Ready For a Storage Area Network?

Servers and data storage are a mundane topic for most executives; especially when their primary focus should be on running a profitable business.  Storage Area Networks (SAN) have declined rapidly in price and are no longer a technology for the largest corporations.  Today’s small and medium businesses (SMB) can leverage this technology to create a more flexible computing environment and reduce server costs.

If you are still buying servers with a single purpose, such as — SQL, Exchange, and SharePoint — you are wasting money on hard drives and RAID arrays that can easily double or triple your server costs.  In comparison, an SMB SAN allows you to logically group the hard drives for all your servers into one or two devices that can be connected to all of your servers — providing higher disk performance, higher availability, and faster recovery time in the event of a catastrophic server failure.

By separating the storage from the traditional server (CPU, memory, and network adapters) you increase storage efficiency by only allocating the amount of storage currently required for the server and gain the ability to add storage on the fly.  For instance, if your SQL server demands more disk space – click to allocate it. Or, if your Exchange server has recently archived much of your old email to another system – reduce the amount of disk available to Exchange and increase its performance.

Many departments such as engineering, can go through periods of large storage growth when a new project or New Year approaches.  A SAN allows you to add additional drives on the fly and then allocate them to any server that requires it.  No more surprise IT requests to get a larger server because the current server is maxed out.

Server failure with local RAID arrays are a thing of the past.  When a SAN connected server fails, simply attach the storage on the SAN to a new or backup server and bring your business back online quickly.  No more waiting for tape libraries, and cloud based services to restore all the data to a new server, which can spell two to three days of down time.

What does it cost? That depends on your storage requirements and the number of servers you would like to connect.  A small SAN with two to three servers will start at about $10K.  Your mileage will vary depending on the size and number of the hard drives you will insert into the SAN.  Since all SANs are scalable, you can start with as little as six hard drives and grow to over 200 as your demands increase.  Why not start today?  Reduce your server costs, increase your flexibility, and get back to focusing on what is really import and grow YOUR business.

Paul R. CookPaul R. Cook
Vice President, Network Services
Paul.Cook@CustomSystemsCorp.com

 

 

 

© Copyright 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

Cloud-Based Apps vs Local Servers

I get a lot of questions about Cloud computing.  So today we are going to discuss a few of the differences between keeping your applications and files on local servers vs. moving to the Cloud.  We will cover some of the advantages and disadvantages of both, as well as examine my own bias.  We may even discover that I’m (GASP) wrong.  Sound like fun?  Ready?  Here we go!

What is Cloud?

Well, it’s not in the Stratosphere (though THAT would be especially cool!).  Cloud computing usually refers to a service that you pay to store data for you.  Everything from email, databases and files to accounting software can be Cloud based.  Advantage?  No servers to manage or  maintain.  No backups to check, no tapes to change.  Just sign the check on time, and it’s all taken care of for you.

This ain’t your Dad’s Cadillac, er, Cloud.

Cloud computing has been around since the dawn of the interwebs.  Why it’s just becoming a buzzword now is beyond me, but there it is.  Chances are, your bank hasn’t stored your account information in their local branch office in over a decade.  Instead, they pay a hosted service to provide the disk space and backups they need.  Banks used to dial into the data center at a specific interval each day, update any changes and check for problems.  It was painstakingly slow, but it kept your information safe.  Fast forward to today:  Even your grandmother is uploading pictures to Facebook or to DropBox.  Both are cloud.

So is Cloud better?

Well, it depends.  Internet services keep getting faster and more reliable.  So does server hardware.  Having servers in my office means that I get to manage them.  If there is ever a problem, it’s a short walk down the hallway, and I can troubleshoot in a matter of minutes.  Hardware can easily be replaced or upgraded as needed.  Servers have lights that blink, fans that whir, and hard drives that hum in perfect harmony.   And should one of them get out of tune, I can fix it.  If my data is in the Cloud, I have to rely on someone else to keep an eye on their servers.

In some scenarios, I suggest a hybrid of both on-site servers and a Cloud-based solution.  For a medium-size business, this is often the best of both worlds.  For example, keep your data on an in-house file server so you have local, secure access to your information; but use a hosted solution for email.  Email servers take a lot of work and are difficult to manage.  While I’m more than happy to take care of your email server, using a hosted email option may be the most cost-effective for your organization.

Give us a call today, and we can help find the best solution for your business!

Full disclosure:  Custom Systems uses Office365 to host our email and file services.  This article was written on my laptop, but then stored on a hosted SharePoint server for the editor to review and fix my spelling and grammar.

ChaseChase Reitter
Network Consultant
Custom Systems Corporation
Chase.Reitter@CustomSystemsCorp.com

 

 

© Copyright 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

Hidden Treasures in Citrix MSP

In another blog “Citrix Offerings”, I discuss the extreme rate of growth and diversification in the Citrix product catalog.

Recently, I was assigned the task of looking into MSP (managed service provider) software. With all the changes I have been following in XenDesktop 7, XenApp 6.5, HDX, NetScaler and more, I let the growth of GoToAssist slip by me.  Originally, GoToAssist was a remote support offering that provided a method of connecting to another person’s workstation, allowing all parties involved to see what is on the  screen of one person’s workstation and utilize remote control of the workstation if needed.  For support people, this is an incredible tool by itself.  The original GoToAssist product of today can still be stand-alone as previously described with some great feature enhancements (i.e. in-session file transfer abilities between remote workstations).

However, GoToAssist has grown beyond that individual offering.  GoToAssist is now the brand name of a relatively low cost suite of products that offer different managed service features.

GoToAssist is now a package where you can license features individually or as a suite.  It still has the ability to connect to other workstations as previously described, but now you can also license the following offerings:

  • Remote Support – Allows you to connect to servers and workstations while working with another person or while utilizing an unattended connection either through an email link created for the session or through an existing GoToAssist program.
  • Service Desk – A help desk incident tracking service that includes a portal for users to report issues that can be self-branded.
  • Monitoring – Remote monitoring and alerting for servers, workstations, network appliances, printers, and more.

As I said before, licensing for the suite can be done for one, two, or all products combined.  Here is the Account Management screen from the product:

GoToAssist

Click to enlarge.

Notice that the three products have separate sections.  This shows you how they can be licensed individually.  For Remote Support, you license the number of technicians and unattended machines.  For Service Desk, you license the number of technicians.  For Monitoring, the number of devices is licensed.  So licensing can have different combinations based on your needs.  We licensed the product as a suite.  Of course, in the IT industry, there is no one-size-fits-all.  However, that ratio of servers to devices should work out in many companies where the server licenses are all used and many of the device licenses go unused.

I have been investigating (pronounced “playing around with”) the products for a little while now.  Here is what I have observed for each product:

Remote Access

Remote Support

Click to enlarge.

The screen shot above shows the Remote Support console.  It lists the devices that have the remote support agent installed on them.  During the install of the agent, it phones home to your server to register itself in this console.  You can see that one device is off (my laptop).  Notice that there is an option to power it on.  PXE enabled devices can be turned on remotely to allow access to it.  As for the agent, there is a Windows .MSI and .EXE installer and a MAC installer.  The agent can be pushed out utilizing existing software push options within the company (at the least, using AD tools).

Click to enlarge.

For iOS devices (iPhone and iPad), an access profile can be created and an app can be downloaded from the Apple store to allow remote support.

Also shown is the link to start a support session.  This is for when you have a user on the other side (attended) and you need to see their workstation.  Once the session is started, you can e-mail a supplied link to the user or you can direct them to a web site that will list your session so they can click on a link there.  This web site is part of this product, so you do not have to do any web development.  Notice there is an option to record sessions.  This comes in real handy when you need to review what was done, keep records, record instructions/procedures that users can play back and more.

The Inventory and Reports sections allow you to view the remote supported devices in groups and to generate reports about previous remote support sessions and technician (named seats) activities.

I really like the remote support option.  There are many other products on the market that allow you to connect remotely to another person’s workstation, but how many of them offer unattended connections with PXE boot if the device is off.  I have tested the features and they work very well.  There are other big name MSP products that have similar features, but for the price point, this product provides the basics very well.

Service Desk

There are two parts to the service desk.  One part is the portal where your users can report an incident, check the status of incidents they previously reported, and review messages posted to users that may have the solution to the issue.  This screenshot shows the incident reporting screen:

monitoring

Click to enlarge.

From here, the technician can open the incident to review, link similar incidents, add instructions or comments, add a resolution, and close the incident.  Notice that in the customer section in the upper right-hand corner, there is a button to start a support session (GoToAssist).  Below that is an area where this incident can be linked to other knowledge base articles, changes and modifications in progress, and other incidents.  This all makes it easier to recommend a solution to an incident that has previously occurred to others.  There is a lot more power to this product, and we would love to provide more customized details based on your organizations needs.

Monitoring

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The third product is the Monitoring piece.  This was a very easy product to roll out.  I installed an data collection application on a server.  That application then went and sniffed the network.  It did a very thorough job and found almost everything.  The manual labor comes in for those devices that were not discovered, those devices that were listed as unknown, and those devices that need more information than what was discovered.  These devices need to be modified or added manually (which is still not difficult).  Some devices you may not want to be monitored, so you just go into the console and tell it to not monitor that device. For SNMP enabled devices, you may want to configure customized alerts.

Looking at the picture above, you can see there are options for inventory, alerting, data collection, reports, server health and logging.  All of these features do a nice job of keeping track of what you have out there. The reporting feature does a great job of creating simple reports to hold for inventory purposes or to hand off to other business units or executives.  I will say that I find the Monitoring product’s feature set to be mostly reactive with some items allowing for proactive monitoring.

For all three products, you are going to get a solid feature set. Keep in mind that this is a relatively new offering from Citrix. And considering Citrix’s track record for improving products, you know they won’t stop here.

AZS-3Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)
Sr. Consulting Engineer
Craig.Kalty@CustomSystemsCorp.com
© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

The 10 Commandments of Hyper-V

1. Thou shalt NOT use a dynamic disk with ANY database.  This includes, but is not limited to:  Active Directory, SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange.

2. Thou shalt always provide at least 4G of RAM minimum for the host operating system, and always provide the host operating system with its own NIC and disk partition.  Hyper-V is a jealous host, and will not share with any VM.

3. Thou shalt NOT join the host OS to the domain. Join it to a Workgroup by the same name.

4. Thou shalt always disable time synchronization and disable Automatic Updates on your host server.

5. Thou shalt always set the Hyper-V host to properly shutdown/restart the guest VM’s.

6. Thou shalt NOT use pass-through disks nor use SCSI virtual disks for your VM’s.  IDE is plenty good enough.

7. Thou shalt always use RAID controllers with at least 512MB of RAM on the board.

8. Thou shalt NOT use snapshots. Seriously. Stop doing that.

9. Thou shalt use Hyper-V as the ONLY role on your host OS.  Install no other roles nor features on your host server OS.  Except backup software.

10. Thou shalt never walk away from your host machine logged on. Once you are done with the console, log off.

 

ChaseChase Reitter
Network Consultant
Chase.Reitter@CustomSystemsCorp.com

 

 

 

© Copyright 2014 Custom Systems Corporation