Case Study: IndustryPro

In 2008 IndustryPro, an international mergers and acquisitions advisory firm, was looking for ways to streamline its business and cut overall operating costs. When the economy was hitting so many business, CEO Fred Zirkle was looking at ways he could trim back.  He decided that if he could get everyone to work from home, he could move out of their expensive professional space and significantly reduce overhead – no more rent, electric bills, etc.  With the rise of remote business solutions like cloud computing, the company saw an opportunity that needed to be exploited. But IndustryPro didn’t know how to best implement these cloud-based solutions.

Enter i.t.NOW.

i.t.NOW is a Utah-based provider of I.T. solutions including cloud computing, data backup and recovery, desktop virtualization, and more. The company’s i.t.CLOUD offering gives small businesses the ability to decrease in-house operating and hardware costs, and access vital company data on any device in a majority of locations.

To implement IndustryPro’s transition to a cloud-based company, i.t.NOW developed a custom plan of action.

First, IndustryPro needed to give its employees the ability to work from home on any device, to eliminate the need for expensive office real estate and maintenance costs. i.t.NOW migrated all of IndustryPro’s data to its secure, off-site data centers, and configured remote access for each of its employees. This allowed the company to shut down the physical office.  Server hosting fees were a lot less than his rent.

Second, IndustryPro was looking for a way to rapidly expand its business. i.t.NOW’s cloud computing solutions allowed the company to add additional employees in different states, and even overseas. With i.t.CLOUD, IndustryPro employees could access company files and e-mail from their homes or on the go, on any device. Fred and other employees are able to travel with more flexibility as they never have to be ‘in the office’ to work, and still has full functionality.

“We had employees working on PCs, iPads, Macs, and other various hardware and software systems. With i.t.NOW, our transition to a cloud-based company was seamless. Our data and connections were secure and we also saw a substantial increase in productivity without increasing our business I.T. costs.

i.t.NOW has helped our company grow from one expensive office to four virtual offices and one smaller brick-and-mortar location in Georgia. This has allowed us to expand our customer base and increase our bottom line.

The staff at i.t.NOW was very professional, and I would recommend i.t.NOW to any business looking to cut costs and expand its business.”

– Fred Zirikle, founder and CEO of IndustryPro

How to Work From Anywhere

Network solutions for a mobile workforce

We’ve all had this beautiful dream at one time or another.  You’re sitting on a beach somewhere working on your tan, and simultaneously able to actually be productive like you were in the office with just your trusty laptop.  It’s not really a dream anymore, but you will need a good IT guy on your side and some gear to make it a reality.  If the beach isn’t your scene you can swap that for a nice mountain scene or basically anyplace else you can get cell phone reception.  Here’s what you’ll need.

The one crucial piece to all of the connectivity solutions I’ll discuss briefly is that you have to be able to get on the internet.  There are a range of solutions for this of course.  The simplest solution is a basic wireless or hardwire connection at your hotel.  If you have to be (or want to be) in a location where wireless isn’t readily available you can go with a 4G card built into your laptop, or a wireless 4G USB dongle.  You can even tether the 4G connection from your cell phone if you’re savvy.

Once you’re online, the question becomes how to connect back to your office network securely so that you can access company files and applications.  The answer will depend a little bit on what work you’re doing and what you need access to.  I’ll run through a couple of scenarios that will help to illustrate.

Say you have a job where most of the work you do is on documents.  All of the documents are saved on the company server, and you want to get to them from your comfy reclining chair on the beach.  If all you need is network access to get to the documents on the server and the capability to work on those and then save them back, then an SSL VPN (Virtual Private Network – SSL is a level of encryption) is probably a great solution for you.

The SSL VPN is a secure way that you can access your work network from your laptop or any other machine with a web browser.  It basically securely connects your machine to your work network through the internet and allows you to download any documents saved on the network at work.  You can make any revisions or adjustments that you need, and then save them either on your local machine or back on the server.  SSL VPN is generally just some additional software licensing that you can add to the firewall your office likely already has in place.  It’s relatively inexpensive to purchase and if you have an IT guy that knows what he’s doing it can be set up in an hour.  Once its set up you can get signed in with just a username and password and you’re off to the races.

Let’s take the next step now, and say that you’re an accountant that works on tax applications all of the time.  Part of what you do is documents, but you live and die in QuickBooks or another accounting suite.  The database for the accounting software is on your server at work.  A VPN connection like we mentioned above would connect your machine back to the office network, but QuickBooks just doesn’t seem to want to work over the VPN.  The reason behind that is that QuickBooks is a database program.  Every time you click a button within the program QuickBooks is asking the database in the server at work for the info.  There is so much data going back and forth over the internet connect that it gets bogged down and won’t perform well.  QuickBooks and any other database program is not designed to work this way.

So how do we overcome that?  Well the answer lies in working directly on the server that houses the database instead of asking the server to send data back and forth over the internet.  This idea is called a Terminal Server.  Here’s the concept.  Sitting in your reclining chair on the beach you click on a shortcut on your desktop.  This opens a new window where you sign in and get connected to the server that your QuickBooks database is on.  What you see is the desktop of the server, but there is no lag or performance problem because QuickBooks is running locally on the server.  The only thing being transmitted over the internet are the screenshots of what’s happening which happen fast enough that you don’t really notice much difference than when you run applications locally.

Terminal servers are usually created to give multiple people from an organization external access to applications and data.   To get set up you’ll need a server and the appropriate software licensing from Microsoft.  This is a little more involved than setting up a simple VPN, so you’ll definitely need an IT guy that knows what he’s doing.  This solution also does not work with every application so we’ll need to confirm compatibility.  There are costs involved in setting this up that vary widely based on what’s housed on the terminal server and how many people will be accessing it, but hey, can you really put a price on freedom?

Okay, last scenario.  Say that you’re an accountant that is a little bit eccentric and you just love apple products.  They couldn’t pry that MacBook from your cold dead hands if they tried.  Or say that you work in an organization that has a hodgepodge of different devices that all need to use the same applications that may or may not be able to run it natively.  We’ll you’re in luck.  There is a product called Citrix that will save the day for you and allow you to run just about any application on your Mac or any other device for that fact.  Citrix is purchased in conjunction with a terminal server and is basically that same concept on steroids.  Citrix allows you to publish applications from your server and access them on virtually any device with a web browser.  The great part is that all you have to do is click on the shortcut on your desktop.  It looks just like it’s installed on your machine, and performs great.  In addition if you need a full desktop you can do published desktop with Citrix to give you additional remote flexibility in your work.

Citrix is complicated to set up, and expensive to implement.  You’ll want to do a business analysis to see if it is the best fit for your business needs.  I’ve really only just barely scraped the surface here describing what it can do, and there are actually several other business cases that are good reasons to invest.  Probably best to talk with a Citrix solutions architect to see what would be the best fit for your business.

There you go, you’re beach dreams come true!  If you have questions about how to get this set up for your business, contact the pros at i.t.NOW.

Bulletproof Your Data with a Backup and Disaster Recovery Solution

i.t.Now offers a state of the art data Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR) solution that “bullet proofs” your data.

Service Highlights:

  • A complete solution that is designed to reduce any server down time with the use of a specialized back up and virtual server appliance.
  • Allows near real-time backups – as frequent as every 15 minutes.
  • Offers offsite storage at an affordable cost
  • Provides a low cost, speedy disaster recovery process.
  • Data is encrypted so it is not accessible to anyone without the passkey, either on the NAS or at the remote storage facility.
  • Eliminates the cost and time of managing on-site tape backup. We monitor and manage the entire process.
  • All costs are bundled at a price that is comparable to the overall cost of buying and managing tape backup. This includes frequent on site backups, on site virtual server, remote storage, disaster recovery in the event of disaster, and 24×7 management of the entire process.

Executive Summary
A recent study discovered that, of companies experiencing a “major loss” of computer records, 43% never reopened, 51% closed within two years of the loss, and a mere 6% survived over the long term. For small and medium-sized businesses in particular, these statistics suggest the necessity of crafting a Business Continuity Planning (BCP) strategy grounded in a robust data backup and recovery solution.

Unlike large enterprises, many smaller companies cannot afford optimal in-house strategies and solutions in service of BCP. These companies are consequently at an elevated risk of being put out of business due to any major loss of data. Loss of data could mean emails lost, accounting data lost, patient or client files lost, company records lost, client legal records or orders lost and so on. This white paper evaluates the scope of BCP for smaller companies, by examining their challenges, range of existing solutions and their drawbacks. We’ll also discuss how our solution overcomes commonly faced challenges to offer the most comprehensive solution out in the marketplace.

Business Continuity Planning for Small and Medium Size Businesses
BCP is the blueprint for how businesses plan to survive everything from local equipment failure to global disaster. Data-oriented BCP, an indispensable component of business planning regardless of organization size, poses the following challenges. Smaller businesses generally lack the in-house IT resources to achieve these demanding planning, technical and process requirements. Therefore, many SMBs either neglect to implement any data-oriented business continuity plan or else approach data backup and recovery in a sporadic, rudimentary fashion that fails to conform to the best practices of BCP.

Risks of not having a plan in place:

  • Understanding regulatory compliance requirements in your industry. Regulations such as the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and other laws, both state and federal.
  • Understanding how to mitigate the risk of losing vital business data, such as customer records.
  • Being aware of the environmental hazards that the business infrastructure is exposed to due to your geographical location.
  • Estimating time it would take to build the business back if disaster strikes without having any BCP in place.
  • Understanding ROI for having a BCP in place.

Technical Challenges:

  • Identify the lowest-cost, highest-performance data backup medium (tape or disk) based solution and keeping abreast with the latest and greatest in the industry.
  • Ensure that all backed-up data is encrypted and otherwise safeguarded from theft. o Ensure that backed-up data can be restored to different kinds of hardware.
  • Ensure that data backup continues even during active recovery phases.

Operational Challenges:

  • Identifying what data to back up.
  • Identifying how frequently to back up and related costs and ROI.
  • Retain the ability to recover not only the most recent data, but also data from oldertime horizons, such as past quarters and years.
  • Retain the ability to monitor and manage the integrity of ongoing data backupprocesses so that backup failures can be diagnosed and remedied before adversely impacting the BCP lifecycle.
  • The need to hire staff who can understand, design, implement and keep a BCP running 24/7 and be available to get business back in action after disaster strikes.

Traditional Solution vs. Emerging Technology
Implementing a data-oriented BCP strategy first requires designation of a specific data storage medium. Magnetic tape and disks are the two leading media for data backup storage. While magnetic tape is currently dominant, analyst Dave Russell of Gartner believes that:

“Recovery will move to online disk-based storage in the future. This will cause a major shift in the backup market during the next four to five years.”

Smaller companies in particular will benefit from the shift, as recent advances in design and manufacturing lower the total cost of disk-based storage in terms of storage per bit. Falling prices, combined with the various performance advantages that storage industry analysts cite, render disk increasingly attractive. Gartner Group highlights the suitability of disk for these organizations by explaining that:

“The need for high-performance online recovery of data, combined with the availability of low-cost disk arrays, has influenced enterprises and small and midsize businesses to adopt a disk-based approach for backup and recovery.”

Tape, in contrast to disk, is physically delicate and easily compromised by environmental factors such as heat, humidity, and magnetic interference. Moreover, tape cartridges must be replaced frequently (every 6-12 months). Tape’s innate sensitivity contributes to high failure rates, with analysts estimating that anywhere from 42 to 71 percent of tape restores fail. Even when magnetic tape backups are successful, tapes themselves are subject to loss or theft, and may be in the possession of an employee or vendor unable to reach a recovery site. Thus, even when physical backup and restoration processes succeed, tape may not prove to be as timely and appropriate a medium for data storage as disk. Time is a crucial consideration because each hour of server, application, and network downtime endured until data restoration comes at a high cost, especially to smaller businesses.

Analyst Jon Oltsik of Enterprise Strategy Group also points out that tape is seldom encrypted, compounding the destructive impact of tape theft: “Very few people encrypt backup tapes, which means that they rely on the security of the backup and off-site rotation process.” (source: Internetnews.com)

Disk offers not only lower cost encryption but also other advantages. In contrast to tape, “disks are more durable, last longer, withstand more overwriting and you don’t need to clean any heads,” according to Rinku Tyagi of PCQuest. He also pointed out, “When it comes to backing up using disks, they are easier to manage. Disk backup systems include management tools, often browser-based, for you to easily configure settings and check status from anywhere.”

HP enumerates other advantages of disk storage, noting that:

“Data is backed up to disk much faster than tape, which translates to less impact on production server availability. Disk is also a more reliable media than tape and less prone to error, which translates to less failed recoveries.”

While disk offers advantages over tape, it is not a panacea. After installing disk technology, Companies will still be responsible for monitoring and managing backup processes, encrypting and safeguarding backed up onsite and offsite data, restoring data to new hardware, and other functions. Without implementing a layer of governance over disk-based data backup, these Companies court the danger of failed backups and delayed restoration of data, thereby jeopardizing their chances of successful recovery from major data loss.

Smaller Companies unable or unwilling to invest in the human expertise and infrastructure support systems necessary for data-oriented BCP can leverage our data backup and recovery solution, which removes cost and complexity burdens from your staff.

A Complete Solution that addresses all of your BCP Needs

Near Real-Time Backups: Our “Incremental Forever” methodology captures all changes to the initial image in increments of 15 minutes. The Incremental Forever technology not only backs up recent datasets but also allows end users to reconstruct the state of their data as it stood at the end of various 15-minute restoration points. This level of forensic and auditable data recovery may satisfy various regulatory requirements (such as HIPAA and GLBA) for data retention and data record reconstruction, and also serves stakeholders such as supply chain planners, warehouse analysts, auditors, and legal counsel.

On-site Virtual Server: If any of your servers fail, our server virtualization technology embedded in the Network Attached Storage (NAS) allows customer servers and applications to be restored and rebooted in minutes. As you may sometimes endure a wait of several days in order to receive replacement servers from vendors, your NAS can have your business up and running. The NAS multitasks so that, even while functioning as a virtual server, it can continue to back up data from other devices plugged into the NAS. Our technology thus allows you to remain in business without any significant loss of data backup, server functionality, or application downtime.

A Complete Image: We generate an image of all hard drive partitions via an agent, which is warehoused on the NAS device physically located at your location. The data is stored using AES- 256 bit encryption and compressed. We employ a block-level, not file-level, backup, which means that data is captured at the level of 1’s and 0’s. Block level data is raw data which does not have a file structure imposed on it. Database applications such as Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange Server transfer data in blocks. Block transfer is the most efficient way to write to disk and is much less prone to errors such as those that result from file-level backups. Additionally, block level backups are not affected by open files or open databases. The block- level image is an exact digital duplicate of the on-site server

Intuitive and Flexible Restoration: A good backup system should allow for quick and flexible restores. Our solution allows for recovery of files, folders, partitions, mailboxes/messages, databases/tables using a quick and intuitive process. In case of a complete server failure we do support a bare metal restore to new hardware which has a different configuration, hardware and drivers as compared to the failed server. Our 15-minute incremental based backup allows restores to be done from any point in time, allowing for multiple versions of files, folders, messages/mailboxes, database/tables to be restored.

Secure Remote Storage: After imaging the servers to which it is attached, the NAS device then creates an independent 256-bit encrypted tunnel and transmits the imaged data to a secure offsite location where it resides in an encrypted, compressed format. That remote site then replicates again to an alternate data center, creating a total of three copies of the data in three geographically distinct regions. Since the data is encrypted and only you have the key, no one has access at any of the remote storage facilities.

Transmitting data to a remote site is a key component of BCP. It guarantees that, in case of physical damage to the client’s network or NAS, or even regional disaster, the data is safe in uncompromised locations. Encryption is an important step in the process of transmitting data between the NAS and the remote sites, because it greatly reduces the risk of data loss incidents that plague magnetic tape and prevents man-in-the-middle attacks during transmission. We employ the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm because it has never been broken and is currently considered the gold standard of encryption techniques and render transmitted data immune to theft.

Secure, Bandwidth Throttling Transfer: Transmission itself occurs over your Internet connection, and can easily be configured to minimize bandwidth consumption. Our NAS leverages Adaptive Bandwidth Throttling, which only utilizes unused bandwidth or allows us to set an outbound limit. Our UDP based smart transfer technology utilizes a host of innovative algorithms to speed up data transport and resume from failure. We can therefore exercise fine control over the data imaging and transmission processes.

24×7 Completely Managed Solution: A 500-person Network Operations Center (NOC) monitors your NAS units and the attached servers 24/7. Failed processes generate immediate alerts to our engineers, who often remotely correct errors within minutes of receiving notification. In case of more serious NAS issues, we will conduct repairs at your site. If any NAS units are irreparably damaged or destroyed, at an additional cost we will overnight ship replacements— pre-loaded with all stored data—directly to your location.

Affordable Cost: We offer a pricing packaged that is all inclusive of the complete backup and disaster recovery service-with no hidden costs. All your costs are bundled and include the NAS, the Incremental Forever Methodology, file restorations, file integrity checks, secure data transmission and remote storage.

Server 2012 Open Licensing and OEM Downgrade Rights

Some questions that have been prompted by the recent move to Server 2012 concern downgrade rights.  Many companies are put in a situation where they need to purchase a new server license(s), but their business applications are not yet fully compatible with Server 2012.  Since Server 2008R2 volume licensing is no longer available for purchase, what can be done?  The answer lies with downgrade rights.

Server 2012 volume licensing comes with rights to downgrade to Server 2008R2.  This is advantageous for a couple of reasons.  One is that it allows you to accommodate any applications that are not ready for Server 2012.  Another is that at some future date you can use the same license to move to 2012 at no additional cost.

Server 2012 OEM licensing also offers downgrade rights, but with one small caveat.  Microsoft reports that:

“The OEM license terms for most OEM versions released with or after the Windows Server 2003 R2 operating system allow for the user to downgrade to an earlier version.”

That’s good news for all of us that have purchased OEM licenses.  It’s been confirmed that both Dell and HP OEM licenses will allow for downgrade rights with 2012.  If you happen to have an OEM license from another manufacturer you’ll have to check their specific OEM License terms to confirm that you have downgrade rights.

Windows 8 Pro OEM and Volume versions will also have downgrade rights to Window 7 Pro.  If you have a copy of Windows 8 OEM(non pro) your downgrade rights would be limited to Windows 7 home.  It’s important to note that if you have legacy applications that will only run on XP, Windows 8 will not come with downgrade rights to XP.  You’ll have to update the app or find a replacement if you want to upgrade your OS.

If you have questions about Microsoft Licensing or downgrade rights contact an expert at i.t.NOW for assistance.  There is also some great information available online here.

 

Server 2012 Licensing Explained

With the recent move to Server 2012 and the change in Microsoft’s traditional licensing model have come a slew of questions.  The change in the licensing model has been driven largely by trends in the industry for data centralization and cloud centric computing.  There are actually some nice benefits that the new licensing model offers to those who are currently using a hypervisor such as VMware or HyperV.  The licensing model is also simplified so that there are now really only 2 versions of Microsoft server OS where there were previously many.  Here’s how it all breaks down.

There are basically 2 version of Microsoft Sever licensing that will be commonly used in businesses.  One is Server 2012 Standard, and the other is Server 2012 Datacenter.  One of the big changes with 2012 is that there is no difference in feature sets between the two versions.  Standard now has all of the great features that were previously only available with a more expensive server OS.

The main difference with these two licenses is the licensing model.  A datacenter license is good for unlimited virtual instances on a single physical piece of hardware with up to two processors.  That makes it ideal for heavily virtualized datacenter environments.  The standard license is good for two virtual instances on a single piece of hardware with up to two processors.  This is a fit for lighter virtualization installments, and for most small businesses that have a few servers and are using a hypervisor.  The new standard licenses cost approximately 30% more than the previous standard license, but with the ability to do 2 installs.  This can reflect significant licensing savings for businesses leveraging the benefits of virtualization.  Both datacenter and standard licenses will still require the use of Server CALS for every user or device that will be accessing a server.

As always, when planning a move to a new server OS it’s important to check your available server resources and compatibility with your main business applications.  Many of the applications that you’re currently using may not be ready for the move just yet.  It’s recommended that you test thoroughly and know compatibility before doing a migration of a live server environment.

For questions or to learn more specifics feel free to call the experts at i.t.NOW who can help you with your licensing questions.  There are also some great resources available online from Microsoft that can help with your licensing questions.

Virtualization Solutions from i.t.NOW

In 2011, C.H. Spencer & Co., a supplier of pumps and related equipment to mining, power, industrial and municipal markets, was looking for a way to cut business operating and hardware costs.  Company executives knew they wanted to scale back the number of servers and hardware needed to run the business, but they didn’t have the in-house expertise to handle the transition.

Enter i.t.NOW.

i.t.NOW is a Utah-based provider of I.T. solutions including virtualization, data backup and recovery, cloud computing and more.  The company’s virtualization solution gives small businesses the ability to decrease in-house operating and hardware costs, and reduce the number of needed servers and computers, and hardware and software upgrades.

For C.H. Spencer & Co., the staff at i.t.NOW developed a custom virtualization plan.

First, i.t.NOW decreased the number of in-house servers from four to one, with one server now running four virtual machines. This move saved C.H. Spencer & Co. an estimated $17,000 in hardware costs, upgrades, warranties and maintenance over the life of the machines, which typically last three to five years.

Second, because of the decreased power consumption, C.H. Spencer & Co. will see significant savings. On average, each server that C.H. Spencer & Co. used cost $300 per year in electricity, a total of $1,200 per year for all four servers.  With the new single, virtualized server from i.t.NOW, electrical costs will average less than $300.

Finally, i.t.NOW’s services gave C.H. Spencer & Co. technology that will scale with its growth. With virtualization, tasks like memory addition and data migration become more simple and cost-effective.

“Our transition to a virtualized office was pretty seamless. We compared three different I.T. companies, and ended up choosing i.t.NOW because it had the most comprehensive virtualization services.  We started the switch the Friday after Thanksgiving, and i.t.NOW had us back up and running by Monday.  They were there to help with any additional needs whenever we needed them.  They also helped upgrade two of our core software programs at the same time. We even installed i.t.NOW’s data backup and recovery system, i.t.BDR, and that’s helped us recover lost data at a moment’s notice,” said Randy Burgoyne, controller for C.H. Spencer & Co.

 

“We started looking at a variety of options for expanding our servers.  We wanted good, solid hardware.  We had three dell servers, and an 800 gig array of storage space.  When it came down to it, we wanted to compare prices.  We got bids from three places, and we felt that i.t.NOW had the best total solution.  They mirrored our entire server environment, and cut us back to one machine using VM Ware.  The implementation went very smoothly.  We also upgraded two of our core operating programs at the same time. It was a large undertaking, but i.t.NOW handled it well.

 

Implemented the Friday after Thanksgiving.  i.t.NOW had our server up before the transition, and we were up and running again on Monday, and were ready to handle any additional problems throughout the next few days.  They also expanded our storage, and we also installed an i.t.BDR unit that has been seamless as well.”

 

To learn more about i.t.NOW and its comprehensive I.T. services, call (801) 562-8778 or contact us using our online form.