Moving to the cloud – a basic checklist

Smart IT programmer drawing information technology diagram

Smart IT programmer drawing information technology diagram

Your moving to the cloud, you have taken the plunge and you are going to move critical components of your business to the cloud.   You have investigated and approved the move and how it will be done.   The next step is the actual project of moving your data and infrastructure to the new systems.

Do you have a plan for the move?

Although the cloud and virtualisation are totally different from normal business in infrastructure requirements there are still some similarities that can be used to make the move as smooth as possible.   Here is a five point checklist for the move.

1. Create a new continuity plan
Before you start migrating data to the cloud base you need to know that if something happens that you have a recovery point.   Make sure that the migration of data does not compromise the source.
A business continuity plan for the new data location needs to be in place prior to the new system going live.   The moment new data is written to the new location the old data is obsolete.   You need to have a business continuity plan that ensures that the moment new information is written to the new location that you have a way of recovering it.
In most cases the business continuity plan is not in place until well into the testing process.   It is something that needs to be In place prior to the migration not something that is tacked on at the end.

2. System visibility
Visibility  and availability are tied together.   If the system is not visible to the users, management and in some cases the outside world then you will not have the required availability of the cloud based system.   System visibility is a combination of security, access and policy.   Each one of these components needs to be looked at prior to moving to the cloud.

3. Centralised control systems 
In most cases a centralised control system is required to ensure that the cloud based system will be accessed correctly.   A centralised system is required for the addition of and removal of users – new users need to be added in a timely manner, old users need to be removed smartly.   Both addition and subtraction of users should be done through your HR process.   Never leave access to your systems to a user who has left the company to work with someone else.
The centralised control should also have some level of management and reporting at a system level.   In true cloud systems this allows management to add and subtract CPU, RAM and storage space as required.

4. Disaster recovery 
Disaster recovery is a huge requirement for moving to the cloud.   Where is the data stored, is there separate geological locations for the data and is there a system in place that backs up the data to a separate location.   Another important feature of this quire net is keeping track of news and event happening around where your data is located.  If there are floods, fires and earthquakes in one location then there better be a secondary location for your data.

5. Testing
Once the cloud based system has been deployed and before all users have access is the best time to test the business continuity and disaster recovery systems.   If it fails here then it can be fixed, if it fails in production then you could be looking for a new job.

These are five checks to make concerning moving to the cloud.  Other check that are also important – do you have a service level agreement with the Vendor?   Is there the possibility of data lock out?  Does the contract specify who’s data it is?

Moving to the cloud is a business decision that needs to be backed by good project management and technical skills.   The decision to move is easier that the actual process of moving.

What happens when your cloud breaks! Other problems with Connections

This post has been prompted by an unfruitful and very frustrating day in Sydney.

The whole world is cloud crazy at the moment but the use of the cloud has to be tempered with a bit of logic and a large dash of reality.

Why do I say that?  bigstock-Rain-Weather-Icon-6591430

There are lots of components of a cloud system but there are two that are the most important.

Where is its stored information and how do I get at it.

The second component is probably the most important.

The information that you are storing in the cloud has its own level of problems, thoughts like security, vendor lock out and data exchange between clients of the cloud provider are the most basic that come to mind.   Each of these components can have systems and policies applied to them that will protect the data and allow only authenticated and authorised access.  Lock that in with a decent SLA then most businesses are relatively safe.

To me the biggest problem is access.   Whether you are using mobile devices or fixed line connection to the internet, to access your cloud information is paramount.   A medium size organisation of about 40 users can no longer rely on just ADSL2+, it has to have a substantially larger connection than that, with that increased connection capability goes the increase in monthly costs and if you want to add VOIP to the applications using the connecting then we are talking substantial monthly fees.    A combination of cloud based services, Microsoft office 365 and VOIP would max out a serious connection and make the user experience pretty bad.   When user have bad experiences then they start to bypass systems and policies.

The NBN may have a significant impact on this costing but in a lot of places gaining access to it is seriously years away.   Most businesses have computers and server with gigabit network connection some of them even 10 gigabit connection so the bottleneck will definitely be the Internet connection.   Even wireless is streets ahead when it comes to the speed difference in 3G and wireless connection.   Maybe 4G will improve it but then there is the increase in data costs as well.   100 businesses connecting to one exchange using NBN predicted speeds are still going to get a 1/100 of the pipe going out to the Internet

The smart phone and tablets are taking over business but they rely on a stable connection to the Internet.   This is where this rant came from.   In Sydney, in 3 location, 5 bars on the 3G connection and I was having serious problems getting any information on the iPhone.   In one location all I wanted to do was transfer money to my credit card to make a purchase and the connection to the bank timed out 3 time.   I have heard there are similar problems in Melbourne and Brisbane.

These are serious problems with the 3G, 4G and fixed line networks and have to be addressed before any substantial take up of cloud technology can deliver a serious return on investment for most businesses.   We want to use social media, cloud based applications and all of the other features being pushed at business but the main infrastructure cannot handle the load.   This has to be fixed and soon.
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Business thinking not ICT thinking should be driving your business.

capsuleIt is the old chestnut, an all inclusive chicken or egg scenario.

Is business driving ICT or is ICT driving business?

If you look around the business world there are combinations of both, there are groups who swear by one version over the other, but which is the better way to go.

From our perspective and experience, the most successful business are the ones who are driving their ICT investment and making sure that that investment has a decent return. A relatively short return on investment (ROI) will ensure better productivity, better revenue and higher profits.

There is a special breed of people in the work force who have been trained to understand both the business components required for business success and the ICT infrastructure that needs to be put in place to make it happen.

These people are the ones who can take a successful business from scratch and promote it into the stratosphere.   These people, whether they have been formally trained through degrees and diplomas, or have learned in the school of hard knocks on the street are worth their weight in gold.

They analyse the business requirements prior to implementing any ICT requirements.   These people are hard to find and from a small and medium business and not for profit organisation perspective can be exceedingly expensive and very had to justify.

We work heavily in the not for profit area within our managed services portfolio.   We understand that they have little money to spend, little expertise in the ICT requirements area, but they need a higher ROI than most businesses.

The mantra for most NFP is to bring money in and then spend as much of it as possible on the cause that they are passionate about.   We understand this mantra and work around it to bring in innovated ideas and support packages that are tailor made for their business.

Talking from experience, you can not put forward a managed services proposal to an NFP that has lots of zeroes without justifying their investment.   You cannot say that they need to replace everything with the newest, fastest, or shiniest because that is how YOU make your money.

You can however, justify a one monthly cost, all inclusive managed services contract that will benefit their business, but you have to prove it with testimonials.  A well thought out proposal that includes initial investment, monthly cost and quantifiable deliverables will ensure a CEO or director at least looks at it.

On the other side of the coin there are businesses out there who have invested heavily in technology but have not had a definitive direction to go in.   These business are the ones who jump into new technology because it is the newest bleeding edge system, it has the computing power of a low level data centre but when used in their business is probably only being used for basic calculations and email.   Yes it is faster at these processes, but why the significant investment.

These are businesses who invest in cloud computing without an decent ICT strategy, they spend money on technology without the benefit of a defined ROI and they wonder why they do not have the money to make payroll.

There is also a third group of companies, these are the ones who have invested heavily in technology because they are improving, programming and then on selling this improvement to their clients.   These businesses have a need to invest in the required technology because it is a part of their business.

They invest in it, hopefully, because it has been though through and they have a definitive ROI for the investment.   For them it is no use delivering the best database product if it has not been tested on the newest and best systems available just because their clients have made that investment.

So to refine what I am saying, yes, you need to invest in your business technology but that technology has to fit your business requirement, it has to have a definitive ROI and furthermore it has to be part of your business plan and your future.

Don’t let your ICT and technology drive your business otherwise it could drive it into the ground.

Roger Smith is the CEO of R & I ICT Consulting Services, Amazon #1 selling author on Cybercrime, author of the Digital Security Toolbox and author of the SME Digital Security Framework.   Rapid Restart Appliance Creator.   He is a Speaker, Author, Teacher and Educator on cybercrime and how to protect yourself from the digital world. 

Looking forward to 2012 – will the trends be big data, security and clouds?

Yep here we are, 2012, the end of the world is less than 12 months away, according to the mayan Callander, and we are looking at the trends that may start to appear this year. I have noticed that in the last 5 years these predictions usually come to nought.

So these are the predictions that I am putting forward:

Clouds – the better offering from Australian cloud suppliers are now starting to come through as the larger ICT companies start to realise that sales of hardware and software is no longer the best way to increase profits. The best way for business to leverage the cloud is to look at what your business requires and then see if it will come in as a better solution. Most of the time this does involve getting in an ICT consultant to report on what your business requirements are.

In some cases it will not be a better solution, in some cases the solution will come be more expensive but will deliver better results and in some cases a cloud solution will drastically improve your business without the expected overheads.

Security – in the next 12 months the security and how businesses secure their information is going to go through a major upheaval. It is no longer a viable solution to think that because you are small (up to 500 users) that you are not a target.

This is no longer true.

Just toward the end of last year, a small think tank in the states got hacked. 10 users, a server and some laptops, workstations and tablets but because of what they did they had upward of 300,000 individual personal records on their systems, as well as their corporate Intellectual Property (IP) and some defence department information. This business relied on its anaminity for its primary security solution, but because it was on the Internet it was visible to the robots trolling the web. Anaminity is great but you need something substantial backing it up.

Big data – this is a spin off from the cloud but the ramifications are huge for any size business presence on the Internet. The business who can analyse and react to the huge proliferation of information and data that is available will be the ones who will have a better business going forward. It will also,involve the analysis and management of the social media monolith that is a huge component of the Internet.

There are 2 other areas – social media will increase its footprint on the Internet exponentially and the proliferation and increased usage of smart “stuff” (phones, tables) will also increase and change the way we do business.

So 2012 is here, let’s embrace it and see where it can take us into the future.

MANAGED SERVICES – TAKING OWNERSHIP OF YOUR PROBLEMS

3D Small People - AngryIn business the greatest threat to the information and data within your business is the speed to which you and your staff have access. Problems like everyone’s email not working are a big decision, but it is easy to delegate the repair to either internal teams or external companies. When things go wrong you want them fixed NOW and fixed FAST.

What about the niggly things?  Your user wants to print to the third tray on the printer and cannot, your receptionist wants to send out a letter but the mail merge database is no longer connected.

As a business owner or management level executive you don’t want to triage the problems.  Most of the time the management or staff does not have the time or the expertise to look at and resolve the problem, and often the person with the problem is told to “get over it”.   This is not a good state of affairs.   The problem then festers and grows till it does have a major impact on the business.

The best solution for these problems is to get them fixed.   How can you do that without additional cost to the business?   What you then have is a catch 22 situation.

Wouldn’t it be better just to contact your support company and know that it is all covered under the managed services agreement?
The business world is full of computer support and managed services companies that want your money, now don’t get me wrong we are a managed services company, and a good one at that, just ask our clients.   The difference between the other MSP’s and us is that we take ownership of any and all of your technical problems.

So what is the benefit of being one of our clients?

If you have signed up for out 5Nines support program, especially the platinum plan – trouble free technology – then all of your problems are our problems. Your problems are our problems, we take ownership of any problems or complaints that are generated by your staff during working hours that are related to computers, printers, internet, and email… practically anything.

Unfortunately we have no control over the coffee in the lunch room but for a taste of the problems we will fix:

• My mail is not working = our problem;   solution – remote in or send technician onsite;     Cost to you $0 (covered as part of the Service Level Agreement (SLA)).
• How do I create a mail merge document in word 2003 or 2007 = our problem;  Solution – remote in and talk user through problem and show what needs to be done;               Cost to you $0 (covered under the SLA)
• Helpdesk has noticed that one of the computers is reacting sluggishly = our problem; Solution – remote in and fix problem and then report to management;                  Cost to you $0
• System reports problem with a service on the server = our problem – Solution – dispatch technician;          Cost to you $0
• My computer is not working = our problem; Solution – dispatch a technician with a “loaner computer” then replace and repair;               Cost to you $0

The SLA dictates when they will be seen and response times to problems associated with your network.   They are an agreement between you and the MSP to ensure that you and your technology is protected 24/7.

Service levels should relate to items like these but they also depend on a triage process to ensure that a small problem is not related to a bigger unidentified problem .

• Server crash  = our problem – Technician onsite within 60 Minutes;           Cost to you $0
• Workstation Crash = our problem – Technician onsite within 60 Minutes;           Cost to you $0
• Service down = our problem – Technician working on the problem remotely within 30 Minutes;       Cost to you $0
• Printer problem = our problem – Within 4 hours;          Cost to you $0
• User problem = our problem – Next business day;        Cost to you $0

Finally, for any business there needs to be metrics that are measured and reported on. This is also true about your managed service provider. Daily, weekly and monthly reports on the condition of your infrastructure are important for decision making. To improve your business and ensure that the technology is correct and directed at your business, a quarterly report and meeting should also be included as a standard for your managed service.

As you can see not all managed service providers are the same and it is a case of choosing the right one for your business. R & I ICT Consulting Services can help manage and solve these important IT decisions and leave you with more time to get on with the day to day running of your business.

Do you budget for a system failure?

3d man director on stage, ACTION !System failures can happen anytime.   A system failure is something that happens with your technology that reduces your ability to do work.   When that happens it can be a costly exercise in both money and time.

The question is how you budget for something that may or may not happen and may or may not have a significant impact on your business.

A small inconvenience like an application hanging on a work station, the printer not functioning properly or a user receiving that email in one minute instead of 20 seconds is usually seen as an inconvenience.   The way of the modern world that inconvenience can expand into a full blown psychological tantrum.   If it happens enough times then your business can suffer.   Additionally there is always the hobby technician on staff who knows computers and then everyone stands around an watches while he

How often have you done business with someone who has said to you on the phone “the computers are slow today this may take a little time” and thought to yourself typical.   There are times when the computers are slow but it usually comes down to user error – doing too much, too many application open, clicking on the same icon numerous times – that is the problem.
Then there are the big system failures, hard drive failure, server failure, database failure and they will have a huge detrimental effect on your business both to rectify the problem and in lost productivity.   These problems and issues need to have a systematic approach to be rectified.

So how do you budget for these types of problems?   Most of the time, when it happens a small and medium business has to dig deep to find the financial resources and technological know how to rectify the problem.   This is not budgeting this is just hoping that it won’t happen to you.

One of the best solutions to how you budget for a system failure is to have a managed services provider manage your business infrastructure.   Why would this help?   Most managed service providers, the good ones at least, have an all you can eat policy on technical support.   This means that anyone in your business during working hours can call, email or fax the help desk and know that they will have the problem resolved.   The resolution may come from talking through the solution, remote management of the PC by a technical expert or having a technical person actually come to your office.

Furthermore a managed service provider will also monitor and manage your main systems.    With a decent monitoring system in place they will know when the system is having problems well before it has a significant impact on your business allowing your business to replace and upgrade systems when it has the least impact on your business.   In addition to the monitoring they would provide you with a monthly report showing whay your system is doing.

The budgeting component comes into play because for all of this work that a managed service provider is going to do will cost you X amount of dollars per month.

With a managed services provider you are budgeting for a failure by having a static monthly cost and professional services at your call.   This would improve your business bottom line.