Don't cut corners on e-gov hardware
- By Rich Kellett
- Apr 11, 2001
Hardware is not the area to cut corners on as we move forward into a more
Shortcomings in your hardware infrastructure will cost you enormously
later in higher maintenance costs and reduced productivity, and it will
create feelings of ill will among your customers because of slow response
From the beginning, you must consider how to design a responsive system
that can accommodate dramatic growth and voluminous interactions with the
In order to design geographically dispersed systems involving multiple
platforms (client, server and mainframe) some understanding of hardware
principles is necessary to help you avoid making obvious mistakes in systems
architectures and, in the long run, minimize the overall costs of the system
you are installing.
You can and should take an overview course in system design, but hardware
courses often have difficulty incorporating the big-picture issues provided
below. These lessons were learned through the school of hard knocks. They
should help get you into the right zone of what you need to know to make
purchases for supporting large and geographically dispersed information
Despite all the rhetoric about whose product is better, the one concept
that should determine how you design your system is speed.
For example, the clock frequency of a microprocessor is a good indication
of the speed of that device. The read/write speed of a disk provides an
easy and direct measure. A device such as a microprocessor running in nanosecond
time can easily support many devices, such as a hard drives, which run in
millisecond or micro-second time. A single computer running at about 500
MHz can easily support many modems running at telephone speeds of 56K.
The rules of thumb below are a way of thinking about system design architecture.
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1. Design in parallelism at all levels when building systems. Avoid
2. To contain costs, buy hardware over software and invest in both hardware
and software over more people.
3. Identifyand then design around the information choke points, using
basic approximations for speed.
4. Incorporate significant extra capacity throughout your design, recognizing
that systems degrade exponentially and that the Internet is driving a boom
in information processing requirements.
Webmasters often are immersed in content and application software issues.
These hardware principles will help you design the hardware component of
your system. All of these principles are used when building a basic support
infrastructure for a single building or when scaling up to support much
larger, geographically disbursed IT systems. With these principles in mind,
you can more confidently look at the hardware designs and ask the right
kinds of questions.
Kellett is founder of the federal Web Business Council, co-chairman
of the federal WebMasters Forum and director of GSA's Emerging IT Policies