Saving Money on the Network Budget


When company spending needs to be reduced there are usually changes you can make to the network or IT budget. But there are also things you shouldn’t reduce spending on—here I discuss both. You’ll discover things to consider cutting, keeping, purchasing, and replacing—all in the effort to reduce the overall IT spending.

Compare ISPs

Over the past several years ISPs have made enhancements to their infrastructure, expanding cable and fiber Internet connections. In some areas wideband connections, 50 Mbps or more of bandwidth, are now available.

If you haven’t done so lately, compare the offers from all the ISPs in your area. You might find lower prices from a competitor. If you have a T1 or other dedicated line, also reconsider a cable or fiber solution. Plus look for additional features, such as website hosting, antivirus protection, or Wi-Fi hotspot access for travelers. Some ISPs even offer hosted Microsoft Exchange and/or Microsoft SharePoint service.

Hosted Email

If you are a smaller organization you can usually get away with using a simple email service, such as those provided by website hosting companies or even free providers like Gmail from Google. Larger businesses might consider running a Microsoft Exchange server for more email functionality and other advanced features, such as calendar support and mobile device control.

If you’re a medium sized organization you might consider using a hosted email solution so you don’t have to run your own server. Microsoft provides hosted Microsoft Exchange services, starting at $5 per month per user. Some ISPs also offer hosted Exchange and SharePoint services, and some like Comcast offer it for free. You could also consider other solutions, such as Google Apps.

Open Source GroupWare

Instead of running the costly Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint servers, consider open source GroupWare solutions, such as SOGo, Citadel, Open-Xchange, and eGroupware. They can offer a backend for email, contact management, calendars, to-do lists, appointments, collaboration, and document sharing. End-users are typically given a web interface and/or access via client programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, on computers and mobile devices.

Open Source Help Desk Solutions

If your organization is large enough to have an IT department you’ll likely want a help desk solution to help track your PC and network issues and assets. Consider using a free and open source solution, such as from Spiceworks. In addition to incident tracking and asset inventory, it can help with network monitoring, UPS power management, and other IT issues. They even provide an iOS and Android app to let IT staff view devices, manage tickets, access user info, and more.

Open Source Router OSs

For small and medium sized organizations, consider open source alternatives for your routers instead of enterprise brands like Cisco or Juniper. For consumer level wireless routers you could use firmware replacements like DD-WRT or Tomato. For additional features like network-based antivirus and spam filtering, consider Untangle. For more enterprise functionality consider installing other router OSs, like Endian, Vyatta, or RouterOS on a spare PC or server.

RADIUS Server Options

If you’re a small or medium sized organization, consider a free or cheaper Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) server for your authentication, authorization and accounting needs. FreeRADIUS is free and open enterprise-level RADIUS server designed for the Linux/Unix platform and TekRADIUS is a freeware Windows-based server.

If you require a RADIUS server just for enterprise (802.1X) Wi-Fi security, consider using APs with a built-in RADIUS server, such as select business-class APs from ZyXEL. You could also create your own router/gateway with a built-in RADIUS server, such as with RouterOS. Or instead of running your own server, consider a hosted service, such as AuthenticateMyWiFi.

PC Management Solutions

If you have more than a hand full of PCs and don’t already have a PC management solution in place, consider doing so. They can help you provide remote tech support, enforce antivirus protection, create firewall policies, silently install software and updates, track software and hardware, and monitor system performance. This central control and management can help cut time spent on support, increase security, and potentially reduce issues with proactive monitoring.

OCS Inventory NG and ManagePC are two open source options. Microsoft provides Windows Intune, starting at $11 per month per PC, which includes an upgrade to Windows 7 Enterprise.

Mobile Tech Support Apps

There are many smartphone apps that come handy in the IT field, most of which can save them time, in turn saving you money in the long run.

There are apps for finding and connecting to network shares, pinging servers, running port scans, connecting to SSH servers, connecting to databases, calculating IP subnets, looking up default passwords, and scanning for Wi-Fi networks. There are also simple HTTP/TCP/SSH server monitors and even apps from full network monitoring solutions. If you run Active Directory there are even apps to manage users and computers.

OpenDNS for Content Filtering

If you don’t already have an Internet content filter put into place, consider using OpenDNS. They provide free and paid DNS service that you can use instead of your ISP’s. It can be a simple way to automatically filter out malicious, adult, and other dangerous sites in addition to any specific sites you want to block. It’s also usually faster and more secure than a typical ISP’s DNS.

Spend Carefully

I discussed a couple of different things you can do to help reduce IT and network spending, including comparing ISPs, considering hosted or cloud services, and looking into open source solutions.

Most of the tips have been technical in nature, but you need to look at all business aspects. Purchasing is one aspect. Prices on tech products can vary significantly from store to store. Plus online stores are usually much cheaper than brick-and-mortar stores. Comparison shopping can save a significant amount of money over time. Keep control of your IT spending and possibly limit employee spending at local stores.

There is some IT and network spending you don’t want to cut. Security related spending, for example, should be of top concern and may even need more room in the budget. The cost and ramifications of an intrusion, malware infestation, or Wi-Fi hacking are usually higher than investing in security solutions.

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