Ask a Geek: Stocking up

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Adam Darack is the IT administrator for the town of Edgartown. He writes regularly about the technological issues facing Island business owners. Got a question? Send it to onIsland@mvtimes.com with the subject line “Dear Geek.”

 

Dear Geek,

I have a small business and rely on computers to operate it. Between point of sale, inventory, accounting software, etc., I really can’t afford to have any downtime during the summer season. What would you recommend I have on hand for “use in case of emergency” situations?

Thanks in advance,

Break Glass in Case of Emergency

 

Dear Break,

Thanks for writing in with a question that is so timely for a multitude of businesses here on the Island. Without knowing the specifics of your business, I’ll give a general answer, but most if not all of it will likely apply.

The first item is an easy one. We all know that the summer months bring increased electrical demand that sometimes wreaks havoc on the grid. We all experience power outages and surges. Surges can fry a surge protector. They are made to take a hit, but sometimes get overwhelmed, and in those cases, usually still protect whatever is plugged into them. I have been to many locations that claim that “nothing works” only to find burned-out power strips. In a case like that, having a few spares can get you back up and running in no time. If it’s in the budget, you might want to buy one with a battery backup built-in (these are called a UPS, Uninterrupted Power Supply — not related to the “What can brown do for you?” company). A good surge protector is $17 to $25, and a lower-end UPS will cost around $60.

Second, your computers are very likely tied into a network. This network allows all of the devices to talk to each other (computers, printers, servers, etc). In a simple network (commonly found on-Island), all of the cables connected to devices end up at a network switch in a central location. This is probably near the modem, which provides Internet (and potentially phone service). Ports on switches can stop working, and switches themselves can freeze up or quit working at inopportune times. I always like to see a spare switch kicking around at a business. Commonly there is no programming in a switch, but check with your computer person to verify this. If your switch was to fail on July 3, it would be handy to be able to power up the new one and move all of the cables to it, limiting your downtime to just a few minutes. A nonfancy, run-of-the-mill 16-port gigabit switch can cost less than $70.

The most obvious item I’ll mention would be a spare computer, completely set up to run your software, connected to your network and printer. Having to source one out at the last minute during a frantic time would be a headache I’d like to see you avoid. This doesn’t need to be a top-of-the-line computer, since it’s likely to remain sitting on a shelf collecting dust. That said, if you are feeling the need to upgrade any of your current systems, keep the one you are replacing on hand, since it’s already set up to work in your environment. Last year I was able to play Dr. Frankenstein by swapping components in an establishment’s dead computer with a spare that I had at my house. I had my doubts it would work, but It did, and was a clear definition of the hard way to do it.

The last item is the simplest one: spare network cables. It can never hurt to have some three-foot, six-foot, and 15-foot cables in a drawer in case someone cuts through one by accident. Thirty dollars worth of cables will be priceless in the event that you need them. I got a call from a restaurant one August night, and they were panicked. Someone had moved the POS terminal with some force, and had torn the end off the cable attaching it to the network. It was 4:45 pm, and dinner service was starting soon. I had spare cables in my car, and was able to replace the broken one within minutes. It came with the gratification of seeing the manager cease hyperventilating and watching the color slowly return to his face, which was far more pleasant than the pale shade his face had turned when realizing he might be down one terminal during a busy summer night.

Hope all of these recommendations help. For relatively short money, you can provide your own insurance against some of the more common disasters likely to hit during the busy season. If you do happen to use one of these items, or they come in handy, please write in and let me know. I love hearing stories!

 

Best regards,

The Geek