Keep the network running

Written by Joel Dolisy on 22 September 2015 in Features
Features

Joel Dolisy suggests four ways to ensure network continuity despite cuts in public sector spending.

As the strings tighten on the public purse, there is increasing pressure on taxpayer funded ICT pros to find efficiencies and adopt new technologies. Last month, Gartner research revealed that spending by national, federal and local governments worldwide on technology is forecast to decline by 1.8 per cent in 2015. During this period of austerity, there are a number of barriers cited by the same research to selecting new technology. Organisational culture, legacy ICT systems and business processes, stretched IT budgets, and the lack of critical ICT skills are among the inhibitors for government CIOs and their teams.

As ICT teams across the UK look to streamline the running of their ICT department, more often than not network continuity can be overlooked as a key priority. However, with a few simple steps, public sector ICT professionals can lay the foundations to ensure their department enjoys around-the-clock uptime at a relatively low cost, and with minimum disruption.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

If there is one certainty for public sector ICT, it’s that something will go wrong. The important thing is to make sure there is a plan in place which covers the three facts of ICT management: people, process and technology.

A detailed technology plan should outline best practice for handling each element of the network infrastructure. Monitoring should be the first port of call, followed by building in back-up of core equipment for network traffic in case a problem occurs.

Secondly, although it may seem like a good idea to have each staff member with a different specialism, problems quickly arise if a person is on holiday, off sick or leaves the organisation. Therefore it is sensible to make sure there is a comprehensive awareness across the team of backup and disaster recovery. Public sector organisations cannot afford to lose expertise when a person is not working, as it will leave a large knowledge gap which is hard to fill.

In the case of a very serious network error, a process must be in place which allows the ICT team to roll-back to earlier configurations. It is incredibly important to have the capacity to return to a previous network state should disaster strike.

Network monitoring

Monitoring the network should be a top priority. In order to monitor effectively, ICT professionals should begin with a baseline analysis that assesses the overall performance of the network. Average response time and availability along with other performance indicators should be recorded before making any adjustments or changes. Once this baseline is established, ICT staff should look for any anomalies, such as configuration changes affecting the network which other users may have instigated. Identifying who made the changes once they are found is important, as it will help ICT professionals identify their impact into the performance data. This knowledge is particularly important in helping identify problems and keeping the network running without issues.

Implement change one step at a time

Changing over ICT systems can often be disruptive when carried out en masse. Multiple technology deployments undertaken simultaneously can cause more headaches than it's worth, especially in a multi-skilled level workforce. ICT workers should ideally focus on one implementation at a time, in order to dedicate enough resource to perfecting each layer of the ICT stack.

As long as the bigger picture is kept in mind during each stage of deployment, ICT professionals should focus their efforts on ensuring peak performance for separate technology implementations while remembering the common goal of improving performance and availability for end users.

Communicate

There is an argument for greater interaction between the CIO and their ICT team - particularly the case for stronger support from the top. The benefits work both ways, as ICT pros need to have a good grasp of the pressures placed on their public sector organisation in order to achieve their own targets.

Securing and optimising a consistent network is not guaranteed by technology alone if it is not communicated as common goal across the department. Therefore there must be free flowing communication both up and down the chain of command.

Public sector CIOs have a responsibility to convey feedback on the workings of the department to the wider organisation. There is a direct correlation between network performance and the performance of the department/agency, and communication between both ICT pros and senior civil servants should be encouraged.

Ensuring perfect uptime around the clock may seem like a remote dream, however it is within public sector ICT’s grasp if they simplify process, instigate good thorough planning, embrace technological advancements and above all, work together as a team.

Joel Dolisy is a senior vice president and CTO/CIO at SolarWinds, an ICT management software provider based in Austin, Texas.

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