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IT infrastructure: A brief overview

  • Information technology infrastructure or IT infrastructure as it is widely known is a necessity for modern business be it small, medium or large. Traditionally, whenever one hears infrastructure, the first thing that comes to mind is some sort of physical structures that includes large buildings like roads, railroads, fancy government building and the likes. But in the computing world, infrastructure means something entirely different. It is the physical computers that a firm will need to run its business, the various software those computers will need in order to ensure the smooth running of these computer devices. Other things include data management technologies that will organize data for easy retrieval and manipulation, the networking and telecommunication technologies to ensure connectivity among the various components in the network and of course a host of other things involved working with computing technology. All these things mentioned above are what make up an IT infrastructure. Therefore, in this article, we will explore to see what IT infrastructure and its components are all about; also we will see how businesses nowadays acquire these vital infrastructures for their business efficiency and success.

    What is IT infrastructure?

    In simple terms, IT infrastructure is all the computer hardware, computer software, data management technologies, network and communication technologies and of course information technology services that a firm uses to solve its IT needs and achieve its objective. IT infrastructure is often internal to an organization.

    According to Techopedia, “IT infrastructure refers to the composite hardware, software, network resources and services required for the existence, operation and management of an enterprise IT environment. It allows an organization to deliver IT solutions and services to its employees, partners and/or customers and is usually internal to an organization and deployed within owned facilities.” 

    What are the components of IT infrastructure?

    As you may have noticed, IT infrastructure components consist of about six parts that must work in coordination with each other to deliver the desired outcome. These are:

    1. Computer hardware
    2. Computer software
    3. Data management technologies
    4. Network and telecommunications technology
    5. IT services
    6. Data center

    Let's look at them one after another.

    Computer hardware

    Computer hardware comprises the physical computer technologies like desktops, laptops, mobile devices like our cell phones, server computers like large mainframes and the likes. It also includes hardware technologies for processing such as central processing units (CPU), the storage devices such as hard disks and RAMs. Also included are peripherals for input and output such as printers, monitors and input devices like keyboards, scanners and so on. Basically, every physical component that is used to make a computer of any type works is computer hardware - these hardware components could be input, output or storage devices.

    Computer software

    Computer software is the programs inside of a computer that tells the computer how to work and also assists and ensures that the computer completes its tasks effectively. They include both system software and application software. System software manages the activities and the resources of the computer while application software performs some specific tasks that are programmed to do. Examples of system software are operating systems like Windows for laptops and desktops, Android for mobile, Apple iOS, Linux for server and so on. While on the other hand, examples of application software include Microsoft suite of products (Office, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.), Internet browsers like Chrome, Safari and Firefox, mobile pieces of software such as WhatsApp (for instant messaging and voice-over), Skype (for real-time online communication) and a host lots of others,

    Data management technologies

    Aside from the physical storage devices that a firm needs to store its data or information on, there is also a need for the organization of the data in order to be able to retrieve, delete, update, access and so forth easily and efficiently. And that is where data management technologies come into the picture.

    BusinessDictionary defines data management technology as “The skills and equipment used to organize, secure, store and retrieve information. Data management technology can refer to a wide range of techniques and database systems used for managing information use and allocating access both within a business and between entities.”

    Examples of commonly used data management technologies are MySQL by MySQL, SQLServer by Microsoft, MS Access by Microsoft, Oracle Database by Oracle and so much more.

    Network and telecommunications technology

    Networking and telecommunication technologies provide connectivity to the internal systems, and they also provide data, voice and video connectivity to firm employees, management staff, external clients and associates. These technologies are as important as every component in the IT infrastructure circle because they obviously make all these different hardware and software see and work in coordination with one another. They are the engine behind the networking!

    According to NFON, “Telecommunication networks are transmission systems enabling information to be transmitted in analogue or digital form between various different sites by means of electromagnetic or optical signals. The information may consist of audio or video data or some other type of data. The networks are based either on wired or wireless infrastructures. Typical examples of telecommunication networks are the telephone landline network, the mobile network, cable TV networks or the internet.”

    Information technology services

    We cannot finish our discussion on IT infrastructure components without mentioning this vital and distinct component - yet sometimes neglected - because when you see any hardware or software, there’s this phenomenon behind it; even the conception of the idea behind each and every technology is done and executed obviously  by non-other than humans! Yes, you heard me right! People that manage and operate the IT infrastructure!

    Therefore, human beings are part of the IT infrastructure. When an organization sets-up its IT infrastructure, we know, they need technical staff either as a separate IT department within the organization or some dedicated technical staff that will oversee the day-to-day operation of this infrastructure. The staff have to be highly trained and competent in order to ensure the smooth operation of these technologies. Sometimes the need for technical help will arise that an organization has to sort for external hands in its IT operation; in fact, this is almost a necessity that such occasions will always be there! Therefore, external and internal IT services done by technical people are part and parcel of an organization's IT infrastructure needs.

    Data center

    Although a data center is not a device it is considered a part of IT infrastructure components. Data center is the physical space where all the IT infrastructure components of a company are being kept. Data centres are a specialized room or building conditioned to house IT infrastructure components in an organized and secure passion. Data centres are equipped with special cooling systems, abundant power supplies to ensure constant power supply and heavy security to guide the facility from unauthorized access.  

    Depending on the size of a company, a data centre could just be a small room or a huge facility that span hundreds of square feet! So, we can say that for every IT infrastructure, a data center is its house - where all the above devices and software are kept!

    Basic IT elements found in a simple network

    Since we have established an understanding of what an IT infrastructure is, the components found in every IT infrastructure, it's safe to have a closer look at an ideal organization that uses IT in its operation and the kinds of infrastructure or devices that are basically found which support that IT needs. Below are most of the elements that you are likely to find in a LAN or Local Area Network:

    Servers

    A server computer is a computer on a network that performs some essential functions in the network. It is sometimes considered as the brain of a network. Some of the many functions that server computer performs are serving up web pages, storing the network operating system and so much more. Server software, such as Novell Open Enterprise Server, Linux, Microsoft Windows Server are the most widely used.

    Clients

    Client computers are the computers in the network that end-users used, such as desktops and laptops. In a client/server network, the server does most of the work such as launching of some software programs in the network or performing some calculation and then serving the result up to the clients in the network. When computer processing in a network happens on the server, it is referred to as server-side processing, likewise, local processing performed by a client it’s called client-side processing.

    Photo credit: ComputerHop.com

    Switches

    Switches are hardware devices in a network that are used to connect other devices by using packet switching to receive and forward data to the destination device. Switches are used to connect computers, printers, phones, cameras, light and servers. They are like controllers, letting network devices to talk to each other.

    Below is an illustration of a typical switch found in a network

    Photo credit: Cisco.com

    Modem

    Modem means modulator-demodulator. Its main function in a network is to convert digital signals to analogue signals from different computers and other network devices and vice versa. Some devices use digital signals to send and receive information to other network devices that use analogue signals to receive and send information and due to this variation, they cannot communicate directly with each other. And this is where modem comes handy - it converts the signals to either digital to communicate with computers or analogue to communicate with devices such as telephone line within a single network! Some modem, most especially the older ones use cable network for connection, while others, especially modern ones, are wireless.

    Routers

    A router is a networking device used in a computer network that route or direct data packet to its destination. A router is connected to two or more data lines from a different IP network. When a packet comes from one of the lines, the router will read the network address and determine the destination, then using the information in its routing table, it directs the packet to the destination or to the next network in the journey.

    Access points

    An access point is a device that creates a wireless network in a local area network, usually in a large building or office. Access point itself is a wireless local area network or WLAN. How access point works is -  it will be connected to a wired router, hub or switch and project a Wi-Fi signal to the area. An access point is often used by organizations to extend Internet service within the organization where there's no router available.

    Other things found in an ideal LAN include the Internet, mobile clients such as laptops and so on.

    Below is an illustration of a very simple computer network.

    Photo credit: 365PSD

    How organizations source their IT infrastructure needs today

    While big corporations build and maintain their IT infrastructure in their own control facilities, the same cannot be said about small and medium businesses. And we have to remember that, it is already established that organizations at this age in time need IT infrastructure in order to carry out their organizational job effectively and efficiently. But the question is, can every organization afford the cost of buying and maintaining these infrastructures? I think everyone would attest to the fact that some small businesses, especially new ones barely survive the pressure of the bigger and older ones, and so obviously cannot afford IT infrastructure expenses. What’s the solution for them then, fold their arms and watch their various businesses crumbled or is there another way apart from building these infrastructures and maintaining them themselves? The answer is yes. There’s a solution. Cloud computing is the answer!

    Cloud computing is having all the above computing services for your business over the Internet without you being physically in charge of it. Your business server needs, storage needs, networking, software, security and all the other things that you can think of as an Infrastructure needs are delivered to you over the Internet. And the most exciting thing of all is, you get just the right amount your business needs and will scale up as your organization expands - how cool that is! For more about cloud computing, check out this.

    Now companies, both small and medium enterprises, turn en masse to cloud computing for their IT infrastructure needs. It is safer, easy and much more affordable! There are a lot of companies that offer these services; one of the famous among them is Amazon web services. You can also read here if you want to know more cloud service providers out there.

    Lastly, as a reminder, IT infrastructure is not just for computer or technology-related businesses. It’s actually for every organization that wants to survive the 21st-century challenges and be at the top in the market! Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

    You may also want check out about data structure and algorithm: An introduction to ArrayList and LinkedList.

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