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Getting business ready for computing

The small to medium enterprise has become increasingly reliant on its IT infrastructure, but implementation can often prove extremely costly. MARCO VIERA offers a beginner’s guide….

The small to medium enterprise (SME) has become increasingly reliant on its IT infrastructure, but implementing desktop computers, servers and perhaps a number of notebook PCs can often prove extremely costly.

I believe that installing a server and integrating a series of desktop PCs via a network is simple enough, but should be implemented according to the organisation’s business requirements ‚ and should be done by professionals.

Depending on the SME’s business requirements, some may find that they require notebooks instead of bulky desktops. A notebook is, of course, suited to an organisation with specialist consultants who are traditionally mobile. It’s also perfect for a sales-oriented company with employees on the road.

However, there are those SMEs with a predominantly office-bound staff complement that will require a link to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and network access privileges. The ‘office bound’ company should start with a small server.

SMEs should start small and grow their IT infrastructure as the business grows. Buying a top-of-the-range server will only prove expensive and it will in all likelihood never be used to its full capacity. I also advise opting for reputable brand name hardware as this comes with strong backing and after-sales support.

For the cash-strapped SME, an alternative is to opt for a ‘white box’ or clone solution. However, while these are normally cheaper than a branded product at the outset, problems may eventually arise when it becomes time to upgrade or expand the system concerned.

Some SMEs feel there is no real investment in choosing a white box, since branded products offer better after-sales service, and it is always possible to acquire replacement parts if required. What’s more, branded products have undergone better research and development and are thus more expensive, but a great deal more reliable with added ‘peace-of-mind’ assurance.

For SMEs with limited requirements from their IT infrastructure, a thin client ‚ or server-computing environment ‚ is best. The server is expensive, but cost savings are enjoyed at individual user points.

A thin client solution is suited to a fast-growing data capture operation since a company of this type will only need to upgrade the server as the business grows. Quick replacements of faulty equipment can be performed, and an organisation has the option of pre-upgrading its server to meet the growing needs of the future.

Consulting businesses should opt for notebooks as these are best for non office-based use. The notebooks of today are also very powerful and can usually act as desktop replacements, but pricing is a little on the steep side.

PDAs, on the other hand, are very basic tools and offer scaled-down versions of popular software applications. A PDA acts more as a mobile reminder device with e-mail capability than anything else. Most SMEs would ideally opt to use a notebook and PDA or a notebook and cellphone ‚ not both. In a nutshell, pricing always remains an issue. Branded products are more expensive but offer better total cost of ownership (TCO) due to their reliability, scalability and general upgradeability over an extended period of time. Branded products simply offer better long-term prospects and benefits.

Conversely, there are limitations to white box solutions. They are still viable if SMEs realise that while they may pay less at the outset, problems might be encountered in the long runs.

* Marco Vieira is product manager at independent IT solutions providers, First Technology. He can be contacted on +27 11 7904400, or visit their web site at

This article first appeared in The Big Change, the newsletter of business strategy in the hi-tech economy. Anyone may subscribe at no cost by sending a blank e-mail to:

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