How Healthy Is Your Computer Network?

Your office has grown to 20 people. You have a server that holds your accounting system, proposals and other files that you all share. Your office administrator runs a backup every night and your nephew comes in on the weekend to make sure everything runs well.
Life is good.

Or is it? How do you really know that disaster is not just around the corner ready to throw your 20 employees into an extended paid leave of absence? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Do you have the right type of backup and do you know that it even works? A good strategy is to do weekly full backups of your entire network and daily backups of files that have changed since the last full backup. Keep the weekly backups for several generations off-site and do the occasional check to ensure that your backup works, by restoring test files.

Is your network capable of handling a disk drive failure without shutting down the entire system? Even if you do keep good backups, can you afford to have your computer down in the case of a failure for the time it takes to procure a new hard drive, get a technician in to install it, restore the system and data files, etc? You should consider having an inexpensive RAID system installed that keeps two sets of data synchronized at all times on separate hard drives. This means that if either drive fails, the other continues to function as a single drive until the failed drive is replaced.

How secure is your network? Your connection to the Internet provides a portal for hackers and viruses that needs to be secured. There is not enough room in this article to list everything you need to do but you should make sure that your firewall settings are set correctly on the server and on the desktops; you have a physical firewall that is configured correctly; you have an effective password policy; you do system updates frequently; and you have effective virus and spam protection. Also note that “out of the box”, wireless routers typically do not have any security configured.

How “clean” are your desktop computers? Over the course of the years, computers pick up a whole bunch of unwanted things that tend to make them sluggish. One such thing is “spyware”, programs that keep track of your activities, causing your computer to slow down. There are good free programs you can download to clean these out, two good ones being Ad-Aware (www.lavasoft.com) and Spy-Bot (www.safer-networking.org). Also on occasion you should run a disk defragmentation utility that comes with every computer, which will reorganize data on the hard drive and this will also help speed things up.

Do you have any in-house security policies? You should have policies that restrict what employees can and cannot do. Programs that allow for online file sharing and streaming video will slow down your network. Downloading freeware from unknown sources can cause spyware and viruses to be installed on your computer. Also you should force employees to change passwords frequently and restrict the use of online chat programs.

Do you monitor you network log files? Networks write entries in electronic logs to keep track of “events” that may require some intervention. You can check these manually, or may consider subscribing to inexpensive outside services that monitor these on your behalf and alert you of anything requiring attention.

When is the last time you had a checkup? You should consider getting a professional in to do an assessment of your entire network. It would ensure all of the above items are taken care of and would provide you with options and suggestions. It could end up being money well invested.

The bottom line: What you don’t know about your computer network may hurt you. There are many dangers lurking around and you would be wise to be proactive about making sure your network is safe.

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