IT– Truth or Dare!

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© 2011 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

There are many misconceptions about the Internet, hardware, and software that impact the decisions people make.  Let’s shed some light on a few of them!

The Internet
We are increasingly dependent on the Internet today.

  • Types of Connections.  There was a day when the best Internet connections for business were T1 lines.  T1’s are very expensive, and their maximum speed is only 1.544 megabits per second (mbps).  Today’s best connections are usually DSL or from television cable companies where many megabit connections can be had for a tiny fraction of the cost of a T1.  If you haven’t shopped your Internet connection in the last two years, that would be a wise task to add to your list to do early this year.
  • Connection Speed.  Many think that if they have a fast Internet connection their downloads and browsing will happen at ‘instantaneous’ speeds.  Theoretically they’re right, but knowing how the Internet works helps explain why the results often don’t meet expectations.
    • When you connect to a website or transfer a file, the connection between you and your destination is not direct.  The Internet routes traffic in ways that are often surprising!  For instance, if I connect to my church’s network— even though it is only three miles away— the connection actually travels thousands of miles and goes through many devices!  Even though we are both served by the same Internet Service Provider, or ISP (Verizon), the connection goes from my home in Huntington Beach, CA to Wichita, KS, and then back to Huntington Beach!  The route takes it through at least six switches!
    • The connection will travel at the speed of the slowest device it connects through.  If any of those are overloaded or being hit by a botnet (network of computers controlled by a Trojan virus, etc) Denial Of  Service (DOS) attack, my connection will be slowed down.
    • The connection speed is often limited by the computer I’m connecting to!  Even though I have a very fast Internet connection, if the computer on the other end has a slow connection or has been engineered to slowly meter out its data (in the case of a download), our connection will be slow accordingly.
  • Trends.  The Cloud is coming!  The trend will be to move data and applications to servers located in datacenters and to outsource your entire IT department, referred to as IT As A Service.  This trend is still early in its lifecycle, and very few corporations are embracing it at this time for data or services they consider crucial to their operations and/ or profitability.  That will change over the next couple of years as security, reliability, and cost factors improve.

Hardware

  • Multiprocessing.  Up to this point our computers appeared to do more than one thing at a time, but they did so by simply juggling multiple tasks with their very fast processing abilities.  This is called multi-threaded processing.  The computers we can buy today are finally able to do true multiprocessing because they have multiple processors.  And those processors can each do multi-threaded processing, making new systems very fast.  RAM is still a key factor, though… our firm recommends getting as much RAM as you can afford when buying new computers.
  • Brands.  It’s still true that not all name brands are created equal when it comes to engineering, design, and reliability.  And some have grown a dependability mystique they don’t really deserve!  But my firm’s favorite brands are still Dell and Mac.  With those two it’s hard to go wrong.
  • Trends.  Two trends worth mentioning:
    • Because of the trend towards The Cloud, the hardware you do your work on (desktop, notebook, tablet, or smartphone) will become less and less important.  Applications are being developed to run ‘hosted’ (over the Internet) that are increasingly hardware and operating system ‘agnostic’ in that they don’t care what kind of computer you’re accessing them from.
    • With the growing popularity of the smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc) and tablet (iPad, etc), notebook sales are declining. The trend looks like we’ll be using mobile devices of our choosing for more and more of our actual work as The Cloud and the software it hosts grows in ability, reliability, and flexibility.

Software

  • Free Solutions.  There are an increasing number of freeware and shareware options available today to help us get our work done.  Some are good, and some aren’t— just like any other software.  The one piece of the puzzle that must be remembered when looking at free solutions is support.  Most only offer support via email with a 24-48 hour response promise unless you pay them for support.  When you consider the low cost of commercial solutions that offer charity licensing (like Microsoft Office for only about  $80), it may not be a true savings to go ‘free’ when compared to lost productivity.
  • Homemade Databases.  Databases that are custom-written actually cost more than those that can be purchased.  In addition, they are rarely well-documented.  We continue to recommend against such options.
  • Trends.  Two trends worth mentioning in this category too:
    • Software pricing for charities is so low it will be interesting to see if ‘Cloud’ solutions will be cost effective.  Currently, we are not aware of any software providers offering charity pricing for hosted solutions that have previously only offered shrink-wrap software.  If that continues, charities may need to seek hybrid Cloud solutions that allow them to have their own servers in shared datacenter space.
    • Another trend, however, is the development of software for most office productivity work that can run and can share content across differing platforms.  Given the trend toward mobile devices and The Cloud, this may become a computing option of choice.  The downside, though, is that it will increase the challenge of offering good internal technical support to team members because many will be using software unfamiliar to other members of the team.

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