Struggles With The Cloud

A few years back we outsourced our server backups to a vendor’s private cloud. It made sense at the time and was cost efficient based on our current data growth. As time marched forward and business grew, so did our data growth. Adding more and more growth capacity to the cloud began to cost us more than if we were to perform our own backup internally via old fashion tape. Yes, I know what you are thinking; tape is archaic and a dying technology. Well it still works as expected in conjunction with our SAN/DR and we have full control.

As we began the process to move away from our cloud solution, we discovered we had a problem. The years of data that were backed up were irretrievable. The amount of data could not be downloaded over the internet without the connection failing and even if we were able to download we estimated two weeks of 24×7 downloads to try and retrieve our data. And the data will be in a jumble without rhyme or reason. What a dilemma! The vendor proved no help. As far as they were concerned if we wanted to move, it was up to us to get our data out. In essence our data was being held hostage.

Our plan (not ideal) was to keep our data in the cloud for the foreseeable future; no additional capacity will be purchased. As equipment begin to be decommissioned, the cloud backups will be deleted in accordance with our tape backup/data retention policies.  This will help us not have to download years and years of data.

Be cautious moving things into a cloud solution. Make sure you understand the risks involved not only in the short-term but also the long very long-term.

Technology Review – Garmin Approach G5

I recently went out and bought the Garmin Approach G5 ( gps to help in my golf game.

I have been on the fence about buying a gps for some time. It seems like whenever I play with golf buddies I am always asking them for distances. For a novice golfer like myself, it actually helps to know how far to hit a shot. I also needed to know how far I can hit a shot when I make good contact with the ball so that I can begin to gauge which clubs to use in what situation.

I did some research and came up with 2 manufactures that I liked: Garmin and SkyGolf. Most of my buds have Skycaddie, so I was familiar with it. What led me to the Approach was not having a need to pay for a subscription.

I have used the unit now on 4 rounds of golf. So far I am impressed. The lithium batteries last for 3 rounds before I have to replace them. I get a good signal and it pinpoints pretty quickly. The unit is solid and fits nicely in your hand. There are additional bells and whistles that I occasional use. As my game improves I will probably use them more.

The display seems a little hard to see in bright sunlight. So you have to tilt occasionally to see it properly.

Overall, I am happy with my purchase of the Garmin Approach G5.

The Cius

It looks like Apple will have a competitor in the tablet arena. Cisco will be releasing their product early next year. The difference is Cisco’s version is aimed towards corporations. Let’s see how this plays out over the next few months.

Portable GPS Units Review – Magellan Roadmate 1440

A CIO's VoiceMy TomTom One died on me last weekend, just as I needed it. Isn’t that just like technology?

Because I have started a new job I felt I needed to get something in my car. While my iPhone Google maps works great, it is a hassle to use while driving, especially when I am alone.

So my wife talked about getting a new one. Price was especially important. We paid about $140 for our TomTom 3 years ago. It worked great until this year when we started having problems charging it.

I looked online at the usually reviews. TomTom still got the highest rating in customer satisfaction. I didn’t want to deal with the hassles of plugging it into my computer every so often to update.

The features my wife and I wanted were:

  1. Voice directions
  2. Access to AAA ratings.
  3. Big screen
  4. Easy to plug in addresses or zip codes

We went to Walmart and Sears to look at various units. TomTom, Garmin, and Magellan all caught our eye. We decided to go to BJ Wholesale and say the Magellan Roadmate 1440 ( which had all the features we wanted. In addition, there was a sale going on so we were able to get the unit for $120.

I have been using the device now for a few days. I must admit I am pretty impressed. It was easy to use and the voice directions were clear and accurate.

Overall I am pretty satisfied with my purchased. Maybe in 3 years, technology will march on and I will upgrade again.

Should You Get Your iPad Now or Wait?

Check out this article in by Kelli Grant — Should You Pre-Order an iPad?

Kelli says that most average consumers should wait a few months until the technology matures and prices drop before purchasing. I agree. Like all technology, version one will have its share of problems out of the box. Remember the the first generation iPhone? A perfect example of why waiting will be beneficial.

Servers: The Foundation of Your Infrastructure

When was the last time you assessed your server infrastructure? Servers are the backbone of running email, databases, and providing access to your company’s data. Without a stable server foundation your network ecosystem will not allow you to be efficient and productive.

There are four criteria that I use when selecting servers:

  1. affordable
  2. simple to install
  3. simple to operate
  4. simple to maintain

Your server structure should be able to:

  1. Grow with your company’s needs (5 years out is my rule)
  2. Snap into and work with existing technology
  3. Build on standard best practices

I have had great success with HP’s brand of servers over the years. They surpassed my expectations early on and became the workhorses in my environment.

Data Storage – The Monster in the Enterprise

From the earliest days of the PC to today, data storage has always been a problem for most firms.  Most CIOs decide to just buy bigger hard drives to deal with the huge volumes of data. This is not necessarily the right answer. Data storage in the enterprise should be analyzed from all angles, not just to find answers in hardware, software and technology, but also to find a solution in the management of data.

I must admit I too have struggled with data storage. It’s continued growth, archiving, management and support of gigabytes and gigabytes of data became a problem that needed to be addressed and a long-term solution developed.

I approached data storage requirements by first developing a corporate storage policy. Analyze your environment to determine what you want and what you need. Establish what type of information you have and what the value of that information is for your business. Then determine what information is most critical to the business because that will determine storage and retrieval requirements.

Establish three levels:

  1. Mission-critical data that is used regularly and on a daily basis. This tier requires fast backup and recovery times and the most expensive hardware, such as SATA or SCSI disk arrays.
  2. Data that doesn’t need to be accessed that often and is not mission-critical. This data, however, still needs to be stored on disk, such as slower, less expensive ATA disk arrays.
  3. Data that needs to be archived, and most likely only be retrieved in cases of emergencies.

Establishing levels ties in with your information lifecycle management (ILM) process. , ILM allows you to analyze your data, to determine how critical it is and then allocate it to either fast and more expensive SATA disk, slower, less expensive ATA disk, or to magnetic tape.

Legislation and corporate governance issues will affect your data storage requirements. In some companies it will determine storage needs requirements. Legislation such as the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX), Basel II, the King report, Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA), as well as legislation, such as the ECT and Companies Acts. Not complying with these regulations can be a problem for you and your company. These regulations specify what data must be retained, whether it can be changed, and for how long it must be retained.

There are plenty of articles and white papers on the net about solutions. For those of you struggling with your data storage needs it might be time to do some research and figure out a solution that will work for you both in the near-term and long-term.

An Apple A Day…

Today (January 27), Apple will be having its much-hyped media event. Over the last few days the net has been a flurry of gossip, leaked photos, and unofficially Apple executive quotes. What is a fan boy to do with all this info? It just makes me giddy…

I must admit, I always look forward to such events from Apple. It is like watching something being created and you are there to take part in the excitement and oohh and aahh over it.

Today, if rumors are true, Apple will be announcing the much anticipated and secretive “iPad” from Apple’s skunkworks.

Something new to add to my Christmas list this year. If the blogs are true, this device will revolutionize publishing, as we know it. I hope so, this industry needs to have a shot in the arm to revive it. I personally don’t read newspapers anymore but do so online on my iPhone. A device that has a bigger screen will be so helpful.

I am going to wait a few months to see how things shake out similar to how I migrated to the iPhone. I am a second-generation kinda guy. I believe in letting others shake the bugs out before I jump on board. And besides, if this takes off, the second gen model will have vastly better features. Just wait and see.

There is also talk that additional carriers for the iPhone will be announced. I think that is great. I believe in competition. I pay vastly too much for my cell service now and the quality of service is just ok.

So we will see what Apple has up their sleeves.

Voice and Data: When Will They Converge?

Back in the day when I was a young administrator building networks for companies, we always supported multiple types of networks. It was just the way things were done then. Vendors did not play well with other vendors. And the technology was just not there yet. Even now in many companies I still continue to see separate networks: data and voice. All of which take up valuable resources.

Why hasn’t voice been migrated over to the data backbone? The technology is there and has been there for some time. Why are firms still supporting multiple networks?

IP Telephony and Voice over IP (VoIP) can help your firm reduce costs and simplify your network by using existing bandwidth that might be inefficiently used. That is assuming you have available bandwidth. VoIP has the intelligence to only use the bandwidth needed, and is even able to compress that usage on its own. This results in significantly less bandwidth being used, which is more cost effective data usage, compared to the voice or PSTN links. In addition, an IP-PBX offers much more functionality and flexibility to your network.

You must have heard of other firms migrating over to VoIP and having quality issues. This is true when voice traffic must compete for bandwidth with other applications on the network, the quality of calls will suffer even if the IP network is working perfectly. The “jitters” was a real problem for most early adopters. However, proper QoS and data shaping will ensure that the voice traffic will have the bandwidth it needs, when needed. This is critical for IP Telephony call quality. However, while ensuring uncongested bandwidth is available to voice is critical for superior call quality, other applications must also perform well to keep the business running.

Untangling and converging your voice and data networks will allow your networks to do more with less by reducing communications costs, simplifying administration, and increasing employee productivity.

Fixed Cost Managed Database Services- Pearl Knowledge Solutions, Inc.,

It is not often you make new friends through the Internet, but I have made several, of outstanding character, over the last couple of months. Robert Pearl is one such individual. Robert reached out to me via this blog and we have exchanged a vast array of emails on several topics and talked about the state of affairs in IT. Robert owns Pearl Knowledge Solutions, Inc., a managed service provider of DBA services.

As CIOs, we must make smart budget decisions everyday that cut costs without impeding business operations. Database management is one such area where costs savings can be achieved. For those of us who have worked with databases, we know how difficult and costly it can be to successfully manage them. One way to help is to consider fixed cost managed database services, where we could save thousands of dollars and pay a flat-monthly fee, while the MSP (managed service provider) takes care of your database servers. Once such provider is Pearl Knowledge Solutions, Inc.

Here is more about Pearl Knowledge Solutions, Inc.

Pearl Knowledge Solutions, Inc. is a managed service provider of Remote DBA services and expertise, as well as their award-winning monitoring and alert solution – SQLCentric.

Our Remote DBA packages (proactive monitoring and preventative maintenance) offer the best most cost-effective way to maintain your DB infrastructure and secure your company’s most precious asset – your data.  We will customize our packages around your database needs, and/or just purchase a block of DBA hours to insure the stability and security of your database(s).  By offering fixed-cost managed services, you can plan your IT budget without busting it.

Who’s watching your databases?  Are you backing up regularly?  Are your databases performing optimally?  Is your data secured?  These are among the many questions you need to ask if you have one or more SQL Servers.

Let us manage your database systems, for a fraction of the cost of a full-time DBA or consultant, and rely on our several years of industry expertise to mitigate the risk of downtime, turnover, and corrupt or compromised databases?

In addition, do you have an immediate project need that your current resources cannot handle?  We can augment your existing DBA staff, or assist with your project needs, such as migrations, installations, configurations, upgrades, disaster recovery, SOX compliance, and more!

SQLCentric – our award-winning SQL Server Monitoring and Alert system with monitor your entire sql infrastructure, and send you alerts.  SQL 2008 is now supported!  l

What we will do for you?

  • Establish a service level agreement (SLA) based on your company’s needs
  • Document and Inventory your SQL Server/Database Infrastructure
  • Provide 24x7x365 Database Monitoring
  • Enforce standards, secure data and ensure adherence to industry best practices.
  • Reduce overall down time
  • Reduce time & cost of operations and management
  • Address issues/tasks in the shortest possible time frame
  • Improve overall performance of the database environments

So if you are looking for a fixed cost managed database service, I would recommend giving Robert a call.

In addition, Robert has written a very good white paper on Fixed Cost IT Management. A great read for any CIO trying to maintain costs.

Fixed Cost IT Management

By Robert Pearl, 10/15/2008

Has your company considered using Managed DBA Services? (Remote DBA)

Fixed cost IT management, remote DBA, managed services, 24x7x365 support, SLA – what do all these terms signify in the trend to having your technical infrastructure managed by an outside third-party vendor. Managed Services is the new buzz word that’s catching fire across all size enterprises – small, medium and large – as MSP’s (managed service providers) compete for your business and trust, to hand over the keys to your company’s kingdom, in exchange for expert services, 24×7 guaranteed support, rapid response and solid SLA’s. While we’ll talk about IT Managed Services in general, we will focus on the growing trend in the IT industry – the Remote DBA.

As stated in one article, a good primer on the SLA for the DBA, ‘Understanding Service Level Agreements’, in order to ensure that your systems are reliable, secure and available, one must understand the client’s requirements, which are conveyed through the SLA (service level agreement). According to the article, far too many DBA’s are NOT aware of the customer’s SLA, or if they can be met. Conversely, the Managed Service Provider, cannot conduct its business without executing an SLA with the client, nor measure its success. The very first thing that an MSP will do is establish an SLA based on your company’s needs, so that your expectations can in fact be met.

The MSP will promise for a flat monthly fee that they will take care of your technology while you take care of your business. They promise they’ll manage everything in your environment, remotely, from your network devices, appliances, servers, desktops, to your electric toaster – for the right price, offering a tremendous savings and cost reduction in the overall IT budget. Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum – no we’re not talking Olympics here; we’re talking what is the right package for your company in terms of managed service offerings. We’ll take a closer look and examine if indeed this is a viable option, a passing trend, or the wave of the future.

With increasing pressures on businesses to grow revenues while driving costs down, outsourcing has in fact become viable practice for many leading organizations. In many cases, managed services are becoming the norm in small and middle sized businesses, and no doubt that upper management has already heard the news and is very likely considering this as an option in some form or another. It can be a total overall managed service solution for one’s entire infrastructure, or supplemental services to assist in-house staff. There are several factors for considering managed IT services, and as always, a major consideration is the bottom line. How much savings can be derived from allowing another firm to manage your IT assets? If such services can obviate the need to dilute the company’s core business by hiring IT specialists, maintain an expert body of knowledge without worrying about knowledge transfers and turnover, or just spread existing staff thin, why not consider giving managed services a try?

One such company Mithril Technology, a managed service provider headquartered in Long Island, NY, prides itself on its slogan, “Let us take care of technology, so you can take care of business.” Indeed a catchy phrase (I think I used it earlier), but not at all jingoistic. Think about it, do you keep a plumber on staff to fix your “facilities”? Does the VP of Sales, roll-up his sleeves and grab a wrench? No, you call in an expert in the field to take care of the problem. It may sound a bit simplistic, but aside from the traditional break-fix model, MSP’s are seeking to offer you proactive services as an insurance policy before things go wrong.

With the advent of technology, especially the Internet, it is becoming a very popular and cost-effective way to manage your tech-infrastructure remotely. Many vendors are finding that this space offers a great way to expand their company’s business, as they are moving away from the traditional break-fix, reactive model, to a more preventive and proactive approach. Some vendors have been more successful at this transition than others. The ones that have succeeded have won their clients’ confidence as “Trusted Advisor”, a role coveted by all MSP.s Basically, being considered one’s “trusted advisor” gives credibility to the expertise demonstrated by the vendor, and the ability to deliver and meet SLA’s.

Since managed databases are an integral service component of managed services, and almost everything the DBA does can be done remotely, it seems a perfectly acceptable option for managing one’s database infrastructure. While there is rapid expansion in the data market, providing a Database Managed solution is not easily done. An MSP will need some level of senior Database Administrators (DBAs) to build and run the Managed Database service. Having a database practice for project work and consulting, as part of your business model will be a distinct advantage to becoming successful in the Managed Database component of any Managed Services practice.

So what is it that managed services providers offer in terms of remote DBA support? With the ability to log on via the company’s VPN, Citrix server or other remote means, the vendor can access the entire database infrastructure, collect data and statistics, assess and audit the environment, and finally make a determination on best practices. What are the some of the “goodies” that you will get from your Remote DBA vendor?

Some of the typical tasks performed by the DBA are monitoring database space usage, memory and CPU utilization, reviewing error logs and responding to alerts, verifying backups, ensuring the latest service pack levels and patches are applied.

More of the advanced types of DBA services include implementing high availability solutions, DR planning, replication, clustering, database design and architecture, SQL server consolidation, migrations, as well as audit discovery and compliance. Although this is more project based work, many vendors offer this on a consulting basis, but no doubt can be accomplished remotely.

As mentioned before, some offer the variety packages, such as Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, which usually include some combination of DBA support hours, monitoring, and maintenance. By far, this seems to be the most common and popular package.

Many offer a Monitoring Only option, which allows companies to supplement their existing DBA staff, and even free up their time to focus on more strategic initiatives and projects. With this option, the vendor will provide a continuous stream of monitoring, and provide alerts to the in-house staff. The package may include simple rapid response resolution, such as restarting a service, or failed job.

The “monitoring only” option may be a great way to build a trust relationship between the company and the managed service provider. In fact, at a recent client, who retained remote services for the first time, started out with this type of package, where the vendor would monitor the server estate, open tickets, respond to alerts, and provide daily and weekly incident reports. The company was so pleased, within a month they then had them do patching and service pack upgrades. Now, they use them on a regular basis and have engaged them in a full-service agreement.

Other types of packages, basically try to tailor different offerings and customize pricing around the client’s size and needs, such as the “per device” or menu options.

As long as the pricing and services are transparent to the client, and can prove the overall costs savings, the prospect of retaining an expert vendor to manage your SQL Servers’ environment is very enticing, as it provides great value and can demonstrate ROI in a short period of time.

You should also make sure that your MSP will provide daily, weekly, and monthly reports on the state of the SQL environment such as trend, performance and incident reports. This is key in demonstrating value of placing your database assets in the hands of a managed service provider. You also get a highly structured level of management and support, with DBA Expertise at your disposal.

Some vendors draw upon a pool of DBA resources. Many of the larger ones will assign a team of at least 2 or more DBA’s to your account. Often it depends on the size of your database environment, and how database servers you need to manage and monitor. You’ll feel confident that there is a primary and a backup resource. In addition, you’ll get to know and work these folks, who in essence become your DBAs, who retain the knowledge of your business processes and technology, that’s not vulnerable to internal IT turnover.

Today’s critical business systems depend on databases to be secure, highly available, perform optimally, and of course have good backups. Many small and medium firms often bring in expensive consultants to deploy their SQL Server systems and related applications, and then forget about them until something inevitably blows up.

Depending on the size of the company and IT savvy, they might not know or care if their databases get regular maintenance. Indeed, they should be aware of the costs of this type of preventative care, versus the potential huge costs of emergency support and repair to fix it. Think of Managed DBA services as an insurance policy well worth the price! But with this policy, you’re getting real tangible services. The last thing any company should want is to be in a desperate situation where fixing the problem at any cost (costs that are not within budget), when simple preventative maintenance could have avoided the situation.

This is why having a manage service provider look after your SQL servers is a definite advantage to proactively monitor and look after your company’s most precious asset – your data!

In this tough economy, small and medium size companies need to ask themselves what is the most cost-effective way to maintain and secure your database infrastructure? Sometimes the decisions to hire a full-time DBA is necessary – but if they cannot, why not consider a Remote DBA service provider to manage your database systems, for a fraction of the cost, and rely on several years of industry expertise to mitigate the risk of downtime, turnover, and corrupt or compromised databases?