If you’re just getting your IT infrastructure in place or you’re going through a round of early investment, you’re facing decisions that will have a significant impact on the long term health of your company. In the biotech startup environment, downtime is particularly costly since data is your value proposition. You need all aspects of your IT—email, wireless networks, servers, storage, and the wired network—to work 24/7 so your scientists and researchers can get their jobs done whether at the office or working remotely.
There are 5 basic requirements for IT hardware that all biotech startups share:
1. Appropriate Physical Environment
It’s surprising how little attention the startup team of a new company gives to the physical environment housing their expensive IT equipment. Your company depends on this equipment—don’t put it in a closet! As you lay out your office space, plan for your IT. Locate an area that is climate controlled, well ventilated, accessible and secure if possible. You will have spent a significant amount of money on equipment your company is depending on every day. Make sure you take as much care of it as you would any important piece of equipment.
2. Reliable Equipment
Cheap equipment will lead to problems down the line. Too often entrepreneurs penny pinch on infrastructure because they have a fixed budget—every dollar that goes into IT comes out of some other vital area. Nevertheless, the long term consequences of skimping on hardware can be extreme. A $70 office supply store switch is not built to handle the volume of data typical of a research firm. You don’t need the most expensive equipment but you shouldn’t seek out the cheapest. Do your research and seek some help to find the right equipment for your needs.
3. Adequate Capacity
Many startups begin with a single server running everything—email programs, data analysis, whatever else needs doing. Sooner or later that won’t be enough and your company will suffer downtime as you shift to a new system. Don’t just look where your company is now; anticipate where it will be in a year or two and plan your hardware needs accordingly. Business continuity is too important not to plan for your heavy processing needs.
4. Capacity for Expansion
Some equipment has the capacity to grow (scale) as your company expands and other equipment doesn’t. Make sure you invest in gear that you won’t have to throw out if your company grows to the next stage. If you add a new high resolution microscope or a new employee that may generate large volumes of new data, will your infrastructure be able to handle the increased demands made on IT? When you’re in a period of rapid expansion, working hard to meet a deadline, you don’t want your IT holding you back.
5. Backup and Protection
It goes without saying that your data needs to be backed up and protected. You probably should invest in a proper backup and disaster recovery solution, but don’t neglect the more mundane battery backup systems that will give you time to finish crucial tasks in the event of a black out or emergency. If at all possible find out if your new office building has a generator and if there is an outlet on the generator in your IT room, if not see if you can get one.
Scientists who draw on their expertise to begin a biotech company understand the importance of reliable, sophisticated scientific equipment to their company; too often, however, they don’t consider their IT hardware in the same light. Taking care to plan out your IT hardware investment from the beginning can save you from unanticipated costs and headaches down the line.