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Tips for Maximizing Your IT Budget This Year

Last updated Mar 28, 2003.

This year, like last year, many companies and organizations are really cranking down on the money they spend for, well, everything. The economy, thanks to the usual suspects (greed and stupidity) has been doing poorly and this year looks no better for most companies. Information Technology is an expensive hobby, so its normally one of the first places that an organization looks to trim in an economic downturn.

As the columnist Paul Harvey used to say, “In times like these, it is helpful to recall that there have always been times like these.” And he’s right. Looking back over financial data for the past few decades, you will notice that these kinds of things are cyclical — they happen over and over again, primarily due to (and because of) the two reasons I mentioned earlier.

As a data professional, you then get hit with all of the economic “buzz-words”: Do more with less, be more “agile,” and be more resourceful. If you want to get the most out of your part of the budget, here are some tips you might find useful.

Use the MAPS Tool to Find Licenses You Are Not Using

Microsoft SQL Server comes in several editions that you can choose from. Some of these editions (the older MSDE and the newer SQL Server Express) are free, but the rest have some sort of licensing cost. In most cases, you can license SQL Server either per “seat,” meaning a computer is licensed to access any SQL Server, or by “Processor,” which means any number of clients can access a SQL Server. There are other variations, of course, and you’ll need to check with your local Microsoft office to find out what you’ve paid for. Once you know that information, you need to find the SQL Server software you have in your organization and “true up,” or make sure you’ve paid for what you are using.

Some shops I run into are using more SQL Server than they are paying for. In that case, you have to take the hit (even in a downturn it is illegal to steal software) and pay for what you use. Microsoft is a fairly lenient company about this, and will work with you to true up in a graceful way that won’t bust your organization’s budget, and it’s sure cheaper to do that than get into licensing trouble. But sometimes you find that you’re actually using less than you’re paying for. In that case, you can save your organization money by reducing the licenses you own, or perhaps re-using them on new projects. But how do you find which systems in your organization have SQL Server installed? How do you know that someone over in manufacturing, accounting, research and development and so on haven’t installed it without your knowledge?

Using the free Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAPS) tool allows you to locate systems that have SQL Server installed — in almost any version or edition. It makes great little reports, spreadsheets and so on, and even maps out how busy those editions are. It doesn’t report anything to Microsoft — just you, and you have full control over how it polls the servers. I’ve covered the MAPS tool back in February of 2009.

Virtualize Servers

You can reduce your hardware expenses by virtualizing your physical servers. This will save not only on the hardware maintenance, but it will save power and rack space rental as well. Don’t do this blindly or without thinking about it. Virtualizing Servers is something you need to carefully plan out and think over, since putting more servers on a single box consumes more resources, raises the risk profile and so on. Even so, it’s a viable strategy to reduce the amount of physical hardware you’re paying for, and as I mentioned there are other benefits. What is does not save you is licensing costs – placing multiple SQL Servers on a virtual “host” is still installing SQL Server – you have to pay for that one way or another.

There’ a free on-line cost calculator for using Hyper-V (one brand of virtualization technology) at: http://www.microsoft.com/Windowsserver2008/en/us/hyperv-calculators.aspx.

Also, you can use the MAPS tool information to find out which systems are “candidates” for this kind of technology.

Consolidate SQL Server Systems

It’s not all about virtualization, you know. You can actually collapse your systems in lots of ways, and some of these methods can even relax the licensing you need.

The place to start is with “application stacking”. That means you should do an inventory of your software applications to see if any of them are actually storing the same data twice — if your users are using two software packages to do the same thing, combine them. Cost: Free — and possibly even a reduction of one of those software applications.

Next, consider “database stacking.” That means moving databases from one server to another, eventually removing the need for one of the servers. This needs to be done carefully, of course, and you need to clearly understand the impacts that each database has on the overall system when you combine them. Once again, the MAPS tool information can help you out.

You can read a great whitepaper on consolidation options here: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc917532.aspx

Maximize Your Training Money

One place companies cut down on first is training, which I think is a mistake. If that’s the case in your organization, argue for a reduced budget, not a completely eliminated one.

Try to get one conference for a central member of the team to attend so that they can bring back information for the rest of the team. I recommend something like PASS, because there is so much there that you can bring back for the rest of the team.

Volunteer for and attend the local (free) SQL Saturday events. You often get really top-notch speakers, and you can connect with them and interact on more personal level.

You should also start or attend a local SQL Server User Group. You’ll be able to share information, and find out how other companies are saving money as well.

Offer to review books in that user group — most publishers will send one copy of recent books out free to a user group for review.

Read good SQL Sites each month and follow the major bloggers. In fact, you’re doing that now. There is a wealth of information here on InformIT, and while you’re at it, you should check out the Safari site here that allows you to read thousands of technical books online far cheaper than buying them outright in hard-copy form.

Add Value to Your Organization Once a Month

No, this doesn’t actually save money, but you should do something visible for the company or organization once a month. Show them that you are strategic with your systems, not just tactical. This will increase your group’s profile and potentially get their attention when you asked for that conference, book or management software outlay.

When you think about it, you’re in this together with your organization. You have to help them make and save money, since in the end it comes down to saving your job. And that’s an important thing regardless of the economic climate.

InformIT Articles and Sample Chapters

Staying with the theme, check out this article on Five Free Things You Can Do to Improve Your Company’s Performance.

Books and eBooks

If you’re new to Safari, you can check it out for free here.

Online Resources

Did you know Microsoft offers lots of free training as well? Check it out here.