Identifying your IT system's weak points

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Your IT system is made up of various, inter-connected components that is likely to include hardware, software, internet connection, power supply and phones. Failure of any of these constituent parts could make it difficult - or, in some cases impossible - to operate. Trevor Wood explains where business IT systems often fail and how to mitigate potential problems

Hard disk failure

Most computers save key data to one key hard drive or cloud storage solution. And even if they do have more than one, key software like the operating system will be on the main drive. If this fails, then you can't use your device.

What you do to guard against hard drive failure depends on how critical your computer is. But no matter how unimportant it is, you must run a proper backup system.

However, this doesn't stop your hard drive failing - it just gives you a safe copy of your data so you can restore everything. Doing this will take up at least a day of your time.

To avoid this downtime, get two hard drives, both the same size, and link them to a RAID controller (you can buy these from £20). RAID stands for 'redundant array of independent disks' - the simplest kind of RAID controller will save all your data onto both hard drives, automatically. It means that if either disk fails, the other takes over. You can carry on working - and all you need to do is replace the failed disk.

There are lots of different levels of RAID, but all you need for the set up described above is 'RAID 1', also called 'disk mirroring'. Wikipedia has a good introduction to RAID.

Total computer failure

It's quite unusual for your entire computer to fail. It can include having your computer stolen or (particularly with a laptop or tablet) some form of destruction, which can happen in all kinds of strange ways.

To recover from this you need to know where your credit card is, where you can buy a new computer, what software you have to reinstall and how to recover your backed up data.

Problems with your network hub or broadband router

Network hubs, routers and other key network equipment allow your business computers to connect to each other and to the internet. Failure of one of these components can be really annoying, because you can usually still get on with work, but can't access your emails or get on the internet.

If you use a router from your internet service provider (ISP), you can probably ask them for a replacement, but that could take as long as two weeks to arrive! You're probably better off buying a new one yourself, then asking them to credit you the cost.

It's the same for other network equipment - you need to replace it to get up and running again.

Loss of phones or internet access

If your broadband connection goes down then speak to your service provider. The problem could be caused by them or by your telephone company, but they should be able to tell you who's responsible. Store your ISP's phone number somewhere so that you don't have to rely on getting it from their website.

Think about having a backup internet connection too. Mobile broadband is a good option. Check the signal in your area and make sure it's set up ready to go before you need to use it. Your internet connection will fail at some point, and that's when you'll appreciate the backup.

If your whole telephone connection is down, you'll probably be able to manage with mobile phones, at least in the short term. Get your telephone supplier to redirect calls to your mobile at their expense.

Power outage

This one's a nightmare. Everything goes off: no computer, no monitor, no internet. To avoid data loss, make sure critical pieces of equipment like your network server are connected to uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). These will provide power for a short time, allowing you to shut systems down properly.

(Make sure your screens are connected to a UPS too, or you won't be able to see what you're doing, even if your computers are still on!)

Your most important piece of hardware?

When I started my company I had three key elements for my business: honesty, integrity and lots of coffee. I have two spare kettles, one electric and one that can go on the gas hob. If all else fails, I recommend at least being able to brew a comforting cup of coffee or tea!

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