The best way of exploiting technology is to always stay slightly behind the curve and to only use established and proven technology. We always anticipate the latest technology trends in our future planning, but we never expose our customers to the technical risk associated with being pioneers.
Ever since the introduction of centralised servers attached to dumb terminals in the 1970s, three main factors have influenced the configuration of computer systems. These are cost, computing power and communication speeds. The introduction of the PC and Novell Netware in the 1980s shifted the computing load from servers to PC based terminals. Although advances in technology and reduced prices have changed the balance between local processing, central processing and communication speeds in the intervening years, the principles on which they are based have remained the same.
The introduction of the internet has had the most radical change, because it provides high speed communications between local PCs and remotely located servers.
In common with many others, we used to run our own servers in the premises of an Internet Service Provider for many years, so called collocated servers. We have since changed over to using virtual servers located in data centres, so the hardware is no longer our problem. The service provider manages the hardware, including all of the necessary backing-up, mirroring, etc. We access the virtual servers remotely via a control panel, which enables us to specify a particular operating system, firewall, etc. to use. We can also change the available memory, processor speed, hard disk space, etc., all at the touch of a button. There’s no upfront investment, we just pay for what we use.
Virtual FM Companies
Many larger companies either have an in-house IT department or employ the services of a facilities management company to manage their IT equipment. Smaller companies invariably have to subcontract the work to a third party. The newer breed of service providers that operate equipment in data centres have become virtual facilities management companies, and a lot more. They have the problem of maintaining and upgrading the equipment. Their customers effectively pay as they go, and if they are not satisfied with the service, they just transfer the data and the programs on to a virtual server operated by another service provider.
UK Broadband Capability
There is a lot political chatter about improving the broadband capability across the UK. In practice, a 2Mbit/s connection, which is already available throughout most of the UK, is more than adequate for normal business applications. Most business applications involve the users making few keystrokes and getting a page full of data in return.
All of this data is predominantly character based, and it only takes 20 milliseconds to download an entire A4 page at these speeds. Upload speeds are normally about one tenth of the upload speeds, but these are more than adequate to cater for the typing speeds of all types of user. Higher data rates are need for image downloading, and even more so for videos and sound tracks, but most businesses don’t need it.
All any of your users need is an internet connection and a computer running a standard browser, such as Google Chrome or Internet Explorer. No more than you need to access a website.
Your uses can access your business system from anywhere and at any time. Even if they don’t have access to a landline connection, a mobile connection using 3G is more than adequate. It’s also relatively cheap, because you only pay for what you use. 4G will provide higher data rates, but they are not really needed for business applications.
The introduction of tablet devices, which is occurring at a breakneck speed, is going change everyone’s approach to the use of computers. Although the market has been dominated by iPad up to now, all of the other manufacturers are piling in, which is increasing choice and driving down costs. About a quarter of the visitors to our customer website are already using some form of tablet device, and this is expected to increase to over 50% within the next twelve months.
Evolving into the Cloud
The use of cloud based computing in conjunction with the internet is a natural evolution from the earliest local area networks. Different technology, same outcome, but more accessible, greater benefits, and more efficient, all at lower cost. Even tablets are a natural evolution from the PC. Similar operating systems, same browser, but lighter, cheaper, more mobile, and with a different user interface.