Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The themes are the same:
1. Low cost of entry
2. Scale up and down ability
3. Trusting your provider
Let me know what you think!
Monday, April 27, 2009
So you've heard this term "cloud computing" and you're thinking: Just a buzzword for something that has no impact on my life. Well, that may or may not be true.
What I will do here is describe to you what cloud computing is (or at least my take on it) and how it may be relevant to small businesses. For those that want the short answer, feel free to scroll down to Give me the SHORT ANSWER!!!.
What is Cloud Computing?
Interestingly, people are still arguing over what cloud computing is, what qualifies as cloud computing and what doesn't, and what the future of it will look like.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say: Cloud computing is a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure "in the cloud" that supports them.
Alright, I'm not sure that could be any more vague. But here is my $0.10 version of the definition: Cloud computing is a pay-per-use model of using services on the Internet.
This definition includes services such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps, Payment gateways, and online backups.
Pretty much. In fact, if you use the Wikipedia definition, "cloud computing" has been around since the 60s where you would purchase time slices on a mainframe.
What's different is that we can now merge all of these technologies including the Internet, virtualization, web services, and higher available bandwidth to produce offerings that make business sense.
Additionally, groups such as the open cloud manifesto are working to develop standards that allow cloud services to work together!
Fine. I just launched a "virtual" company called Data Knoxx. Here is the approach that I took: Invest in critical infrastructure, and go "pay per use" on everything else.
So in my case, my critical infrastructure is my backup system. I'm not going to trust someone else with that. However, the phone system, web hosting, site monitoring, document storage, and email are all items that are peripheral, but important. The cost of entry is too high for me to invest in all of these systems, but with cloud computing (or Software as a Service), I am able to enable these systems on a pay-per-use model.
Now, what would differentiate these services as cloud computing would be interoperability. Suppose my phone system, web hosting, site monitoring, document storage, and email platforms would all talk to each other on a standard protocol without custom programming? That would be POWER!
This is where it gets interesting!
Some purists will further refine the definition of cloud computing to only include data storage and computing power. So back to the main frame model, I pay for time slices on a shared server and pay by the Gig for storage used on a shared system. That's fine. I'll let the purists argue that one out.
Give me the SHORT ANSWER!!!
However you define cloud computing, what it means to the Small Business CIO is simple: LOW COST OF ENTRY for a PAY PER USE model.
You do not have to invest thousands of dollars up front for you IT infrastructure. Instead, you pay a low monthly fee that increases as your usage (and hopfeully revenue) increases.
One more example
Data Backups. Here is the traditional model of entry into data backups:
- Purchase a tape drive (or multiple tape drives) - $1,000
- Purchase tapes - $350 for a 10-pack
- Purchase tape backup software - $150 (and that's low)
- Design a tape rotation system - 20hrs effort @ $20/hr = $400
So that's close to $2,000 before you even call Iron Mountain to start picking up your tapes!
- USB drive - $500
- Backup Software - $150
- Design and implement backup system - 20hrs effort @ $20/hr = $400
So that's a $1,000 dollar cost of entry, but make sure that your IT guy takes that drive somewhere safe every night!
Disk to Disk Solution
I won't go into details on this, suffice to say that the cost of purchasing and implementing a server and disk array is over $5,000.
- Software licensing - $0
- Set up costs - Figure 10 hrs at $20/hr = $200.
- Data storage - Depends on how much data. Most business plans start around $35/mo.
So that's $235 to get in the door and the majority of that is your person setting up and configuring the software. As your data grows, the running cost will increase, but hopefully by then your revenues are increasing accordingly.
Also, consider the effect of scaling back! Your operational costs instantly decrease as you scale back. You can't give tape drives back when you don't need them anymore!
So that's my take on cloud computing. I'm interested to hear other's thoughts on this new-fangled buzzword.
In the mean time, try out this model for yourself: www.dataknoxx.com
Monday, April 20, 2009
The next two under-used features I am about to describe are: groups and search.
** Disclaimer **
I will not describe click-by-click how to do this. That is what those boring blogs with numbered lists and screenshot-itis are for. Actually, help files do this well, too and while I enjoy reading help files, heaven forbid I should actually write one. I am going to assume that you are smart enough to figure out where to click, right-click, and scroll.
What I am going to do here is actually provide some value and describe the high-level "what" and "why" and then you can follow the links at the bottom or use Google for the "how".
** End Disclaimer **
If you followed my instructions last week, you created a folder called "@All Mail" and put all of your email in that folder. You also categorized all of your email using Rules.
Now go to the @All Mail folder and group by category (See Grouping Email below).
You can now browse all of your email by category. If you have emails assigned to multiple categories, they will actually show up under both headings. DO THAT WITH YOUR FANCY FOLDERS!!!
Using last week's examples, this means you will have:
- All email related to a given project together
- All invoices together and also broken out by project
- All email from "The Boss" together
"But don't I have to scroll through hundreds of email for a single project to find what I'm looking for? That's what I had subfolders for!"
Answer: That's what search is for!
"Now I know you don't know what you're talking about. Outlook search SUCKS!"
Almost right. Outlook search USED TO SUCK. Since Outlook XP and Outlook 2007, you can use Windows Desktop Search to provide a fully-integrated, fully indexed search for Outlook. WDS does support older versions, but it's not as seemless.
For versions of Outlook prior to XP/2007, your best options are really LookOut, and Google Desktop. (See here for a good comparision of Google and WDS).
Alright, so I lied to you a little bit last week when I said these tools are "built right into Outlook". But you're still reading, so maybe you'll forgive me this one minor indiscretion.
Now that you have a fully indexed search in Outlook, instead of waiting 20 minutes just to get mediocre search results back, email is automatically indexed and the search has become more powerful.
The Result: It is faster to search than to browse.
Let me repeat that in big letters, because it is very important:
It's true. I would say that I now search 80% of the time and browse 20%. I use browse when I want to view a set of emails in a category. Otherwise, it's almost always search.
Remember how you stopped creating individual folders for every person that sent you email (the thought makes me cringe)?
Try this: Go to "@All Mail" and type in the search bar "from:dave" (no quotes). This assumes you know someone named dave. If you don't, I'll assume you are smart enough to figure out how to search for email from someone named Algernon or Betsy.
If it takes more than 2 seconds to populate the results with all email received from Dave, something went wrong. I hope that at this point, you are asking yourself "Why did I spend all of that time creating folders with people's names?" Good. That means you are paying attention.
"Great. Now I have to learn some intricate search language with monikers, escape sequences, and regular expressions."
Ummmm, no. I didn't. Here are the few searches that I memorized and it gets my 95% of the email I ever need to search for:
- date:yesterday or date:today or date:last week
- hasattachment:true(this returns all email with attachments)
- Or most of the time, I just start typing the keywords that I'm looking for
That's it!!! If you remember those few keywords, you will never spend more than 30 seconds searching for an email again.
DO THAT WITH YOUR PRETTY FOLDER HIERARCHIES!!!
"But Adam! I hate typing! I just want to click on something and have my email appear."
I can tell you are suffering some separation anxiety from your folders. Fine. Have you heard of "Search Folders"? They rock. Newer versions of Outlook have actually created some for you. They're called things like:
- Categorized Mail
- Unread Mail
- Large Mail
- Email size
- Has attachment
Here are a few other links that tell you specifically how to do the tasks that I describe in this article:
Creating Rules: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook/HA011366291033.aspx
Grouping Email: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook/HP052433881033.aspx
So that's how I handle the overwhelming amount of email that I receive; categories, rules, and search. If you decide that I might now what I'm talking about and give it a try, let me know how it works out for you, what challenges you come up against, or any other random thoughts you might have.
After that, you must think about how you are protecting your email from accidental deletion or system failure.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
- Document Types (like invoices, status updates, e-Newsletters)
- Personal vs. Business
Assuming each email is assigned a category (or two, or three), you can easily group them and browse for them. All emails already have a sender/receiver and date/time associated with them, so creating categories for those attributes is redundant.
"But Adam, doesn't that mean that categories are really just folders except without the pretty hierarchy?"
- All emails from this domain (client.com)
- All emails with a given word or acronym (or either) in the subject
- All emails with a given word in the email text
On the next screen, assign a category; create a new one if you have to.
You have just saved yourself HUNDREDS OF HOURS of categorizing emails as they come in. And for you ostriches, you have added zero work, but are just as organized as the architects. Now every time you receive an email that isn't automatically categorized, create a rule for it. Try to be as inclusive as possible with your rules."But Adam, that will take FOREVER!"
No it won't. I was receiving hundreds of emails a day and one week after I started this method, 90% of my email was auto-categorized. If you invest 30 seconds upfront, it will literally save you hours of manual organization and search later.
That's ONE HECK of an ROI!
"But do I just leave everything in my Inbox?"
Not even closeHere are the rules:
1. The Inbox is for email requiring action
2. No email stays in your Inbox more than 7 days.
"So where do all the emails go?"Fine. You architects get to create one glorious folder. This is the last folder you will ever create, so enjoy it! Your folder is called "@All Mail". It starts with '@' so that it will always appear at the top of the list.
ATTENTION: Stop here if you are in "Inbox camper"
Inbox camping: Process of repeatedly checking your email to see if there is something new to check up on. Especially common as a task-avoidance behavior, and enabled by Outlooks “new post” popup. (http://blogs.msdn.com/ericgu/archive/2004/04/06/108498.aspx)
Now for those disciplined individuals who check your email less than once and hour (see just about every time management book out there), pick one of the following options every time you go through your email or at the end of the day:1. Grab all emails not requiring action and drag them into the "@All Mail" folder
2. If you like flags (I do), flag the emails requiring action and drag all email from your Inbox into "@All Mail" leaving a beautiful, empty, Inbox.
"But won't Outlook puke with thousands of emails in one folder?"
Maybe. But I've never found that limit. One reason is that I archive any email older than 6 months. For all you pack rats out there who just had a heart attack after reading that last sentence, rest assured I don't delete them. But I do set Outlook to get them out of my working area and out of the way until that odd time when I need to mount the archive.pst folder and search it.
I recommend you do the same or Outlook will eventually slow down to a crawl and you'll post nasty comments on my blog saying that I killed your computer."OK smart guy, I did what you said, now I have no folder structure and I need to find my email. What now?"
Now you practice for a week and then check in on Part II: Email Browsing and Searching.
In the mean time, you might also want to think about what you're doing to protect your email from system failure or accidental deletion.
Monday, April 6, 2009
This blog is for you if:
- You make IT decisions for a small or medium sized business. As a general rule, that's anywhere from 1 to 100 employees.
- You are the IT lead for a company and make recommendations or design solutions that you bring to the CIO.
- You aren't the IT lead or decision-maker, but want to be.
- You think I'm cool and you want to read what I have to say.
Why Should I Believe anything Adam Kehler has to say?
Well, you don't have to listen to anything I say, but I do believe that I bring some pretty good experience to my writing. You see, I've been making IT decisions for small businesses for a while now. My first implementation ever was in 1993 and it was called Novell Netware 3.12 implemented on Windows for Workgroups 3.11. You youngsters may not recognize the names, but it was the prize of its time. And boy did I not know a THING! Fortunately, I kept at it, did some more system administration, then after graduating with my Bachelor of Computer Science, moved into software development for a few years.
It's when I became a consultant at one of the "BIG 5" consulting firms that I really got to see what companies were doing in IT and how they could do it better and more cost-effectively. More recently I've spent 4 years implementing and supporting data center solutions for everyone from the mom and pop shop to large credit card companies (I shouldn't say the name, but it starts with V, ends with A, and the middle is...).
Now I have launched an online backup provider which I will probably plug in some of my writings, but I'll try not to be too overt about it. www.dataknoxx.com
OK, So What?
So I have seen a lot of different solutions to a lot of different problems; some good, some bad, some terrible. All that I'm trying to do here is share my thoughts on specific IT topics that may help some of you small business IT professionals make those decisions that you have to make every day.
I hope you find what I have to say entertaining and at least somewhat informative. Please give me feedback and I would love to hear about the types of topics that you want to hear about!
My first word of advice: Have fun!