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As a guy who loves to tinker and figure out solutions to impossible problems (yes, it’s a disease and I plead guilty!), one of my favorite movies of all time is Apollo 13.  And my favorite scenes?  They are the ones where an engineering team is given a bag of parts and asked to figure out how to make square filters fit into round receptacles.  Then, astronaut Ken Mattingly (played by actor Gary Sinise), is charged with powering the crippled command module Odyssey before the crew is lost in space. At the risk of sounding like an “astronaut-wannabee (guilty again!),” we in the IT business are faced with Apollo-like challenges every time we take on an infrastructure design project.  Technology is the life-blood of any organization and so, to quote Apollo 13 Flight Director Gene Kranz, “failure is not an option.” It’s tough enough to put together a five year business plan, let alone the infrastructure design to support it.

Five years in the IT world is a lifetime.  As yet undeveloped new technologies will invariably scream for increased bandwidth and the processing power to support it.  From wide area networks (WAN) to VM-based server environments, VoIP telephone systems to back-up and disaster recovery systems, there’s a whole lot of educated guessing going on.

Infrastructure design is not for the faint of heart and not necessarily the sole purview of your in- house IT people.  Internal IT personnel are focused on the day to day operations of your system so for projects of this magnitude, you’d be well served to bring in consultants who specialize in this type of long term problem solving. So how do you know your IT consultant is doing the right thing?  Qualified vendors will follow the four-step method.

  1. Planning
  2. Deployment
  3. Migration 
  4. Testing

Planning

A thorough site assessment of your current infrastructure should be conducted that includes interviews with key business stakeholders.  You need to share your business plan with your consultant, including projected business opportunities, the strategy for implementation, your future organizational structure, and the predicted effect all of this will have on your core operations.  The consultant’s job will be to evaluate what you have now, and try and project the hardware and software requirements down the road.  By the way, be sure to ask your consultant if he/she is vendor agnostic, meaning are their recommendations the best solution or just the best solution from the manufacturers they are compensated to represent.

Deployment

Once the initial decisions are made, you need to evaluate whether hardware should be leased or purchased.  Your consultant should have the capability to assist in negotiating optimal software licensing and broadband provider contracts and then configure your systems accordingly. If they can also assist with financing, take advantage of it.

Migration

A formal migration schedule should then be submitted to minimize the impact on business operations.Once installed, operational documents should be delivered that provide all technical and operational data for maintenance, upgrade, and troubleshooting.

Testing

After on-site installation, IT engineers should confirm full system functionality by utilizing test server environments if necessary.  

A major infrastructure design can take months, if not a year to plan and deploy, and will no doubt require countless revisions as time goes on.  In Apollo 13, Astronaut Ken Mattingly and the rest of the NASA engineering team had no such luxury.  They hypothesized their solutions, tested their recommendation, and then transmitted the fix to the crew aboard the Odyssey.  They had just days to plan and deploy but in the end, the spacecraft returned to earth with all on board unscathed.

As you conduct your next IT infrastructure design, be sure to hire the right team and put in the time and effort to make sure nothing burns up on re-entry.

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