Enterprise Microsoft SQL Project

Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Installation

MCS recently completed a successful consulting engagement architecting and implementing Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise for the corporate office of a large Colorado-based energy company.

The client needed a highly available Microsoft SQL environment for SharePoint and several other line-of-business applications. They turned to MCS for assistance with the project.

Technical details

MCS deployed Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise using a two node AlwaysOn Database Availability Group configuration. The two nodes were configured to run Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard on top of a VMware infrastructure. For a disaster recovery solution, Log Shipping was implemented to keep an up-to-date copy of the databases on a server at an offsite location.

MCS also assisted in configuring the VMware, networking, and storage environments to best practices for Microsoft SQL Server.

Licensing

Microsoft SQL Server Enterprise can only be licensed per core with a 2 core minimum. To reduce licensing costs, Software Assurance was purchased to license the second node as a standby, removing the need to fully license it.

Because the offsite server was being used strictly as a Log Shipping target, the Standard license of SQL Server was sufficient.

Project management and tracking

Mission Critical Systems provided a dedicated Project manager to oversee the entire project, from initial proposal to project completion. By carefully staying on top of scheduling, technical details, and costs, MCS was able to account for changes as the project evolved, staying on-time and on-budget.

Failover testing and project completion

MCS completed the project by demonstrating failover testing. The test application was able to stay connected both during and after the failover without any interruption.

Cloud Computing Considerations

What should businesses take into consideration when evaluating a move to the cloud?

There are a number of variables to consider when evaluating a move to the cloud: from migrating data (both to and from a cloud provider), to service level agreements, ongoing management, monitoring, support, and security. Understanding your organization's requirements and aligning them with a cloud provider's offering will go a long way to helping you make the best decision when looking at the myriad of cloud options that exist. Let's review some key things to consider.

Cost: Oftentimes what looks like the lowest cost option can turn out to be the most expensive. Make sure you fully understand what costs are fixed and what costs may be variable. Do your best to make an apples-to-apples price comparison. Review pricing models over a 12 to 36 month period of time. Include an on-premise solution to help evaluate and understand whether the pricing model makes financial sense.

Service: Big does not always mean better when it comes to service. Review the types of redundancy available from your cloud provider and find out the process for what to do when problems occur. Evaluate the service level agreement. How long does it take to talk to a human being when problems arise? How competent are they in resolving issues? Checking references goes a long way to uncovering potential problem areas. Remember, this is the world of high tech, and problems will and do arise. How well the cloud partner responds is a critical factor in determining the fit for your organization. Understanding your organization's own up-time and productivity requirements is key.

Scalability: One of the key drivers of cloud technology is the ability to add resources (users, applications) seamlessly. Make sure that you can scale your cloud solutions quickly and easily. Along the lines of scaling, evaluating the use of a virtual desktop should be considered. This, along with mobility and the ability to access your work from a variety of devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, cell phone) is becoming a requirement for many of today's businesses.

Movability: What if you make a poor decision? You want a cloud offering that will easily allow you to port your data back to an on-premise solution or to another cloud provider. The last thing you want is to make a bad decision and be stuck with it. The use of proprietary backend technologies may save you a few dollars, but what good is that if you are stuck with a cloud offering that does not meet your needs?

Security: Make sure that your cloud partner has a solid security plan in place. Many cloud providers save money by making use of virtualization technology to share physical machine resources. This is a good thing, but make sure that your data is secure from businesses both inside the shared infrastructure and outside. Review third party security standards, such as the SAS 70, to help guide you.

Mission Critical Systems is an IT Service and cloud provider serving clients throughout the Colorado Front Range since 2003. Please contact us with any questions about the cloud.

Discovering SharePoint 2013 Webinar Recording

SharePoint 2013 has many new and enhanced features. This recording of our April 18th, 2013 Discovering SharePoint 2013 webinar demonstrates some of the changes Microsoft made to SharePoint with the new edition and discusses several SharePoint Business Intelligence features.

MCS provides SharePoint training and consulting to businesses in Colorado and across the country. Please reach out to us for more information about SharePoint or our services.

IT management in 3 phases

Take charge of your company's IT management, or your information technology will take charge of you. Think of the computer "HAL" in the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey." HAL ends up in the driver's seat because no one properly manages his deployment.

Many of us already feel controlled by our technology. One need look no further than the last technology-gone-wrong instance to verify how frustrating it can be, or how powerless we feel.

In any IT management program, there are three interdependent areas to address: Front Office (what technology and deployment plan is needed to support organization productivity and growth goals); Back Office (functional technology to achieve identified goals); and Strategy (the plan developed from Front and Back Office assessments, and overall business goals). Small businesses not addressing and dealing with all three areas upfront are asking for heavyweight IT management troubles. Let's look at each:

IT management in the front office

Look at what your business is doing and how it is doing it. What workflow processes are in place? How can they be improved and crystallized? Do you have the right technology tools and applications to meet workflow needs? Do users have the right skill sets to execute needed tasks with the right tools in place?

Based on a full Front Office analysis, patterns will emerge that dictate Back Office technology solutions. You may find that workflows are adequate and people are performing well, but that the tech system is unstable, slow, crashes constantly or is spyware-infested.

Front Office typically exposes shortcomings of ill-fitting technology solutions. For example, much of an IT system's customization is designed to provide competitive edge. Adopting stock answers, such as some SaaS platforms, can eliminate that competitive edge. Without customizing to effect competitive advantage, your system has the same strengths and weaknesses as any other company employing the same stock solution.

Managing the back office

Front Office findings should drive all Back Office technology setup. Back Office will review critical areas that support Front Office performance. Does the company have the right switching technologies? What do we do to keep the system running? Are we running system backups every night? Are we running out of disk space? Back Office must address technology to meet today's needs, and plan for tomorrow's.

Often, Back Office becomes encumbered by management mandates to implement the "latest, greatest" industry development. Any "stock IT application"--such as SaaS-- not tailored to specific Front Office needs will limit effectiveness, and may jeopardize the entire technology program.

To develop the best Back Office solutions, employ competent, credentialed technicians who can back up system recommendations with facts and who can prove previous experience with implementations similar to your challenge.

This is not the place to hire that affable, charming person you met on the golf course--without empirical proof of competency and trustworthiness. Look for clear definition of scope, deadlines and costs.

IT strategy

A "rough cut" strategic plan will emerge from a clearly defined Front Office and Back Office evaluation. Present all of this to management, get their feedback, then create a solid, refined Strategic Plan incorporating all pertinent issues and perspectives.

Often, it is in this process that management advocates ill-fitting Back Office solutions that are great buzzwords, but may cripple the overall process. SaaS should be included only if it fulfills a company's needs, not because the CEO wants to brag about his company's state-of-the-art technology.

Next, inform employees, then enlist input and buy-in from them. This is critical. An article in the October 2005 Harvard Business Review states that, "On average, 95 percent of employees are unaware of or do not understand the organization's strategy. This probably explains why...around 90 percent of strategies fail to be carried out successfully."

Once the plan is finalized: a) develop impactful, easily understood visuals to reinforce it company-wide (and repeat key messages often); b) train early and often (get feedback about how well the training takes, and adjust as needed); c) get the best advice you can find inside and/or outside your company, to make sure it's properly and thoroughly implemented; d) follow through, even after the initial excitement disappears (this includes higher-ups who often expect to wave a wand and walk away); and e) develop and maintain a management system to ensure ongoing success and alignment with objectives (and review it annually to institute changes as warranted).

Faltering on any step substantially increases failure rates, and may leave you with one "HAL" of a problem.

Managed Services Promote Predictability in tough times

Managed services are a hot item in the IT world. Companies faced with downsizing their IT staffs are finding these competitively-priced, outsourced offerings very tempting.

However, as with so many technology terms, "managed services" carries different meanings to different people. Pricing also varies considerably, depending on the scope and sophistication of services provided.

So, the first items to consider are what services you want to manage and your budget. Basic managed services programs typically offer alerts/advisories about needed actions and some level of manual remediation; advanced options include more in-depth monitoring/maintenance, and automatic problem remediation through the software.

A managed services provider delivers and manages technology services, applications and products. They can be hosting companies or comprehensive managers of an entire company IT network, monitoring and maintaining everything from server performance and security to mobile access and telephony.

Backup, data storage, network management, user management and systems management all can be part of a managed services contract.

Most, if not all, of these services can be performed from beyond a company's internal network--minimizing or even eliminating duties previously handled by internal IT staff.

On paper, this sounds great. There's great economy and efficiency. And, managed services by nature are proactive, identifying and fixing pending problems in areas ranging from server capacity to security before they become operating meltdowns. Plus, routine administrative functions can be automated. That, in turn, drives higher productivity and morale, and ultimately benefits the bottom line.

Further, outsourced managed services providers are able to rapidly access specialized skill sets for out-of-the-ordinary challenges. This improves quality of service and cost-effectiveness, and helps maintain a calmer workplace (versus the frantic "brush fire" mentality that can set in when urgently needed skill sets are not readily available).

And, managed services contracts often are based on a flat monthly fee, making costs predictable in this historically unpredictable economic climate.

For these reasons, among others, popularity of managed services is skyrocketing. One review showed roughly a quarter of firms utilizing a managed services model in 2006. Just three years later, almost two-thirds are deploying managed services.

That's all good and well. But, there's a darker side of the managed services story--high dissatisfaction rates. Moral of this story: Commit to hire based on proof of performance (not just because you like someone), and build in periodic evaluation tools to keep top-performers on their toes. Areas to address in selecting and staying on top of a managed services provider include:

  1. Get clear with yourself, and get very specific with a prospective provider about what you want and expect. To eliminate superfluous efforts, decide on a budget range first, because this will drive remaining recommendations. (Also ask the prospect to laundry list pricing for add-ons so you can evaluate cost/benefit issues of upgraded services.) Among potential services are:
    • Overall IT infrastructure evaluation. This provides a bird's eye view of how your overall system is doing, highlights potential problem areas, assesses how your capacity is looking, and identifies areas for upgrade planning;
    • Hardware/software review. This examines how best to allocate current and new system resources;
    • "Early warning" system development. Proactive monitoring can forecast such failures as a critical server running out of hard drive space--so that you can bolster the system without any productivity loss;
    • Security/unauthorized use audits and fixes. This addresses such problems as attempted access by unauthorized users, high-bandwidth interactive games, and illegal peer-to-peer file sharing that clogs resources and spurs viruses/spyware. Security reporting provides an overarching view of the network, and identifies when/where patches are needed to prevent vulnerabilities;
    • Conducting "triage." The whole concept of triage in medical circles is to rapidly deploy resources appropriate to a specific condition (e.g., a cardiologist for a heart problem). By employing the same process in IT, the right people can step in right away when a network problem arises, helping ensure that glitches don't become Goliaths;
    • Documentation. A detailed site-level inventory provides up-to-date hardware and software information that can be used for insurance claims in the event of a flood, fire or theft.
  2. Demand a clear-cut, well-defined cost structure that optimally leaves no wiggle room for later disagreements. Consider developing a fixed-fee agreement that includes a specified level of unforeseen services--in essence, insurance for the unexpected.
  3. Maintain contract options. Don't lock yourself into a contract beyond two or three years. Conversely, make sure you have a stable agreement, so that a provider won't arbitrarily switch gears at an inopportune time.

Develop non-restrictive, long-term groundwork by developing a "goodwill clause" identifying special consideration down the road. In some ways, this resembles a grandfather clause that continues a higher level of service or preferential pricing.

By utilizing managed services, a company can help ensure managing its operation for optimum productivity through uncertain and rough times.

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