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June 12th, 2012

There’s an old joke in IT that goes like this:
“What’s the difference between a car salesman and an IT salesman?

The punchline is:
“The car salesman knows when he’s lying.”

Change IT to “Cloud” and you have a new twist on an old joke.
Unfortunately, the joke is on you, the customer.

I’ve been thinking lately about how abused, misused and confused the term “The Cloud” has become recently. As a cloud services provider, I get a ton of spam from vendors who want me to offer their products and services. I recently heard from a vendor of a micro server that plugs into a wall outlet and lets you connect a USB hard drive, creating a small storage server from a device the size of a standard wall wart.

While the small form factor may be interesting for cost reasons, the main benefit touted by the vendor of this product, is that your USB drive becomes “cloud storage” accessible securely from anywhere. As a cloud architect, I may be a tad snobbish on what does and doesn’t constitute “cloud storage”. But just because you hang a cheap and fragile USB drive off a $199 power brick sized server that you can access from the Internet – DOESN’T MEAN IT’S CLOUD STORAGE!!!

It’s hype like this that convinced me that most people don’t have the foggiest notion of what  “The Cloud” really is.

I believe “The Cloud” is not really an IT term, it’s a marketing term – and it’s a poor one at that.. not just an IT term poorly marketed. I evangelize cloud services for a living and I’m amazed that my industry speaks in acronyms, but it can’t deliver a concise 60 second pitch on what the cloud is, what business problem it solves, specifically for whom, and how to buy it and leverage the benefit. The end user and business community has a poor understanding of what the cloud is today – and the industry has done very little to cut through the noise.

Such poor understanding breeds confusion – which breeds mistrust – which breeds inaction. Real prospects end up sitting on the sidelines waiting for a simple explanation of the rules of the game by someone who doesn’t make them feel stupid.

To get beyond the alphabet soup of acronymity, I tell clients to just think of the cloud as 21st century time sharing, with systems and resources more powerful and reliable than any mainframe of the past. Whether they need a development server, a Disaster Recovery target or an production application server, those old enough to remember the 70′s & 80’s get it instantly, without me explaining PaaS, IaaS or SaaS or feeding them alphabet soup.

Our younger clients ask a variant of the question “isn’t the cloud just another term for Internet hosting”? My answer is “sort of, except on steroids”. I hosted web servers for 15 years before starting Virtual Density to focus on “the cloud”. The main difference between hosting in the traditional sense and today’s cloud services, is that hosting is still mostly done using inexpensive dedicated servers with direct attached storage. So hosting providers may seem like cloud resources when marketed to a unsuspecting buyer who doesn’t know better. But each of those servers is a low-availability point of risk and a show stopper when they go down.

By my definition, true cloud resources must be elastic, resilient and designed for 100% uptime. While we can quibble about uptime stats and what constitutes system availability  some other time, the overarching design goal is resilience, fault tolerance and high availability. That of course requires virtualization, but virtualization done right. Not just some VM’s spread on a dedicated hosting server.

Doing it right requires scalable infrastructure to support elasticity and spot demand. This means VM’s properly clustered using VMotion or an equivalent migration component, with load balancing, resource shifting, RAID or dispersal-based storage on SAN, preferably replicated across redundant stacks in multiple, geographically separated data centers.

True cloud computing puts the greatest point of failure at the user’s end of the Internet connection. And it delivers platforms, development environments, storage or software 24/7/365 with little margin for error, excuse or apology other than what happens at the OS or application layer. Bad apps will be bad apps, whether they’re run on internal servers, dedicated internet servers or the cloud. But a “real cloud” provider should be able to deliver access to that bad app reliably, unless the customer’s broadband fails.

People generally don’t care if the power that lights their office was generated with coal, natural gas or nuclear energy. Cloud computing will have truly arrived when apps and storage “show up” on the endpoint as a utility, rented without capex, and without regard for where the app is hosted or a thought about reliability. Done right, it’s 21st century time sharing on steroids. If you’d like to discuss how to leverage Cloud technology or virtualization in your business, contact our CTO Chris Furey for a personal consultation.

April 26th, 2012

Interested in setting up your company’s email in the cloud? Here are two options to consider—one comes from Google and one is SmarterMail from Virtual Density. Let’s see how they compare.

Google Apps
Google Apps is a service from Google that started in 2006, with the introduction of Gmail—a hosted email service, and which later incorporated other apps such as Google Calendar, Groups, Talk, Docs and Sites. Google Apps allow customers an independently customizable version of these Google products under their own domain name. The entry level option is free, but the package offered for Businesses is a paid service with an annual fee per user and additional storage space.

  1. Storage. Gmail, Google Apps’ email service starts with 7GB of free storage. Business users get 25GB. Bear in mind however that this storage space is shared with any data you have in other Google properties such as Picasa Web Album and Google Docs, so it’s not space dedicated to your inbox or mail folders. Extra space can be bought starting with $5 per year for an extra 20GB of storage. E-mail attachment sizes are limited to 25MB.
  2. Calendaring and Task Management. Gmail can be integrated with the Google Calendar application. Google Calendar allows you to easily share personal calendars with colleagues, or create shared calendars used by groups of people (such as a calendar to track meeting room reservations, marketing events and others). Google Calendar also offers a built-in, but somewhat underpowered task management tool. Tasks can readily be added with due dates, but not readily shared or cannot be nested or linked with other tasks.
  3. Spam filtering, security and reliability. Gmail’s spam filtering features a community-driven system. Email tagged as spam by users help identifies similar messages as Spam for all other Gmail users. Generally the system works well, although some have complained that it can get over aggressive in its filters and trap messages that you’d really prefer to see right away. In terms of security and reliabilityGmail has been criticized in the past with showing ads in its free Gmail service that display based on key words in the user’s messagespotentially violating their privacy. Reliability is generally good with very few, but widely publicized disruptions in service.
  4. Usability. Gmail offers a host of unique usability enhancements that make it different from most other mail services. For one for a web app it loads really fast, as Google has been known to studiously optimize web page loading performance for their products. Another is that it offers a threaded view of messages by default. It also uses a starring/labeling system to tag and segregate messages instead of using folders. Another interesting enhancement done recently is the ability to sort messages by “importance” where it learns based on your usage over time what email messages it thinks you think are important. But make no mistake, Gmail does not look like a familiar web version of most email programs.
  5. Mobile access. Gmail offers a version optimized for mobile devices, as well as support for a variety of devices for their native mail applications such as iOS and Android.

Overall Gmail is a solid mature choice if you are thinking of moving email to the cloud and are not concerned with personal privacy or afraid of being on the bleeding edge of cloud services and technology.

Virtual Density’s Hosted SmarterMail Service
SmarterMail, unlike Google Apps, does not try to be all things to all people. It’s not a Microsoft Office clone and it doesn’t want to replace your word processor and spreadsheet. SmarterMail simply does email smarter and it delivers perhaps the best overall web mail experience. Focusing on just on excellent email and document management, SmarterMail offers a user experience that most closely resembles Hosted Exchange. It moves the core functions of the mature, business-proven on-premise application of Microsoft Exchange, to an on-demand service hosted in the high-availability Virtual Density cloud. Compared to Google Apps or Office 365 by Microsoft, the SmarterMail system is quite mature and very reliable.

  1. Storage. Virtual Density’s SmarterMail service gives users a flexible storage allowance to meet their needs and budget. Most accounts start with 5GB of storage but more storage can be added for a nominal fee. Attachment file sizes are flexible too, with a generous 50MB allowance which can be upgraded with just a phone call or an email message. Additional storage can be purchased for as little as $.25 per GB per user per month.
  2. Document Management. SmarterMail includes a really nifty document management function that allows you to avoid the hassle of sending large email attachments. Instead of trying to send large attachments your recipient may not even be able accept, SmarterMail’s File Storage function lets you upload frequently sent or larger documents into your private file space, and then you just embed a simple download link to those documents inside a tiny mail message. This eliminates large attachment issues, assures delivery and even lets you set an expiration time and date on the file attachment so they can be made available for a limited time. It’s like an effortless FTP link that you can use whenever you need it. A very handy feature for anyone who works with oversize files and needs assured delivery.
  3. Calendaring and Task Management. SmarterMail integrates a mature feature set for personal productivity including personal and shared calendaring, and task management. As an example tasks can be grouped, color coded and easily sorted. Emails can be converted to tasks for follow up and with just one click, you can see the sent and received history of every message ever sent between you and any recipient in your address book. This handy feature eliminates the tedious task of filing away messages by sender or using the Find button.
  4. Spam filtering, security and reliability. This is an area where SmarterMail easily outshines Google with a strong reputation as an enterprise-class application as well as a favorite of Internet Service Providers. It offers spam protection, antivirus and advanced filtering via Commtouch’s realtime antispam and antivirus outbreak tracking technology. It provides other features such as better user management, user and domain configuration tools, whitelisting & graylisting and advanced mail archiving. If you are in a highly regulated industry like financial services or healthcare these features may be essential for your business.
  5. Usability. While the web app of SmarterMail is not as fast loading as Google, it’s very slick, very quick and it does offer familiarity Modeled after the most popular desktop mail client software, it offers a smoother migration experience for users specially if they have been weaned on Outlook. And while the SmarterMail webmail interface is a thing of beauty, you can just as easily use Outlook to access your account and take advantage of all the shared collaboration features including tasks, notes, calendars and contacts.
  6. Mobile access. Like Gmail, SmarterMail made sure to support a variety of mobile devices. These include enterprise stalwarts like Blackberry mobile phones as well as iPhones, iPads and Android based devices including the Kindle Fire.
  7. Instant Messaging. In today’s fast-paced world, instant communication is critical. Discuss issues and strategies with co-workers in real time, even if they are working halfway around the world. With SmarterMail’s instant messaging features, use your own XMPP-compatible instant messaging desktop client like Adium, Digsby or Live Messenger or mobile clients like IM+ and IMO to have instant access to anyone within your organization.

Overall SmarterMail is a solid choice if you are thinking of moving email to the cloud but may be hesitant with changing the apps or web interface your users already know and use. And if you are a business with strict policies related to security and compliance Virtual Density’s Hosted SmarterMail service may be something your auditors and IT people may be more comfortable with.

Interested in learning more? Would you like to take a SmarterMail test drive? Let us know and find out how we can help get you the right balance between your existing IT systems and and the Virtual Density cloud. Just contact one of our Cloud Advisors at 203-987-4566 option 2 or email cloud@virtualdensity.com for more information.

April 24th, 2012

Scholars, priests, historians, and followers of the da Vinci Files can now look toward the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (the Vatican library) with anticipation.

In a five-year joint project with the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, the Vatican Library is working to digitize and post online some 1.5 million pages from Greek manuscripts, 15th-century printed books (incunabula), Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books.

Many of the manuscripts to be digitized have a striking beauty as well as historic and cultural importance, as in the 1476 Natural History of Venice. Incunabula would include the Gutenberg Bible and the Nuremberg Chronicle, although these may not be among the examples digitized. Greek manuscripts will include works by Homer, Plato, and the early Church Fathers. The Hebrew works include a ninth century copy of the Sifra, the Halakic Midrash to Leviticus (Midrash is a Talmudic teaching tool which leads the student to a deeper understanding of the text of the Torah) as well as a complete Bible from the 12th-century.

The initiative has been made possible by a £2 million (US$3.2 million) award from the Polonsky Foundation, whose founder, Dr. Leonard Polonsky, has a long standing passion and commitment to democratize access to information. Another recent major project made possible by contributions from the Polonsky Foundation is the digitization of the Bodleian’s exceptional collection of over 25,000 Cairo Genizah fragments, which can now be browsed and read online.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this project is that, being online, these remarkable (and physically beautiful) historical and philosophical volumes will be available to everyone with internet access – a far cry from the days of guarding ancient texts against damage even from scholars.

“Twenty-first century technology provides the opportunity for collaborations between cultural institutions in the way they manage, disseminate and make available for research the information, knowledge and expertise they hold,” said Dr. Polonosky. “I am pleased to support this exciting new project where the Bodleian Libraries and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana will make important collections accessible to scholars and the general public worldwide.” The date when materials from this project will first be available has not yet been announced.

April 23rd, 2012

Technology has advanced at a rapid pace over the past 30 years, with many devices moving from physical systems to digital or virtual versions. This includes one of the most useful: the telephone. While the use of landlines is still prevalent among the majority of businesses, many have started to turn to the digital version, Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.

VoIP has become the main backbone of voice communication for a growing majority of companies. It offers numerous benefits including potentially large cost savings and decreased maintenance costs. When it was first introduced, the technology needed to run a VoIP system was expensive, limiting it to large organizations. However over the past few years, the technology has come down in price and is now available for next to nothing, allowing small and mid-sized businesses to make the switch to VoIP. If your company is thinking of making the change, there are some minimum requirements you should meet before you migrate.

The Foundation: A solid foundation is the key to reliability and satisfaction with VoIP. Without a good foundation you’ll find that network speed and call quality are poor during heavy use. Most small offices aim for a VoIP system that can handle around 10 employees on the phone at any given time. Before you start the integration, you should track your current call volume by keeping a note of the number of calls in and out, while paying close attention to call volume during peak hours and days.

You should also investigate the speed and stability of your current Internet connection. While a fast DSL or cable connection is good for browsing the web, it may not be robust enough to handle VoIP communications, which need a connection that is both quick and stable. Look at your downstream (traffic into your network) and upstream (traffic out of your network) connection speed during a time when the network is experiencing heavy data use. Anything over 1.5 Mbps in both directions should be enough to handle the majority of VoIP systems. Most Internet service providers offer a connection speed well above that, but it’s important to check it out first to be sure.

The Framing: Once you have a solid foundation that will support your needs, the next step is building the frame for VoIP. You should determine exactly what’s required from your new system. Some good questions to ask include: Am I going to need to make international calls? How many VoIP connections am I going to need? Am I going to want to make video calls? What’s my budget? What features do I require?

Once you’ve determined your needs you can move on to picking equipment. If you’re a business that typically sticks to local, and some long distance calls, you shouldn’t require much in the way of equipment. The vast majority of companies use inexpensive desk phones, or a device called a media gateway that allows normal phones to interface with an Internet connection – essentially turning a regular phone into a VoIP phone. If you’re a business that would like to take advantage of the more advanced features of VoIP, like portability, you’ll need more flexible VoIP service provider.

The final issue you need to address is security. On its own, VoIP is not the most secure of connections, as it’s open to all the same types of security breaches that computers and networks can fall prey to. To combat this, many good VoIP service providers will have security measures in place to protect VoIP calls on their network. On your end, it also helps to keep your Internet security up-to-date and conduct regular system scans.

Once you’ve addressed the internal requirements it’s time to start looking for a VoIP service provider. Take your time, shop around, ask competitors and other businesses what service they use. One question to ask a prospective provider is if they will be able to migrate your current number onto their system? While most can switch over your existing numbers, it can take a while, depending on your location and local legislation. So be sure to check if the provider can migrate your numbers and how long it will take.

From there, you should be ready to switch over to VoIP. If you’re still unsure of the process, we have consultants available who can help with the preparation, selection and integration. Good luck, and if you need more information about VoIP, remember that the Virtual Density team is here to help you.

April 12th, 2012

Business Continuity Planning (BCP) – is a critical business process which companies have been investigating and adopting in increasing numbers. It’s vital that businesses can operate in any condition and that they won’t be affected by disasters, such as the loss of their facility or critical business systems. One of the steps in implementing a successful protection strategy involves deciding on whether to use BCP software or BCP templates.

The decision between templates and software can be a tough one to make since whichever one you choose, you’ll be using and relying on for a long time. To help you we’ve covered some pros and cons on both choices here for you today:

Using BCP Software
If you choose to go with a BCP software application, you will probably follow wizards that walk you through the whole process allowing you to develop a useable plan. Another benefit of using software is that you’ll also be able to develop reports.

The drawbacks of using software include cost, inflexibility and learning time. For the most part, business continuity planning software is not cheap, and at times can be inflexible due to limits within the program. And if you have a niche need, the BCP software may not cover it or give it any special consideration. In addition, as with mastering any program, the learning curve can be quite steep.

In general, using software would be advantageous for companies that have a bigger budget for the development of a continuity plan. Software is also a good bet if you don’t have staff who are experts in continuity planning, or if you operate in an industry where having a continuity plan is necessary, e.g., companies with industry or regulatory compliance requirements in the healthcare, insurance, or manufacturing sectors, or companies that have introduced ISO 9000 controls and requirements.

Using BCP Templates
If you feel that your company is not ready for software you can use templates to help you develop your plan. These solutions are mostly written plans that you adapt to meet your business needs. They’re useful if you’re just starting to do continuity planning, as they provide a normally solid foundation, and are generally a lot cheaper than software.

A limitation to using templates is that they can be a little too basic at times, and may not meet both your near term or long term needs. Granted, most plans will follow a basic structure and your developer will need to adapt some steps for your relevant region and industry.

As each industry is different, it’s hard to make a recommendation on what type of planning style companies should take. We recommend you take your time, do your due diligence and weigh out what’s best for your business. No matter which method you choose to go ahead with, ensure that it’s easy to implement, and that you’ll be able to teach your staff how to run the plan.

If you feel really lost or are not sure what to do, talking to professional consultants could go a long way in helping you develop a plan. If you’d like to learn more about business continuity planning please contact the Virtual Density BCP team – we would be very happy to have the chance to help you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

 

April 10th, 2012

Maps have been used to find our way from point A to B for thousands of years. In the past 20 years, maps have been migrated online but it’s essentially for the same use. Most companies use online maps as a bridge between their online presence and physical presence – providing directions to get to their business when they are searched for online.

CityMaps is a novel new online map. At first look it appears similar to any other online map: streets, check; transport routes, check; geographic features, check. So, what sets it apart? Well, when you zoom in on a neighbourhood you don’t get a fancy street view, or outlines of buildings, you get a map populated with businesses.

What is CityMaps?
Think of those city maps that we’ve all used while on vacation, the ones with restaurants, shops and tourist attractions, and that’s the basic idea of CityMaps. When you zoom in on an area, you will see icons and logos of businesses. Click on one and a popup window will open with the business name, contact information, pictures, related tweets, reviews, and more.

Essentially, it’s a tool to help you plan your next adventure in the city. If you’re out with your friends and looking for a place to go for dinner, you can search for nearby restaurants, look at reviews and deals, and finally: make a reservation, all from the app.

How will this help my business?
With social integration, a business like yours can post a special offer on one of the many deal websites, and it will show up in CityMaps as an unobtrusive blinking green dollar sign. If someone tweets about your business, the tweet will show up on the map as well.

This program is a great example of good integration across social media and business. If a review is posted online, it’ll show up on the map. This can also be beneficial to your business as you will get near real-time feedback. CityMaps also encourages businesses to develop and maintain an Internet presence, while giving them a practically free way to literally put their name on the map.

Currently, the map is only available for New York, San Francisco and Austin. There’ll be more cities soon, but it’ll be a few years before every city in the US is on the map. So keep your eye on this program if you’re not in the three cities, as you’ll soon be able to take advantage of it.

If you would like to learn more about CityMaps, or other Web trends, please let us know, we are happy to help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

 

March 29th, 2012

Social media has really become a major way for businesses to get their name out, gain exposure to the masses on the Internet, build their brand and find new customers. With the ever growing number of people currently using the Internet, it makes sense for businesses to have some form of online presence as they will be able to connect with more customers.

Social media, once considered a fad, has become the norm and is going to be with us for some time. A large number of companies already have an online presence, and are taking advantage of the benefits that social media can bring. Here are a number of things you can do to get your social media adventures off to a good start.

Be Clear on Social Media
It’s important before you start looking into the different forms of social media that are out there, that you are clear on what social media is, as well as what it isn’t. Social media is a way to meet people and share content or ideas with them. For businesses and organizations, it’s a form of non-traditional marketing – think of it as soft marketing – it’s not meant to be the place where you flog your products. But rather a place to develop interest in your company, so people will want to do business with you. By using social media you can show people who your company is, and connect with them on a more personal level. If you are clear on what social media is from the beginning, there’s a higher chance that you’ll be successful when you develop your online presence.

Before You Launch Into Social Media
There are a number of things that your company needs to have either already done, or properly considered, before you jump in:

  • Have a website: It’s a good idea to have a solid website with information about your company, contact information, products and services. Most potential customers will look at your website after looking searching for you online, and before they choose to do business with you, so your website needs to provide the relevant information they are looking for. If you don’t have a website, or feel yours is lacking, it’s easier than ever to get a professional looking site. With a quick search you will be able to find some competent designers, and the Virtual Density team can recommend a few great ones who have a history of proven success.
  • Get educated: It will be beneficial to educate yourself on current trends regarding social media. This can be done by simply going to social media websites, taking the free introduction tours and reading blogs related to the sites. Beyond that you should also research your competitors’ websites and Internet presence. Observe what content they have online, and more importantly: what they don’t have. It will also help to connect with and observe industry experts, see what they post online, and note the style and tone they use. This will help provide you with a sound knowledge base from which you can then create a more effective online presence.
  • Set goals: As with any step in business, you should have a plan with realistic goals. Be sure to aim for results that are achievable for your company. If you’re a small, local company that focuses on other small local companies, don’t expect to have the same massive hype that big national firms do. Clearly set objectives and review periodically.
  • Develop a focus: In real life, you can’t be all things to all people. The same goes for social media. You need to develop a focus on what type of online content you would like to share. You should aim to create content that your customers will want to share with people.
  • Stake a claim: You should to go to the main social media websites – Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube – and reserve your personal and business usernames. This is important because it will make you look more professional by having the same username across all sites, and users will be able to find you easier.
  • Ask for help when you need it: While some companies make social media sound easy, it can be deceptively hard to master. If you feel lost, or are having a tough time with it, there are knowledgeable consultants out there who are happy to help.

Time to Get Social
When you feel you know what direction you will take, it’s time to start developing your online profiles. It can be tough to decide which social media tools to utilize. Unfortunately there is no right answer. Most small businesses follow the crowd, and this means having pages on Facebook and Linkedin. This does not mean that you should join these networks simply because they have the most users. It is recommended that you follow what similar businesses or direct competitors are doing. If they are on one service but not another, do the same to begin with, but be on the lookout for new social media sites, or features being added to existing sites.

One Big Thing to Remember
There is one really important thing we can share with businesses thinking of pursuing social media: it isn’t a turnkey operation. You can’t just, “set it and forget it.” To be successful, you need to be active by posting updates, news, and above all interacting with the people who reach out to you. After all, they are your customers. If you do establish your social presence but forget to keep it up to date, you will be the company that’s forgotten.

If you would like help with your social media strategy, please get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you.

 

March 26th, 2012

Most businesses today have come to rely on both internal and external technology networks to support their day-to-day operations. If there is a problem with a network, a small business can lose more than just profit—with a large enough outage the business could go under. 24/7 network management can help prevent this from happening.

How can 24/7 network management help your business, you ask? It all starts with well planned preventative operations. Good network management starts with network monitoring, which acts as an “Early Warning System” to let managers and owners know of potential problems before they strike.

What Does Network Monitoring Monitor?
Network Monitoring when done right, can see and check the behavior and functions of every critical aspect of business network. The most popular areas include application and system performance, bandwidth usage, software updates and server status. You can also set up monitoring of additional areas, for instance: server load, ink levels in printers, time left on software license agreements, which devices are connected to the network, their data usage, and more. And of course all of this is all done 24/7/365.

Network Monitoring can even monitor unauthorized attempts to access the network. And all unauthorized access attempts can generate alerts for management so you can have real-time alarms and take appropriate action.

How Does Network Monitoring Help Me?
Network Monitoring is a preventative system, intended to warn you about potential network problems so you can proactively seek solutions before a vital network goes down. This makes it a totally justifiable addition to business value since, when implemented right, there will be better network security and less network crashes—which means less or no profit loss.

What Should I Monitor?
In an ideal world, you would monitor each and every asset on your network. Over time, you can get there, but if you’re like most Small Business owners or managers, you have neither the time nor the budget to implement a full system. As with most projects, it’s suggested that you implement a system like this in stages. The most common areas to start with are:

  • Local Area Network (LAN) Health Reporting
  • Internet Bandwidth Usage
  • Server Health and System Status
  • Software Update Status
  • Data Backup Success Reporting
  • Anti-Virus and Malware Reporting
  • Endpoint Security Checks on your PCs

If you’re unsure of where to start, contact the Virtual Density team. We can provide more information about 24/7 Network Monitoring and size you up to tell you the costs. And of course we can discuss other ways to improve the reliability of your critical systems and protection of your most important data.

 

March 21st, 2012

Information Technology is a constantly evolving industry and one of its newest knowledge domains is cloud computing, which has been gaining in popularity lately – especially with small businesses. As we finish Q1 of the calendar year, cloud users will be glad to know that there are several emerging trends that promise to make cloud computing even more efficient, more reliable and more secure.

Anyone who tells you that the cloud has reached a peak is definitely mistaken. While cloud computing is already a powerful IT service that has made a positive difference in the way businesses operate—especially small and medium sized ones—there are still many aspects of it that are being continuously improved and developed.

Better security
One of the major concerns driving development in cloud services is improvements in the security aspect. Businesses trust cloud providers with important and sensitive data, and with cyber-attacks becoming more frequent and clever, vendors have to step up their security protocols and keep clients’ data safe. Leading cloud service providers pre-screen cloud technologies to ensure they pass a high security standard before any service is added to the offering portfolio. By only selecting technologies that offer military-grade encryption or better, we can reduce or eliminate most security concerns.

Wider integration and compatibility
As it stands, there are still several issues between cloud services (especially public ones) and an enterprise’s systems, which limits the connectivity and data exchange between users. The same can be said for the current standards being used, which have the tendency to be very vendor-centric. The growing trend is to reverse this vendor specific view and move toward more open standards, which provide better connectivity and data sharing, for better compatibility and integration.

A more ‘solid’ cloud
It’s unfortunate, yet expected, that whenever a new trend catches on, there will be a rush of new and unproven service providers who hitch onto the increasing popularity of cloud computing. Most of these opportunists offer half-baked cloud services, most of which are just stored on budget servers with multiple single points of failure. It’s shocking how many “cloud providers” are offering nothing more than warmed over web hosting and Internet services rebranded as “Cloud” fare. As time progresses, you can expect to see a better definition—which will reflect in the kinds of services provided—of what cloud computing can and cannot do.

And a more ‘available’ cloud
At Virtual Density, we’re exclusively focused on delivering cloud services built on properly designed cloud platforms – not web servers hosted at budget data centers. We think business-class services need to be reliable if they’re to be trusted, so we only deploy on resilient VMWare server stacks, using Cisco firewalls, switches and load balancers, with EMC SAN storage spread across multiple systems designed for 100% uptime. And we offer our clients a choice of deployment options to meet their needs and growth requirements, including hosting from our east coast and west coast data centers, as well as Amsterdam and Sydney. So no matter where you go, there we are.

Where the action is
So you may wonder “who’s using the cloud and for what?”. The move toward cloud services is without a doubt being driven by smarter people who are budget minded who want a maximum return on their IT expense. This group includes new business startups who want to preserve precious working capital by avoiding unnecessary hardware and software purchases. And it also includes growing organizations who have remote workers and branch offices that would otherwise require complex, slow and expensive VPN solutions to permit information sharing.

The last group of early adopters is firms who host complex web-facing applications or websites to serve their customers, where they would normally buy powerful servers at great expense and host them in a professional datacenter at a high monthly cost. The most popular services requested today are offsite data backup, cloud storage, virtual email systems, standby business continuity servers and both production and development web platforms.

As expected of any emerging technology, cloud computing has miles to go before it reaches its peak. Expect to hear some great success stories regarding the cloud in the coming months and years as businesses continue to maximize the potential of cloud computing, and as we constantly find ways to improve what is already a fantastic service model.

If you are interested in knowing more about cloud services and what it can do for your business, please don’t hesitate to contact the Virtual Density team so we can address your specific inquiries and concerns.

 

March 20th, 2012

Virtualization. A growing number of business owners know exactly what it is – and what their companies are doing in regard to it. Whether your company has virtualized some or all of your business, the evidence is in regarding cost savings. A recent report found that some organizations have achieved up to 269% return on investment from the process. Read on to learn how.

What is Virtualization?
Virtualization is the creation of a virtual computing environment, where one hardware platform can run multiple virtual environments. Common types of virtualization include servers, storage devices, or networks. The benefits of virtualization include lower costs, improved IT management, predictable scalability and reduced energy consumption.

The Survey
A report published by CDW-G focuses on government organizations in the United Sates. Many Small and Midsized Business owners and managers like you are probably asking, “How do study results involving the government help my business?” Well, if you look closer you can see that what the government organizations did can easily be replicated by SMBs, just on a smaller scale.

Results
In recent years, most companies have had to tighten their belts due to economic difficulties or uncertainty. Government agencies are no exception. The results of the survey found that agencies and organizations realized investment returns as high as 134% to 269%. The survey found that if IT managers invest in Server Virtualization, Document Management, Storage Virtualization and Cloud Computing in that order, the returns on Server Virtualization alone can help pay for, if not totally cover the cost of, the other three processes. CDW-G found that on average, the total cost of implementing all four separately is over $1.1million dollars, but when implemented in order, the average cost was around $400,000.

While it is unlikely that any SMBs will see a return on investments of this magnitude, it is highly likely that they will see increased returns if they follow this method of re-investing returns from Server Virtualization into the other three steps. In times of economic stress, this could be a huge boost to your bottom line.

Helpful Recommendations
From the results, CDW-G offered some useful recommendations that all businesses can use:

  • When budget cuts are needed, first look for ways to increase efficiency without service cuts.
  • Review technologies and processes to identify inefficiencies.
  • Consider savings and efficiency opportunities in all new solutions.
  • Leverage available savings into new projects.

As with any new process, it’s equally important to ensure that you educate the users of the processes and stay on your toes to keep up to date.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.