Maintaining Networks without an IT Staff
For companies and organizations without a full-time IT staff, properly maintaining the network and PCs can be quite challenging. The network tends to get attention only when there are major problems. Without regular or at least periodic maintenance, worker productivity can really be negatively influenced. PCs can slow dramatically and network issues can prevent or slow connectively. Security vulnerabilities can also go unpatched, opening up the network to intrusions.
Here I’ll share some tips that can help, whether you’re the resident tech from an organization that lacks a real IT staff or you’re an IT contractor helping those types of organizations.
Keep up to date documentation
Having proper documentation on the network is crucial. This is especially true for companies and organizations without an IT staff. Having all the details of the network, even the most basic information, complied into a document can save frustration and time down the road during troubleshooting, maintenance, security audits, and upgrades.
Perhaps start your documentation with a network diagram depicting the network topology: the connection of the main infrastructure components, like the modem, router, firewall, switches, servers, and wireless access points (APs). Add labels for each item giving their basic details, such as the component name, IP address, and MAC address.
You should also list the basic WAN and LAN configuration details, including the subnets with details such as VLAN and QoS IDs and designated use. Plus go further and list the details of all main network components: such as the modem, router, firewalls, switches, controllers, wireless access points, servers, and UPSs.
In addition to documentation, ensure all wiring and main infrastructure components are labeled using some sort of ID scheme. For instance you should physically label which Ethernet wall-port or cable run each port on the patch panel or switches go to.
Bring in an IT professional when needed
Though a company or organization might have an unofficial IT person in-house, there shouldn’t hesitate to call in an official IT professional when needed. Though the resident tech can serve as the first responder to tech issues, keep their pride in-check and ensure they’re honest to what they can handle. For issues or projects over their head you should consult an IT professional to help reduce unforeseeable problems in the future.
Get periodic network assessments
For preventative measures periodically consult an IT professional for a whole network assessment. Having an IT professional perform a check-up can help catch issues before they negatively affect the network or worker productively. Additionally, they might find other ways in which you can utilize the network to save time or resources or to add other useful functions to help increase the organization’s bottom-line.
Utilize hosted and managed services
If there’s no IT staff to constantly maintain and support a network, hosted and managed services can be a great option. One of the most basic examples is to pay for remote managed support of the router or gateway where an IT professional can remotely monitor it and perform administration and maintenance tasks when needed. Similar remote services exist for support of PCs and workstations to help keep them healthy and for helping when issues arise.
For servers and other additional network-related functions, like VoIP or RADIUS, there are usually hosted services available that provide the same or similar features as running a server in-house. Though using hosted services versus buying a server usually costs more in the long-run, purchasing a server usually costs much more time and/or money in the beginning. Additionally properly running a server includes having to perform regular monitoring and maintenance, unlike with hosted services.
Choose appropriate vendors and models
When designing a network or choosing vendors and models, consider both the usual specs and also think of who might be supporting the network day-to-day. For instance, if the resident tech or unofficial IT person from the organization will be performing support you might choose a more user-friendly model designed for small businesses rather than a high-end enterprise model. Though an IT tech might be more comfortable and prefer supporting enterprise equipment, it’d likely be over the head of the resident tech.
Keep the PCs healthy
Properly maintaining the network infrastructure is certainly important, but keeping the workstations healthy can show even more of a productively improvement within the organization. Without having a full IT staff regularly supporting the PCs and performing maintenance, they can become bogged down with malware, junk, and unnecessary startup programs that can slow usage and cause frequent crashes. Lacking maintenance usually means lacking security as well, which could lead to more malware, intrusions, or data theft.
Investing in at least periodic maintenance of all workstations can greatly help, but to be even more proactive consider a managed service. A service that constantly monitors PCs for issues and offers remote support can help catch emerging issues before they become intrusive, for instance where you have a PC that’s completely down for a period of time.
Whether you’re the resident tech or IT contractor, ensure PCs always have the basics taken care of, such as an active Windows password, firewall, and antivirus. Also ensure end-users are educated with basic PC usage and security practices, such as locking the PC when away, understanding how to identify SPAM, recognizing the antivirus protection, and not connecting to neighboring Wi-Fi networks.
Remember, organizations may be able to perform basic network and PC support with a resident tech and a disciplined plan, but they should always consult IT professionals at least periodically to ensure they’re on track. Also remember appropriate vendors and models should be chosen based upon the technical requirements and who will support it. Consider hosted and managed services when there’s an option. And always keep in mind thorough network documentation can really ease support.