Staffing Example for a Small Business

To build on the previous post, my first example will be how I would staff a small sized business. Any size business probably has some part of IT Infrastructure that could benifit by using Linux, or in some cases be required to support Linux. Not every situation is the same though. Please use your own common sense and judgement about how your business operates and what your margins are before trying to implement any new technology, especially Linux. While the OS may be free, the implementation is not.

Today I am going to start off with a small business scenario and for the purposes of this discussion, I will describe the company as follows:

  • The business is a distributor of special penguin widgets imported from overseas which are then sold to retailers for consumer purchase
  • The company is using a series of web based applications to handle orders from their customers and manage inventory
  • There is a total of  100 employees across the entire organization
  • The IT Department is 4 people strong and consists of 2 Desktop People, a web developer who administers the application server platform, and a Manager who also doubles as the Windows server admin

During the recent downturn in the economy, the company has been looking for ways to lower costs. The IT department looks at what it can do to become more efficient.  They propose to migrate the web applications from Windows Servers currently running Apache, their expensive Inventory Management System, as well as the MS Sql Server over to Linux Servers.  The Linux servers will still run Apache, and they will utilize an opensource Inventory Management System as well as Postgresql database. The savings will be modest, but the team believes that the migration may also have other performance benefits. While the Web Developer can login and navigate through the Linux environment, he does not consider himself to be an experienced Linux Admin. The Manager also feels that while she should have no problems learning Linux she, knows it's not her strength. The Manager thinks it may be time to expand the group and add a Linux Admin to the team.

So as the executive what do you do?

I would advise that at this early stage, you will get more benifit by hiring a consultant, or firm that can provide you an on-call highly experienced Linux Admin.  The candidate should have skills at managing both Apache and Postgresql. Use the consultant to document administrative procedures, validate proposed changes to the server, and mentor the staff you have. By utilizing a consultant you are insuring you company of two things.  One, you are protecting the critical systems with an experienced admin.  Two, you are allowing your current staff time to enhance their skills, which in turn will keep them more loyal to your company.  Both points will allow your current employees to train and get accustomed to Linux in a less stressful environment.  If you were to try to just hire an experienced full time Linux Admin, you would esentially be losing any potential savings.  Also, an experienced Linux Admin working for such a small company would probably not be challenging enough, which may lead to turnover issues and thus instability.

The long term result should be a team of potential Linux Super Stars that will grow with your business.  Your team will end up with a mix of experienced and aspiring admins.  The whole time you still have your training wheels on in the form of the consultant.  The beauty of being a small business is your flexibility while your weakness is that you have less capital.  If the consultant works on a contingency basis and only bills for hours above normal maintenance, you should end up with a 6 figure salaried team member for a couple of thousand dollars a year.