'Know what you have'
Name: Jon Collins
Job Title: Managing Director, Freeform Dynamics
The first thing to do is 'know what you have' in terms of desktops - which, if you knew, would already put your organisation in a minority. This is not just a large company issue - as people bring their own computers and netbooks (or just work from home), and as execs insist on the latest kit, it can be very difficult to get a handle on just what it is you are supposed to be supporting - or where the costs are.
It's important to understand not just hardware configurations but also software versions running on each machine. It is possible to do this manually but discovery and asset management tools (such as those from LanDesk and Altiris) can help. In terms of capital savings, then, without changing any of the hardware you can first look at software licensing - what products are no longer used, or are being kept 'just in case' - in which case they may be withdrawn from all but a select number of users? There may also be a place for site or corporate licensing, should it be the case that what you thought was a 'nice to have' for a certain set of users, had become a 'need to have' across the organisation.
From an operational standpoint there is plenty that can be done. For physical machines, if we think about turning them off at night there are benefits in terms of power management, as well as wear and tear on machines - though this needs to be balanced with patch management policy, that is, the machine may well need to be switched on so a patch can be applied. Power saving features can also be enabled so that money is saved even when the machine is switched on - perhaps it's not essential that the machine runs at 'maximum performance' all the time.
By far the most expensive resource you have is people, however. While we don't expect anyone to be put out of a job (there is a skills shortage despite the Credit Crunch), ops staff could nonetheless be put onto more useful tasks if some of the burdens of day to day management were removed. For example through better remote monitoring, diagnosis and resolution, patch management, self service and so on. The costs of deskside and site visits can very quickly be racked up, many of which can be dealt with through remote control of the desktop and a phone call.
Finally, we've written about the importance of keeping hardware and software up to date - both have a 'sell-by' beyond which support costs tend to ramp up, so you need to watch for that as well. The 'masterclass' would suggest keeping a log of support cases by machine and software type, so you can spot what systems/applications are becoming a problem. For the majority, a simple review of what's getting too old to be easily manageable, would do.
'Fire-fighting calls starting to fall away'
Name: Adam Salisbury
Job Title: Infrastructure Support Engineer
In any organisation, securing the budget for internal IT is a painstaking task, which often leaves us a little out of pocket. But such are the needs of the business. Effective spending is of utmost importance especially when new projects and technologies are constantly on the march.
The key to conserving and indeed, reducing IT spend starts with asset management; until you know exactly what you have and exactly what it's doing you cannot leverage the full potential of your systems. Engaging in effective Active Directory maintenance in terms of regularly sanitising machine accounts is best practice and it will give you the widest view of the infrastructure, albeit a fairly basic one.
Dedicated asset management software is obviously highly advantageous, but if you don't have it then try checking out the reporting functionality of any software update management solutions you have deployed. If you've yet to invest in such technology then maybe now is the time. As well as streamlining and standardiseing the desktop updating process, you'll gain a window onto your desktop world too, as many have some kind of reporting functionality too.
Once you've audited the desktop environment, implemented software update management you can begin standardising the software on them, and subsequently your build images, thus increasing efficiency of both system and user. Attaching a knowledge base to call logging software, or even better, using an existing system for this, will improve the efficiency and quality of service desk activities and reduce costs.
With these measures in place you'll see the day-to-day fire-fighting calls starting to fall away. Knowledge base or wiki articles can be reported upon and used for trend analysis and to improve the quality of service management. Coupled this with the data from the call logging system and you really can begin to prioritise where to focus your human and financial resources.
Many solutions are available. You'll almost certainly have come across recommendations to embrace open source software, converting to a Citrix or Terminal Services environment or desktop virtualisation. These may work for you; if your organisation has a formidable server infrastructure then maybe you could build a Terminal Services and run a pilot. If you've already got a little Citrix in the mix you would do well to consider building that out. However, let's assume you've so far followed standard 'thick client' doctrine; in this case how are you going to find the funds for these, initially expensive solutions.
Desktop virtualisation is again a solution that can potentially be expensive to implement although savings can be achieved by deprecating build imaging servers which wouldn't be needed in a virtualised environment, they can then be redeployed as hypervisors. This would be of more benefit to an enterprise than SMB where structured support processes, working practices and the necessary infrastructure capacity already exist.
There are more ways to make savings and cut costs that you'd think, not all of them involve a lot or even any initial investment and once the ball is rolling it's easier to build more momentum. ®