Recession-ready IT

This page is a companion piece to the article written for BD in March 2009. The headings in each section follow the headings in the article. The article can be found on the BD site here.

The article has the following structure; use the links to jump to the notes relevant to that section.

We will be discussing issues brought up in the article at our next forum on the subject of "A blueprint for IT services at Design Companies" The forum will be held at the Building Design Centre on 21 April 2009 from 4-6pm. If you wish to attend please email

The article has at its heart the idea the IT should be considered an integral part of any company's operational strategy.

IT Strategy Diagram
From the Operations Forum, November 2008.

Harvard Business School's study of 2005-2006, entitled "Why IT Matters in Midsized Firms", states this idea in the following terms:

… the amount a company spends on IT is a poor indicator of IT functionality and business impact. It is easy to spend a considerable amount of money on technology with very little improvement in the functional capability of the business … the best firms couple the design of their information technology system with the design of the firm.

Infrastructure: The need for infrastructure monitoring and reporting.

We recommend the use of dashboard reports, such as the report below, to give management a high-level view of how their IT services are performing.

IT overview dashboard

Data Storage requirements are growing fast : what to do.

Storage divides very roughly into two sorts: expensive, fast storage based on SCSI or SAS disks, or cheap slow storage based on SATA or IDE disks. Most practices have arrays of the former, when SATA disks can be combined in very fast disk arrays providing huge quantities of storage. For instance commodity arrays can achieve well over 400MB/s throughput using SATA disks. This is more than adequate for most file servers, although admittedly not suitable for large mail or database installations. SATA arrays can save a lot of money, as a typical SAS 300GB drive costs more than 400 pounds. One can get almost two and a half terabytes of enterprise class SATA storage for the same amount of money. Additionally, SATA arrays will soon be supplied with hugely fast SSD disks that will cache data before writing it out to the SATA arrays. This may mean in future that SAS disks may only be used for specialist or database-centric uses where general disk IO is required to be exceptionally fast.
» Wikipedia on SAS
» Wikipedia on SATA
» Coraid AOE at 200-600MB/sec

Services : Virtualisation of services permits less reliance on hardware.

Virtualisation is a very interesting topic. We covered some aspects of it in a recent IT forum at our offices, which run from an overview of how different sorts of virtualisation work, to terms such as "hypervisor", to a hands-on demonstration on some virtualisation technologies such as Xen, VirtualIron and VMWare Infrastructure.
There is huge competition in the virtualisation market, as Microsoft enters the fray with its Hyper-V technology and many other hardware manufacturers and alternative operating system providers turning to commercial versions of the open-source Xen technology, notably Citrix XenServer. These two, together with a host of other solutions are competing with the current de facto standard, VMWare. If you wish to move services easily between servers it is, at present, probably best to trial VMWare Infrastructure and Citrix XenServer. The latter is free.
» View the virtualisation forum notes
» Citrix XenServer
» VMWare Infrastructure
» Microsoft Hyper-V

Telephony : Routing calls over the internet provides huge cost savings.

We use Asterisk, ISDN server cards from Sangoma and Snom phones to save a lot on our phone bills. How did we do it? We bought a few copies of "The Future of Telephony" by O'Reilly (ISBN 13: 9780596510480) and subscribed to the Asterisk mailing list.
» Asterisk book at O'Reilly's website
» Sangoma ISDN cards
» Snom phones

Online Apps

Find best in class online applications to manage your business from anywhere. Candidates for consideration could include Axomic/OpenAsset (image management), NewForma (information management), Union Square (ditto), Rapport3 (practice management) and ProjectMinder (management accounts) -- any many others. These applications can allow design companies to improve their operational efficiency without trying to reinvent the wheel themselves. Several suppliers of web apps attended our November 2008 forum.
» November 2008 forum notes
» OpenAsset/Axomic image management
» NewForma (Oce)
» Union Square Workspace
» Rapport3 by Cubic Interactive
» IRIS ProjectMinder

People : Invest in people rather than licences.

One could suggest that the new BS1192 standard (which sets out methodology for managing the production, distribution and quality of construction information) is simply trying to bring some of the innovations of the 1980s manufacturing world to the way in which building professionals exchange information. Ironically, companies like Toyota have shown that to become exceptionally good at manufacturing, one has to base one's business on developing people. So while BS1192 is interesting in its own right, one can't simply become efficient by buying software. It is worth considering investing in your staff and improving how your business does things first. Using open source software you can do both.
» Wikipedia's page on open source
» An open source operating system with 25113 applications
» Wikipedia's page on 'The Toyota Way'