-of-date status, while the rest of the systems should be less than 5 years old.
- Cleaning your server room (vacuuming, dusting, arranging, and organizing) has plenty of performance-related benefits that should not be ignored (plus, your space will look immaculate for your employees and visiting customers).
- Strong passwords – company-wide – should be non-negotiable, and frequent updates (no matter how bothersome) should be part of a company-wide process.