Cloud Computing 101

As you prepare for 2019 and beyond, Cloud Computing should be part of every technology discussion for your business.  Today the “Cloud” means everything and anything.  So, what is Cloud Computing and what does it really mean for you and your business?

What is Cloud Computing?

Let’s define Cloud Computing.

Cloud computing is the Delivery, using the Internet or a Direct data connection, of Network-Based Services hosted in a Multi-Tenant Environment.

What does this mean?

Network-Based Services – this is a service running on a network.  Usually networked in a datacenter, not your own.

Using the Internet or another Direct data connection – You are accessing this service from a remote location from the source.  You are using it over the Internet or another data link.

Hosted in a Multi-Tenant Environment – Hosted means it is running on someone else’s hardware and they are just making a service available to you.  Multi-tenant means the provider is ‘hosting” many users at the same time. They serve multiple tenants.

For example, look at Gmail.  The provider (Google) manages the software and the hardware running Gmail.  You just use the service from a distance over the Internet.  Cloud computing is just a form of outsourcing when you use Gmail, you outsource your email application to Google.

There are three major kinds of Cloud Computing Services

  • SaaS – Software as a Service
  • IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service
  • PaaS – Platform as a Service

Software as a Service is probably the most common use for Cloud Computing.  A company will run Cloud-based software similar (or identical) to a premise-based, boxed software solution. Some advantages of SaaS are

  • No expensive hardware (server) needed to run the program
  • No updates or patches to maintain
  • Easier support
  • Equal fixed monthly costs

SaaS works well for software applications you use all the time.  You pay monthly (or annually) whether you use the product or not.  On the downside, there are applications I use only a couple of times a year.  It is tough to justify paying for them each month over and over.  For these types of applications, I found the alternative open source or “buy once” substitutes.

Infrastructure as a Service – IaaS is using hosted hardware, usually virtualized, running in a datacenter to conduct business.  If physical (not virtualized) hardware is used or needed, it is usually purchased and co-located in a datacenter to be used like IaaS.  IaaS is a suitable alternative for most on-premise computing functions that can be virtualized.

Closely related to IaaS is Desktops as a Service (DaaS).  With DaaS, a host vendor provides access to virtual desktops (VDI) from a Public or Private Cloud.  DaaS can take the place of your local PC or workstation or supplement them.  Instead of buying a computer for each employee, you can buy a cheap connection device (thin client) and provide access to a virtual desktop running in a datacenter to handle all your Desktop computing needs.

Platform as a Service is the least used of these three types of Cloud Computing.  Businesses will deploy applications using programming languages, libraries, services, and tools managed and maintained by a hosting provider. The end user does not manage or control the underlying Cloud infrastructure but controls the deployed applications running on the Cloud Platform.

What is Private Cloud Computing and how is it different from the Public Cloud Computing?

There are many companies offering services over the public Internet; these are public Cloud providers. I am sure you are familiar with many of them, from social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to strictly business applications like Office 365 and Salesforce CRM.

A Private Cloud solution is also accessed over the Internet or a dedicated private circuit. In contrast, a private Cloud usually connects two locations, the customer and the provider, and is housed in a private datacenter.  A Private Cloud is generally dedicated to a single company.  A Private Cloud can take the place of premised based servers and desktops.  You can run just about any hardware or software in a Private Cloud.  A Private Cloud is generally more flexible and customizable than a Public Cloud.  You can run your entire business from a Private Cloud environment, not just a single application.

Most companies use a mix of traditional, Public, and Private Cloud services, a Hybrid Cloud. Keep in mind, with a Hybrid Cloud you must manage multiple Cloud vendors.  There is no one best solution, do what makes the most sense for your business.  Use the Cloud Services you need to support your business objectives and implement them as needed.

Why should I use Cloud Computing?

Cycle of Technology

All technology follows an adoption path according to the cycle of technology. With new technology adoption, there is a continuous cycle of value.  New Technology provides a competitive advantage. As a technology grows older, the competitive advantage eventually diminishes to a point it becomes a competitive necessity, everyone has it and needs it and uses it.  Finally, for those that continue to use older technology well past its useful life, technology becomes a competitive disadvantage.  You are losing productivity by using outdated obsolete technology.

Don’t spend time, money and effort on technology that doesn’t give you a competitive advantage.

“Technology has reshaped Industry. Briefly, these technologies provided real advantages. But as their availability increased and their cost decreased, they all became ubiquitous commodities. From a strategic standpoint, they no longer mattered.” – Nicholas Carr

Conventional Technology has become a commodity and no longer provides a competitive advantage.

Technology is analogous to the electric grid.  Companies used to own and maintain their own power generation facilities until they realized it was faster, cheaper and easier to simply buy their power from a utility company.  They outsourced power generation.  That is exactly what is happening to conventional technology today, it is being outsourced to the Cloud.  We outsource many things, you drive a car, you don’t build one, some of us don’t even make coffee anymore, we outsource it to Starbucks.

There are advantages to outsourcing your technology needs to a Private Cloud Computing Provider.

  • There are great “economies of scale”, especially in a multi-tenant environment. This can lead to lower costs.
  • Business Critical Applications are being ‘Cloud Enabled’ at a rapid pace. You can run your entire business from the Cloud.
  • Well managed datacenters offer greater flexibility to expand and contract quickly and offer services that are less expensive to rent rather than to own.
  • You can focus on Business, not IT. Cloud Computing provides stable IT spending.
  • You pay for ONLY what you use. You plan for today’s needs and scale up later as your needs grow. You don’t pay for extra capacity you don’t need today or may never need.
  • Cloud Computing is infinitely scalable – not only can you easily scale up, but you can scale down as well. This is one of the most powerful advantages of Cloud computing. The ability to shrink as well as grow.  You cannot do this with physical hardware. You buy it, you own it.
  • Because it is multi-tenant, you can use Enterprise class hardware at a Small Business price.

 Why Cloud Computing now?

Source: Gartner 2014

This chart is the 2014 Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging technologies.  We have been talking about the Cloud for several years. Why Cloud Computing now, what has changed?

  • Bandwidth costs are still falling.
  • Most major business functions have moved to the Cloud.
  • You can run your entire business from the Cloud.

The hype is over, and Cloud Computing is ready for prime time.

According to the Gartner 2014 Hype Cycle, Cloud Computing will reach the Plateau of Productivity (mainstream adoption) by 2016-2019.  Cloud Computing is poised to be the driving force for business productivity. It is here now and ready to use.

Is my Data Safe in the Cloud?

Is your data safe in your office?  What happens if your data is in your physical office and there is a fire/flood/hurricane (Sandy)?  If you’re worried about risk, buy insurance to protect against risk.  Cloud computing has a lot of insurance built in.

  • Your data is housed using redundant hardware. The hardware is designed to be risk tolerant.  In most cases, you would not even notice a datacenter hardware failure.
  • Your data is backed up at least daily, probably more often, and you can go back and retrieve any deleted files and projects.
  • Your data is replicated to multiple datacenters (geo-redundant).
  • Cloud computing providers are in the business of keeping their client’s data protected. Their systems and practices are more redundant and more secure than 99% of businesses doing it themselves.

How do I use the Cloud to Gain a Competitive Advantage?

Using the Cloud – Infrastructure as a Service / Desktops as a Service

Running your entire IT infrastructure including your desktops in the Cloud is a new way to think about technology.  The future is using connected devices.  You can run almost any application, perform almost any task in the Cloud. Software and hardware as we think of it today is going away. The Cloud is the future in desktop computing, delivered as a service.

 Using the Cloud – Infrastructure as a Service / Servers and Networks

You can run your entire IT Infrastructure in the Cloud. You can run servers in the Cloud, switches, your entire network. Using Cloud Computing you don’t need premise-based servers or PCs any longer, you can connect to the Cloud Infrastructure using thin clients.  Thin clients are small cheap connection devices that don’t break or wear out. You can eliminate nearly all your on-premise IT equipment.

 Using the Cloud – Online Backup

You back up your files, right? Backup is a critical IT function.  Unfortunately, everyone has a backup horror story.  The best practice for backup is to copy your backup offsite.  You should always have three copies of your data, the original, a local on-premise copy, and a copy offsite.

Whether you use tape, CD, or disk backup you need to get those backups OFFSITE.  Backups are useless if they are destroyed along with the rest of your office.  Cloud backup is a perfect way to easily get backups offsite.  Obviously, if your whole IT infrastructure is already in Cloud then you don’t have any local data to back up.

To back up to the Cloud is easy, you install backup software onto the local hardware and it periodically and automatically copies your data to the Cloud.

Using the Cloud – Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

 The Ultimate Disaster Recovery (DR) solution is a Hot Site hosted in the Cloud.  A Hot Site completely replicates all your on-premise hardware and data in the Cloud.  It is ready to use and updated continuously. It is also less expensive than a premise-based DR solution.

We had clients in New York who lost everything when Hurricane Sandy hit. Their office buildings were closed, the power was out, but their technology was working and safe in the Cloud datacenter.  They just worked from home until their office was usable again.  They did not experience any downtime or a single problem.  When things returned to normal, they moved back to their office and resumed work without missing a beat.

Using the Cloud – Consolidation / Centralization

For a company with multiple locations, it is easy to see how the Cloud changes the game. If you have three locations, chances are, you have 3 times the hardware and probably a lot of duplicate data.  Scale this up, 5 locations, 10 locations, 100 locations. The numbers get big very quickly.  A business can consolidate and greatly reduce the amount of hardware used to support their business.

Not only can a business reduce costs, but also complexity.  By moving from distributed IT to centralized IT in the Cloud, a business reduces the amount of hardware needed while increasing hardware utilization.  The savings are evident, by reducing the amount of hardware and maintenance, you reduce costs.

Using the Cloud – Cloud Collaboration Hub

Working on a big project with other firms?  You can store all your project data in the Cloud and make it available to each firm.   A Cloud Collaboration Hub allows multiple firms to work in real time on shared projects.  This is accomplished using secure private connections to a Cloud Workspace hosted in a datacenter. This type of collaboration creates a robust and secure environment and allows firms to work together while keeping their intellectual property safe and secured.

Benefits of the Cloud Collaboration Hub:

  • Privacy and security of Intellectual Property.
  • Real-Time Collaboration and file sharing
  • Reduced project “latency”, improved project productivity.
  • Accelerated project information visibility
  • Mobility, accessible from anywhere

 Using the Cloud – Hosted Phones

Fire the phone company. You can have your phone system in the Cloud. You can save real money by moving your phone system to Cloud.  In addition to saving money, you reduce maintenance costs.  Your phone system works over your data connection.  Office moves are a breeze, just unplug your phone, take it with you and plug it in at your new office and you are ready to go.  You are completely location independent.  A hosted phone system has all the typical phone options found in a premise PBX, call forwarding, find me follow me, voicemail, all features of a PBX without a PBX.  The sound is HD quality. Your voicemail and faxes can be sent directly to email.

With hosted phones you have Built-in Business Continuity – if your Office is closed for a week, you can work from anywhere, take your phone with you or use a full-featured mobile phone app.  Are you on the phone all day?  You can use a softphone running on a PC and a headset to manage all your calls, you don’t need to buy phone handsets or wireless headsets.

Communication as a Service – You have free 4-digit dialing between all your offices, there are no charges between locations on the same system.  Incoming calls are free as well.  You only pay for outgoing and long distance but the price per minute is very competitive and you can buy prepaid minutes to save even more.

Using the Cloud – Hosted email / Office

Is there anyone who does not use Cloud-based email for your personal email? When it comes to email, individuals are ahead of business.  Today, there is little reason why any business should be running their own email servers and managing their own email.  Using Office 365 or G Suite, you have business productivity applications bundled with business email at a very competitive price.  These are very compelling reasons to move your business applications and email to the Cloud without any downside.  In most cases, you can reduce costs as well.

Using the Cloud – Helpdesk

Remote assistance technologies and the ability to time shift make Helpdesk an easy fit for the Cloud. You can get Helpdesk support from a Cloud-Based Provider 24/7/365.  Outsourcing your helpdesk is an easy and low-risk way to move to the Cloud.

 Using the Cloud – Mobility

Using the Cloud, you have complete mobility, connect from any device, from anywhere you have a data connection. (which is almost everywhere these days) Work sharing, hoteling and job sharing are all enabled by increased mobility.

But my boss says, “No way I am going to let my employees work from home!”

There have been numerous studies about telecommuting that show productivity increases the more mobile the workforce.  Increased Mobility and Cloud Computing also support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) further reducing IT expenses.

 Using the Cloud – Software as a Service – SaaS

Run your software from the Cloud. Virtually any software that runs on a desktop will run on a Virtualized Cloud Desktop.  Many major business applications now offer Cloud options.  SaaS allows you to stabilize your software cost. You can increase and decrease the number of seats of each application.  You reduce maintenance costs and are always running the latest version.  You run your application from anywhere you have data connectivity.  SaaS makes you more mobile and flexible.

 Using the Cloud – Video Conferencing / Web Conferencing

Video conferencing works great for small meetings, up to 25 participants.  There are several Cloud-based Video / Web Conferencing applications available.  They offer many options for video, they interface with phone systems for participants that don’t have access to a web camera.  Video conferencing works very well for smaller meetings up to about 25 participants.  If you have more than 25 users, the advantage of seeing the participants gets lost in the quantity/quality of the interaction.  But for small team meetings, it is ideal.  You get more face time with your clients.

Using the Cloud – Hosted wireless

The Cloud is great for hosting wireless, centralized management of wireless resources. With the Cloud, you have one place to control and manage content, security, and access.

How is the Cloud Transforming Work?

Sustainability

The Cloud reduces the need for non-renewable energy.  When businesses move IT from on-site facilities to consolidated Cloud datacenters, it saves energy and cuts pollution — just as relying on power companies is better for the environment than if everyone ran their own power plant.

As a vendor, we also make sure our datacenters are running as green as possible.  We use renewable green energy sources – hydroelectric power and passive cooling whenever possible.

Innovation

Cloud-based collaboration drives Innovation.   Innovation creates a competitive advantage.  The Cloud supports and promotes collaboration.

Data Storage needs are growing exponentially

As bandwidth improves more centralization is possible.  Data Centralization reduces the need to duplicate data in multiple locations.  It also allows you to deduplicate and reduce the total amount of storage needed.  And storage in the cloud is infinitely scalable. (practically speaking)

Mobility – Remote access

Work from anywhere –home, hotel, airplane, client office, anywhere you have an Internet connection which is almost everywhere. Connect using any device, Smartphones, Android, IOS, Macs, PCs.  You are device independent.

Security

With security, the key is to assess risk.  Are premise-based computers, networks and servers better protected than Cloud-based assets? In most cases, the answer is no.  Cloud Providers invest far more on security than the average business can, it is their business. But what about Government / Cloud Provider snooping?  Make sure you read and understand Privacy Policies and insist on absolute privacy for your business data.  You will have more flexibility and more privacy using a Private Cloud rather than a Public Cloud.  For example, as a Private Cloud Provider, we will not allow government access to your data without informing you first and not without proper legal authority.  Your data belongs to you. Period.

Budget

Using the Cloud must make sense from a financial point of view.  What is the return on your investment?  Many factors affect your ROI, download our free white paper to determine your Cloud ROI.  We’d love to have an opportunity to help you save money.

How do I Choose a Cloud Provider?

Ask a potential Cloud Provider these questions:

  • Mature Services Offering – Are they “Full Service” or do you need to do most of the work?
  • Data Center Operations Excellence – Do they own/operate their own Data Center?
  • Committed Ownership – will they be around in years to come?
  • Geographical reach – Can they service all my locations?
  • Internal Engineering Expertise – Do they have the right people with the right knowledge?
  • Established Client Base – Are they a healthy organization? Financially stable?

Assess

What is the next step after you have chosen a provider? This first step is assessing your needs. What are your needs? Where are you today? Where do you want to be?  A good Cloud Provider can help you develop an assessment.

An Assessment is a deep dive into the current state of your technology with specific recommendations on improving your IT Infrastructure and Operations.  Remember your Technology Initiatives must align and support your Business Goals.

Identify Gaps

During this assessment, look at all aspects of your technology and your business and identify ways to improve productivity, save money and protect your business.

Recommendations

Next, identify specific recommendations to improve your technology.  Create a plan for improving PCs, your network, network servers, security, backups, email, wireless, printing, all things technology related.

Also, consider how you can use technology to build your business.

Implementation

Once you have identified your initiatives, meet with your Cloud Provider and develop a plan for implementation.  The plan takes into consideration your priorities, your time and your budget.  Prioritize and budget and then develop a schedule to get it done.  The faster you can implement, the faster you can realize the benefits and savings afforded by moving to the Cloud.

Service and Support

Finally, make sure you have on-going support.  No technology is 100% foolproof, you will need help at some point.

Advance2000 provides a 24 / 7 /365 Help Desk and can provide your staff with any type of IT Support.  We offer 4 different levels of support from Basic Support all the way up to full Managed IT services.  You determine how much support you need and then buy what you need.  We also provide Full Turnkey Support whether you are hosted in Cloud or still using equipment in your office.

Sounds Great, how do I get started in the Cloud?

We’ll leave you with ONE BIG IDEA. Centralizing and Outsourcing your Technology is called the “Cloud”.

Cloud = Scalability, Mobility, Agility and Speed

Is there anything you could do better in the Cloud?

  • Identify your Business Objectives; is your technology supporting those objectives?
  • Are you using old outdated technology?
  • Is your technology putting your company at a Competitive Disadvantage?

Cloud Computing can help.

What’s next?  Do you have questions?  Contact us today.

 

 

 

Strategic IT Assessment

The Truth About Remote Working

Remote Working Success Factors:

According to a 2016 survey of American remote workers, about 91 percent of people who work from home feel they’re more productive than when they’re in an office.  Forbes Magazine and Harvard Business Review have both written extensively about the productivity gains from remote working.

I have worked remote for the past 6 years.  I think working remotely is great for productivity and work-life balance but it might not be for everyone.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of remote working.

Remote work can be good or bad, it depends on you, your job and employer

What kind of a job do you have? Studies show Knowledge and Creative workers will benefit most from remote working.  Obviously, if you have a job that requires face to face meetings or special equipment then working remotely is not going to work for you.  There is no way a Starbucks Barista is going to work remotely. The exceptions might be phone or chat-based customer service jobs, they are tailor-made for remote workers.

Remote working flexibility is great.  It allows you to schedule life around work.  You can take a 15-minute break to pick up the kids from school or meet the plumber.  These little conveniences improve work/life balance.

Commute time is eliminated.  People don’t realize how much time (and money) is spent commuting.  I live in a large urban city and my wife spends 3 hours and $15 a day using public transportation.  That is a big expense and time commitment.  My commute is one minute to my home office.

If you spend a lot of time working in teams, remote working can still be very productive.  There are many factors that determine if remote work works for you. Let’s look at those that can make you a successful remote worker.

To work remotely, you need appropriate technology

Remote working requires the ability to work from anywhere, ideally, you need complete mobility.

Depending on your exact situation, you need a laptop (or desktop PC), mobile phone and some kind of screen sharing or online meeting tool.  You might also use a chat client or an online project management tool.  There are many solutions out there, you need to investigate which tools work best in your situation and with your employer.

I use Google Voice.  Google Voice allows one number to ring in many places at the same time,  my desk phone, my mobile phone and my Skype number all ring together. I can be anywhere and you can reach me by phone.  Many telephony systems allow you to forward your calls to another number or to your mobile phone.  There are phone features like Find me / Follow me that ring at multiple locations, one after another until you pick up or it goes to voicemail.

If you work in teams, you need technology to support teamwork.  Technologies like Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or VDIs (Virtual Desktop Interface) give you complete access to your work computer and all your office files and programs from anywhere you have Internet connectivity.

If your company does not use VDI or allow remote access, then you are going to have a harder time collaborating with colleagues and access the programs and data you need.  Most companies, even if they do not use VDI, have some way to securely access company infrastructure.  This is typically done using Virtual Private Network (VPN) and some kind of secure authentication.

I am fortunate my company, Advance2000, provides technologies to enable our entire staff to be 100% mobile.  We also help other companies become 100% mobile and work remotely.  We can provide an “office in the cloud” and supply servers, desktops and phones all completely hosted in our private cloud and accessible from anywhere you have an Internet connection.  Some of our clients don’t even have physical offices any longer.

Dedicated Workspace

You need a comfortable place to work.  Companies provide a comfortable productive place for their employees to work.  Working remote, you need that too.

When setting up a home office, keep these things in mind.

  • Door – I find having a door on my office, especially when my kids were younger, was a necessity. If the door is closed, no kids or cats are allowed in.
  • Full-size desk – Get a full-size desk for your computer and two monitors. Dual monitors have been shown to boost productivity.  Spend some money on quality monitors, keyboards and mice.  You spend 8 hours a day on these tools, make sure they are high quality. You want to minimize the chance of eye strain and RSI and you need reliable technology that will last.
  • Network/Internet – a wired Internet connection is faster and more reliable than using WiFi.  If needed, have an electrician run wiring from your Internet Router to your home office.  If you have multiple devices using the Internet, you can invest in a small switch to share your Internet connection.
  • Hotspot/phone fallback – I recommend you have a cellular backup in case your home Internet service goes down. You can use a mobile phone or tablet with cellular data to create a mobile hotspot to use in case your primary Internet goes out.  Or you can just pack up and head to the nearest coffee shop to work.
  • Good desk chair – Get a good office chair.  Do not buy a cheap box store chair.  You are going to spend 8-10 hours a day in your chair.  There is a reason office chairs are so expensive, they are designed for all-day comfort.  Don’t scrimp here, if you can’t afford to spend a lot, check out office equipment resellers.  They have lightly used office chairs by all the major office furniture providers.  Go and sit in the chair, make sure it is right before you spend hundreds of dollars.
  • Private space – I recommend a private office space not shared with the rest of the family.  You need to separate from the family distractions.
  • Windows / fresh air – it is a bonus if you have natural light and operating windows in your office.
  • Monitor/keyboard/headset – These are the tools you use all day. Along with a good chair, get a good keyboard and mouse and monitors.  Ergonomic tools are a plus.  If you spend a lot of time on the phone, consider using a lightweight high-quality headset.
  • Office in a wardrobe – Tight on space? You can house an entire office in a piece of furniture.  There are also desks that hide the office equipment from sight.

Photo: Bowery Hill Computer Armoire

  • Build an office? – Depending on your local building codes, you might be able to build an office in your backyard. This gives you the mental and physical separation from the home.  You leave your house but still have all the amenities of home just a few steps away.

Photo courtesy Will Leger

Office parks/coworking spaces – Finally, if you can’t stand working alone, there are many coworking spaces available everywhere.  For a very small monthly investment, you have access to a shared desk and workspace.  Coworking spaces offer Wifi, refreshments, shared desks and team/conference rooms.  You just bring your laptop and work.  Some people find the social activity stimulating to work.

Photo: WeWork – Chicago

Staying Focused

Successful remote working ultimately depends on you.  It requires discipline and organization.  If you are the type of person whose attention wanders you might not be a good candidate.  Here are some things you can do to improve concentration and reduce distractions.

  • Music – some people use music to provide “white noise” to help them focus on tasks at hand.
  • Minimize interruptions – Be careful of distractions / Internet / social media. Stay away from distractions online.  Consider using browser extensions to block all websites for a period of time.  (RescueTime)
  • Pomodoro technique – Work 25 minutes without stopping and then take a 5-minute break. Specialized Pomodoro apps and websites can help you use this technique to stay focused.
  • Set time for lunch and breaks – every 20 minutes look away from the computer screen for 20 seconds. Plan a regular time for lunch and get away from the computer.
  • Face time – Plan regular trips to the company’s office. You need face time occasionally.  This makes working remote more successful.  Once you meet someone in person, it is much easier to work with them remotely.
  • Demographics – Surprisingly, younger people prefer working in an office for the “social” aspects.

Tips for remote workers

  • Keep a professional attitude – When remote working, it is tempting to not get dressed or shave or get out of your pajamas. Resist these behaviors, they affect your thinking.  Maintaining professional behaviors will help you be more productive.  Don’t take conference calls in bed.
  • Turn off social media – Use organizational technology to keep on track, create lists. If you know what to do next, it will help you resist the temptation to waste time.
  • Schedule all your time – Schedule your todo tasks as well as your meetings and appointments. When you have free time, refer to your to-do list and move to the next item on your list. Stay busy and your mind will not wander.
  • Use fill-in tasks – I have a list of projects to do right now, to do in the future and to do someday. Having those lists prepared keeps you from wasting time by not knowing what to do.
  • Establish regular hours – Keep regular hours. I start work at 8 AM and take lunch 11-11:30 and end my day at 5.  Beware of the trap of working all the time.  It is tempting to answer email and phone calls 24/7/365.  Unless you are required to do this, working remotely is not an excuse to work 12 hour days.  Working remote can improve work/life balance.  Working all the time increases stress and is unproductive.
  • Take regular breaks – Take time away from the computer screen, rest your eyes every hour. Take lunch every day, I take a shorter lunch (30 minutes) since I don’t have to get food or go anywhere to eat.

Pulling it all together

Positives

  • No commute
  • Flexibility
  • Fewer distractions / interruptions
  • Lower employee attrition (higher retention)
  • Better home/work balance
  • Self Management (responsibility)
  • Save money – no commuting costs = instant raise, eat at home
  • No office space required/create a virtual company for startups

Negatives

  • No face time / alone / isolation
  • Lose “social” aspect of the office
  • Time management harder / requires more discipline
  • No physical presence in the office – out of sight …
  • Need to over communicate to be heard – you are not seen
  • Must be a good time manager

Convincing the Boss

So how do you convince your company to allow you to work remote?  In the studies on remote work, middle management seems to be the most resistant to allowing staff to work remote.  This might be because they can no longer see their staff working in front of them.  There is a certain amount of trust required on the part of managers to let go.

One suggestion might be to rotate the days you work remote.  Maybe you go to the office on Monday and Friday and work remote Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday?  Or maybe part of your department works remotely while the rest are in the office and then you switch.  Companies using remote workers need less office space.  Fewer offices/cubicles and less office furniture reduce costs for a company.  It is a win-win for employees and their companies.

Try It

Remote working is not for everyone or for every company.  Set up a remote working trial and see how it goes.  I think you will be surprised how it can improve productivity, create happier employees and save money.

For more information on setting up a virtual office and working remote, contact us today.  Click here and we can get you started.

10 Reasons AEC Firms Are Moving to the Cloud

With the AEC industry’s emphasis on real-time work and collaboration, it’s no surprise that more and more firms are choosing to move their IT environments to high-performance private clouds.

However, not all AEC firms have made the big move. Change is scary, we know – especially when dealing with the efficiency and longevity of your business. Of course it’s important to consider what solution and IT scenario is right for your particular needs and processes, but to help give you some insight, here are some of the top reasons other AEC firms like yours have chosen to make the big move (as well as some top considerations you might have when deciding if this is the right move for your firm).

To Support Growth

Key benefits of the cloud:

  • Support rapid growth
  • Scale up as well as down
  • Address short-term needs

Imagine that you just won that HUGE project and it’s time to start hiring and buy more computers. Or maybe you are growing by acquisition or merger. How do you join two companies’ networks? Are you moving in together or keeping separate offices? If you have a rapidly growing business, how do you support growth? In addition to needing more space for your new staff, how do you supply them with the right technology to get the work done?

One of our largest clients have asked us to add 500 additional seats to their project cloud in 30 days. We were only able to do this because we were working in a virtual environment. If you had to handle this type of growth in a physical environment, how would you do it? First, you order the hardware, then wait two weeks for it to arrive. At that point you stare at 500+ boxes of computer equipment. Where do you store that many boxes, how long will it take you to unbox them? Once you’ve opened the boxes and set up the computers, how long will it take you to configure each one – 20 minutes, 60 minutes? Once the computers are configured, they need to be placed at a desk, this might take 20 to 30 minutes per computer. And where do you put 500 more people? This would be an enormous task. Could you do it in a month?

There’s also the flip side to growth: what about downsizing? Now that you’ve added 500 additional computers to your environment, what if the project goes on hold? In 2008, did any of your projects go on hold? But now you’ve got 500 extra computers that are either leased or purchased, what do you do with them? Sell them? Store them? In the virtual world we just erase the virtual desktop and it’s gone – and so is the monthly charge for using it.

How do you handle short-term growth? Do you hire summer interns? Summer interns need a computer and it’s got to be high-powered and capable of running all of the applications they need. And at the end of summer what do you do with that computer? Do you give it to someone else? Or did you give the interns older equipment and reduce their productivity (and opinion of your firm) all summer?

Hardware / Software Refresh

Key benefits of the cloud:

  • No more trickle-down
  • Easy upgrades
  • Save labor hours / no staff disruption

As you know, AEC software requires high-powered hardware, and firms constantly upgrade their computers. Each time a computer is upgraded, the new (more powerful) computer is given to the best users and their computers are trickled down to the next best users, and their computers are trickled down to the third best users, and so on. Generally, for each new computer put into service you need to touch three computers in the “trickle down”. This takes a lot of time and also disrupts the staff (productivity hit).

In addition, a new version of software often has increased hardware requirements. Two years ago, 8GB of RAM was fairly standard on a high-powered workstation. Today, 16 or 32GB is the standard. You could do in-place upgrades on all of your computers, but that requires a lot of manpower. You need to order the replacement parts, schedule a time to disrupt users, open the machine, install the upgrade, close the machine and let the user get back to work. This might take one to two hours per machine – replacing a hard drive takes even longer. Contrast that with the cloud where a memory upgrade can be done in minutes. With the cloud, it’s possible to upgrade the memory and hard drives on every computer in a firm in less than a day.

Growing Data Storage Needs

Key benefits of the cloud:

  • Data needs grow 10-20% per year
  • Huge files
  • Buy only what you need today

AEC firms have growing data storage needs. In fact, each year a firm’s data grows by 10 to 20%. Graphical programs create huge files, often in excess of several gigabytes. Animation and rendering files are huge and each one might generate hundreds of files.

Additionally, AEC firms take a lot of photographs: photos of existing conditions, photos of field conditions, photos of work in progress, and finally, photos of completed work. Photographs (especially hi-res) use a lot of disk storage. Contrast this with an accounting or law firm that might have hundreds or thousands of Excel or Word documents. A large Excel file is probably no more than 25 megabytes. Compare that to a large animation project which might be terabytes in size.

The cloud can easily scale to accommodate a firm’s storage needs. In addition to being scalable to any size, you only need to purchase what you’re going to use today, plus a small amount for growth. When you buy physical hardware you need to anticipate your storage needs 3 to 5 years in advance or plan to upgrade along the way. You also have to make sure that your physical storage devices can physically accommodate the additional hardware. With the cloud you’re always right sized and you have nearly unlimited total capacity.

Oftentimes, projects need to be stored 7 to 11 years for legal reasons. Cheap storage in the cloud is pennies per gigabyte. In the cloud, you use expensive, fast storage for live projects and then move the completed projects to slower, cheap cloud storage for long-term archiving, thus eliminating the need to keep everything on expensive servers and disks.

Mobility / BYOD

Key benefits of the cloud:

  • Easily work from home
  • Software is available from anywhere
  • Don’t need a high-powered laptop

Working in the cloud, you have complete mobility. You can work from home, a hotel, coffee shop, job site, or anywhere else that has a data connection. What’s better, your software programs are available from any location. You don’t need high-powered laptops loaded with all of the applications to do your work. Your software is loaded on your high-powered virtual desktop accessible from anywhere you have a broadband connection (which is almost everywhere).

You can also connect using any type of device (BYOD): you could use a tablet, a inexpensive laptop, or even a Mac to work on a Windows computer using Windows software.

AEC firms are deadline driven; you don’t work the standard 9 to 5. With the cloud, you can leave the office with your virtual desktop running, head home, have dinner with the family, then connect from home and pick up where you left off. No more late hours stuck at the office. You have access to your high-powered workstation and all your software and files no matter where you are and when you need them.

Hardware and Software Management

Key benefits of the cloud:

  • Easy upgrades to software
  • Patching and patch management
  • Manage and maintain master images
  • Easier cloning and configuring computers
  • License tracking simplified

Managing hardware and software is a challenge for any firm. But for AEC, because of all of the different types of software and hardware, keeping track of everything is a management nightmare. Each year when a new version of software is released, everyone on the building design team needs to upgrade at the same time in order for your files to be compatible. Naturally, upgrading an entire office of computers is a challenge. Coordinating an upgrade across multiple firms with multiple offices working together is a bigger challenge. There are specialized tools for deploying applications across the network but many times that still requires that you touch each desktop to make sure it installs correctly.

Similarly, rolling out new computers is a difficult task for any AEC firm. You must manage and maintain each computer image so you can update and deploy new computers quickly and easily. Cloning a desktop in the cloud is is extremely easy and not much harder than copying a file. Any customization or configuration can be done remotely. When working in the cloud, there’s no need to walk around an office or to even be in the office in order to clone, customize, configure and roll out new computers. In addition, keeping track of licenses and software installations is much easier in the cloud using virtual desktops.

Disaster Recovery and Backup

Key benefits of the cloud:

  • Loss of billable time
  • Natural disaster
  • Consultant risk
  • Backups
  • Using the cloud for Backup and DR

Disaster recovery and backup are especially important for an AEC firm. AEC firms make their money by billing hours and keeping their staff productive. Any downtime is going to be very costly. If your staff is not billing their time, it adds to your overhead costs. What do you do if you have a real disaster? What if you lose your entire office or building? What if there’s a flood or other type of natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake? You need a disaster recovery plan.

One thing that is often overlooked is the risk of working with consultants. Firms don’t think about what will happen if their consultants lose their files? You might have your firm protected but if you’re working with others and they lose their files because of some type of disaster or mishap, it can jeopardize delivery of the entire project. So you’re not only at risk because of your own exposure, but you are also responsible for all the consultants working on the project with you.

Are you monitoring your backups? Do they run successfully every day? Do you test-restore files to make sure that your backups are really working? You should always have three copies of your data, the live original data, a copy on site, and an offsite or online copy. If your data and desktops reside in the cloud, your disaster recovery plan is built in. At Advance2000, all of our clients’ infrastructure is backed up to a second data center. Once your data is in the cloud, we can easily add virtual desktops and create a virtual office accessible from anywhere.  You can recover from any downtime quickly and easily.

Need help writing a disaster recovery plan for your business? Click here for our article: Back to Basics: Writing a Disaster Recovery Plan

Internal Company Collaboration

Key benefits of the cloud:

  • Work between offices in real time
  • Support for home workers
  • Always on a LAN no matter the location
  • Moving the people to the data not the data to the people

One challenge AEC firms have, especially firms with several offices, is working between multiple locations. Especially when using software like Revit, you need to have the entire team working on a single local area network for best results. You also might not have IT support in each of your satellite offices. It is much more efficient to move the people to the data rather than move the data from office to office. In addition, every time you copy data from office to office you are duplicating it and using extra (expensive) storage space.

How can you support users not only in other offices – but on the road – at a job site or maybe working from a hotel or home? An IT project cloud hosted in a data center solves these issues. You can work as though your staff is sitting in a single location, working on a local area network no matter where they are physically located.

External Firm Collaboration – Project Cloud

Key benefits of the cloud:

  • Collaborate in real time between separate companies
  • Create a virtual collocation office
  • Client-owner access to files and project information
  • VPN access for others that don’t have virtual desktops

Closely related to internal collaboration is external collaboration, or collaborating with outside firms. In order to work between firms it’s always been necessary to bundle up your files on a Friday afternoon and upload them to some kind of sharing site like an FTP or or use some other file sharing technology like ShareFile, Box, or Dropbox. Then, Monday morning your team downloads those files, unpacks them, puts them on your network and re-links them and starts looking for changes.

With the project cloud and a shared project server everyone from any firm works on the same local area network, there is no sharing of files, everything is live on a single network, a single source of truth. It’s true that you need a virtual desktop or a VDI to be able to work in this shared collocation space, but even firms that don’t have VDIs can use VPN technology to connect to the project server and share files just as they would if they were not working in the cloud.

We can also provide access to the client or owner so that they can view project progress at any time. You can give them special access to specific folders containing PDF files showing progress on the project.

Real-Time Collaboration

Key benefits of the cloud:

  • Support for collaboration with any program
  • A single source of truth
  • No file swapping, no Friday uploads or Monday downloads

The ultimate goal is real-time collaboration for the entire project team. Using a project cloud you have the ability to collaborate using any program, not just Revit. You can share all types of project files, whether they’re Autodesk created or from any other software program. All your project files live on a single network, there are no more files being shared via email or FTP or uploaded to some strange network location in other firms’ offices. There are no online file sharing programs that need to be loaded and learned. There’s no file uploading on Fridays or downloading on Mondays and there’s no re-linking any files. The latest and greatest versions of all of your work are always accessible and up-to-date and in a single location. This greatly reduces project latency, the time it takes to share information between firms or between offices within a single firm. This is a huge win for an AEC firm.  No learning curve either.

Support  / Help Desk

Key benefits of the cloud:

  • Support is 24 / 7 / 365
  • AEC firms are deadline-driven
  • IT Support for different time zones
  • Great for small firms without IT staff

Finally, there’s getting help and support for technology problems. AEC firms work 24 / 7 / 365 and they need support anytime. If you are IT Staff for an AEC firm do you really want to get calls from users at 1:30 AM when they can’t plot?

AEC firms are deadline-driven, they need help at all hours of the night and on weekends. You might need to support users in different time zones. Your staff might be in the Pacific time zone and your IT support in the Eastern Time Zone. There are only a limited number of overlapping hours. A small firm might not even have an IT department or they might outsource their IT, how will they get IT support in the middle of the night, before a  deadline?

At Advance2000 we understand that the AEC industry doesn’t keep normal hours. We have engineers working around the clock to address any technology issues that you might run into. We have expert support staff well versed in supporting AEC applications.  We work round the clock so that you can too.

Please contact us for more information on how Advance2000 can help you transform your business.

How to Plan a Successful VDI Implementation

Implementing a New Technology

Implementing VDI, whether hosted (Desktop as a Service) or on-premise is big undertaking involving a lot of change.  Managing that change is crucial to the success of the initiative. When implementing any new technology for the first time, there are several things to consider.
VDI Implementation

Evaluate: First, evaluate your current processes, procedures, and practices.  What’s working well, what isn’t?  Where can you improve? Decide where technology will make the biggest impact in the way you work.  Target the areas that will have the biggest payoff on your investment dollar – the best ROI.

Strategize: Next, think about your optimal business situation. What are your goals? Where is your company headed – ideally? How will you get there? What are the gaps between where you are today and where you want to be?  Identify the technologies that will take you to the next level.

Plan & Implement: Once you’ve identified the areas of improvement and decided on a technology solution to close the gap, you need to form an implementation plan. Identify and prioritize your “quick wins” to build momentum and buy-in from staff and management.

Educate, Communicate and Document: With any new technology or way of working there will be questions, concerns, and skepticism. Staff development, training, and good communication are essential to the success of any new initiative. Bring everyone up to speed and keep them informed, and the change will be much easier to manage.

Continuous Improvement: Once your implementation is completed you’re certainly not finished. Look for other opportunities to build on your success. Uncover ways to continually improve (Kaizen). Especially when it comes to technology, you can’t stand still or you’ll be left behind.

Getting Started

We take a Crawl – Walk – Run approach to VDI implementation.

Crawl
Start with a demo. This is your proof of concept. Does this technology really work? If it does work, will it provide me the performance that I need? At Advance2000, demo accounts are free and a good way to vet the solution without spending any money – just a little time.

Walk
The next step I’d recommend is a pilot. By a pilot, I mean a small implementation for a project or the office. This is a real test. You should set up goals and metrics for the pilot; you can measure uptime and test support. Then verify the actual performance: does it meet or exceed your expectations? What questions and problems do you encounter? Is it easy to use? And what training is needed?

Run
Finally, once you are satisfied and believe that all is good and this new endeavor will save you time and money, plan a full implementation that can be a single project or involve your entire company.

Migrating to a Hosted VDI Solution

There are 7 steps to a successful VDI implementation:

  1. Decide on an approach
  2. Infrastructure plan – hardware
  3. Software integration
  4. Communication plan
  5. Training plan
  6. Wrap up
  7. Measure success

Decide on an Approach

How are you going to implement VDI?  There are three approaches that we see used frequently: by project, by department, or by office. (Or you might use some combination of these three.)

Some firms start with a single project as a pilot and then once that project is running well, move a second project to the cloud. They continue to migrate to VDIs – project by project – until most of the work is being done on VDI. At that point, you will have most of the firm in the cloud. You can then migrate the rest of the company using one of the methods described below.

One option is migrating by department. Sometimes it’s easier to move entire departments to the cloud. Departments like HR, accounting, and other independent departments can move to VDI without disrupting the rest of the firm. This approach is usually less disruptive to the projects, as well.

For a multi-office company, you can migrate to VDI office by office by cutting over their desktops and storage one office at a time. You can even space it out and do one office per month. This approach can be difficult if you collaborate a lot between offices, but if each office is independent it works well. Make sure you don’t make the migration longer than necessary. If VDIs provide a measurable benefit, you want to take advantage as quickly as possible.

Infrastructure Plan

The next step is to identify and formulate an infrastructure plan. You need to determine which assets are going to be virtualized and run from the data center. Conduct an inventory of the types and quantities of desktops and servers you operate so you can determine what you need in the data center to support your staff.  What kind of bandwidth and firewalls do you need to connect to your VDIs? Keep in mind that data circuits can be one of the longest lead time items on your implementation schedule.

Next, build the VDI Infrastructure in the data center, migrate your data, set a date, and plan the cutover on a weekend.  The following Monday morning everyone should be prepared to use the new technology.

Lastly, determine what to do with older desktops and laptops. You can keep them and run them until the wheels fall off, sell them, trash them, or give them away to employees or charity.

Don’t forget to follow up and make sure that everything is working well.

Infrastructure Plan Overview:

  • Circuit upgrades (long lead time)
  • Server inventory
  • Desktop inventory
  • Set up virtual infrastructure in data center
  • Copy all data to the data center
  • Verify data is synchronized
  • Complete WAN upgrade
  • Set cutover date
  • Deactivate local servers
  • Do the final data sync to the cloud
  • Setup cutover – usually over a weekend
  • Test all systems – printers, scanners, etc.
  • Go live!
  • Follow up: uncover issues / develop a punch list / troubleshoot

Software Integration

Make sure all your software works well on a VDI. Verify that your software can legally run on a VDI.  Some software manufacturers strictly forbid use on a VDI or in a virtualized environment. Test all programs to make sure that the performance is good. If you have any software that requires special hardware (dongles, card readers, cameras, etc.), verify it works on a VDI and that you have any necessary interface hardware needed.

Communication Plan

Good communication can make or break any technology initiative. Take time to tell staff what to expect, keep them informed throughout the process, and follow up after the completion of the initiative.

What exactly should you communicate to your staff?

Here are some ideas:

  • What is a VDI?
  • Why are we using VDIs?
  • What is the plan to migrate to VDI?
  • What can you expect, how will we work differently?
  • Share your migration plan and milestones
  • Conduct a post cutover Q&A
  • How will you get help / support?

Good communication will ensure your success.

For some extra help communicating about your new initiative and answering staff questions, click here to check out our comprehensive post on VDI FAQs.

Training

Conduct training to help staff use their new tools. Make sure to document all the training in either written or video formats so people can review the material on their own time.

Ideas for training:

  • Login procedures
  • Access VDI from outside office
  • How do I get support / help?
  • New procedures or processes – how will you work differently
  • Troubleshooting problems

Webinars and screen capture are easy ways to conduct training and document the new information.  During the presentation, record the webinar and save it to the network so that others that missed or want to review the information can access it.

Wrap up

Have you covered your bases? Make sure that you’ve addressed all the questions and concerns of your users. Start a list of questions or issues and address them before project closeout. Are there any unforeseen items or changes that need to be addressed? Maybe there are special security concerns or integration with another office system that was overlooked. Take the time during your training and communication to discuss problems and concerns and resolve each one.

Measuring success

Once you’ve completed the implementation, how do you measure success? Go back to your original implementation plan and review the goals and objectives you had for the VDI initiative.

What business problem were you trying to solve?

  • Improved mobility?
  • Reduced cost or maintenance expense?
  • Improved collaboration?
  • Reduced capital expense?
  • Rapid deployment?

Did you meet your expectations? Are your users happy?

All technology initiatives must align with and support the company’s business goals. Did you accomplish that? If you did, congratulations on a successful VDI deployment. If not, where did you fall short?

Getting Started

Are you ready to get crawling with VDIs?  Contact us today and we’ll set up a free demo for you.

Moving to a Private Cloud Ebook

Virtual Desktops (VDI) FAQs

If you’re seeking to solve a business problem and think that VDI may be the answer (but aren’t sure), you’ve come to the right place. You’re not alone on your quest to enhance your business’ IT strategy; but – as you know – there is certainly no shortage of questions that arise along the way. To help simplify a sometimes complex technology such as VDI, I’ve developed a comprehensive guide to the most frequently asked questions I’ve come across in my years as an IT professional.

What is a VDI?

A VDI is a virtual desktop computer. A VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) runs a desktop operating system, like Windows, on a virtual machine sitting in a datacenter. A VDI is created by taking a single server-class computer and slicing it into virtual standalone independent desktop computers. The software, or hypervisor (also known as a virtual machine monitor or VMM), shares the physical resources, the memory, drive space and processors of a single large server and allocates them to multiple virtual desktops or VDIs. The hypervisor balances the demand for resources on that single shared server and ensures that each VDI has adequate resources and performance. A VDI is accessed using client software or an appliance.

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Why should I use virtual desktops?

VDI or virtual desktops should be part of an overall IT strategy. As an IT leader for your company, you must identify the business problem you’re trying to solve with VDIs.

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Advance2000 IT Strategy Assessment

 

Common business needs satisfied with VDIs:

  • Collaboration
    • You have a large project and need several firms to work together in real time on a single network.
      • Solution: Project Cloud
  • Infrastructure Virtualization
    • You want to eliminate or reduce the physical hardware you use to run your business.
      • Solution: All-In Virtualization
  • Disaster Recovery
    • You need disaster recovery on demand at a failover site.
      • Solution: DR in the Cloud
  • Security
    • You want increased security. Increased mobility has led to increased vulnerability. Sensitive company data is stored on laptops and tablets and can be lost or stolen very easily. With VDIs, the data is stored in a secure environment: the datacenter. Antivirus and Malware software updates are easier to do and easier to track with VDIs. Endpoint and firewall protection is easier to implement. And finally, backups are centralized, georedundant, and easier to manage.
      • VDI Benefit: Improved Security
  • BYOD
    • You want to implement Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). With BYOD, staff supplies their own computers or other device used to access a VDI. BYOD and desktop virtualization allows desktop access and relieves the IT staff from having to support the endpoint devices themselves. Some firms will even subsidize the costs for users who choose to bring their own devices. This can reduce the expense of buying user laptops and desktops.
      • VDI Benefit: Reduce Hardware Cost
  • Reduce IT Management and Maintenance Costs
    • Reducing IT cost is a goal for most companies. Supporting users using VDI and reducing or eliminating desktop and laptop management costs can save significant money. Many tools and applications are used to manage desktops and laptops, like those for software deployment, inventory, OS patch management and antivirus protection. Virtualization consolidates your IT infrastructure and makes it easier to centrally manage and support users’ desktops.
      • VDI Benefit: Reduce IT costs
  • Mobility
    • Many firms need anytime, anywhere access to business computers and data. VDI provides complete mobility; the only thing needed is a data connection.
      • VDI Benefit: Work From Anywhere
  • Software Portability
    • Using VDI, you can make special software used to run your business available anywhere you have an internet connection. You can run compute intensive applications from low-powered laptops or even a tablet since all the “heavy lifting” is done on the VDI in the datacenter. The only things that travels across the data connection are screen updates, mouse clicks, and keystrokes.
      • VDI Benefit: Application Mobility
  • Finally, Lower Costs
    • Running five offices of IT equipment is more expensive than operating a single office of IT. By consolidating your IT infrastructure into a single datacenter location, you reduce your capital expenses (buy less) or convert them into operating expenses (DaaS) which creates a more favorable tax situation.
      • VDI Benefit: Reduce IT Costs

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How do I connect to a VDI? Aren’t the graphics on a VDI poor?

You connect to a VDI using a remote display protocol. Current display protocols have eliminated poor VDI graphics performance. There are many different protocols available to use. Some of the most common remote display protocols are:

  • PC Over IP (Teradici)
  • RemoteFX (Microsoft)
  • Blast Extreme (VMware)
  • High Definition Experience (Citrix HDX)
  • Remote Graphics Software (HP – RGS)

These protocols have special graphics capabilities to optimize your remote desktop experience. With sufficient bandwidth, the screen painting and mouse lag that once plagued VDIs has been eliminated.

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If I personalize the VDI, will my changes be saved?

All VDI users can connect to their own desktops and applications, like they would sitting at a local workstation. There are two types of VDIs.

  • Persistent VDIs: Users can personalize their desktops and the changes are saved and stored with the VDI. All personalization is saved.
  • Non-Persistent VDIs: The user is accessing a random virtual desktop from a pool of shared resources. All personalization is lost.

For certain uses – training rooms for example – you might want a clean, fresh desktop each time the user connects. For that, a non-persistent VDI makes sense since it is wiped clean each time the user connects.

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What do I use to connect to a VDI?

You can connect to a VDI in a variety of ways.

Thin Client: A thin client is a hardware device running a lightweight operating system. Thin clients are popular because they need less maintenance, are easier to manage, are less prone to virus and malware attacks, and have a longer life. Thin clients use less power and are less expensive than a traditional PC.

Zero Client: The zero client is basically a smaller, cheaper thin client. It needs very little configuration, uses less power and has no operating system.

Thick clients or old PCs: Old PCs can be repurposed to connect to VDIs. Using your old PCs to connect to VDI does not reduce the premise based hardware you need to maintain and troubleshoot. Old PCs also still need a local operating system and anti-virus and other local software, with on-going associated costs. Using traditional PCs to connect to virtual desktops, you lose some of the benefits of VDI, such as reduced power consumption, central management, and increased security. Reusing old PCs is a green choice, but be careful; you may end up using more power and spending more time maintaining them as they age. There are special operating systems you can load on an old PC that will effectively convert it into a thin client. This might be a good compromise.

Laptops and docking stations: Chromebooks or other laptops with docking stations can be used to connect to your VDIs. The same arguments apply to these devices as to thick clients above. Be careful of additional power usage and maintenance. Also support for multi-monitors may be limited.

Tablets and Phones: Tablets and phones can be used to access your VDI. Some tablets are equivalent to full-blown desktop PCs, but others may have limited output capability and may even lack simple mouse support, so beware. You can work from a phone, but this is a last resort; you would not want to work on it for an extended period of time.

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Why would I do this now?

  1. VDIs are easier to manage and maintain than full desktop and laptop PCs.
  2. The current generation of VDIs have better graphics and equal performance to a desktop PC.
  3. Bandwidth, required to connect to a VDI, has dropped in price. Buying a lot of bandwidth is not going to bankrupt any company. Even very small firms can afford the bandwidth needed to successfully deploy VDIs.
  4. VDI is a mature technology. In the past, using VDIs meant giving up performance and graphics capabilities. Those issues have been largely eliminated. A well-designed VDI can perform (or outperform) as well as a similarly specified physical desktop PC.

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Who are the leading VDI vendors?

Hyper-V is Microsoft’s virtualization platform running on a Windows Server. Multiple virtual desktop sessions can be created using Hyper-V. It supports the Windows OS as well as Linux and Windows Server OS.

Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is part of Microsoft Windows Server and allow users to remotely access graphical desktops and Windows applications.

Citrix XenDesktop (XenApp) is an enterprise-class VDI platform that delivers virtual desktops and virtualized applications. It uses the Citrix HDX protocol or NVIDIA GRID vGPU technologies to support virtualized graphics.

VMware Horizon offers virtual desktops, apps and other online services. The platform supports virtual machines running Windows, and connects with devices running Windows, Mac OS or Linux. It supports a number of different graphics protocols such as PCOIP, Blast, and RDS.

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How do I choose a VDI Vendor?

There are many factors to consider when choosing a VDI product. You take into account features, setup and maintenance, as well as licensing and ongoing support. You also determine which technologies your organization needs.

Consider the following questions when choosing a VDI vendor:

  • Which operating system do you need? E.g., MacOS is not available as a VDI.
  • Do you plan to provide persistent or non-persistent desktops?
  • Are you going to deliver entire desktops with applications or just deliver applications using a virtualization tool?
  • Do your users have high-performance graphics needs?
  • If a data circuit goes down, how will downtime or slow performance impact your company?
  • What types of users do you have? What kinds of VDIs do they need? Do they have special computing or graphics needs?
  • Do you have an implementation plan?
  • Will your staff need special training to use VDIs?
  • Who will support and maintain your VDIs – in-house staff or will you outsource?
  • Will specialized training or certifications be needed for your IT staff to support this environment?

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Should I outsource VDI (Desktops as a Service) or do it myself?

You can outsource the entire VDI experience to a company like Advance2000. Advance2000 provides Desktops as a Service (DaaS).  We host and maintain the back-end infrastructure to provide VDIs. Some DaaS providers, like Advance2000, can provide an entire virtual hosted IT infrastructure in addition to virtual desktops (VDI). Your servers as well as your desktops can be hosted and provided as a monthly service.

Pros: Users can access hosted desktops from any device, location, or network. Provider manages all the infrastructure. DaaS lowers the upfront and on-going costs.

Cons: Licensing can be complicated. Some software will not run on a VDI. In addition to software compatibility, you need to choose a stable, experienced desktop provider. You are relying on another company to keep your business running. Using DaaS requires higher external bandwidth requirements than an on-premise deployment since you are accessing your VDI over the internet or a dedicated data circuit.

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How do I deploy VDI?

Once you’ve assessed your organization’s needs, planned a strategy to meet your requirements, and you are ready to deploy VDI, how do you start?

At Advance2000, we recommend a Crawl, Walk, Run approach. Implementation begins with a demo. A demo allows you to try the solution for yourself and make sure that it really works as promised. The next step would be to do a single project on a small number of VDIs, a project cloud. This is the true test to measure and experience the real cost and productivity savings. Once you are satisfied that this works, you can create additional project clouds or proceed to an ALL-IN solution to replace all your onsite infrastructure with the Advance2000 cloud (ALL-IN).

When considering an ALL-IN approach, there are many ways to move your whole company to the cloud. You can do it by department, by project or by office. Depending on your needs, each approach can be easily work to get your business 100% in the cloud. Advance2000 can work with you to determine the best way to handle the migration to the cloud.

Any software that runs on a standard Windows OS will run on a VDI. There is no learning curve or training needed and the performance is equal to or better than a physical desktop PC. Some software may have licensing restrictions about running on a VDI; check your EULA to make sure you are in compliance.

When moving your IT infrastructure to the cloud, you will need more bandwidth than you typically need for internet-only access. Our VDIs require 1.5 MBPS for each cloud desktop running. For example, a 50-person office would need 75 MBPS of bandwidth.

Finally, you need to plan how you will migrate your data to the cloud. For smaller data requirements, less than 1 TB, we can upload your data over your internet connection after regular work hours. For large amounts of data, or to migrate faster, we can send you a storage appliance to copy your data and then ship it to us to load. Once we have your data and have built your servers and virtual desktops, you are ready to go live. We usually plan the final migration cutover on a weekend. On Monday morning your staff logs into their new desktops in the cloud and continues to work as usual.

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How do I calculate my VDI ROI? Is it worth doing?

Virtual desktop infrastructure can reduce costs, increase productivity, support mobility, and provide more flexibility for applications. But is it worth the investment? How can you determine the potential return on investment (ROI)? Many factors go into calculating VDI ROI: there are hard costs, like hardware, and soft costs, like training and increased productivity. You need to identify and quantify the costs and then compare that to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.

Implementing virtual desktops won’t necessarily save you a lot of money, but if the implementation of virtual desktops is the same or similar to the cost of physical hardware, and you get all the benefits of VDI, this will help you identify your VDI ROI. There are many factors to consider before moving to VDI. You need to identify the types of users and VDIs you will need. You need to pick a vendor and platform and then start to define your costs. These are some of the typical areas of costs and savings when using VDI.

  • CAPEX – Capital purchases
  • OPEX – Operational expenses
  • Lower maintenance cost
  • Increased productivity
  • Lower power usage
  • Improved mobility
  • Better security
  • Built in DR
  • Built in backup
  • Improved collaboration
  • Support costs

For a more in depth look at Cloud ROI.

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What is the business problem you are trying to solve by moving to VDI?

There are many benefits to deploying virtual desktops, but it always returns to the question, “What business problem are you trying to solve with VDI?” Whether that is improved staff mobility, lowering IT expenses, or reducing your hardware maintenance, determine if VDI aligns with your corporate goals and meets your needs.

  1. Are you supporting remote users?
  2. Do you want to reduce hardware maintenance costs?
  3. Will you replace your current hardware with thin or zero clients as it goes end-of-life?
  4. Are you trying to virtualize an application and make it available to your staff?
  5. Are you consolidating and reducing the quantity of hardware?
  6. Do you need to collaborate better?
  7. Are you trying to allow your IT staff the time to be more strategic?
  8. Do you need your staff to be more mobile or are you looking to hire remote staff?

Identify your business challenge to see if VDI is the solution. If moving to a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure makes sense for your company, contact us and we can get you in the cloud.

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Advance2000 IT Strategy Assessment

Top 10 Fears of Migrating to the Cloud

Do you like spending more on your IT than you need to?

Are you dying to get hacked?

Are you totally comfortable moving your entire business to someone else’s datacenter?

As an IT professional providing private cloud services, I have been on both sides of the fence (pre-cloud and post-cloud).  There are very legitimate concerns about changing the way you have done your computing for years.  From an owner’s or executive’s perspective these changes look monumental.  But to IT people the technologies haven’t changed much, only their physical location.  Using an analogy, compare your technology to water that is physically in a lake with a few dams keeping it in place.   The cloud would be the lakes or canals on the other side of the dam.   If I open some of the dams, water is still water but it moves when the dams are opened.  Like the water, technology is still technology just in a different location.

You might ask, “Why do I need to move my technology to another location?”  The short answer is because it is better, faster, and cheaper.  For the long answer, I highly recommend reading “The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google” by Nicholas Carr.

First let me say as far as I know, no one has been killed or injured migrating to the cloud, but I understand your fear.  These are real client fears, but they can be overcome.

1. Losing Control of IT infrastructure

IT is too strategic and we have always run everything in-house.  We need to be in control of our own destiny and not be at the mercy of a cloud provider changing things.  With the IT staff on my payroll and purchasing all the HW/SW directly, I am able to make things happen quickly.   I will not be able to achieve my business goals by moving to the cloud.

2. IT Staff Reduction

Most changes in technology are about adding more hardware and software—many times needing MORE IT people to support it.  With the migration to the cloud, it actually reduces your IT staffing needs.  Let’s face it, migrating to the cloud is outsourcing all or part of your IT.  A business owner may have a 25 year relationship with the IT leader/team and doesn’t want to change that.  Many times, the IT leaders themselves sees the cloud as a threat.  Hey…I’m the VMware guy and if we move our servers to the cloud what will I do?  This fear of redeploying staff keeps firms from adopting cloud technologies.

3. What if I can’t pay my cloud bill?

The short answer is your cloud stops working and your business is down.  Because cloud services involve IT labor, not paying your cloud provider would be like not paying your IT staff.  How long will your business run if you stopped paying your IT staff?

4. I won’t be able to get my data back

There are good and bad cloud providers like everything else in life, so make sure that your data is still your data no matter what happens.  I have heard horror stories where cloud providers held customer data for ransom.

5. What if the Cloud provider goes out of business?

Outside of the data, all my servers, phones, virtual desktops, networks, etc could reside in the cloud.  If they suddenly go out of business, I will have NO IT at all.

6. Security

I don’t want to be hacked and the cloud seems to have a higher probability of that.  You hear about things all the time in the news.  If all these businesses are in one datacenter, the chances of getting hacked increases.

7. I can’t make changes that I need to run my business

Many cloud providers have cookie-cutter services.  What happens if I need a technology or service that they do not provide?  Either I have to go without or start running it locally or with another cloud provider.

8. Monthly recurring charges vs one-time expense. I hate bills.

Everybody hates bills and the cloud generates monthly billing compared to quarterly, annual , (or every 5 years) IT purchases.  I don’t want to replace capital spending/depreciation with a monthly operating expense.

9. Network Down. Can’t get to cloud

If I have everything running in someone else’s datacenter, then I am accessing those computing resources from a remote location.  My office is remote to someone else’s datacenter, so what if the connection between us goes down?  It’s no longer one server down, it is my entire business until the network can be restored.

10. Too much organizational disruption and loss of productivity

It is a real pain in the A—to move all my technology from my office location to a remote datacenter.  If you have ever moved your office to a new address, you have felt a little bit of this pain.  We need to keep our business functioning and can’t afford outages as we move to the cloud.  Moving to the cloud seems like a big hit to productivity.

How Fear is Replaced with Safety and Warm Fuzzies

1. Losing Control of IT infrastructure

What is “control”?  Most small firms that have all their technology in-house have control over what they purchased, that is true.  But many firms are “controlled” by lack of money or personnel to get things done.  Constrained resources are more a factor to getting things done than a cloud provider’s control.  With the cloud, you actually gain access to more technology for less money, which allows your business to do things you could never do before.  Our smallest client is a 3-person firm and they have more control over their cloud than they ever did before.  On top of that, they have redundant email service, virtualized desktops, redundant storage (virtualized as well).  A small firm like this could NEVER afford these sophisticated technologies to keep them operational.  To use another analogy from the “Big Switch”, you don’t have control over the production of your electricity but you use it consistently.  Outsourcing is more reliable than if you were to produce your own electricity.

2. IT Staff Reduction

No question, the cloud changes the roles and responsibilities of the IT staff.  If your firm does not have in-house IT staff, the cloud is a no-brainer.  For those firms that do, if you embrace the cloud you get to lead and plan the implementation.  It is better to ride the wave than get pounded by it.  I am an IT professional and I tell my colleagues that resistance is futile, you must embrace the cloud.  Otherwise you will end up as the horse and buggy provider in a world of jets.  The IT staff that were vehemently opposed to migrating to our private cloud eventually became the biggest proponents.  They no longer are pulling all-nighters trying to get a server back online, they have their hands on technologies (e.g. VOIP or virtualization) that they never would have before the cloud, and they were able to strategically help their firms embrace this new technology to generate new forms of revenue.  And I tell the IT guys, if you really want to play with Linux and VMware, come work for a cloud provider.

3. What if I can’t pay my cloud bill?

Most firms that migrate to the cloud see their bills go down, it is rare that a firm is still in business and just refuses to pay for their cloud.  Often, the cloud provider is dealing with a firm that has gone out of business and can no longer pay for their cloud.   At the end of the day, paying your cloud bill is like paying your IT people.  The cloud changes the economics of IT which favors the small business.  For example, with the current state of cloud pricing you can setup an entire office of approximately 20 people with phones, email, desktops, circuit, server, and 24/7/365 IT support staff for the same annual cost of ONE IT person.  It is actually much easier to pay your cloud bill than your current IT bill.

4. I won’t be able to get my data back

Pick a good cloud provider, write this into your contract, and you will get your data back, no problem.  If you are super paranoid, you can also have local (or another cloud based) file storage and continuously replicate your data from the cloud to your office—just in case.  It is an insurance policy.  Each business must decide the risks and how much insurance is required to manage that risk.

5. Cloud provider goes out of business

Of course, do your due diligence on your cloud provider to understand how long they have been in business and assess their financial stability.  But even if they do go out of business, that usually does not happen overnight.  There is time to plan an exodus from the cloud.  Again, there are ways of mitigating this risk as well by having a “plan B” in case this happens.

6. Security

No doubt, cyber security is the #1 problem today and I will be writing more about this in future blog postings.  Hackers are relentless.  In all my years of IT, I’ve never seen the threats so high.  If you have not been hacked, it is because no one cares to target you.  Security is a team sport.  Hackers work in teams to take you down, so you need a team of counter-hackers to defend your enterprise.  Most small/medium businesses have barely enough IT staff to keep things running, let alone a team of individuals working on security.  They don’t stand a chance against a team of hackers.  With the cloud, you get the benefit of a team of security professionals without having to have them on your payroll.  We employ the best security practices by buying in bulk, automating our processes, and watching things 24 x 7.  This does not mean that a cloud is bullet-proof, but it does mean you have a higher probability of preventing attacks or if you do experience a hack, you are back up and running quicker.  Our biggest challenge is educating people in good security practices. The superhacker, Kevin Mitnick, says it is easier to hack a human than it is to hack a computer.  As a cloud provider, I concur.

7. Can’t make changes that I need to run my business

For small/medium sized businesses, this is pretty much the opposite of reality.  A cloud provider already has way more services built and tested than any one firms needs.  With cloud services, you can actually change your business faster than your people can absorb/learn the change.  And if there is one particular technology that you have and no one else has, you require a private cloud where you can add specialized services if needed.

8. Monthly recurring charges vs one-time expense. I hate bills.

So then the question becomes, would you rather pay $1,200,000 once per year or $50,000 per month?  Most CFO’s look at the cloud and say $600,000 is better than $1,200,000 even if I do get a depreciation expense.  Every firm is different and you can generally consume the cloud any way that you want.  We have had some clients pay for two years of cloud services at once.  Others really wanted that depreciation and we sold them equipment.  The reality is you can get way more technology capabilities for less money and it’s up to you how you want to pay for them.

9. Network Down. Can’t get to cloud

At first glance, this is true.  If your IT is in a remote datacenter and the circuit to that datacenter goes down, you cannot get to your IT.  However, because it is remote you have multiple options for getting to it.  You can have as much circuit redundancy as you need.  Many small firms just go home and use their home Internet if their circuit goes down.  Or they go to Starbucks, or a client office, or even tether their 4G phone to their PC.  Larger firms don’t want to send everyone home, so they employ a separate backup circuit from a different carrier as an alternate path to the cloud.  If you have all your assets in-house and you lose a network switch, everyone is down until that switch can be replaced.

10. Too much organizational disruption and loss of productivity

This is one of the biggest surprises that I had once I started deploying cloud services.  We can do things in the cloud in 4 weeks that used to take us 6-8 months.  For very large firms, we can have a slow, methodical migration to the cloud.  Smaller firms, we can build their cloud in the background while they are still working.  We can make the cloud look almost identical to their working environment so the learning curve is minimized or eliminated.  Then one weekend we decide to cut over to the cloud and people login on Monday morning like nothing happened.  Sometimes things worth doing are not easy, but the cloud is worth doing and easy!

Walk Before You Run

If the fear persists, walk before you run to the cloud.  Start with a small proof of concept and set it up to alleviate all your fears.  Once you feel comfortable, you can safely scale it up to your entire business.

For those of you that are convinced, you can jump right in and cut everyone over on a weekend.

With the cloud you get three picks not two: better, faster, or cheaper.

Chris France
607.821.7418
cfrance@advance2000.com

Overcome Your Cloud Migration Fears

Cloud In-Touch: Cloud Based Hosted Telephony Demo

In this short video, I will demo our Cloud In-Touch Hosted Telephony System.  After the demo, if you are interested in learning more about Cloud In-Touch, I have prepared a few slides that provide more detail.

Topics I will cover:

  1. Cloud In-Touch Demo Video
  2. Cloud In-Touch Intro
  3. Standard Features for Users
  4. Standard Features for Companies
  5. Premiere Features
  6. Communicator (Softphone)
  7. Direct Inward Dialing (DID)
  8. Connectivity

 

Let us know if you have any questions or would like to test it yourself.

Chris France

cfrance@advance2000.com

607.821.7418

10 Advantages to Outsourcing Virtual Desktops – VDI

  1. Setting up Virtual Desktops is not easy. By outsourcing you don’t need the expertise, or the time to design, tune and manage the infrastructure. Just make sure your provider has the experience and does dozens of these builds each year. Make sure they have a proven process and are not learning on your dime.
  2. Outsourced hosted infrastructure is highly available. Check the SLA of your provider. They are undoubtedly more scalable and using enterprise class equipment to run your infrastructure. They can keep you up and running.
  3. Reduce your startup costs. By outsourcing you don’t have to make a huge investment in new hosting infrastructure that WILL NEED TO BE REPLACED in a couple of years. You spend your OPEX (operating expense) dollars not CAPEX (capital expense) dollars. Doing this yourself internally is going to be a lot more expensive than outsourcing it. Your provider has already made the capital expenditure in hardware and software.
  4. The migration to VDI will be faster. You might be able to do it yourself but an outsourced provider can do it much faster. It might take your internal team up to a year to test and roll out a VDI infrastructure. If you outsource you can be up and working in weeks.
  5. Scaling is incremental and fast. When you build your own infrastructure, you need to plan in excess capacity for growth and outages. To add additional users, you might need to add a lot of hardware and software. Doing it yourself, you can’t just shoehorn in a couple of extra users. An outsourced provider can scale up quickly AND SCALE DOWN quickly in the event of a business downturn. If you do it yourself and need to scale down, what will you do with the excess capacity? Let it sit idle? We all know the economy is cyclic, there will be another recession. Do you want to make a huge investment in hardware now? Your outsourcer can add users one at a time without having to purchase additional hardware. For example, if you have 5 interns coming in for the summer, if you outsource you can add 5 VDIs for three months and when they leave just remove them. How would you do that if you were building your own? You would need to over-design your solution to accommodate peak usage that sits idle most times.
  6. By outsourcing, your costs are known and fixed. Doing it in-house there are always going to be unknown costs and labor. By outsourcing, you know what to expect. You also know what it will take (and cost) to add more capacity.
  7. Outsourcing makes it easier to pilot the technology. By outsourcing, you can try the technology quickly in a matter of days. You can set up a 10-person pilot and later change your mind, you don’t have to make a huge investment of time and money to try a new technology.
  8. Your vendor has established relationships with the major software vendors like Citrix and VMware and Microsoft. Choose an outsourced provider that works with the major VDI technologies. Make sure to pick a vendor that has an in-house R&D team looking at and testing the newest technology. Ask if you are married to a single solution or technology or whether you can switch platforms.
  9. Look for an outsourced provider that has proven experience doing this type of work. An experienced vendor can build an infrastructure that is more scalable, more secure, more reliable, using better hardware than you can build on your own. Make sure they have in-house experts with certifications and relationships with VDI vendors
  10. If you need to collaborate with outside firms, can your vendor quickly and easily connect multiple firms in a “project cloud” and become the “IT Hub” for everyone? Can your vendor provide a neutral collaboration technology that can enable multiple firms to work together as though they are sitting in the same office working on the same local area network? This would be very hard to do yourself, you would become the IT company for all the collaborating firms, do you want to do that?

I hope these 10 reasons open your eyes to the advantages of working with an outside vendor to test and implement virtual infrastructure and technology. For more information or for a free virtual desktop demo, Contact Advance2000.

We Make IT Easy.

Free Virtual Desktop Demo (blog post CTA)

Back to Basics: Safeguarding Your Business – Backups and Disaster Recovery

How long can your firm afford to be out of business? How long will it take to recover from a technology disaster? You should protect your data and your business with a proven secure online backup and disaster recovery solution.

Other than your employees, your data is the most important part of your business. Just backing up your data is not enough. You need to have a plan to get your business up and running quickly in the event of a technology failure.

Did you know that rebuilding a file server from scratch and restoring all its data can take a week or more? Is your business ready for that? Are your clients ready to wait days while you restore their data?

How long can your business afford to be out of commission? 1 day? 1 week? 1 month? The statistics vary, but a significant number of businesses that experience a disaster do not survive. A written and tested Disaster Recovery Plan combined with data backup mitigates your risk.

Three important steps to safeguard your business

Step One: Set up secure online offsite backup. Online Backups protect your data by safely and securing replicating your files and data to the cloud. Understand what you are buying, is it 30, 60, 90 or unlimited days of backup? Make sure your backups are stored geo-redundantly, that is in more than one location. You can’t afford for your backup to be inaccessible in case a regional outage takes down your office AND your backup provider.  Get your backups OUT OF THE OFFICE.  At a minimum, do not keep your backups in the same location as your live data.  That is trouble waiting to happen.

Step Two: Create a Disaster Recovery Plan. Disaster recovery is restoring your technology infrastructure (after a disaster) to insure that your business keeps working. Consider using an online Disaster Recovery site. There are cold, warm or hot disaster recovery sites that can allow your business to keep working. Understand the differences between them and choose the right site depending on your budget and tolerance for risk. If you depend on your employees being productive and billable, you cannot afford to have them to sit idle while you repair or replace broken equipment.

Step Three: Test, Test, Test. Testing and reporting is part of any good backup or disaster recovery plan. You must regularly test your solutions to insure they work and that they are protecting your business. Don’t ASSume that you are safe, test.

If you work with a provider that offers both online backup and online disaster recovery, you can start with online backup, and later add disaster recovery along with your online backups. This way you will never pay for additional services you don’t need. You can grow from a simple online backup into a full disaster recovery solution easily and without risk. Your solution provider can also help you design and document your disaster recovery plan. Safeguard your investment in equipment and people.

Questions to ask your backup provider:

What is the RTO (Recovery Time Objective) – how long will I be down?
What is my RPO (Recovery Point Objective) – how much data is acceptable for me to lose? 1 hour, 4 hours, 1 day?
Do you have High Availability Solutions? Can your DR site take over running my business instantly?
Geo-Redundant Storage – Is my data stored in multiple locations?
Testing and Reporting – How often do you test backups and how do I know they work?
Safe Secure Datacenters – Where is my data being stored? What safeguards do you have in the datacenter?
Low cost – what is a fair price for backup? What does my downtime cost? Compare the two and decide.  Balance risk and cost.  Don’t go cheap, you can’t afford it.
DR / Business Continuity Planning Services – Do you offer both Backup and DR or just one. Can you help me write a disaster recovery plan?
Easy to use? – What is the user interface like, who monitors my backups, do I get alerts if they fail?
How long have you been in business? Will you go out of business with my data?
If I change providers, what happens to my data? Will they give it to you? Does it disappear? Most providers have a window of time they will keep your data, do you need longer term archive in addition to backup?
Can you ship my data on a drive? If you have to perform a large restore, you will not be able to do it over the Internet. Can they overnight a drive with your data? For what price?

Do you need help with backup or DR?  Contact Us and Advance2000 can help you protect your business.

Benchmarking Virtual Desktops (VDI)

Benchmarking is a way to compare the performance of one device versus another using a standardized test.  Benchmarking applications eliminate the human factor to measure only the performance of a device or application running on that device.

Benchmarking is strictly a device or application measurement.  It measures performance of the hardware or an application on that hardware. It allows us to compare the relative performance of one hardware platform versus another.  We can measure whether one platform performs better or worse than another.  We can also use a benchmark to compare the performance of old versus new technology.

Benchmarking does not allow you to predict how well a person will perform using a particular piece of hardware.  A talented employee might still work faster and accomplish more on a slower piece of hardware than another less skilled employee.  One thing for certain is that giving the most talented most productive users better equipment will boost their performance even more.  When the performance difference between old and new technology becomes too great then it is time to replace older equipment to regain the competitive edge. Benchmarks can be used to measure application performance and help us judge how well an application will perform on a specific platform.  It will also allow us to compare the performance of the application between competing platforms.  Benchmarks do a good job of eliminating the human factor which is hard to control.

While testing new technologies, and developing new ways to work, we constantly benchmark new products and new technologies.  We measure overall performance as well as price/performance.  We use benchmarks to give us an objective way to compare technologies and to give us an indication of how the technology will perform in the real world compared to what we are currently using.

What DOES A BENCHMARK measure?

There are many things we can benchmark.  We can benchmark

  • Application performance
  • Storage speed
  • RAM speed
  • CPU performance
  • GPU performance

There are many commercial applications available that we can use to benchmark desktops and compare relative performance.  Here are some we use:

  • PCMark 8
  • 3DMark 11
  • 7-Zip
  • wPrime
  • Cinebench
  • Geekbench
  • Revit RFO Benchmark – application benchmark
  • Cadalyst CAD Benchmark – application benchmark

Keep in mind that a benchmark does not precisely reflect real life usage.  But it does give an indication of how well the same person will perform on one workstation versus another.  In real life, you can never realize 100% of the speed difference between competing platforms. But you can be reasonably sure the same person working on a faster workstation will be faster.  Even if the difference is minutes over the course of the day, time savings adds up over the weeks and months to yield real dollar benefits.

An application benchmark is used to compare application performance on one workstation versus another and eliminates the human factor. However, a person cannot work like a benchmark, so things that affect a benchmark might never affect the live performance of a person.  There is always going to be a human factor, but an automated application benchmark can demonstrate and measure the true device performance difference.

USING BENCHMARKS TO SHOW ROI

For example, I evaluated a new workstation for my company that benchmarked 20% faster than my existing workstations.  The new workstation was expensive at about $4500 each.  Is it worth it?  How long until I see a payback on my investment?

I calculated productivity first. I thought my staff might see 10% improvement in speed using the new workstation, about half the benchmarked speed difference of 20%.  I knew a human could never capture 100% of the difference in speed.

Productivity Measurement

480     min / day (8 hours/day x 60 min/hour)
x 95% billable time target (allow for 24 minutes of wasted time/day, bathroom, water cooler etc.)
= 456 billable minutes / day
45.6 minutes / day saved (10% savings)
x $1.67 / minute ($100 /hour average staff billable rate)
===
$76.15 estimated savings per day per person in gained productivity by using a 20% faster workstation

Next I looked at the cost of the workstation and payback / break even calculation.

New Workstation Cost

$4,300 new workstation cost
$195 labor to install / swap out (3 hours @ $65/hour)
=$4,495 total new workstation cost

$76.15 savings / user / day
about 60 days to break even ($4,495 / $76.15/day)

So in about 3 months (20 work days / month) I could recover the cost of the new workstation paid by the gains in staff productivity.  Even if I estimated incorrectly and my productivity gains were only half what I thought (5% versus 10%), I would still break even in about 6 months.  If each machine had a usable life of 3 years (conservatively) then buying the faster workstation was a no brainer. I presented this calculation to management, got the ok, ordered the new machines and our productivity shot off the charts, not to mention everyone loved me for giving them a newer faster workstation.

VDI versus Desktop PC

Advance2000 specializes in providing Cloud Based Virtual Desktops or VDIs (Desktops as a Service) to the AEC industry.  Can a VDI show comparable performance to a physical high powered workstation? Can it really compete with hardware sitting under your desk?

Using benchmarks, we can demonstrate that a VDI workstation can go head to head in performance with a physical workstation.  And, along with matching performance you also gain all the other benefits of a VDI, such as lower maintenance costs, faster to deploy, BYOD, and complete mobility.  Is it time to rethink your hardware strategy and consider going 100% cloud based virtual workstations for your workstation needs?

Let’s take a closer look…

How does a virtual workstation (VDI) compare to a physical workstation in terms of performance?

In the last 3 years, VDI performance has improved for several reasons.

  • The first and most significant change was the development of vGPU or virtual graphics card.  This allowed a VDI to use a physical graphics card shared among several VDIs.  Using a real graphics card instead of a virtualized GPU in our VDI, we can greatly enhance graphics performance and eliminate the cursor lag that was characteristic of remote and virtual technologies for so long.
  • The second development was the constant improvement in the quality and availability of bandwidth.  Bandwidth costs continue to drop and bandwidth speeds continue to improve with offerings like Google Fiber and Verizon FIOS.  This allows companies to buy more and better quality bandwidth for the same or lower cost.  Good bandwidth is essential to a good VDI experience.
  • Finally, hyper converged infrastructure, that is storage, computing, networking, and virtualization all on a single physical host greatly improves VDI performance by eliminating the network hop and also helps to control costs.

These factors have improved VDI performance making it competitive with physical workstations.

Next, let’s look at some benchmark numbers and see how they compare.

I will share the benchmarks of some of the newest VDIs we provide for our clients.  You can run the same benchmarks on the hardware at your own company and see how you compare.

For this comparison, I ran the RFO Revit Benchmark v2.1.  This is a benchmark provided by RevitForum.org.  It is available here.  http://www.revitforum.org/hardware-infrastructure/26519-rfo-benchmark-v2.html

This benchmark uses a script to run Revit 2016 (or 2017), a popular design authoring tool used by architects and engineers.  Lower numbers are FASTER and BETTER.

Workstation TypeRFO Revit Benchmark 2016 Standard
Standard Test SetRendering Test
Lenovo P50 Workstation* (32GB Physical Laptop Workstation 2016)200.83105.42
Entry Designer VDI (16 GB)193.55163.05
Designer VDI  (32 GB)191.34182.21
Cloud 3.0 VDI (32 GB)160.63103.75
Cloud 4.0 VDI (our latest 32 GB)138.3766.88

*Lenovo P50 is a mobile workstation class computer.

Conclusion

Recent improvements in VDI design have really pushed the performance of virtual machines to the point they can completely replace or even outperform a traditional physical desktop.  At Advance2000, we think the physical PC is obsolete and the future of computing is virtual desktops (VDI).   What do you think?

Contact Us for a free VDI demo and try it for yourself.