Dedicated Server Setup – Things to know

Whether it’s moving into that first dedicated server or changing dedicated server providers, it’s a prospect that can give nightmare to even a seasoned IT professional.  Extensive information gathering and, in the case of live sites, lots of moving pieces make setting up a new dedicated server a complex project.  Those headaches can be avoided however, by paying careful attention to a few key details.

Measure twice, cut once

Create a thorough project document that describes every planned use of the new server in complete detail.  List all the software that needs to be installed, down to the operating system and web server application.  Include version numbers, system requirements, and even the order in which the software needs to be installed.  Compare the full list of system requirements with the technical specifications of the new server.  An unfortunate number of dedicated server deployments have been derailed by an unplanned system requirement, so don’t be caught in that spot.

Build a team

You aren’t alone in this process, so be sure to identify the other members of your team.  At minimum, this includes you and your provider.  It should also include any other vendor partners.  Have your application vendor, site developer, and appliance supplier on call the day of the deployment to help quickly resolve any issues.

Thinking things through

Your plans shouldn’t stop at the moment the server is booted up.  Think through exactly how the server is going to be used on a day to day basis, and how it impacts not just the IT group, but other teams in your organization.  Make sure contact numbers for support, account logins, and other important information are distributed to the relevant people.  Identify the scope and range of support services that your provider delivers, and create scenario based “who to call” flow charts to be used in the event of an emergency.  Solid pre-planning eliminates downtime.

Have an exit strategy

Sometimes despite the best laid plans, things still go awry.  By planning for that possibility, you can determine with cool forethought when to cut losses and regroup.  In the heat of a tense installation bad decisions can be made, unnecessarily wasting time and resources.

Setting up a dedicated server can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.  With careful planning and thorough documentation, you can avoid many common pitfalls and make sure the transition to your new server is smooth and efficient.

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How to take advantage of blackberry services

There are good reasons why the BlackBerry remains the most popular and widely used smartphone device for business.  Although anywhere, anytime e-mail isn’t the novelty it was when the BlackBerry was introduced 10 years ago, the device is entrenched in the business world and has become an icon of 21st century industry. This entrenchment has come with a few challenges, chief among them being the question of how to protect valuable corporate information. The solution to this lies in the approach taken for regular business e-mail.

Once businesses reach a certain point, they take ownership of their e-mail infrastructure. Having a Yahoo or Gmail address is fine for personal use, but businesses need more control than that, and not just for vanity domains. The ability to determine when and how backups are performed, instant access to account management tools, and concerns over security are just a few of the factors that motivate SMBs to either move e-mail operations in house, or outsource to a managed hosting provider. For many of the same reasons, it makes a lot of sense to take ownership of your business’ BlackBerry services.

BlackBerry maker RIM developed the BlackBerry Enterprise Server to allow businesses to integrate BlackBerry services with existing e-mail infrastructure. Feature packed, BES gives users instant, secure access to business e-mail, calendars, and many other business specific applications. Like with most good deals, there’s a catch. Per user licensing and the hardware and technical expertise needed to deploy and run BES makes it a costly proposition. As with business e-mail and web hosting, the smart solution is outsourcing.

By utilizing hosted BlackBerry services through a managed hosting provider, SMBs get the best of both worlds. They take advantage of a suite of powerful features that have direct and measurable impact on operational efficiency, and they do it at a fraction of the normal cost. There are numerous ancillary benefits as well, including 24/7/365 technical support staff, fully redundant datacenters, and up to the minute virus and hacker protection.

The combination of BlackBerry smartphones and BES is a tremendous edge for organizations of any size, and hosted BlackBerry services give businesses a cost effective solution that far exceeds the service levels they would be able to provide internally. Hosted BlackBerry services eliminate cost of entry obstacles and allow SMBs accelerated deployment into existing or new e-mail systems. Hosted BlackBerry services give businesses a competitive advantage in a marketplace where every advantage counts.

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How to select from Windows and Linux Web Hosting

One of the first questions that a business decision maker is faced with when considering a managed dedicated hosting solution is whether to go with Windows based or Linux based hosting. Armed with nothing but an existing familiarity with Microsoft products, Windows might seem to be more comfortable territory, at least on the face of it. In reality, for many businesses Linux is actually a better choice, but those advantages may not be immediately clear.

In simplistic terms, Linux is an open source version of the UNIX operating system code that powered many old mainframes in the early days of business computing. A strong argument can be made that the explosive growth of the internet in the 90s was largely due to Linux powered servers springing up as quickly as they could be plugged into the network. That early entrenchment is still seen today, with Apache and similar Linux web server software running roughly ¾ of all domains according to a June 2009 survey by Netcraft. That large installed base brings excellent established reliability, stability, and performance to managed dedicated hosting services.

Linux is also extremely flexible for dedicated hosting. Part of the stated goal of open source projects is an open, accessible architecture that can be built on and remixed in new and exciting ways. Nearly 2 decades after the initial kernel was written in 1991, Linux stands on the shoulders of a broad, rich development history, and deep customized utilization has made it a favorite of developers worldwide. Many web design and development companies are built on Linux environments, and it’s not an accident that Linux has made its way into the Apple world.

It’s worth mentioning that there may be philosophical reasons to go with Linux managed dedicated hosting. Not every business is motivated solely by capitalism, and without getting into pros and cons, there are differences between open source software and commercial software. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with letting personal philosophy guide your business decisions, the key in this case is understanding how that decision will impact your overall capabilities.

Almost paradoxically, Linux is a great choice for SMBs on either end of the spectrum. When it comes to ‘set it and forget it’ web site hosting Linux is a proven leader. Many IT administrators like to boast about a Linux dedicated server that’s gone years without a reboot. At the same time, when developers really need to get under the hood and utilize the deepest functions of the operating system, Linux also stands apart. It’s a testament to all the people who have worked on Linux over the years that it does both jobs so well.

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5 things dedicated server host does not tell

1) They’re using consumer grade hardware with no compatibility testing. This is a recipe for disaster. With the thousands of hardware options available today, server grade hardware and tough compatibility testing is a must. You’ve invested a lot in your business, and you don’t want that undermined by white box servers and questionable driver support.

2) They don’t have true hardware and network redundancy in the datacenter. There’s a reason every new car comes with a spare tire. Bulletproof N+ 1 redundancy in your hosts’ datacenter means everything from power to hardware to network connectivity. It can mean the difference between a brief reduction in availability and a back breaking outage.

3) They’ve outsourced support. Sticking with the car analogy for a minute, how comfortable would you be if you brought your car in to the shop for a repair, and your mechanic sent it out to another shop for the actual work? It begs the question “why am I using you if you aren’t doing the work?” If your dedicated host can’t deliver on support, why are you using them?

4) They’re cutting corners. Certainly in today’s tough economy, tightening of budgets is just part of doing business. However, if your host is cutting costs through bandwidth throttling, selling beyond capacity, utilizing cheap hardware or bargain basement network providers, then your business will be the one paying the price.

5) They have limited scalability and security options. This is where an enterprise class provider really shines. Smaller providers simply don’t have the economies of scale that a larger provider can offer, and it’s manifested in their ability to offer flexible solutions that really fit your requirements, as opposed to a one size fits all approach. You can leverage multimillion dollar security that includes firewalls, load balancers, intrusion protection and backup services that are already in place.

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How to decide you have the best web hosting server

Evaluating vendor partner relationships and their quality of service is a regular part of doing business. For the same reason that employees are held to performance standards, your vendor partner’s ability to perform is a critical factor in the success of your business. Your managed dedicated server hosting provider is no exception, but it can be difficult to make an accurate assessment in the areas that count the most.

The problem is that comparing managed dedicated server hosts isn’t the same as shopping around for a new home appliance. On the surface of it, most providers seem somewhat similar. Plans are largely defined by processor speed, memory and storage space, and bandwidth. On closer examination, there’s a tremendous difference in the approaches that providers take to deliver service. As many IT managers have learned the hard way, if you make a decision based solely on price point, you are asking for trouble.

White boxes versus brand names

One of the easiest ways for providers to cut corners is with white box server hardware. Throw some off brand motherboards, memory, hard drives and network cards into a rack mount server chassis and you’re ready to go. It might be fine for a computer hobbyist to build his own PCs with hardware that isn’t certified complaint, but is that what you want your business critical web site and other applications running on? Make sure your provider is using brand name high quality hardware.

Support- the 3am call

There was a lot of discussion during the election about the emergency 3am phone call. One of the reasons that resonated is because people actually get those late night calls, and no one knows that better than harried system administrators. When you have to call your provider in the middle of the night, will you be able to talk to an actual human being? Do yourself a favor and answer that question before you have an outage.

Enterprise class infrastructure- they’re already doing it

What’s the best way to know if you have a provider who can deliver world class service? Take a look at who their other customers are. If they have large enterprise customers, then they are already doing it. You benefit from tremendous economies of scale in bandwidth overhead, datacenter redundancy, 24/7/365 support, and technical expertise that would otherwise be budget breaking for the typical SMB. They will also offer related services like managed backup and network attached storage, firewalls, load balancers and other security devices, and high end application support for databases and other software. They can do this because, by virtue of their larger customers, those resources are already in place.

More than most vendor partners, your managed dedicated server host is a crucial element to the success of your business. In many cases, that provider is responsible for the public face of your company. In a tight, competitive economy smart business are giving them every advantage. When it’s time to review your relationship with your managed dedicated server host, be sure to look deeper than price point and feature set. By measuring the added value of a high functioning host versus the cost of a poor performer, you can be sure your provider is delivering the service you need.

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How to choose a virtual dedicated hosting company

Dedicated servers deliver power and flexibility to all types of requirements, whether it’s managing a demanding application, a complex development platform, or a high traffic internet storefront. In a tough economy however, the decision to move into a dedicated server can be hampered by budget concerns. If this sounds familiar, maybe you should consider a virtual dedicated server. A virtual dedicated server is a cost effective alternative, combining the flexibility and performance of a dedicated server with the lowered expense of shared resources.

Understanding the difference

It’s important to clarify definitions when talking about a virtual dedicated server. Most providers will offer a VPS product, or Virtual Private Server. A VPS uses software to create a virtual ‘slice’ of the server resources for a particular user. To all appearances for the user, they are on their own server. This is done in a way that protects all the users on a server from being impacted from a runaway process from a particular user, and it usually works pretty well. There are limits to access, and in many ways a VPS is a pumped up cousin of shared web hosting.

Getting to the root of things

On the other hand, a virtual dedicated server creates an actual OS instance in the user partition. This allows users complete and total access to all normal server functions. With root level access to the operating system, administrators have the freedom to do exactly what they want. As with a VPS, each segment is quarantined and isolated from the others for performance and security. When you evaluate potential providers, make sure you find one that gives you the level of access you require.

The rest of your shopping list will look very similar to what you would want in any dedicated hosting service provider. Virtual dedicated servers will come in Linux and Windows flavors, allowing you to choose the OS for your particular application. As with any dedicated server, you’ll determine single or dual processor function, RAM and storage space, and bandwidth allocation. But those are the obvious things.

Details that make the difference

As you go through your evaluation checklist, pay special attention to the details that will make the difference in efficient operations. Do they offer manned support around the clock, or are you going to get a voice mailbox in the middle of the night? Do they have certified engineers on site? Do they have a back end infrastructure that can support enterprise class customers? For that matter, do they have enterprise class customers? If they do, it’s a strong indicator as to the quality of service they provide.

The other benefit to a large provider is the quality and quantity of available related managed services. Performance enhancing services like load balancers and network attached storage, security minded services like firewalls and intrusion protection, managed backup and other application specific services can play a significant role in your IT department. The economies of scale offered by a larger provider mean those valuable services are available at a fraction of the delivery cost.

A virtual dedicated server is a cost effective way to get the power and flexibility of dedicated hardware at a budget friendly price. Not all virtual servers are created equal however. By determining your requirements in advance and understanding the key differences between virtual server offerings, you can make the right decision for your business.

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Hosted Microsoft Exchange 2007

For most of us, spam mail is a nuisance. For businesses, it’s a real problem. Some estimates say that spam accounts for half of all the traffic on the internet. For providers this means a lot of excess overhead just to deliver legitimate data. For SMBs, it means a lot of unwanted mail hitting your employees, some of it dangerous.

The cliché of a errant click on an e-mail attachment is well covered territory, but like most clichés there’s an element of truth. An e-mail delivered virus taking down corporate computer systems is a reality in the 21st century. Access controls that prevent software installation and web browser security settings can help, but securing e-mail is a trickier proposition.

Securing the weakest link

E-mail by its very nature is one of the weakest links in your corporate IT security. Unsecured mail servers are routinely hijacked by overseas spam artists, creating havoc and leaving the unaware owners liable. Viruses, worms, and Trojans are hidden in mail attachments, causing disruptions and downtime and, in the worst cases, stealing confidential company and customer data. E-mail can also be used in denial of service type attacks, overwhelming servers with unwanted traffic.

Combating spam is made difficult by the ubiquitous nature of e-mail. Traditionally administrators have had to straddle the line between inconveniencing legitimate users and preventing exploitable loopholes for hackers. Hosted Microsoft Exchange puts an end to that stalemate, giving users convenient, easy to use e-mail while stopping 94% of spam in its tracks.

A gated community for corporate e-mail

Hosted Exchange is the equivalent of a gated community for your company e-mail. Onsite administrators update spam filters and definitions regularly. Spam is quarantined and eliminated before it reaches employees. Viruses and other malicious software are scanned and intercepted before they can spread to company computers.

There are a number of other significant benefits that come from a hosted Exchange service. Mail retention and archival is automatic, and with powerful search capabilities to help you find the mail you need. Exchange centralizes your mail, giving your employees access from anywhere using any browser capable device, and built in ActiveSync support for iPhone and Blackberry smart phones keeps everyone happy.

Hassle free spam protection

When it comes to dealing with spam, managed hosted Exchange is as close as it gets to a set it and forget it solution. Superior spam protection increases productivity and helps prevent potentially catastrophic outages from viruses and other malware. Hosted Exchange delivers cost effective, centralized, spam free e-mail for your entire organization.

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