Archive for the ‘Virtualization’ Category

A Real-Life Example of Planning for Disaster Recovery

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DaaS solutions prove their worth when the unexpected happens…even for us.

When we talk about disaster recovery and business continuity, we often think about it in terms of a catastrophe—destructive events that directly impact an organization’s physical location and equipment. Not every business interruption is catastrophic, however; in fact, most are short-term problems—power outages, hardware malfunctions, simple human error—that are quickly and easily remedied. Not every interruption is related to the organization’s physical location, either; rather, it is some random, external incident with effects that cascade down the line to suspend business-as-usual. Such interruptions are still costly, nonetheless.

A recent example of such an event occurred in Atlanta, with a massive fire that destroyed an interstate bridge and cut off a heavily-traveled section of highway for weeks. When the initial disaster happened, a 100 ft. section of highway collapsed. Tens of thousands of motorists were stranded, with no way to get to work. Nearly a quarter million vehicles use this section of highway every day, and the immediate disruption to local businesses was staggering. Given the time required to repair the bridge, ongoing traffic issues will continue to make life difficult for area employees, including our own staff in Green Cloud’s Atlanta offices.

Again, for companies taking proactive disaster recovery efforts, this interruption in business continuity as their workers sat idle on a highway had nothing to do with their infrastructure, or their data storage and backup plans. No failover contingency could be employed, and there was no hardware to restore. This was an operational interruption that was completely external and out of anyone’s control. The only element of a comprehensive disaster recovery plan that mattered here was an investment in virtual desktops.

A good Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solution—such as the one employed by Green Cloud—enables employees to log into company servers from a remote location and access an exact copy of their workstation, including all files, email, and other applications. This meant that motorists stuck in traffic or otherwise unable to get to the office because of the event could still address business issues and continue to get work done using their laptops or other mobile devices. DaaS’ ability to mitigate the effects of such an event, and to quickly restore some level of operations in an emergency is critical to recovery. In addition to allowing remote employees to continue servicing customers, a virtual desktop solution saves companies valuable time in restoring full operations and prevents a major loss of revenue.

In our case, Green Cloud employees used a DaaS solution to continue monitoring our area data center operations, communicate with fellow staff members across the country, and handle customer accounts with no discernible interruption in quality or timeliness of service.

When assessing risks to your company during the disaster recovery planning phase, try not to think about the totality of possibilities. It is impossible to prepare for every event, but it is definitely possible to build a plan that focuses on business functionality instead. If your core business has a set number of operations that must be fulfilled (customer communications, order entry, inventory management, real-time reporting, etc.), make sure your plan addresses those operations, regardless of why they might get interrupted. As we’ve seen in the Atlanta incident, one key to maintaining business continuity is a solid virtual desktop solution.

Green Cloud and Veeam’s Business-Boosting Offer Continues!

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Announcing an extension to our popular Cloud Connect promotion.

Back in February, Veeam launched a promotion for the nearly quarter-million end-users of their Cloud Connect services, offering eligible customers up to $1,000 in FREE Cloud Connect services. On top of that, Green Cloud gave eligible partners special promotional rates of $0.05 per GB for signing up their customers to Veeam’s Cloud Connect.

The response to the limited-time promotion was overwhelming, so on April 3rd, Veeam announced that they would extend the promotional dates by three months.

Originally, customers had until the end of March to sign up for this promotion and until June 30, 2017, to use their FREE Cloud Connect Services. With the extension, customers now have until June 30 to sign up, and all participants must use their FREE Cloud Connect Services by September 30, 2017. Eligible Green Cloud partners can also take advantage of the extension to continue receiving promotional rates for signing your customers to Veeam Cloud Connect.

About Veeam Cloud Connect

Veeam Cloud Connect enables end-users to extend their data availability to the cloud with comprehensive, industry-leading backup, replication, and disaster recovery technologies. Best of all, Veeam’s Cloud Connect services are built right into their suite of backup and recovery products—end-users only need a few minutes to activate Cloud Connect and get started through a back-end configuration console.

Veeam Cloud Connect Backup integrates hosted cloud repositories directly into the console, giving end-users complete control of their backup and recovery management tasks. In the event of a failover, Veeam Cloud Connect Replication provides a seamless transition to VM replicas. Working together, these cloud solutions keep your customers’ data secure and available—and their businesses up-and-running—at all times.

Eligibility Requirements

Green Cloud partners wishing to take advantage of the promotional rate offer must be listed in the directory of Veeam-powered services (to help you generate and receive new leads) and Green Cloud must be designated as your VCSP.

Eligible end-users must own or purchase Veeam Backup & Replication, Veeam Availability Suite, or Veeam Backup Essentials (any edition), and be current on maintenance at the time of registration. Customers already using Cloud Connect services are also eligible, as long as the funds from this offer are used to either expand their service or purchase new services.

To qualify for this limited time offer, customers must register for an activation code by June 30, 2017, and use their FREE Cloud Connect services by September 30, 2017. Limit of one activation code per Veeam customer account.

Click here for registration instructions, or contact Green Cloud’s sales or support team for assistance.

 

Contact Marketing@gogreencloud.com for more information or assistance.

FIVE STEPS TO SMART DISASTER RECOVERY PLANNING

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After a disaster has struck is not the right time for your customer to be figuring out what to do. As with most things in life, the best solution to possible disaster is a healthy dose of prevention. By proactively managing the most common threats— system failure, facility damage, data theft, cyber attacks, etc.—with comprehensive disaster recovery practices, you can help your customer mitigate much of the risk to business continuity.

Without a solid plan, your customer is rolling the dice on irreversible damage to their business. They may not realize it, but they need a robust disaster recovery plan. A proactive DR plan should be included in any solution you offer—and there are plenty of viable solutions out there—but what are the fundamentals of a good disaster recovery plan?

STEP 1: Assess Risk – Before designing a DR plan for your customer, you should conduct a thorough risk assessment to analyze the systems being utilized and identify any potential threats to your client’s mission-critical operations. In addition, you should evaluate not only the customer’s physical facility for risk indicators (e.g., is it located in a disaster-prone area?) but also the recovery facility for factors such as regional proximity to your customer, levels of security and redundancy, etc.

STEP 2: Define RPO and RTO – This step is critical because it is where you determine what kind of DR plan your customer requires. If their organization can withstand significant downtime while they recover, then there isn’t much of an issue that even the most basic plan can’t address. After all, the name of the game here is how quickly you can get the customer up-and-running again. If time isn’t a factor, then a simple solution will do. If, however, like many organizations, no amount of downtime it tolerable, then a more immediate solution is required.

Carefully assess your customer’s acceptable Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO) to determine the applications that will satisfy both, and refer often to these two goals to help prioritize what the customer’s plan requires to survive a business disaster.

STEP 3: Communicate with Personnel / Assign Tasks – Developing a good communication plan among your customer’s staff is an important, but often overlooked step. Help your customer determine who needs to do what in the event of a disaster. How they access their data and resume activities during an interruption in business continuity should be determined beforehand and communicated to all employees, to avoid the inevitable confusion that sets in during a disaster. Make sure your customer assigns proper roles and responsibilities to critical staff members because decision paralysis often hampers the internal “first-response” team.

STEP 4: Manage Sensitive Data – Every organization has sensitive data, whether it be proprietary resources, sensitive employee records, or customer account information. A good DR plan should ensure that all confidential data and information is regularly backed up, properly secured, and immediately recoverable when the plan is activated.

STEP 5: Test the Plan Regularly – Once your customer has a DR plan in place, you should assist them in testing it regularly. Failure to test on a consistent basis will likely result in creeping inefficiencies or even failure if a disaster occurs. The more comprehensive the test, the better it will work and the more successful your customer will be in getting back on track if the business is interrupted.

Every customer is unique, every solution is different, and there are too many variables to cover all possibilities. But a good risk plan starts with these fundamentals. By addressing a strong disaster recovery plan as part of your offering, you do more to help your customer’s business recovery efforts than any amount of hardware or software can do on its own. Follow these basic steps, and your customer can be confident that they’re prepared if and when disaster strikes.

Finding Your Niche in the Cloud

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When I talk to traditional hardware resellers, I often hear them say they want to sell cloud solutions but they’re not sure how to pivot their business. A lot of them express reservations—and even downright fear—about taking that step. Many worry about biting off more than they can reasonably chew, or having to completely reorient their current practice.

To answer them, I always explain that they don’t have to sell “cloud-everything” or radically change their business. Our most successful partners identify their niches in the market—such as voice or disaster recovery—and then find cloud solutions to fit that niche. They’re already familiar with the ins and outs of their particular segment, so it’s a matter of figuring out which solutions can “bolt on” to their existing offering.

In addition, the scalable nature of the cloud enables hesitant VARs to start small by picking one or two complementary solutions and then ramping up to add more services and solutions to their portfolio later on. This makes the transition to the cloud easier on their staff, builds organizational expertise at a comfortable pace, and provides a means to demonstrate the cloud’s profitability without a huge upfront commitment.

This last point is important because many VARs place the profitability question above ease of transition, and they don’t want to adopt the cloud because they don’t perceive it as profitable. This perception is magnified when they begin exploring the costs of building the infrastructure to connect their customers to the cloud.

The profitability objection is easy to overcome because, first and foremost, providing cloud services does not take away from hardware sales at all. There’s always a need for on-premise hardware and with the growing popularity of hybrid cloud solutions, VARS can actually present clients with more options and create bigger sales as a result. And even though the cloud market is now firmly in place, it is still experiencing wild growth in adoption. As adoption increases, so will sales.

Second, it’s critical to remember that the shift to the cloud isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. Building recurring revenue may be 3–4 year proposition, but in the long run, it can be significant. Forward-thinking VARs who are patient enough to evolve their business as the cloud matures will find that the recurring service fees substantially boost their overall revenue. Not only that, the contractual nature of the charges can also increase their company’s valuation because they are considered guaranteed future income.

Finally, while some VARs may have the capital to build their own data center, most don’t want to (or can’t) build a cloud solution from the ground up. In fact, those who go it alone may find themselves left holding the bag on a lot of expensive gear and idle manpower while their sales team figures out how to properly sell the cloud. A best practice for VARs is to partner with a reliable cloud infrastructure provider—like Green Cloud—to reduce their risk and allow them to focus on their core business, and leave the technical worries (and a lot of upfront investment) to someone else.

Contact Green Cloud today to learn more.

 

The AWS Myth: What’s Good for the Enterprise Is Probably Not Good for SMBs

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As enterprises continue their move to the cloud, many of these large, well-funded organizations find mega-cloud providers like AWS to be a good fit for their needs. If you can afford them, AWS resources and services can deliver powerful computing capabilities without the capital expense of building your own data center. But what if you’re a medium-sized company with limited resources and a serious organizational need for cloud solutions? Or a small business looking to leverage the cloud’s ability to quickly scale and adapt to meet surging growth? Is a hyper-cloud provider like AWS their best bet?

 

Without a doubt, AWS is the market leader in high-performance cloud computing, a single source for hosted services that can now touch pretty much every aspect of IT. AWS is even pioneering completely unique and innovative computing methods that give their customers access to unparalleled capabilities. Is AWS’ model sufficient and cost-effective to meet smaller-scale needs, however, or is there a threshold at which using AWS becomes counter-productive and a less monolithic cloud provider becomes the better option?

 

Putting aside the question of whether it is a good idea to engage a large provider like AWS, which may very well compete with you for the same customers (as Dropbox recently discovered), there are fundamental deficiencies in the AWS model that are better addressed by a smaller, more local cloud provider. This is especially true of the SMB market, where AWS’ dizzying array of choices and high level of expertise required to source, implement, and manage their solutions can be a daunting (if not impossible) challenge.

 

The Dilemma of Many Choices

 

AWS offers a range of virtual machine (VM) families, from general-purpose VMs to machines optimized for computing, memory, storage, or GPU performance levels. Taking into account each VM family’s available models, price-points, and operating systems—not to mention prior generations that remain available—the menu of AWS options soars to a bewildering number of possible combinations (currently around 50,000 choices).

 

For SMBs, the sheer complexity of AWS’s offerings can be an impenetrable barrier. Without well-trained and knowledgeable IT resources to assist them, how is a mid-sized business owner supposed to figure out the optimal AWS build to meet their needs while staying within budget limits? AWS provides an online tool to help, but this assistance largely comes down to templated advice and a selection based more on hope and guesswork than a sound, informed decision-making process.

 

Performance Rules, but Value Matters

 

For most startups and SMBs, building a custom infrastructure is not a viable strategy, but neither is investing in the resources required to make an AWS cloud solution work. These businesses need performance and reliability, live technical support, a comprehensive but not overwhelming menu of options, and high levels of scalability and security—including disaster recovery—to ensure continued operations at all times. They also need to be assured of the value of their solution in relation to what they receive for the price.

 

Many SMBs are discovering that finding a reliable hosting partner with predictable costs and robust infrastructure is a better alternative than trusting a mega-cloud provider like AWS to keep their business concerns in mind. While AWS is competitive on some of the issues that matter to SMBs, professional hosting companies with a customer-centric approach and specialized focus on a limited number of solutions can outperform AWS. The level of direct customer contact and support an SMB requires is something AWS is simply not built to provide.

 

True Customization Requires a Personal Touch

 

Another area where smaller hosting partners surpass AWS is in customization of solutions, which ties back into the personal touch a smaller provider can give to its customers. Customization is a critical component of scalability, which is essential to the growth strategy of many SMBs. Custom solutions must also be reasonably priced with no extra costs and expensive add-ons hidden in the mix. Walking a client through their custom solution often relies on a serious hand-holding effort that can only be delivered by a provider working directly with the customer. Again, with the way AWS has commoditized their web service offerings, a high level of customization is not something they can do.

 

Bigger Can Be Too Much

Even though major cloud providers like AWS have tremendous scale, global reach, and diverse service offerings, their approach does not meet the needs of every business out there. In fact, smaller cloud providers continue to see high demand for a more personal level of cloud computing, largely because the average retail cloud consumer knows little about the technology beyond its marketing messages and value prop. They also rarely need the full breadth of services AWS offers, but instead want someone to sit with them and explain exactly what their business needs and why.

 

If you’re moving to the cloud but don’t know much about how it works or how much it costs, your best bet is to find a cloud provider partner with certified expertise, a solid track record, and proven, tested infrastructure. Your prospective hosting partner should also offer a healthy range of options, from simple cloud storage space to a full-fledged managed services portfolio. This is important because, as you transition to the cloud, you often need a variety of solutions to address your legacy systems and applications, and to ensure that your cloud solution properly fills in any gaps (such as security, redundancy, disaster recovery, etc.) created during the move.

 

Other elements to consider in selecting a smaller cloud partner over AWS include things like: their relationships with other MSPs; specific expertise in various vertical markets such as manufacturing, legal, or healthcare; the availability of “on-demand” resource provisioning; typical speed of deployment (which is often far faster than AWS); and even the option to employ consulting or staff augmentation services through the provider. All of these are things a cloud partner should be able to provide that AWS cannot.

 

Bottom Line

 

While the enterprise is still in a romance with AWS, the movement of SMBs away from hyper-cloud providers is rooted in deep-seated—and well-founded—concerns about cost/value, support, competition, and customizability. It’s also driven by a desire for the peace of mind that a competent partner stands with you to address any needs that may arise. For many business owners, aligning with an experienced hosting partner—like Green Cloud—who provides industry-leading solutions and excellent customer support has many obvious advantages over a hyper-cloud provider.

 

AWS has an unparalleled menu of services and options, but this huge portfolio undermines its practicality for the SMB market. The options are simply too many and too inscrutable for the average cloud consumer, who needs personal support and a sales approach focused on their specific needs. Small to mid-sized business owners simply don’t have the time or resources to spend figuring out their best AWS option and then attempting to implement it on their own. This simple fact ensures that smaller cloud providers still have a seat at the table, and that they can actually outperform AWS in the much more expansive SMB market.

Cloud Consolidations Propel the Industry Forward

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As providers move to scale up, acquisitions are the key to success.

With the cloud infrastructure market booming, cloud providers must develop winning strategies to compete for market share and presence. As new companies emerge, some succeed while others fail. Building successful distribution channels, whether through direct sales or a channel model, is expensive and time consuming. The current cycle of competition is like an enormous game of “musical chairs,” with providers jostling for a dwindling—yet still plentiful—number of seats. As smaller, less-financed companies fall out of the running, this constant churn puts small providers in a desirable or, in some cases, necessary position to sell their companies. In a market this big and still accelerating, the potential for consolidation creates tremendous investment opportunities for private equity investors and their cloud providers to source and acquire these numerous smaller players that want or need to exit.

In less than a decade, the cloud infrastructure market has generated staggering numbers. Since 2011, the IaaS market has grown more than 40 percent per year. While that figure has leveled off somewhat, the market size remains enormous and is still projected to grow more than 25 percent per year through the end of the decade. In 2017 alone, Gartner forecasts the global cloud market to exceed $125 billion. Other estimates have the market approaching (or passing) the $200 billion mark by 2020. Within the next five years, more computing power will be deployed by IaaS / PaaS cloud providers than by enterprise data centers, and cloud revenue is expected to match or exceed that of traditional servers. It is safe to say that within ten years, cloud infrastructure services will significantly replace traditional hardware for many, if not most, enterprises and SMBs.

With the cloud infrastructure market so ripe, conventional wisdom says that the big players will pluck the sweetest fruit and leave only the low-hanging morsels for smaller providers to fight over. This is not really the case, though. Super-scale cloud infrastructure providers such as AWS and Azure are primarily focused at the top of the food chain, and while they are, indeed, making huge inroads into the enterprise space, they do not dominate the entire market. Instead, their enterprise activities are actually spurring general interest in the cloud from small and medium-sized businesses, and as a result, stimulating a vast middle market of SMBs ready to receive the cloud’s value prop—a $25+ billion opportunity in which emerging, service-oriented cloud providers can flourish.

Viewed as a whole, the cloud services market for SMBs—where the vast majority of IT decisions are made—far outweighs the much smaller number of enterprise businesses looking for hosted infrastructure. And while size still matters to an SMB searching for a provider, mega-clouds are clearly not a practical option due largely to the lack of infrastructure engineering talent at companies with less than 200 employees. At its core, the SMB is still a value-oriented market, and their desire for robust yet cost-effective cloud solutions allows companies other than the big players to develop good, “high-level” cloud capabilities that address their needs. This middle market is where companies like Green Cloud reside.

With no geographic borders and few obstacles to startup, it is relatively “easy” for an experienced entrepreneurial team to build a successful cloud company with ~$5 million of capital outlay. Within a few years, smaller cloud providers can realize an impressive $5–8 million in business. As these granular-level companies grow, however, they must scale in order to compete, but scaling past revenues of $10 million takes substantial time, sales and marketing expertise, capital investment, and certainly some luck. Some companies have (or find) the resources to grow, and many of those will ultimately succeed; many others will fail or plateau. Eventually, companies who fail to scale will either go under, or a larger company will come along and buy them out.

So, what happens when a company reaches the ceiling of their capability? The most viable option is to look for a strategic partner to merge with, preferably a larger company with more capacity. Done properly, such consolidations provide the investors with a reward for their hard work and allows the larger cloud provider to expand operations via the acquisition. In the past year, our industry has experienced a tremendous number of such acquisitions—mostly through data centers and hosting companies—but the current wave of consolidation is just beginning.

At Green Cloud, we see a big wave of acquisitions ahead over the next 12–36 months. Our immediate growth strategy is to continue investing in our channel network of more than 400 partners across 46 states, while also leveraging the consolidation trend to scale up and broaden our national footprint. Our tactical goal over the next few years is to acquire smaller companies to rapidly add financial scale and data center provisioning, sales presence, and partner network expansion. We view such acquisitions as the most practical route to augment our rapid, organic growth in the near-term. For other providers looking to scale rather than exit, I suspect you’ll agree that Green Cloud’s strategy is a sound one to follow.

Regardless of what comes, we’re still in the market’s infancy at this point. We love what AWS and Azure are doing by educating the market and helping businesses learn about cloud, and they are leaving a massive opportunity for Green Cloud and our partners. And there is plenty of room for many more companies like Green Cloud, because cloud infrastructure remains a healthy, thriving industry tailor-made for entrepreneurs. If you’re not involved with cloud infrastructure in your business, then do it! If you’re already a cloud provider that needs to scale to stay competitive, now is a good time to consider either acquiring a smaller company, or selling your business and taking a pay-out. If you’re a mid-level provider with resources, or a venture-capital firm, this is a brilliant time to invest. If you’re an MSP or VAR, it’s critical that you incorporate cloud into your business model because recurring revenues can drive more value for your business than anything else.

The cloud is a great bet because the market is still growing, the technology is still evolving, and there is still a lot of healthy competition out there. Here’s to a prosperous 2017 in the cloud!