It’s time for your computer network to start adulting!
Adulting is a term one of my daughters taught me a few years ago when I asked her to take care of a few things while she was home on break from college. She turned her nose to the corner of the closet where she was standing and whimpered “adulting is hard”. Yes, it can sometimes be, especially when we haven’t really ever used those muscles. People who are adults in terms of age usually look like they’re all grown up. But sometimes when you look beneath the surface, you learn things about them that make you realize that they only look like adults on the outside. On closer investigation, they still act immaturely; they spend money they don’t have, spend money frivolously when they lack necessities, they chronically show up late, don’t put forth their best effort, speak inappropriately, spend their time playing games instead of whatever it is they really need to be doing, don’t plan ahead, etc. You get the picture. We’ve all known people like this, and if we’re honest, most of us fit this description pretty well ourselves at some point in our lives. The technology in your business can actually go through this same kind of growth process. The problem is that most people don’t recognize when their technology should have started “adulting”. So what are some signs that your technology might need to grow up and start bearing the burden of reliability, performance, and capability that your business needs? Glad you asked. I regularly perform technology infrastructure assessments for businesses where I look in all the wiring closets, under the desks, above the ceiling, and even inside the walls. I’m looking to see the quality of the physical network. A well-planned and well-managed network is obvious at first glance; the wires are neatly installed and terminated according to best practices. They are never seen outside a wall, floor, or ceiling. There is at least one equipment rack where all network equipment is installed, and the rack is neat, well-organized, labeled, and documented. None of the equipment can be purchased at Walmart or even Best Buy. Everything is protected by a UPS (battery backup) with a date on it showing when the last time the batteries were replaced. And there are NO homemade patch cables. This list is certainly not everything I look for, but it’s enough for you to get the idea. When I see a network like this (which rarely happens), I can easily predict that it’s a well-managed network that should provide a solid and secure foundation for the business to perform. Someone has made sure that their technology is capable of performing the tasks for which it’s responsible. But, what I usually see is quite the opposite; network equipment sitting on hastily installed shelves inside dark hot water heater closets, patch panels that contain about half the wires that actually plug into the switch, wire nests coming from every direction that look like they regularly star in horror movies featuring giant spiders, dust bunnies as big as actual bunnies, homemade patch cables galore, network equipment I saw on clearance at Walmart 10 years ago, exposed wires dangling from the ceiling or coming out of an opening in the wall, $3 power strips instead of UPS’s or a UPS that’s so old they had to unplug everything from it and just left it as a breeding ground for those dust bunnies, passwords on sticky notes scattered around like dead spiders, WiFi that isn’t secure and doesn’t cover the entire facility, and network design and security that is, well, dismal. THIS is the kind of network I usually see; it’s the rule, not the exception. This kind of network is predictably unreliable, slow, glitchy, inflexible, not secure, and just plain untrustworthy. And it needs to grow up! Your business will suffer until it does. Now to be fair, these immature networks were pretty predictable. Consider that businesses used to operate just fine without a computer network at all. So when computers began to be networked, most everyone just pulled the wires they needed themselves to a hub they bought at Best Buy or got their neighbor’s son’s friend to do it for $20 and a pizza. This kept happening over the years each time something new was added. Here we are 20 years later with the haphazard but predictable results. Right about now you might be visualizing your own business’s computer network and thinking two things: One, the description above is a little too close to home. And two, “But my network seems to work just fine so why would I go to the expense of fixing it”. There are some long and technical (read “boring”) explanations that I’d be happy to provide if you’re truly interested but let me re-emphasize the predictable character of this kind of network: unreliable, slow, glitchy, inflexible, not secure, and just plain untrustworthy. Proverbs 25:19 puts it best: “Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot.” Contrast that where an IT professional was involved in the planning and installation of the network, and it’s easy to see why one would look and perform better than the other. So what do you do about it if your technology needs to start adulting? Sometimes it can be fixed. I recently found the usual kind of network at a church. It was exactly as described and was a scary mess. I was afraid it couldn’t be fixed because the wiring didn’t have enough slack to be pulled down from the old patch panels attached directly to the wall into a new rack-mounted patch panel. After investigating, we decided that if we pulled all the wires out of the closet and back down the hallway from which they came to the first corner (about 60 feet), we could re-pull them from that corner in a neat bundle and create some slack, maybe enough to avoid having to pull all new wiring. So we did exactly that and made an amazing transformation in a single long day of work. The office side of the wiring was another story and was in just as bad shape, but still fixable without pulling all new wire. Sometimes it cannot be fixed. Another customer called me this fall to look at a building they had just purchased for their growing business. He was hoping the existing wiring could be re-used. After several hours of looking around, I decided that it was hopeless. The existing wiring was so poorly and haphazardly installed that there was no reasonable way to save it. There had been several businesses in the building over the years, and it was clear that no plan had ever existed for the technology in the building. It actually detracted from the value of the building. The only way to fix it was to pull out all the existing phone and network wiring (which was extensive) and install all new wire. The customer agreed, and that’s precisely what we did. They now have a state-of-the-art network installed according to best practices that will support everything the business needs to do in the foreseeable future. It is fast, flexible, secure, and very capable. This was a wise investment on their part. By not engaging someone with the proper training and experience to objectively evaluate your technology, establish a vision for how it should be, and create a roadmap of how to get it to that point, you are exposing your business to risk; risk of downtime, security breaches, slowdowns, loss of productivity, and the undervaluation of your business. It’s time for your computer network to start adulting! Contact ProbityTec today at www.probitytec.com and let us show you just how economical and beneficial it is for us to manage all this for you. Mr. Bentley started ProbityTec in early 2018. He explains that the word probity just means integrity and he requests that you stop using the word integrity in favor of probity from this day forward. ProbityTec provides managed IT services to small and medium-size businesses, churches, and nonprofits throughout West Tennessee. Mr. Bentley can be reached at 731-410-7017 and firstname.lastname@example.org.