Top 10 Tech Upgrades to Make Your Small Business Run Faster

  • (CIO (US))
  • 04 February, 2013 15:39

If you run a small business, you know that things happen faster than they do in the corporate world. Thats all the more reason to make sure your technology is up to date and is able to keep up with you and your employees.

If you're lucky enough to have extra funds in this year's IT budget, or if you're planning to invest in incremental improvements, here are 10 tech upgrades that will help your employees get things done faster in 2013.

Switch to 802.11n Wi-Fi

If you're still running a 802.11b or 802.11g Wi-Fi network in the office, it may be a good time to ramp things up a notch by rolling out an 802.11n deployment. A faster wireless speed not only allows for a better experience. It also makes it possible for the network to serve a greater number of wireless devices, since it takes less time to complete each data transfer.

Tips: How to Set Up a Business-Grade Wi-Fi NetworkReview: Ruckus Wi-Fi Access Points for Your Small Business

A relative dearth of laptops with three-stream (450 Mbps) support means that deploying two-stream Access Points (APs) capable of 300 Mbps access speeds should work great for most businesses. In addition, make sure you acquire business-grade APs capable of operating simultaneously on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency band.

Upgrade to Network Attached Storage

The file servers of yesteryear-full-fledged server machines running server operating systems and equipped with multiple disk drives-offered a convenient, centralized location for file sharing. Today, Network Attached Storage (NAS) offers similar features, but with substantially greater power efficiency and upgradability.

How-to: Choose the Right NAS System for Your Business

Much of this power efficiency can be attributed to the low-power Intel Atom or ARM-based microprocessors used in modern NAS appliances. Furthermore, most vendors recognize that storage demands do increase over time and now sell expansion chassis that lets businesses add more disk storage without having to purchase another NAS. Indeed, rapid improvements on this front mean that some SMBs may even find it beneficial to replace an aging NAS device with a newer model.

Consider Gigabit Networking

If your core network is still bumbling along at a Fast Ethernet speed of 100 Mbps, consider upgrading it to Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) for a 10-fold increase in throughput. To put this upgrade into perspective, a large file transfer that took 15 minutes to finish at 100 Mbps will take less than two minutes when transferred over a network operating at 1,000 Mbps.

GbE used to be expensive, but proponents will point out that gigabit network switches are affordable today. In addition, they work over widely deployed CAT 5E cabling. Finally, GbE is built into most desktops and laptops, and it's necessary to support 300 Mbps 802.11n Wi-Fi APs.

Use a Docking Station With Your Ultrabook or Laptop

Businesses with workers who rely heavily on laptops or ultrabooks may want to invest in a docking station to expand their workstation connectivity options. Unlike proprietary docks sold by laptop makers in the past, today's docks typically connect using the standard USB interface. As you can imagine, this allows your dock investment to be reused with newer laptops.

It's important to note that a dock eliminates the need for peripherals such as keyboards, mice, speakers and network cables that must be plugged in and unplugged all the time. Using wired Ethernet, too, offers faster and more reliable network connectivity as it frees up wireless capacity for workers not at their desks. Finally, some newer docks, such as the Targus USB 3.0 SuperSpeed Dual Video Docking Station, support two external monitors, which makes setting up a multi-monitor rig easy.

Deploy Multiple Monitors

It's well established that using more than one monitor helps improve productivity and boost user satisfaction-in some cases by up to 50 percent-since you spend less time toggling between application windows. Unfortunately, most SMBs dither about spending money on something that does not deliver an immediate and tangible return.

How-too: 6 Ways to Use Multiple Displays With Your Laptop

However, with 23-inch LCD displays available for as little as $150, businesses may want to consider a limited deployment or a pilot study. At a minimum, SMBs should consider deploying one external LCD display of reasonable size for laptop users. This will help reduce eyestrain by replacing the smallish laptop displays with something that is comfortable.

Upgrade Your RAM

Modern computers with 4 GB or more of random access memory (RAM) generally have sufficient memory for most user needs. The mantra "more RAM never hurts" continues to be relevant, though, and it's is bolstered by the sheer affordability of RAM.

For one, having enough RAM lets you reduce virtual memory or even turn it off entirely. This will result in a snappier experience for hard disk drive (HDD) systems, especially when they are heavily loaded. Newer laptops equipped with fast solid-state drives (SSD), on the other hand, will see more of their expensive flash-based storage space freed up.

How-to: Recover Data on HDD, SSD and Flash-Based Memory

Of course, a RAM upgrade may not be for everyone. One strange quirk of RAM memory modules is that, while the prices of slightly older chips tend to be cheaper, the reverse is true for those that are a generation behind. You can expect those prices to spike instead.

Upgrade to Solid State Drive

Deferring that company-wide system upgrade until Windows 8 adoption picks up? The easiest way to stretch the lifespan of an aging desktop or laptop is to upgrade the internal HDD to an SSD. The higher speed at which an SSD can read and write data, in turn, lets users boot up their systems and launch their applications faster.

In fact, the effect of an SSD upgrade is immediately noticeable-more so than an increase in RAM or a processor upgrade. Aside from the benefits of getting things done faster, the speedup translates into greater user satisfaction. Moreover, SSDs don't have to cost a lot too; even a lower-end model will offer a significant system boost compared to a two- to three years-old mechanical HDD.

On the flip side, computers stuck with older computers running on the Parallel ATA (PATA) may be out of luck, since SSDs sold today are based on the newer Serial ATA (SATA) interface.

Get Faster, More Robust Internet Connectivity

It's surprising that some businesses would skimp on Internet connectivity despite their complete reliance on it to get things done. Without the Internet, crucial business emails would not be received, chat clients and VoIP conferences would grind to a halt and Web-based CRM and ERP systems would be inaccessible.

Advice: DSL Connection Too Slow? Here's How to Speed It Up

With this in mind, increasing Internet speed will certainly speed up file downloads and the loading of Web pages. An even better idea: Sign up for a second Internet line with another provider and load balance access between the two lines. Not only will this speed things up, it will also provide a safety net should your Internet connectivity fail.

Store Data in the Cloud

One way to gain access to business documents anywhere in the world is to load them into the cloud. (Obviously, a thorough evaluation of the attendant security risks of storing business data in the public cloud should first be conducted prior to making the leap.)

Tips: 10 Ways to Ease Public Cloud Security Concerns

Assuming a decision to go ahead, online storage services such as Dropbox, Box and SugarSync are worth a look.

Use a Faster USB Flash Drive

Ever spot cheap USB flash drives at the flea market and wonder about the large price difference with those you saw elsewhere? Though part of the reason for the price disparity may be mark-ups imposed by more established shops, the truth is that not all USB flash drives offer the same kind of performance. The speed at which you can write files to or copy data from a flash drive varies depending on the electronics under the hood.

News: First 1TB USB Flash Drive Coming Soon

Raw access speeds are of little relevance for occasionally transporting small documents. Busineses that uses them with large files such as high-resolution photographs and computer assisted drawing (CAD) plans will appreciate faster flash drives. Instead of going for the cheapest USB flash drive, pay attention to the stated read/write speeds before buying.

Paul Mah is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Singapore. Paul has worked a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul also enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones and networking devices. You can reach Paul at paul@mah.sg and follow him on Twitter at @paulmah.

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Read more about process improvement in CIO's Process Improvement Drilldown.

More about: Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Intel, NAS, Speed, SugarSync, Targus
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