bridge of the enterprise: Installing a Client/Server Environment

In my travels I get to witness how organizations handle the transition to a client/server environment. Some handle it well and others simply do not. How well your company plans and executes may make the difference between your bonus and your unemployment check.

I am always amazed at the lack of planning of some companies -- client machines without adequate memory, disk or processing power; servers without the necessary operating systems, service packs or database engines, not to mention disk space; networks with bottlenecks all over the place. It is as though the thought of needing adequate disk space for an application never occurred to anyone. It is easy to say the vendor never told me, but is it not prudent to ask?

When an organization wishes to deploy a client/server solution of any consequence, they must realize that they are likely to take on more than one major implementation projects. The first should be to implement the infrastructure required to support the applications they will be deploying. This is no small task and should not be taken lightly. Take, for example, the series of calls and e-mails I got over the weekend while I was writing this column. Some would indicate the build of an applications package failed. Why? Because the server that the build was running on ran out of disk space. In the mean time I am getting frantic phone calls and e-mails stating the urgency of the situation. Other calls were security-related -- the applications were returning a message indicating the user did not have the authority to write to the server. This is frustrating because the applications in question provide more than an adequate level of security for most issues, but the security options on the database (separate from the applications) have been changed and rendered the system all but unusable.

This brings me to my next point. I am a consultant and as such, my clients want me to get in, get my job done and get out. I understand this and appreciate where they are coming from. Understanding how to configure a client/server environment usually cannot be learned in a matter of hours or days, and most undoubtedly cannot be learned by simply attending a class.

To address this, companies should identify those who will be responsible for:

  • supporting this new environment -- including hardware, pre-requisite software and network issues;
  • the new applications and their technical set up and support;
  • setting up the applications security. These people will work closely with those responsible for network and database security.

As part of the implementation process these people will need to be mentored if they are to become self-sufficient. This will require their time be allocated to the implementation project. Such time is as critical as any other functions they would ordinarily perform during the implementation process. Otherwise, it will take considerably more time to become self-sufficient, and the inexperience will likely show at the most inopportune time. The results can be disastrous.

Deploying a real client/server application is a lot more than loading a word processor on a desktop. Careful evaluation of the complete environment, all the requirements and pre-requisites of the applications, and evaluation of the key people are as important to ensuring a successful implementation as the selection of the software itself. Expect training to be costly. I have recently read where the budgeted costs of training should be as much as 20 percent of the overall project. If you think of training as class costs and time lost to other duties, that number begins to look more realistic.

If your organization has plans to go down the path of a large-scale client/server deployment, do yourself a favor and perhaps even save your job -- don't overlook or assume anything. Start with the client machines and work your way up. Please, for Pete's sake, make the efforts to get your internal staff up to speed.

A veteran of the IBM midrange arena since 1983, Chris Gloede is executive VP for Business Solutions Group in Wayne, Pa. cgloede@thebsg.com.