Computing Basics for Small Business

Below is my article in the Lumber Co-operator November/December Issue.

All small business should have a basic understanding of the minimum requirements for the IT infrastructure needs. The following is a simple summary for each topic that any business can utilize to help better understand basic IT requirements:

 

Desktop PCs

All existing desktop PCs should meet the following minimum requirements (PCs currently in use that don’t meet these requirements should be replaced):

  • Windows operating system XP (Service Pack 3)
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Internet access capability.-10/100 network card.

New computers should contain at a minimum:

Windows Operating System 7,

  • 2-4 GB RAM
  • 7200rpm hard drive with at least 120GB
  • 100/1000 network card

Software Requirements

 Ideally, each PC should have an office productivity suite such as Microsoft Office, Open Office or Google Documents(Web based). All of these packages contain  a word processing program, spreadsheet capability and presentation software such as PowerPoint.  If you are using a cloud service provider like Google docs or a private provider then there is no need to buy this software for your PC as it is included in the web provider (often referred to as “cloud” service provider).

In order to access some of NRLA’s webinars, PC’s will need a media player program that plays music and videos. Windows Media Player is free and included with the windows operating system. Many NRLA webinars will use a plug-in program that will automatically launch in your web browser.

Every PC comes with Internet Explorer already installed but if your PC is more than 1-2 years old, the program should be upgraded to the latest version (currently, 9). There are other web browser programs that are available for free such as Firefox (version 5 or higher is recommended) or Google Chrome.

An email application is mandatory for all PC’s, either software or web based. Microsoft Outlook is the most popular software, although others such as Lotus Notes exist. Web based options include Google, Hotmail and Yahoo. Typically, a local internet provider will offer an email option that can be utilized. Web based options work well for small companies because the email files do not have to be backed up since they’re stored on the web rather than the PC’s hard-drive.  It is common for a cloud service provider to supply you with Microsoft hosted Exchange which allows you to have all the features of Exchange without any of the hardware or software capital costs; instead you pay a per user monthly fee for exactly what you need.

Firewall Software helps protect the PC from intruders, viruses and malware. Most PC’s come with a basic firewall, but it must be turned on. Also, it’s recommended that the user downloads a program called Window Defender from Microsoft. This firewall software will enhance the computer’s firewall decreasing outside threats that can harm your computer. Microsoft provides this software free of charge but subscription based software such asNortonor Trend Micro can be used. Some subscription-based firewalls have a tendency to slow the computer down so make sure you weigh your options before deciding.

Point of Sale software is used to record sales, purchase orders, inventory and accounts receivable and some packages include the general ledger. It’s important to make sure that your existing PC’s  meet the minimum requirements stated above for the POS software to work optimally.

Printers

There are two popular types of printers: USB connected or networked. The USB connected printers are typically used as personal printers, but may be shared. A networked printer is used by a group of people. The pages per minute (PPM) listed for printers lets you know the general speed. I recommend printers be above 20 ppm.  Network printers are the best option for simplicity and speed as they do not depend on a users PC to be on and allow anyone to print to it at anytime.

Network

A computer network serves three purposes: facilitates communications; permits sharing of files (data and other types of information); shares network and computer resources.

A network facilitates communication by enabling employees to communicate efficiently, i.e. email, telephone, video telephone calls, video conference, and webinars. A network environment that permits data and file sharing can authorize users to access data and information stored on other computers in your network. Lastly, a shared network allows users to share networked devices such as printers, and scanners.

Network Security

A firewall plays a vital role in your network security by prevent stealing/corrupting data, viruses, and malware on your server or computer.

User level ID’s and passwords should be assigned to allow access to the information and programs on your server or PC. An ID prevents and monitors access to the network files and resources. Administrator ID’s are even more important than user-level ID’s since this user has access to all PC’s and networks at a given location. The administrator ID and password should be highly “secure” with letters and numbers that do not spell a dictionary word.  This password should only be distributed to the business’s owner and head of IT systems (or other trusted and qualified individuals) as it enables full authorization to any file on the network. A secure password should have more than eight characters and should include at least one upper and lower case letter, one number, and one special character (%,&). Let your employees know that passwords should not be shared.

Server

A server is a computer that performs many roles such as network management, file security, computer resource sharing, and printer management and generally interconnects all computers and devices on your network. The server may be as simple as a network server which hosts shared files, or sophisticated enough to host a databases, connect printers, access the web, allow fax functions. If you have more than eight PCs networked you should invest in a server. Consult an IT professional for configuration and requirements.

Backup

Multiple options are available for individuals PCs or small networks including web-based options like Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net. Some of these options allow file collaboration and sharing. For PCs without internet access, you can backup files using USB memory sticks, CD’s, or DVD’s. It’s important to backup your data on regular basis. Files should be backed up at least once a week.

Network servers should be backed up daily. The administrator can schedule the backup after hours and backup information may be stored on tapes or hard drives. There are two types of backup rotations: incremental or full.

Incremental backup only backs up the files that have changed for that day. You should have six tapes or hard drives which are labeled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The sixth tape or hard drive is used to perform one full weekly back up. Remember to keep your backup tapes or drives off-site. The rotation should include the days of the week with a full backup one day during that week.

A full backup includes all files each day utilizing five or six medias. A full backup should take less than two hours.

Budget

Generally, the life of PCs or servers range between three and five years. All PCs and network servers should be evaluated on a yearly basis. It’s important to plan for replacement of computers that will reach the end of their expected life during the year by budgeting the estimated replacement cost for equipment expected to be retired. Also, the annual budget should include normal maintenance such as software, backup, and printers. Some businesses find it may be more economical to outsource their needs. Options range from an on-call request service to total network administration.

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