1 Zettabyte

1024 Exabytes = 1 Zettabyte

1024 Zettabytes = 1 Yottabyte

1024 Yottabytes = 1 Brontobyte

1024 Brontobytes = 1 Geopbyte

Source: http://www.engadget.com/2011/06/29/visualized-a-zettabyte/

Technology Companies Organizational Charts

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/big-tech-org-charts-2011-6

The Cloud Advantage and Business Considerations

Revolutionary. Game-Changing. Breakthrough. Our love for new technology is a story as old as the human race and to display our affinity for new tech we discuss, publish and blog about it in the superlative. We love it, we hate it. It’ll never fail (or sink like the Titanic), it has no chance of success (flying car anyone?). The Cloud is getting this type of love right now and many are fawning over it. This writer thinks it is pretty wonderful too but when we talk businesses and the cloud it is important to understand the context. That business have different purposes and see different risks associated with this relatively young technological invention. Larger business risk considerations are far different than risk factors considered by a single user or a very small business. We’ll cover this but first let’s discuss historical examples of technological progress.

At one time the mainframe ruled the computing world. It centralized data and then suddenly the desktop revolution decentralized it. Today some say the cloud signals a reemergence of data recentralization and it too will rule the world of computing and we believe it. Look around today what do you see? Mainframes still exist and so do desktops, servers, tablets, laptops, smartphones and the cloud. We are using new devices for specific tasks. Some sales departments exclusively use iPhones meanwhile the accounting department is working on the server-desktop model. We believe the historical trend will continue and we’ll see a mix of technologies going forward. In other words, the Cloud will extend its reach but never rule everything. Many businesses will still choose local processing and storage or private clouds for the foreseeable future and we’ll discuss the reasons in this article.

Lauren Carlson’s article, “The Downtime Dilemma: Reliability in the Cloud” makes valid points but misses a few key risk factors. So let’s review her article. She touched on the Cloud’s uptime and reliability and showed a few charts that pointed to the cloud as being better on both fronts. She also made the point that the cloud companies use systems are technically superior to any cloud that a traditional business can build in-house (except the fortune 500). Another other item missing was applications. Enterprise applications drive infrastructure purchases and until all applications are web or designed to be run in the cloud, onsite servers will be required by software vendors.

Hear us, we are pro-cloud but not pro-risk. Businesses live and die by their data. More than 80% of all businesses fail in 3 years when they lose their data. Data protection is king while uptime and reliability are an important second. That said let’s dive in.

“Although, the current cloud infrastructure is probably about 10 times as redundant as most on-premise systems. I think the cloud is simply suffering from the consequences of fame.” Lauren Carlson, The Downtime Dilemma: Reliability in the Cloud

One of the technologies that power the cloud is hardware virtualization and virtualization across multiple systems and even across physical locations. Currently VMware and EMC and other such brands are pricey. When those costs are added to the costs of building and powering multiple secure datacenters and the labor to run it, how many companies want to spend that kind of money? It’s cheaper to signup for those services. Here’s the part Lauren overlooked, this technology will keep developing, evolving and getting cheaper just as every other tech has. Over the next several years building your own private corporate cloud will be affordable and within reach of most businesses. Our prediction is this; first virtualization and then the cloud will become a commodity. We don’t see cloud companies as producing an untouchable product with an unattainable level of service that is out of reach (for the 100M revenue and up) of most companies. Alpha & Omega Consulting clients can already deploy a private cloud that is secure and redundant across multiple datacenters affordably. Our private cloud is powered by a unique software that deploys, manages and secures cloud VMs. Also our clients have total control over their private clouds. This is the beginning of cloud commoditization.

A topic she didn’t cover is the most critical component of any system; data protection. Data protection has two parts, disaster recovery and security. From reading Lauren’s article it is assumed disaster recovery is no longer needed as the cloud is magic and is so reliable that disaster recovery planning obsolete. God willing no company is this naive. The second part, security, is admittedly a challenge for both in-house and cloud based services. Sony has had problems with outages and data theft from hackers and they are not alone. Others such as the federal government, MasterCard, and most other large companies have also recently suffered security breaches. When moving from onsite to the cloud your data may be exposed to two additional sources of data insecurity, the employees who work for the cloud company and loss of controls and monitoring. Google recently fired an employee who was accessing a user’s gmail account.

Google Inc. fired a software engineer for snooping on its users’ private information, the Internet search giant confirmed Wednesday.

The 27-year-old employee, David Barksdale, allegedly accessed information about four teenagers he met through a Seattle technology group, according to gossip website Gawker, which reported the incident Tuesday.

Barksdale, a self-described hacker whose job was to maintain and troubleshoot Google sites, had access to users’ personal accounts and information, Gawker reported. His interaction with the teenagers was not sexual in nature, the gossip site said.

In another case a, “Disgruntled IT guy slips porn into CEO’s PowerPoint.” The end results of these examples are minuscule compared to what could actually happen during a major security breach. This exposes a growing problem that has yet to really be addressed. How can a company improve the security of its data while adding additional sources of potential security breach?

“…what it really comes down to is control. Users feel more secure when they are in control of the system.” Lauren Carlson, The Downtime Dilemma: Reliability in the Cloud

Lauren mentioned, even downplayed, control and in doing so missed the practical application controlling of your data. The need for control is more than a feeling there are valid reasons for it. How about control over new policies? Control allows an organization to immediately implement a new data security policy without considering the cloud company. Let’s take control over downtime as another example. There is scheduled and unscheduled downtime but if a CEO knows that in 5 minutes email (Microsoft Exchange) will be back online, that is preferred over telling the CEO “whenever X cloud company fixes it.” Also if you’ve worked in a large organization knowing how long you need to do paper work before the computer systems are back up extends to all departments and has an effect on productivity. The other option is waiting and staring at a computer for the cloud service to come back online (I’m sure there are additional options but this is the one a majority of employees prefer). That may seem like a lame reason but the type A personalities that run some companies would disagree, they want control, even over a downtime. How about more reasons for control, such as when a company signs up for cloud services, how easy will it be for them to move to other clouds? Or to a private cloud? What level of control do they have over their data? What if the cloud company goes under? What’s the audit risk concerning government regulation (depending on the laws onsite servers may meet the security criteria better)? Another example is cost; at some point there will be a lower cost solution elsewhere so does your business have enough control over its data to utilize it? Having control over technology is born from a desire to control corporate operations without vendor interference. Control goes hand-in-hand with data protection, cost control, productivity, communication, coordination and the flexibility needed to instantly change with the dynamic global economy. Lauren mentioned control and linked it one of the final reasons to maintain onsite servers and I’m extending the need for control beyond that to include data in the cloud. The point is this; belittling control is a mistake as this is how corporations function. Data control is vital for a businesses’ success. On the other hand being a control freak without a clear purpose can cause business leaders to miss opportunities such as the ones provided by the cloud.

The risks I mention are not to steer away from the cloud or towards it but to admit the cloud is a young technology and expect to see a mix of technology going forward. Businesses are risk adverse, especially large ones, and they will pay for reliability over cool new technologies. This isn’t a one size fits all recommendation and there are valid reasons for going cloud and valid reasons for waiting.

Lauren’s points are spot on if you are a very small business or a single user. Larger businesses have different considerations and risks which are world’s apart from the single user world. Although we are starting to see a slow move to the cloud, risk aversion and applications will keep local processing and storage popular for the near term. Other challenges are presented in more detail on my technology blog article titled “7 Considerations Before Adopting ‘The Cloud’.” In the end the cloud will be adopted by all businesses in various degrees and as it matures it will exist alongside other technologies.

Special thanks to Lauren Carlson for inviting me to comment on her article and for her passion of technology.

Update: OnLive and Juniper team up on cloud-based services for enterprise. This could be a game changer. It is why businesses usually don’t rush on new tech and prefer proven technology. It will be interesting to see if this gains traction and how the cloud matures over the next 3 years and what it becomes.

Another Reason to Second-Guess Moving to “The Cloud”

David Barksdale was a site reliability engineer at Google when he was fired last July after it was discovered he had been accessing users’ accounts to find personal information. According to reports, he snooped through one 15-year-old boy’s Google Voice call logs to find out the name of the kid’s girlfriend and then threatened to call her.
He also supposedly used his position at Google to access other personal information such as chat transcripts, e-mails and contact information. When one teen blocked Barksdale from the kid’s buddy list, it was reported that he used the system to unblock himself. Google acknowledged it and “dismissed David Barksdale for breaking Google’s strict internal privacy policies.”

Source: http://adtmag.com/articles/2011/03/23/job-killing-decisions.aspx

Earlier I blogged this post: 7 Considerations Before Adopting “The Cloud”. I find a percentage of corporate leaders are hesitant to second guess the herd but the legal risks and corporate threats are real and at the very least they should be studied and reviewed for risk assessment.

If you are considering a move to the cloud make sure you know the security of your data and VMs and the cloud company’s onsite physical security and internal corporate policies beforehand.

Backup Exec 12.5 Drivers

Is anything more difficult to navigate than symantec.com? When an admin needs product support we want to find the file…yesterday! One file an admin needs (usually quickly) are drivers. Symantec recommends running liveupdate from the about->help menu but what if we just want to load (reload) the drivers. Yes there’s the Wizard too but us admins are picky and hands-on we want to know what is getting installed and a wizard isn’t isn’t helpful in that way. So here they are, the latest (as of this writing) Backup Exec 12.5 drivers for 32-bit and 64-bit:

7 Considerations Before Adopting “The Cloud”

Is the “The Cloud” pain-free and risk-free?

I’ve been an advocate of cloud services since 2001, before CEOs and execs knew of the technology. “The Cloud” is a catch phrase and can mean several different IT services from something as simple as hosting a website on an Internet connected server to as complex as moving severs to a datacenter connected via a private network and everything in-between. Several years ago I realized it was still early as CEOs were interested but not ready to take the leap. Over the past few years, as CEO magazine and other publications featured Cloud articles, CEO interest has risen and large businesses began moving IT services to the cloud. So is “The Cloud” “The Solution” for all businesses, now, today? The answer is yes, no and maybe. It depends on the organization’s internal processes and operations, applications, data infrastructure and business goals. In some cases cloud services cost less and sometimes they are more expensive. The dynamics that change during a move to the Cloud are more complicated than a Cloud salesperson would admit, as sales people historically over-promise and under-deliver. Businesses need guidance through the decision making process. Be careful to become overly committed to a current trend, not because it is a good or bad idea, just make sure it is the right move and the right time for your company to make the move.

Let’s take an aspect of Cloud services, outsourced email hosting. Gmail (and others) is used by (a couple of) large and small companies alike to provide anti-spam and email hosting. Below are some of the questions you’ll want to ask the Cloud salesperson and your corporate leadership team. Also the question below apply to all Cloud services. If you feel these items are adequately addressed by the Cloud vendor and it is the right time for your company, then the Cloud is a viable option. So here is a basic list of Cloud discussion items:

1) Uptime. Gmail has outages 1-3 times per year for 1-4 hours every outage. Meanwhile most Microsoft Exchange servers are down for 0-1 hours per year. Outages for some companies are not acceptable (such as Financial Services or Medical) but maybe others can tolerate it, can your business tolerate untimely outages?

Outages happen every year, one recently happened to gmail. Here’s an example from 2009 to show it’s been happening for awhile, not just this year. 2009 outage. Update #2: April 22, 2011, Amazon cloud services has been down for over 24 hours, read it here. The Yahoo article states, “…cloud computing isn’t immune to failure, either.” Update #3: Another outage, this time at Microsoft’s cloud services – here. Update 4: MSNBC asks, “Amazon outage casts a cloud over cloud computing?

2) Security. Gmail (and similar) cloud accounts are targeted by hackers and you, the cloud client, has zero control over security. The cloud security issues to consider are:

When lots of people/businesses use a web based service, hackers are drawn to it like moths are drawn to street lights. Look at Sony, one of the world’s largest corporations can’t keep hackers out (LulzSec hackers leak personal data from Sony servers, mock the FBI). So there’s three different sources of security issues, let’s add a fourth:

  • Company employees trying to access a senior-level’s account.

On an in-house email server admins will see failed login attempts and with the auditing software they can track down hackers. This isn’t possible with gmail and most cloud hosted solutions (unless you are paying for it and they can prove it). Here’s an article on the current Gmail hacking epidemic. Some business owners don’t care about security or privacy so if that is your company’s approach this section of questions may not apply.

3) Disaster Recovery & Backup. A business owner should want a backup and occasional local copy of corporate email and corporate contacts. Gmail recently lost the information of 30,000 users. (http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2061080,00.html ) This wasn’t the first time either and historically when these people contact Google, Google claims to have no record of that person’s information nor can it be restored. How would your business be impacted if the entire company’s email and contacts were lost?

4) Throughput/Speed. If large databases are put into the cloud, how will they be accessed? How will speed be for large documents, PDFs and spreadsheets? If the desktops AND servers are in the cloud then this shouldn’t be an issue except for the art/graphic/CAD department. If you have an art/graphic/CAD department how will their data be backed up? External HD (hope not)? Most likely it will be a local server, but wait, all servers should have been in the cloud but now with new/more local servers you’ll need the infrastructure to support the local equipment which defeats the cloud sales-pitch of no-more-local-servers. I expect in the future this challenge will be overcome as VMs and RDP are being tuned for these functions but it’s not ready yet.

5) Control. A general sense of control is lost. Sometimes there is more to be gained than lost but what if the Internet goes down? All staff productivity goes to zero. At least with a local server the staff can do all or most of their work. What if security or data forensics needs to be performed to find who stole what? Will Google let you into their data center to perform the forensics work? Perhaps certain IT services can be moved now and the rest later? It depends on the level of control your business needs to be safe, secure and protected.

6) Processes. How would your company’s internal processes be affected by switching to cloud services? This consideration takes time to vet and could be the most important as it will directly influence on the organization’s ability to operate efficiently and produce.

7) Support Desktops and Network Devices. Finally cloud service do not eliminate the need for desktop and network devices support. From web based applications, to printers, smartphones, desktop maintenance and similar items still require support. The company should consider the cost of such services as part of the move to the Cloud, these expenses do not go away. That said smaller organizations can cost justify the cloud strategy but larger and more complex organizations might pay the same or even more money and receive less IT services.

These seven risk should be reviewed and discussed transparently with your cloud services vendor. If the Cloud vendor does not have solutions to the above risks or (says, it’s of no concern) then wait on signing. Clients have should know the risks associated with “The Cloud” and the vendor’s solution to address each risks. It is ultimately a risk that can negatively impact your company’s bottom line.  Trusting a cloud salesperson without understanding the risks is what most cloud vendors hope for…that the risks can be swept under the carpet because most don’t have the answers to these questions AND they hope that CEOs purchase cloud services from the current hype and excitement surround “The Cloud.”

The point here is one size does not fit all. We want to see companies vet whether the move makes sense, in full or partial. I speak from experience as AOC has performed several “unCloud” installations. We have unwound several client’s network from the cloud vendor. In these situations I’ve seen this trend; the client buys the cloud salesperson’s assurances and doesn’t have the technical expertise to vet the situation. Then 12-24 months later experiences buyers remorse as “unexpected problems” plague business productivity. This story comes from an SMB, which had just phoned their cloud vendor to restore some server data. The Cloud companies response was, “Oh, I don’t see that data, it appears The Cloud backups haven’t been working but I have your data on my USB keychain flash drive from 2 months ago!” The client’s loss of control over data backups resulted in 2 months of lost financial data. I’m sure that would never happen on an enterprise level but at the end of the day your tech team isn’t in control, so how do you know it isn’t happening?

Simply put if you are considering a move to the cloud make sure you know the security of your data and VMs and the cloud company’s onsite physical security and internal corporate policies beforehand.

Alpha & Omega Consulting provides guidance these projects like these and we also provide cloud services but only implement them when appropriate. Contact Mike Pasatieri at mpATacosol.com or here for more information.

Windows 7 Hype – 7 Gotchas & Recommendations

Windows 7 Ultimate

Windows 7 Ultimate

Windows 7…released two months ago and it is the greatest thing since…since…the last best version of Windows??

From an IT perspective I’ve been disappointed by a several missing core features that should have been included. These missing “core features” are a huge oversight by MS. Why did Microsoft skip them? Functionality is the most important feature of any OS. Let’s review the missing features:

1. Printer Drivers. Windows 7 ships with very few printer drivers. How many non IT folk are having a rough time right now? They plug in a printer and…nothing. I’m not referring to new printers but printers older than a year. Also these aren’t low volume off-brand printers, I’m referring to HP printers. At the very least, I expected Microsoft to ship Windows 7 with basic driver support for all HP printers older than February 2009. Instead to access to new drivers one must manually click the Windows update button from the devices and printer control panel icon. This can be done by setting up a (virtual or real) printer and clicking the Windows Update button. Is Microsoft trying to give market share away (to Apple)?

2. Active Sync. In the control panel Windows 7 has a mobile sync function but it didn’t work for the HTC Windows smartphone from ATT – the HTC Tilt. Microsoft expects end users to go out to microsoft.com and update the driver support for mobile sync. I can almost see the justification of not providing better HP support – but not supporting your own mobile operating systems and smartphones phones? Is Microsoft trying to give market share away (to Apple)?

3. Windows Movie Maker. Granted WMM is a very simple non-linear video editing tool and WMM isn’t corporate, still I expected Microsoft to improve this app. Not only was this application not improved but it’s not even included! The end user must download Windows Live or WMM 2.6 (the Vista version of WMM) from microsoft.com. Is Microsoft trying to give market share away (to Apple)?

4. False error notifications. We’ve noticed false errors when plugging in a new device or connecting a device, Windows 7 will say something like “Error: device not installed” and then 15-30 seconds later it works – if you try it. One of my guys approached me saying, “I can’t get this device to work.” Turns out the device was working but the notifications were incorrect. There should be a second notification stating the device is connected or functioning normally – something to alert us about the change in device status but nope. Is Microsoft trying to give market share away (to Apple)?

6. UAC. User Account Control is scaled back in Windows 7 compared to Windows Vista. But if you want to use gotoassist or gotomypc or these types of remote control applications (which we do) then UAC cannot be totally turned off or the CTRL-ALT-DEL key combo is disabled and you CANNOT LOG IN REMOTELY. That’s right, you are completely shut out of your system, UAC must be on. The lowest setting of UAC works but still I want it totally turned off and IT staff don’t like having their hands tied. Again, is Microsoft trying to give market share away (to Apple)?

7. The Control Panel. It’s a mess and difficult to find settings. Of course once you are used to Windows 7 maybe it won’t be too bad but it won’t ever be too good either. Settings have been highly compartmentalized which isn’t terrible but they are also highly segregated requiring many clicks before locating the necessary setting and then clicks back to find a different setting. You may have many ah-ha moments and discovery can be fun but long term easy-of-use makes or breaks the love we give an OS. The people at Microsoft know this yet…is Microsoft trying to give market share away (to Apple)?

Windows 7 was designed with an emphasis on being faster and having better media capabilities. I can’t help but feel that this OS was rushed by 9-12 months. The Windows 7 media hype has so far covered-up these neglected features/functionality but when the it’s time to use the computer with the shiny new graphics but discover poor printer support, missing applications, Microsoft smartphones aren’t supported by default, difficult administration and  Microsoft is tying your hands to controlling UAC…it beckons the question, how could the Microsoft decision makers overlook these functions? Also where is the cloud support and the built in social networking? Perhaps this is the genius of Microsoft. I can see it now, in the year 2012, “The all new Microsoft Windows 8, with better driver support, Windows Movie Maker, cloud storage and social networking – included!” By then will we care? Or will Microsoft be irrelevant as Google Android powers the (mobile) computing world?

I’m sure some of these issues will be improved with service pack 1 for Windows 7, due summer 2010. I expect better driver support being included in the this release. But Microsoft better get a’movin and fast.