This is Part 2 of a series about making sure IT catastrophe doesn’t ruin your small business.


Working on a project last week, I was struck by the use of the word “redundant” in IT.

The normal meaning, according to Google, is “no longer needed or useful; superfluous.” But in IT, it has a very different meaning. It means, more or less “a capability that’s been duplicated to reduce the risk of downtime.”

We see this in nature all the time. Long ago, families had more than one child to mitigate the risk of high child mortality. We have two kidneys on the off chance one will fail.

So, in the interest of mimicking nature, a good IT strategy is basically “ruthlessly duplicate everything”. You want to build IT redundancy into what you use to run your business.

This probably seems expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

Let me tell you a story. Several months ago, my main, two year old notebook started becoming unreliable. The operating system had, over time, become flaky, and I needed to reinstall it. For those of you who don’t use Windows, this is a common occurrence and it’s a time suck at best, and a source of great frustration at worst.

My notebook stopped working during a client project. I spent a few days recovering and potentially infuriating the client.

This is when I implemented my new, “rotate and balance” plan. The rules are:

1. Always keep two notebooks with the same operating system and applications. You don’t need two systems with dissimilar operating systems and applications because, at best, you’ll have to remember two ways of getting tasks done, and at worst, you’ll end up with a file incompatibility or different formatting.

2. Never buy the latest generation of technology. I like buying technology, but only when the bugs have been worked out. So at a minimum, wait six months after product release to see what the world is saying about it.

3. Always buy refurbished business systems. Dell has a site called, where it sells systems that have been returned. Other vendors do the same thing. Only buy the ones returned by corporations. You want a corporate class system, designed not to annoy the Fortune 500 and Federal government. You do NOT want a consumer class system because it has not been designed for maximum uptime. Often corporate systems are a little more expensive, but generally come with better warranties and support. I have never spent more than $600 on a notebook and I get good, mainstream capabilities without compromise by purchasing refurbished systems.

4. Keep business applications one generation behind. This aligns to #2, above, but often by doing this you can save money. The exception to this rule is any application that protects your system and data — spyware, viruses, firewalls, all those need to be as up to date as possible.

5. Purchase three year business support warranties. This should go without saying. Many manufacturers have bad reputations for support — but that’s invariably consumer support, not business support. If you have a business support contract, you’ll 95% of the time get good service.

6. Every 1.5 years, get rid of the backup system, demote your main system to backup, and buy a new notebook. This should be obvious — once a notebook is more than three years old, the rate of failure increases.

7. Keep your work somewhere that’s easily accessed from both systems.

On my desk today is a 2 year old Dell Latitude E5410 backup system with a newly scrubbed hard drive, and a newish Latitude E5430 that’s my primary notebook.

In my next post I’ll tell you how I keep these systems protected.