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February 2nd, 2013

One of the most popular tech trends amongst businesses is virtualization. The common reason businesses virtualize their systems is that if it's done right, you could see substantial savings. It's quite common for a company's servers to be the first systems to be virtualized. However, while many small business owners want to virtualize, they sometimes struggle to get virtualization off the ground.

Here's five tips on better server virtualization for small to medium businesses.

1. Reality is key - It's easy, when reading about tech, to get caught up in all the new devices, ideas, etc. and maybe begin to lose site of your situation. It's not uncommon to have a small business owner want to virtualize all servers at once. This is often not feasible - budget and technology wise.

Instead, you should take the time to assess your servers and identify which servers are best suited to virtualization. For example, if the server that handles your email is starting to show its age, this may be a prime candidate. After identifying potential servers to virtualize, you can begin to develop a better plan.

2. Check compatibility - After you have picked servers for virtualization, you should look at the software the servers handle, to see if they are compatible with the virtualization software you plan to use. Should the software not be compatible you will either have to look for another solution, or upgrade the software. Fail to do this and you could face setbacks and compatibility issues which will likely cause a drop in efficiency, or even negate the savings arising from virtualization.

It is also a good idea to look at whether the server itself is capable of supporting virtualization. Each virtualization solution has different requirements and this is a good thing to keep in mind. Virtualization solutions are always advancing, so the server that can just about handle a solution now may not be able to handle it in a year or two.

3. Don't forget about your data backup solutions - Interestingly, many virtualization providers also provide data backup solutions. It may be a good idea to look at your existing backup and if it is compatible with the systems you plan to use. If not, this could prove costly for your business if something should happen where you need this.

4. R.S.S. - Reduce. Sell. Save. Server virtualization allows for many servers to be run on one physical unit. This means you will be able to reduce the number of servers, sell them, and finally reap bigger savings through decreased maintenance and operational costs.

5. Work with and IT expert - The above steps can be daunting, even to those in the IT field. There's just so much to focus on that business owners and managers often don't have this kind of time. That's why we highly recommend that in order to get the most out of virtualization, you work with a virtualization expert who can focus on helping you stay realistic, ensure the compatibility of your systems and orient your backup systems.

Looking for an IT expert to help you virtualize your systems? Why not contact us? We may have a solution to help you get even more out of your systems.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

January 18th, 2013

One of the bigger tech trends of 2012 was the cloud. Browse through tech news and it's hard not to see some news piece on some form of cloud technology. While at times the media can be critical there have been lots of positive coverage about the cloud. Companies large and small are starting to realize the benefits. In 2013 you will likely see businesses increasingly migrate some, or all, of their processes to the cloud. Is your company one of these?

Here are five things you should ask cloud service providers when looking to make the move to the cloud.

  1. Is your service compatible with my existing systems? As a small or medium business, you likely don't have the funds to do a one-time, full transition into the cloud. This means, that it would be a good idea to ask cloud providers if their systems are compatible with yours and if you will be able to easily migrate your data over. Beyond that, you should also ask if you can get your systems off the cloud.
  2. How does your data security work? Security of data in the cloud is always a top issue for all businesses. Before committing, It's a good idea to get a picture of where exactly your data will be stored, who has access to it and the  level of storage security.
  3. What is your performance and availability? Numerous outages affecting cloud services happened in 2012. While few lasted more than half a day, this got many questioning just how stable the cloud is. When talking to cloud providers you should ask them what their uptime guarantees are and if their cloud is scalable - if you need more computing resources, are they available?
  4. What is your support policy? As you will likely not be hosting a cloud server in your office, you will be at the whim of the provider. It's advisable to suss out their support policy, such as whether they have a dedicated emergency contact and the general response time to issues and enquiries.
  5. How does your fee structure work? Finally, ask about the fee structure the provider uses. Most cloud operators offer numerous pricing schemes that companies can take advantage of.
Finding the right cloud service for your company can be a long and often tough task. Asking the right questions, comparing what different providers say and finally comparing the findings against your needs, should help you find the perfect provider. If you're interested in learning more about cloud services and how they can be employed in your business, why not start with us? We may have the perfect solution for you. Give us a call today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

December 7th, 2012

Virtualization is a buzzword thrown around the tech community on a seemingly hourly basis. From the outside looking in it seems that everything is, and has to be, virtualized these days, and if it isn't you're lagging behind the times. This has led to somewhat of a craze, that can be quite confusing at times. One of the more popular forms of virtualization that has got many experts talking is the somewhat confusing issue of server virtualization.

Here is a brief overview of server virtualization, when you should use it and what you should look for in a virtualization solution.

What exactly is server virtualization? In a nutshell, server virtualization is the practice of taking physical servers and digitizing them into virtual ones. In truth, this isn't a fully virtual solution; your servers will continue to be on a physical server, just in virtual format.

Modern virtual solutions run multiple systems - commonly called instances - on one existing server. Traditionally, servers were inefficient especially when it came to use of physical resources and hardware - much was left under utilized. Virtualization ensures that use of physical resources and hardware are maximized, leading to users getting better value from servers.

This stacking of existing systems onto a smaller number of systems decreases acquisition and overhead costs - maintenance and power - while increasing the amount of physical space available for other functions including room to grow.

Virtualization is largely made possible due to increases made in technology. For example: A server with four processors costs about 1/10th of what it did a decade ago, and is more powerful. More power and cheaper cost has given companies of all sizes the capabilities to virtualize.

When should I employ server virtualization? Virtualization is ideal for functions that are small to medium scale, ie., most simple or day-to-day business functions. If you have applications that are resource intensive and rely on more than one or two servers to be able to run, then it's probably safer to not virtualize that particular service.

Most companies will run physical servers with virtual solutions to a maximum of 50% CPU usage during peak operations. If you have multiple servers running applications that, at peak, only use about 5% of the server's power, these would be ideal to virtualize - you could virtualize up to 10 physical servers.

If an application uses 48% of available computing power at peak usage, it's probably not the best candidate for virtualization as it will cause other instances on the same server to run slower, thus negating any advantages gained from virtualization.

What should I look for in a virtualization solution When looking for a virtualization solution many companies will have different needs that they need to take into account. There are three factors that almost every company should be aware of when shopping for a virtualization solution:

  1. It's not 'all-in-one' - This seems to be an increasing demand of many clients; they want one system or server to take care of everything. This is not a good idea, as if something happens to the server all of your systems could be rendered useless. The best solutions take steps to ensure your solutions are redundant. That way if one fails, or needs to be fixed, it can easily be switched to the other with no loss of service.
  2. There's a migration solution - Most businesses, especially small to medium enterprises, will likely be looking to migrate servers from a physical to virtual (P2V) solution. This can be a time consuming experience for the uninformed. Therefore, a good service will have P2V migration tools or options to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
  3. The service is supported - Due to the increasingly complex nature of virtualization, good services should offer support. The best services should be able to manage your whole virtualization solution, including installing patches and updates and prompt service. They should also be able to work with your existing licences and ensure you're not paying extra, meeting your licensing needs.
There are many different aspects to take into account when virtualizing your systems, and if you don't have the IT support or knowledge, it could be a complete failure. That's why we recommend contacting us if you plan to virtualize. We have plans that can help, or will be able to point you in the right direction. So, call before you start.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 1st, 2012

The job of a manager and entrepreneur requires an investment of serious time. You’re never focused on one task, rather you’re trying to focus on every job that needs to be done, yesterday. Sometimes you’re pulled in so many different directions that you can feel ineffective. One way to lessen this is by taking steps to hire an assistant, not just any assistant, a virtual assistant.

A virtual assistant (VA) fills the role of a traditional assistant but is just not physically present. Many roles, like replying to trivial emails, finishing presentations, writing or even answering your phones, can all be done through the computer. If you’re interested in virtualizing your assistant here’s five steps that will help you find the perfect assistant.

Step 1: Think about tasks you don’t like You’re not a superhero, there is always something, maybe many things, that you don’t like doing. Over the course of a week jot down what you do each day and whether you like/dislike the task. Beyond that, if you think someone could do it better, jot that down as well. At the end of the week, look over the list and see if you have to do the tasks yourself, or if you can outsource them. The tasks you can outsource can be given to your VA.

Step 2: Look for a VA Once you can justify a VA, start looking for one. Reach out to your network and see if your colleagues have assistants, and if they can provide you with a recommendation. Beyond that, consulting with organizations like the ivaa.org can return some great VAs.

Step 3: Screen candidates This step is just like hiring a physical candidate. You need to go through your list of potential hires and ask them questions to ensure they are both a good fit and what you're looking for. Some things you could ask include:

  • If they have experience in the tasks you listed above.
  • If they have time available to actually take on your requirements.
  • Their working hours and holiday requirements.
  • The services they do/don’t provide.
  • Their rates.
  • Their general experience.
  • If they can provide references and previous examples of their work.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and you should ensure to conduct the interview and asks questions related to your specific needs. One thing you should be clear on are your expectations and budget. If you want a VA who will respond within 10 minutes and you’re located in San Diego, and your VA is located in Thailand, it could take longer than that due to the time difference.

Step 4: Baby steps Like learning to walk, you can’t start at a run, rather you have to take it slow. Start with a small project to test the waters as a way to vet the candidate. Be sure to let them know that this is a test, and not a final offer. This won’t be free, you should pay them at their normal rates.

Step 5: Onboard slowly, terminate quickly If the VA is a good fit, and the test project goes smoothly, you can start to wrap up. Generally, the onboarding process should be slower than a normal physical hiring as you have to invest more and vet them more carefully. If you find that down the line, the VA just isn’t working out, or keeps making the same mistakes, cut them loose. A VA isn’t like a normal employee, you shouldn’t have to invest thousands of dollars and man hours training them and as such, it isn’t as much of an investment.

If you’d like to learn more about virtualizing roles or services within your company, please contact us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

October 4th, 2012

Any new technology that is profoundly, or even remotely, popular will always have people who love it and people who hate it. Often, the opinion of experts in the same field is so widely varied that normal users are left wondering who to trust. One such debate that rages, almost daily in some circles, is over the cloud. One well-known tech guru has recently said he’s worried about the cloud.

Mike Daisey is an American monologist who did a show about Apple’s production plant (FOXCONN) in Shenzhen China that turned out to contain false facts. In August he updated his show and even brought on a special guest, Steve Wozniak (Woz), Co-founder of Apple.

On the show, Woz talked about many things, but one of the topics resonated with the tech crowd. The topic was the security of the cloud and ownership of data and files within it. Woz stated, in no uncertain terms, that, “there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years.”

He went on to explain that the reason he felt the next few years will be tough is due to ownership of information stored in the cloud. He explained, “a lot of people feel, ‘oh, everything is really on my computer’, but I say the more we transfer everything onto the web, onto the cloud, the less we’re going to have control over it…I really worry about everything going to the cloud.”

Woz and other critics of the cloud are worried about who really owns your personal information in the cloud, and how much actual control you have over data stored on a cloud provider’s servers - aka. the cloud. The underlying issue around this reservation is the question of what will happen to all of your data if there is a massive breakdown at remote storage locations. Some users had a recent glimpse into this possibility when Amazon’s data center was struck by lightning causing cloud services like Pinterest and Instagram to be unavailable for hours. Despite the fact that the issue was fairly small, groups of people were mad at not being able to access their data.

Users may be reserved in fully trusting cloud solutions and the companies offering them but the cloud is quickly becoming a backbone to many business oriented solutions. Chances are, you are using at least one cloud service right now. Many IT companies believe that the cloud is the way to go and strive to take steps to ensure ownership of stored information is as clear as possible.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Are you worried about cloud solutions or do you embrace them? Let us know.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

September 7th, 2012

One of the more popular trends companies are adopting is virtualization, moving from physical systems to cloud/server based systems. Desktop virtualization, the act of moving your desktop computers from a physical to virtual environment is a type of virtualization that’s gaining more popularity. When it comes to this trend though some companies are apprehensive about how secure virtual environments are.

In general, you can do nearly everything on a virtual desktop that you can do with a physical desktop. The majority of office oriented software now has versions that operate in the cloud, or give administrators the ability to install the program on one machine and license it out to other machines.

The largest difference between the two systems comes in the form of security. Virtual desktops are susceptible to the exact same security issues as their physical counterparts, but they also have a few extra potential problems which are unique to virtual machines. The biggest security issue with virtual desktops comes in the form of access. With physical machines, you can lock an office door which will usually prevent people from physically accessing the machine. With virtual machines you are not able to do this. Anyone with access and a password can get onto the machine.

While this may sound like a deterrence to the adoption of virtual desktops, users should be aware that vendors are aware of this issue and have adopted measures to ensure their products are safe. In fact, if implemented properly, virtual desktops are often safer.

To ensure safety of data and machines virtual desktops need to be implemented in a specific manner. For example, some solutions will create a new environment every time you need to access a different system. This is like starting with a blank slate, with unnecessary data being deleted when you log off. Users won’t be able to customize their workspace, but it can help stave off problems of errant downloading, or installation of unnecessary programs.

Other systems allow users to customize their workspace, but save the changes in a separate location when the user logs off. This keeps any changes made to the base system easy to keep track of, and it’s easier to spot security problems, while keeping them local.

If you’re looking into virtualizing your office’s desktops, we strongly recommend you work with an experienced IT partner who can help deploy a system that meets your needs, while remaining safe. We can help with virtualization, so why not give us a call?

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

August 3rd, 2012

Computers and other devices have done nothing but get faster, giving businesses the ability to move traditional functions onto the computer. This move saved companies untold amounts of money and made employees more productive. The new trend is to move these now “physical” elements into a more virtual environment, a trend called virtualization.

In technical circles, the process of virtualization is the creation of a virtual copy of something actual like a server, network or storage device. Virtualization allows one device to run as more than one device. Running Windows on your Mac, or partitioning a physical hard drive into smaller sections that each act as a separate hard drive are examples of virtualization. In general, there are four types of virtualization:

  1. Operating System virtualization. Running more than one operating system on the same device.
  2. Server virtualization. Running more than one server on the same physical server.
  3. Storage virtualization. Linking together multiple storage devices into what’s perceived as one device. Cloud storage is a common form of storage virtualization.
  4. Network virtualization. Network virtualization is the combining of network connections like Internet and other Data into one seemingly visible network and then dividing the connection into separate connections. E.g., Taking a 5mb connection and assigning 2mb to your server and 3mb to employee’s computers.
In small businesses, the most popular type of virtualization is server virtualization and when many experts speak of “virtualization” they’re normally talking about server virtualization. The four types of virtualization do share common benefits though. These benefits include:
  • Decreased physical hardware. When you virtualize systems, you need less hardware. Imagine an office that has both Mac and Windows computers, you can run either OS on the same machine which means no need to duplicate computers. If you have more than one server, you can bring them together onto one server, possibly being able to get rid of unnecessary equipment.
  • Reduced overhead. With virtualization you will be able to get rid of hardware, which means all associated operating costs - e.g., electricity bills - and capital expenditures - e.g., maintenance - related to the hardware are decreased, or eliminated. You save money in the long run.
  • Increased efficiency. As virtualization solidifies different systems into one, you’ll be able to more efficiently use the hardware components e.g., there’s no need to have separate Internet connections for email, servers and computers.
  • Easy Disaster Recovery. With virtualization, you don’t need to invest heavily in backing up your company’s data, you can take the money saved from virtualization and invest it in a small number of servers that house backups offsite. When a disaster strikes, you can be up and running again quickly.
  • Extended device lifecycle. It seems that current hardware is out of date almost as soon as you buy it, and within a couple of years it’s struggling to meet demands of more modern programs. With virtualization your programs are stored on servers, so the need for modern equipment is lessened. This means you can use your current equipment for longer.
The biggest benefit to virtualization is that it isn’t an all-or-nothing solution, you can virtualize different functions at your own pace, often times starting with free or low cost solutions and working up to more advanced and costly implementations. If you’re interested in virtualizing your business or would like to learn more, please contact us.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 26th, 2012

While being able to access your desktop while you’re outside the office is an option you’ve had for a number of years, it’s only now starting to really take off. This is made possible by companies like VMware who offer products that allow you to virtualize practically your whole business. One particularly useful product, View, has recently been updated and has had some useful features added.

For those who are unfamiliar with VMware, they’re a leading virtualization company, whose solutions allow companies to virtualize any aspect of their business. One of their most popular products is View.

What is View? VMware View, geared towards businesses, allows desktops to be virtualized. It essentially moves a user's desktop software, OS and essential programs, onto servers - in the cloud. Users use their physical system - mouse, keyboard, monitor and computer - to access their desktop via an Internet connection. If you’ve heard the term remote desktop, View is akin to that.

Updates to View View was recently updated to version 5.1 and with the update, three new features were introduced that could be useful to small businesses.

  • Through a tool called Persona Management, users are now able to migrate their profile settings - desktop and application settings, user specific data and setups - from their physical desktop to their virtual desktop. If a user does not do a full virtual migration and keeps a physical copy of their desktop, any changes in settings will be synced automatically.
  • There’s expanded coverage for USB peripherals like mice, printers and external hard drives. Before this update, if a user wanted to use a USB peripheral they had to have device drivers - software that allows the device to work with the OS - installed on their system. With the update, users don’t need to have the drivers installed, and should be able to use most USB devices. The drivers are installed on the administrator’s system instead.
  • Administrators can now monitor and analyze individual desktop performance through the use of dashboards. These dashboards will allow them to identify and resolve potential issues. This service is called vCenter Operations Manager for View, and is available as an add-on.
If you’re interested in virtualization solutions for your company, or would like to learn about those offered by VMware, please contact us.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 12th, 2012

VMware is a company that has historically focused on virtualization solutions that make conducting business easier and more efficient. With the company’s purchase of SlideRocket, an online presentation collaboration tool, VMware provides another valuable feature to any business. With integration with a new cloud storage app, this tool has become even more beneficial to businesses.

Google has recently released its cloud storage and collaboration app, Google Drive. What does this have to do with SlideRocket? Well, SlideRocket’s full set of content authoring tools have been integrated into Google Drive. This means that users of SlideRocket can use Google Drive as another way to create, collaborate on, and store presentations.

Chuck Dietrich, Vice President of SlideRocket by VMware, commented, “Together with Google, VMware is helping individuals and businesses embrace new technologies for collaboration in the cloud era.” He went on to note that SlideRocket and Google Drive provide users with a great way to do just that.

If you use SlideRocket and would like to work with other users over Google Drive, simply log into both services with the same account and in Google Drive select Create and More followed by SlideRocket. Once you log in and integrate your accounts, you’ll have access to your presentations without having to log in to SlideRocket.

If you’d like to know more about how you can virtualize your business, or the different products offered by VMware, we’re ready to tell you more. Let’s talk virtualization.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 27th, 2012

There are a number of things application developers have had to deal with in the past, especially when working with Java. When their company asked for a new application they would first have to build a framework, and then build the application. This was a time consuming process, until VMWare released the Spring Framework, making the developer’s job much easier. The Spring Framework was recently updated - read on to find out more.

VMWare recently announced that extensions to its Spring Framework are now compatible with Spring 3.1. This update ensures extensions like Spring Android, Integration, Security, Data and Mobile, etc. play nicely with the latest version of Spring, allowing for developers to more quickly develop business solutions and applications.

Who is VMWare? VMWare was founded in 1998 on the platform of providing virtualization solutions and software to companies of all sizes. The company creates virtualization software to work on Microsoft Windows, Linux and Mac OS X with a focus on shifting businesses onto the cloud, without disturbing existing operations or compromising security.

What is Spring Framework? Spring Framework is a process that allows developers to develop applications that can be integrated with Web services, security, messaging and databases that use Java. The Spring Framework builds a framework for developers to use, so they don’t have to develop one themselves. Therefore, it allows them to focus on creating and deploying Java applications in a number of different environments.

What do the Updates Bring? With Spring 3.1, there are a number of updates to the existing framework. The biggest accomplishment with this update is that all of Spring’s Frameworks are compatible with each other. This allows developers to not worry about developing workarounds, if one part of the framework is out of date. In short, it makes developers more efficient, while giving them the ability to develop Java based applications much faster.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.