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Manged Services & the Cloud

Managed services has grown out of it’s formative years into a multifaceted solution that can scale to any size business. IT infrastructure can now be managed in a way that allows technicians to access any device belonging to it. Smart phones, network switches, routers, laptops, servers, printers, and the cloud itself can all be managed from a central NOC (Network Operations Center). In this way, a single operating technician can troubleshoot devices anywhere in an organization with the touch of a button.

The tools with which technicians can now utilize include the ability to reload entire operating systems, upgrade firmware & software, reset devices, lock down devices, and implement a variety of other troubleshooting techniques. Technicians rarely if ever need to be on-site any more these days. Some obvious exceptions are when a new piece of technology needs to be physically installed, or components need to be physically replaces, but the days of high-end consultants hanging out on site for days on end are coming… to an end.

“In the cloud” is just a easier way of saying that part of your business is located on a distributed server farm with redundancy and high availability resiliency built into your network, platform, software, or physical server architecture. See? I said there was an easier way to say it …for now think of the cloud as a wire coming from your computer and connecting “out there” to some computer/servers, etc, to deliver the application or data you need.

I’m not really big on info-graphics because I don’t like trendy buzzwords, or trendy ideas that reach pop-culture. I usually run in the other direction, that being said, occasionally I come across an infographic that is cool enough to mention. This one comes from SalesForce. It illustrates several points that I would like to make about the evolution of Managed Services.

cloud-evolution by data.com

Click on the image to see it in full size – image credit goes to salesforce

The use of the cloud to access and control computers and other network attached devices within an interconnected cloud network is nothing new. I remember controlling devices remotely over a cloud network & serving cloud applications for IT purposes as far back as 1997 and I know that the origins of cloud control go back probably to ARPANET days in 1969 and probably further back then that if you consider the operation of traditional mainframes. My point is that it is not new. What is new is the very wide variety of technologies and well defined architectures that are now available for scaled use in nearly every conceivable IT environment on the planet. Cloud computing is accessible for SMBs & SMEs alike. It is indeed available for personal use at an affordable level and sometimes free. Cloud computing is ubiquitous and can be implemented on any level and to any degree.

What does this all mean for you and your business? Well, it means that you can have SaaS (Software as a Service); email, CRM, virtual desktop computing, accounting packages, logistics packages, etc. can now all be run from the cloud which means that updates, maintenance, scaling, & delivery all come from the cloud. High availability, backup, disaster recovery, & continuity can also come from the cloud as we’ll see next.

The Future of Cloud Computing Think Tank, hosted by Dell & VMWare

This infographic is a great illustration of typical discussions surrounding various implementations of cloud computing with providers and customers.

Not only can software now be delivered as a service from the cloud but also your basic IT infrastructure. While workstations, switches, and routers still need to be located on site, they can be managed from the cloud. IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) allows you to take your servers, backup devices, virtual machines, and place them all in the cloud ie. (data center), and administer them from a centrally. If you oversimplify this mode of computing, you could say that it reflects the old centralized mainframe computing idea whereby all computers act as dumb terminals and receive their data & applications from the mainframe. Ironically, this is not far from the truth, however rather than going full circle, we have spiraled upward and are now reflecting some of the better points of the centralized computing model with many new advantages.

If you refuse the cloud computing model on any level than you are using a distributed model of computer architecture which allows great freedoms and flexibility, but requires a great deal of administrative overhead and has considerable hidden cost of ownership. In reality companies and governments have been using a mix of centralized and distributed computer models for the past 30 years or so. The most difficult thing for organizations to decide moving forward is what mixture of computing models is right for them. Affordability, flexibility, ROI, cost of ownership, security considerations, and a plethora of other factors are all on the table for business owners to contemplate. Most decision makers will find it helpful to work with an IT firm that can demonstrate the costs, benefits, opportunities, and integration plans for any IT infrastructure changes. Not all IT solutions providers are the same. Take your time and choose carefully, it can mean the difference between success & failure for your business.

 

 

 

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One Backup Plan Fits All

I love the idea of one size fits all because it sounds easy and definite. However, the promise of one size fits all is something that I learned to steer away from in life. I suppose it was my experience in the military that first debunked this great idea.

One size does occasionally fit all, but not always. My drill sergeant assured me that the if my equipment stated “one size fits all” that it would fit me, no matter what. I protested one time when a rain poncho I was wearing was clearly too big and I paid for it dearly. I had to practice rolling in a mud puddle for about 20 minutes in the freezing cold while everyone else was eating some hot chow under a canopy. After some time, I was asked if my rain poncho fit, and I replied “like a glove drill sergeant!”

Fortunately we don’t have to live in a world where businesses are forced to accept a solution that does not fit their needs, although some companies will try and make it fit, or make you believe it fits. A good IT solution provider will find the right solution for your business’ needs no matter what adjustments need to be made to a sales solution, or technical implementation. What I’m referring to here is flexibility in hardware & software choices and robust options in implementations of those chosen technologies.

Take for example a typical high availability  backup system. You have servers that are backed up and resilient because of their high availability cloud solution. You then have all workstations backing up to the servers and the servers themselves backing up at night & during the day to the cloud. The cloud, usually 2 -3 data centers backup to each other.

simple cloud backup solutionIt’s a great solution, but what is the start-up cost? What is the monthly and yearly costs? What if you need high availability and cloud backup but it is cost prohibitive to your organization. So you throw your hands in the air and give up? Hopefully not. If you have a qualified IT firm taking care of your backup and high availability planning, they should be able to develop a system that may be scaled down but does not break the bank. Sometimes a simplified and scaled down solution can give you the protection and security you need.

The ability of your IT firm to scale packages up and down to meet the needs of their customers is crucial to the success of that client company. As a client you may want to ask some of the following questions to make sure that you’re getting the right solution. Your technology provider, or IT firm may not give you all the answers you want, but they should be able to give you informative answers that assist you in understanding your backup and high availability platforms.

  • What type of hardware do you use in your solution? Is it expensive to repair? Can it be upgraded as time goes by?
  • What type of software do you use in your solution? Can it ever be changed for something different?
  • If our business grows, will we need all new hardware for our backup system? Can we build on what we already have?
  • If we downsize our business and need to reduce costs, can we still maintain a backup or high availability platform and pay less money?
  • What will the cost difference be if we start with a smaller system and grow into a larger one?
  • If you implement a system that will quickly outgrow, will your firm absorb some of the cost for implementing a larger system?
  • What is the expected up-time for our data and our systems if we use the “x” recommended solution vs. the “y” solution?
  • What kind of support can we expect to receive if we implement your system? will it be 24×7 on the hardware and the software? Will there be additional fees?
  • How long is this technology expected to last? When we we have to switch to an entirely new type of technology?

Depending on your technology choice for backup and high availability, you may receive greatly varying answers, however, make sure that your solutions provider knows their products and they can remain flexible in providing you with the best possible cloud backup / availability system.

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