Advancements in computer software and hardware are very closely linked. As users, we enjoy the latest software features that lift our productivity and make our lives easier, but we often don’t give much thought to the technology that our apps and programs run on.
Unlike software, which generally updates invisibly in the background, upgrading your hardware requires conscious thought and planning. This is because computer workstations and servers are generally bigger investments, so need to be budgeted for within your practice’s annual plan.
Unfortunately, with many competing priorities, some practice owners and managers defer the decision to upgrade hardware, mistakenly believing it’s an unnecessary expense. However, failing hardware could mean costly downtime – or at the very least, a frustrating customer and employee experience.
In fact, according to U.S. market research firm Techaisle businesses with five computers could actually save $1,500 in the first year by replacing their two oldest machines, due to reduced downtime and lower maintenance costs.
And, according to Gartner Research, most healthcare providers spend between 3% and 5% of revenue on IT infrastructure each year to keep their practices running smoothly. This investment can be assisted by tax deductions under Section 179, which encourages companies to invest in equipment to improve the services they offer.
However, the world of computer hardware can be daunting for veterinary professionals. For them, and many other non-IT professionals, the array of options can be confusing and intimidating.
Deciphering hardware terminology
To give some insight into the mysterious world of computer hardware, here is a run-down on what to look for when buying IT, including an explanation of the meaning of some common technical terms.
A server is the computer all your practice data is stored on, then distributed to the workstations in your clinic. There are two types:
- Dedicated server. This is a standalone computer that lets you set up domains giving each user their own login. Through this, you can restrict who in your clinic can access what information. A dedicated server is generally suitable for larger practices.
- Peer-to-peer server. This type of server is suitable for smaller clinics. It is usually set up as part of a workgroup and offers a common login for all staff. It’s easy to manage and is also cheaper than a dedicated server – not only because of the lower initial purchase price but also because you can manage it yourself.
Servers are usually set up as a RAID – a Redundant Array of Independent Disks. This is where multiple hard drives are put together to improve on what a single drive can provide. This improves the performance of your server, increases storage capacity and protects data in case of drive failure. You have choices in hard drives, too, but you’ll want to be sure you’re choosing a reliable, fast, SSD for your consolidation.
There are two types of hard drive:
- Hard disk drive (HDD). These drives are older technology that has been around for decades. They are a spinning disk that reads and writes your data, in much the same way as a CD. They are mechanical, so generate heat and wear out over time.
- Solid-state drive (SSD). This is newer technology which uses flash storage and has no moving parts. They are smaller, faster and generally more reliable than HDD drives. SSD startup times, in particular, are much quicker than HDD. Startup could take 5-7 seconds with SSD compared with up to a minute with HDD.
These are the computers that veterinarians, vet techs, and support staff work on every day. They push and pull data from your server.
These are essentially mobile workstations with portability similar to a tablet. While they can be connected to your network by a cable, they can also connect by Wi-Fi. Laptops are usually a bit slower than workstations.
These are self-contained, mobile devices with touchscreen technology, ideal for clinics who want to go paperless or paper-lite. Like a mobile phone, they can be easily carried around the clinic. They require a reliable Wi-Fi network.
Anything that’s connected to a workstation is a peripheral. This includes business-class printers, document scanners, signature pads, label printers and the like.
As the name suggests, this involves creating a duplicate of your practice data to a secure, reliable location. While RAID servers have dual drives to avoid data loss, businesses shouldn’t avoid doing backups, as any data loss can be crippling. Best practice is to do regular daily and weekly backups – ideally including a cloud backup as part of your strategy. Read more about this topic here.
- Processor speed. Most software developers recommend Intel Core processors. The latest generation is i9 – you shouldn’t buy hardware older than three generations (i.e. i7).
- RAM. This is an extremely fast type of computer memory that stores information on the things you’re working on currently. It’s the least expensive way to speed up your computer and it’s recommended your practice has hardware with at least 8GB of RAM.
- Operating system. This is what runs your computer. All Covetrus software, for example, runs off Windows Professional operating systems. The newest version is Windows 10 Pro, with the popular Windows 7 operating system losing Microsoft support from January 2020. This means there will no longer be any bug fixes or security patches on Windows 7 – leaving you vulnerable to malware and viruses. Read more on this topic here.