Should you move your servers to the cloud?

This week a potential client said he wanted to move his servers to the cloud. The decision to move to the cloud is not so easy. We see it everywhere, Amazon, Google, even Apple has iCloud. First, let’s examine what is the cloud. Commercial advertising will have you believe that cloud computing is a mystical, heavenly, place where all your data resides in peace and harmony for all eternity… Hardly!

Cloud computing is nothing more than rented space in an offsite datacenter. Amazon’s oldest, and largest, datacenter is in Northern Virginia. Depending on your needs, you may purchase space similar to a large hard drive, a shared (virtual) server, or a dedicated server.  There are many advantages to cloud computing. You do not need to hire staff to support the servers and infrastructure. Most datacenters have multiple locations to minimize the impact of geographical disturbances. Cloud based datacenters have very large pipes connecting them to the Internet backbone. You do not have to worry about patching the servers, installing application updates, and data security… wait, not so fast.

Storing your data in the cloud is essentially just putting everything on the Internet. With this realization, some people would stop right there. After all, isn’t the Internet a dangerous place, full of characters who are up to no good, trying to steal your most precious data, your money, and your identity? Then again, does your bank offer Internet Banking? They all do, and whether you sign up for it or not, your data is still accessible via the Internet. If done properly, your data is safer on the Internet than it would be stored locally. How can that be, you ask? What if there is a fire in your building? Or a flood, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, you get the idea. So we can all agree, backing up your data offsite is essential. What if your business is financial, medical, or a similar highly regulated industry? Again, your bank is already online, so it can be done. So what’s the problem, why doesn’t everything move to the cloud?

Remember, the cloud is more than data. You can also rent server space, run your applications, create a website, and use it to share all of the above with anyone, across multiple locations. Cloud servers are also scalable. You can simply pay a little more to add bigger servers, more memory, more storage, etc. So again, this cloud thing sounds great, why not? Well, you are now relying on your Internet connection to access not only your data, but also your applications and servers. You are adding more single points of failure. There is a lot that can go wrong between your office and the nearest datacenter. Can you afford to not have access to your programs? Sure, you may be able to go without Word or email for a short period. What if your office uses a special application that stores your client’s records? Could that application even be moved to the cloud to begin with? Let’s not forget the great East Coast blackout of 2003. You may be on the West coast, but your cloud datacenter could be in Virginia. But didn’t I say cloud datacenters are dispersed throughout various geographical regions? Amazon suffered a major outage in 2011 when severe thunderstorms in the area knocked out both their primary and backup generators. This was the latest of several outages affecting their customers. Even though they have multiple sites, that does not mean there will be no interruptions. Godaddy suffered networking problems on September 10, 2012 affecting millions of sites.

So what’s the solution? This is where Irwin Electronics comes in. We are experts in this area. We have built several datacenters in the Phoenix area, and one in Encino California. We will work with you to discuss your needs. We will evaluate your applications, your data, and your tolerance for downtime. Many companies today are going to a private cloud. This is not much different from the standard client/server environment that has been used for years. Today’s servers are powerful enough to handle virtualization, allowing the equivalent of multiple physical servers running on one box. Blade servers are ideal where a powerful infrastructure is required in a small space. Thin clients make great workstations. This involves a very small, low power, box replacing the large desktop computers, and running the Windows operating system and applications from the server. From here, your data can be encrypted and backed up to the cloud. You are less likely to suffer downtime in this situation, as everything is running locally, but can still be externally accessible. Going this route does not necessarily mean you need to hire a full time IT staff either. Irwin Electronics can set up a contract where we will remotely monitor your systems, ensure all patches and updates are applied in a timely manner, and provide onsite service as needed. We service the Phoenix metropolitan area. We have the ability to contract with local organizations outside our immediate area if necessary. You do not need to search for companies to handle each aspect of your build and support. We will handle most of your requirements internally, and we will contract others where necessary. One call to us is all you need. We will handle everything for you. Call 480-382-4761 today for an appointment.

Posted in BNI

Data Loss

Worried about Data loss?

Studies show that human errors and hardware failures are the 2 most common causes of data loss. The most common hardware failures are hard drives, memory, and power supplies.

Hardware failures come in many forms, and are often hard to predict. It has been said there are two types of hard drives, those that have failed, and those that will! When memory fails, even a single defective bit in memory can cause system instability, Windows crashes, lockups, blue screens, and of course data loss.

Irwin Electronics has industry leading software to detect many of these failures. Our software will diagnose every component, including the motherboard and processor. Don’t be fooled by the free alternatives anyone can download. We have tried these and compared them to the commercial software. Irwin Electronics believes in, and supports, open source software. We often donate when we find a product we really like. However, when it comes to true hardware diagnostics, nothing compares to the commercial products the pros use.

We had a computer with a hard drive issue. (Not a customer’s system.) We tested the drive with Windows built in diagnostic tool and found bad sectors. That is a major indication of imminent failure! Windows was able to recover the data. We then ran a boot time test of the drive, including all sectors. Windows determined the drive was clean. We tested the drive with software that monitors the drive’s built in S.M.AR.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) software. Again, the drive tested clean. We downloaded and installed a bunch of free diagnostic tools. Most of them did nothing more than read the S.M.AR.T. system, or run a simple check using the same software as Windows. None of them indicated any serious problems. Next we ran our commercial product on the system, and the drive test quickly failed, every time! If this would have been a customer’s computer, and we ran only the built in or free tools, we would have given it back only to have it fail shortly after. Our customer would have lost data, and we would have lost a customer!

That is not to say that it is impossible to have a catastrophic failure shortly after we thoroughly test a system. Electronics can and will fail. What we can offer you is peace of mind. You will know that once we have performed our diagnostic service, you can be certain that every component has been properly tested and verified. Hardware failure at this point is highly unlikely. We even give you a full diagnostic report. You will see every component installed, make, model, and serial number (if applicable), AND their test results! This is a $40 service by itself. If we perform additional work on your system, we will often include this report for FREE. Of course this only applies to customers in the Phoenix Metro area. These diagnostics cannot be run remotely. We are located in Peoria,Arizona and come to you valley wide seven days a week. We support all major brands of desktops, laptops, and servers; including HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, Acer, and many others.

Another common cause of data loss are Viruses and Malware. At Irwin Electronics, we have access to some of the best antivirus software on the market for much less than you would pay retail. Many times we have found that we can properly install, configure, and test antivirus software for the same price you would pay for a retail box! If your antivirus is outdated or expired, we will uninstall the old product for you, before installing the new one. If you have multiple products installed that perform the same function they will seriously impact the performance of your system, even if one of them has expired. Antivirus software installs hooks into the operating system that intercept files as they are read from, or written to, the hard drive. The software then scans the file for known virus signatures. It also monitors files for risky behavior. The more hooks you have redirecting files, the longer it takes to move any data. This is another reason why Internet Suites are better than stand alone software. Most suites provide antivirus, firewall, anti-spam, and anti- phishing components. Installing these separately would create multiple hooks as each component would need to intercept the data to analyze it. Most suites will install one hook into the hard drive and network connection, and then perform all the analysis required before sending it back on its way. Another benefit of Irwin Electronics is that we can perform this service remotely! We have a small file on our website that when launched by you, connects to our systems allowing us remote control. Of course, this only works when YOU launch the file. It has been preconfigured to connect ONLY to one of our computers, and terminates when either of us exits it. As long as you have Internet access, you can establish this connection. Keep in mind that software that monitors Internet data will also terminate this connection. In most cases, you click [OK] on an alert and re launch the remote program. Don’t worry; we will walk you through it.

We can also help you decide if you need a full suite, or simply antivirus. Windows itself provides a limited, but effective, firewall. Most routers provide NAT (Network Access) Translation, which also provides firewall security. These are effective only on incoming connections. If you frequently download software from the Internet, a good firewall will also scan outgoing connections which could be sending your private data to the bad guys! Corporate environments already have professional firewalls installed that perform deep packet analysis on all data, which means they inspect every bit of the data sent through their systems, and also restrict where that data is sent. Your computer has 65,536 ports through which data is sent and received. Some software only “monitors” standard ports, while others can provide complete anonymity on all ports. If your goal is to make your computer appear offline, or disappear, from the network, we can help you with that too. One of our clients was a Police Officer that required complete anonymity when surfing suspect sites. In this case, we installed a professional antivirus and firewall solution in addition to instructions on how to surf using special anonymizing proxy web sites that route data through multiple servers worldwide. These even hide or mask your IP address, which is a specific network address assigned to you by your Internet provider. You may not realize it, but websites have several ways to indentify you. They know your approximate location, your ISP (Internet Service Provider), what web browser you are using, even the operating system on your computer! Sites like, http://whatismyipaddress.com/ and http://www.whatismybrowser.com/ provide examples of some of the data collected.

We can help recover lost data, assist in moving data to a new computer, recommend backup solutions, detect imminent hardware failure, and protect your data.

To summarize, there are many types of failures that can occur leading to data loss. Irwin Electronics has been doing this for over 20 years. We are experts in the field, and a wealth of knowledge and experience. If you have questions, please call us at 480-382-4761. We are always happy to answer your questions, and we want to be your IT guys!

 

Posted in BNI