In the complex and ever-changing world of technology, there are two simple approaches to network maintenance: proactive and reactive. Because the industry is so dynamic, it is virtually impossible to predict when something will break. Whether a PC gets a virus, a software upgrade is incompatible with an operating system, or a natural disaster physically destroys a network, downtime is costly. That is why it is so important to proactively employ technology best practices.

To be reactive towards technology is to take the break-fix approach, which is a considerable financial risk. In the event that a PC or Server goes down, end-user productivity is affected – at the very least. The time spent on fixing an issue is a loss of billable hours, not to mention a pricy undertaking, especially if hardware replacement is involved. Between workflow disruption and the time and money required to fix or replace a damaged machine, a reactive approach to technology can prove to be the more costly of the two routes.

At a minimum, a professional organization needs a technology budget – money set aside for instances when machines need to be repaired or replaced, in addition to software/hardware updates and upgrades. This budget can and should be used towards periodic network maintenance as well, which is one of the simplest ways to proactively care for a network. Regularly patching and updating is an easy – yet essential – way to ensure a network is functional, protected and even compliant.

Instead of waiting for a hardware malfunction, the dreaded blue screen or a malware attack to take down a PC, a recommended practice is to replace computers after four or five years. This ideology also applies to software. It is encouraged that users upgrade all software applications as new versions are released, especially if they are to be run on new machines with current operating systems. One of the biggest risks of running old versions of software is discontinued support from the software manufacturer. Additionally, it is probable there will be compatibility issues if an unsupported version of software is run on a current and supported operating system, or vice versa.

It is important for users to educate themselves on industry trends in order to stay up-to-date with the latest software and hardware trends. Not only would that benefit the efficiency of the organization, but it would also ensure adherence to government mandated compliancy regulations.

For example, Microsoft ended support for Windows XP operating systems as of April 8th, 2014, meaning XP machines would no longer receive regular security patches. Users maintaining XP computers became vulnerable to security threats designed specifically for these unsupported operating systems. Furthermore, XP computers are no longer compliant with regulations such as HIPAA, PCI, Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Formal Opinion, and others. As a result, organizations using XP computers are at risk for malware and viruses, which could cause unforeseen downtime, in addition to damage to professional reputation and a loss of clients due to compliancy discrepancies. Furthermore, because Microsoft is no longer supporting XP, it is probable that software companies will follow suit, if they have not done so already. This means that future versions of software will not be compatible with XP operating systems.

Proactive organizations prepared for Windows’ end of support by budgeting for replacement computers with enough forethought to have them installed before the April 8th deadline.

Although it’s virtually impossible to predict when a machine may get infected with a virus or when a piece of hardware may go bad, there are some simple and preventative steps users should take to maintain their systems. Network passwords should be changed every 90-120 days, and should contain a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Users need to be cognizant of the threat of malicious emails. If an email has a suspicious attachment, contains a link embedded within the email, or is from an unfamiliar sender, it is reasonable to assume it is a spam email. Also, networks need antivirus software, such as Symantec, as a necessary layer of protection. In the event that a PC or network does go down due to a virus, hardware failure, etc., a proper backup solution is key to restoring data quickly and easily.

There are many components to a successful network and it is very important to proactively update these components on a regular basis to sustain productivity and compliance. Planning, budgeting and maintenance are essential to a successful network.