Cloud-based approach to system administration took off quite some time ago. However it was missing some important ingredients and lacked performance in certain areas until recently. As of 2014 it’s safe to proclaim that this technology has matured enough for easy adaptation in a wide range of network environments and technologies. In this article we’ll focus on SolarWinds – a well-balanced system for managed service providers.

To suit most of our readers we’d assume the perspective of an end customer (Small or Midsize business) and break down the functionality of SolarWinds system; we’d also touch-base on advantages for a Managed Service Provider and overall savings for the customer.

Monitoring of the system health (servers and workstations)

Staying proactive is one of the main principles of Allora Consulting’s business model as illustrated in this video. And this is where SolarWinds shines. It’s true that Microsoft products like Small Business Server 2011 or 2008 provide basic monitoring and reports, however it’s a far cry from the robust capabilities of SolarWinds. Unlike Microsoft system SolarWinds has been developed with a prime focus on SMB’s customer-base and their Managed Service Providers. SolarWinds platform pays close attention to practical issues and IT needs expressed by end-customers. An extensive system of routine checks such as unusual patterns of memory consumption, disturbing levels of failed login attempts, alarming amount of critical errors in a system log permits a system administrator to intercept a developing problem and resolve it before any harm comes to the customer’s IT infrastructure.

Managed AntiVirus

This is a critical component that was missing out just a couple years ago. Thankfully, GFI has acquired VIPRE AntiVirus and integrated it in SolarWinds system under the name of "Managed AntiVirus". While end-user have some control over AntiVirus protection (like launch custom scans) most settings and actions are controlled via SolarWinds console. This ensures customer's employees are unable to tamper with the protection and the status of the protection is monitored 24x7. Another great feature is the option to manage Quarantined items from the cloud-based SolarWinds console. 

Remote Access

SolarWinds provides a top-of-the-line Remote Access through its alliance with TeamViewer. Furthermore End Customer have an option (which must be enabled) to access their workstations through SolarWinds as well (essentially having a corporate level subscription to TeamViewer which runs at ~$3,000)

Managed Updates and Patches

Most workstations and server get compromised because of unpatched vulnerabilities. Windows Update Services only focus on Microsoft products whereas a huge amount of exploits target browsers other than IE, Adobe Acrobat, Java, Flash, etc. SolarWinds can handle all popular software packages and enforce updates as soon as a new version is released to address the latest security holes.

Inventory Tracking

Any system administrator needs to keep track of the network infrastructure: network diagram and specifications of servers, workstations, routers, etc. Again, it's true that one can acquire certain specs through a Domain controller on a Server-based network however it's quite limited and there are 3rd party solutions like Belarc which focus on gathering this data. With SolarWinds it's simply another embedded feature. Tracking inventory allows timely upgrades for it's much easier NOT to overlook an aged or not longer adequate component.

Online Backup

Backup is one the top-level responsibilities for a Managed Service Provider. In certain scenarios (modest amount of data to be backed up) Online Backup is a great solution. Again, there's no need to seek a 3rd party solution like Carbonite: an MSP can simply activate Online Backup on any given workstation. 

Now, that we completed the overlook on functionality we can finish this article with a summary on the pricing model and customer agreement model:

  • there's no commitment, it's а month-to-month billing system. In perfect alignment with Allora's Philosophy the creators of SolarWinds share the same belief that a client should only pay for what has been provided.
  • Most features above are modular in nature. Per your request or their own preference your MSP can turn on any given feature a-la-carte style. If you choose to stop using AntiVirus or Online Backup functionality - it simply gets turned off and its associated cost goes away of course.
We have found that SolarWinds allowed us to provide a great deal of functionality to our customers. It also greatly simplifies system administrator's life because there's no need to purchase and handle separately various packages like Remote Access Software (Logmein, GoToMyPC), AntiVirus (Kaspersky, Avast), Inventory data (Belarc), Online Backup (Carbonite, Mozy, etc) - all critical solutions that a Managed Service provider generally needs can be found within SolarWinds.
Are you in search of the best antivirus software for your small business? Have you been scouting the web for hours hoping to find the most reliable antivirus for business? Are you not satisfied with the current anti virus protection? Do not worry; we are here to help you find the most dependable antivirus for business. For someone that has very little or no experience in this field, selecting the correct antivirus software can prove to be a challenging task indeed. If you are concerned that you do not have any experience or have any knowledge in these matters, it’s quite alright as you are not alone. Leave all the worries to us; we specialize in offering our corporate customers with the best antivirus solutions. 
BitDefender Vipre TrendMicro
Today major portion of the business operations are handled online. The internet, which has proven to be such a great help today for thousands of businesses online, can turn out to be a source of great risks to these online businesses. There are many unscrupulous elements online and you should make sure that your networks and your computers are fully guarded against such threats online.
Unfortunately not all business owners posses adequate knowledge on computer security or network security. You do not have to worry even if you do not possess the adequate technical skills to select the right anti virus protection for your business. You can count on our expertise and field experience in this segment. At our online store, we feature the best antivirus software solutions.  Our experts review the industry and all the latest antivirus tools are reviewed closely to ensure that you have access only to the best and the most reliable antivirus solutions. You do not have to waste your time surfing the web looking for the best antivirus software. Our experts have done the homework on your behalf. You just need to pick your antivirus from the carefully selected products.
Selecting the antivirus for business need not be a nightmare. You will not have to rely on wild guesses any longer. Make well informed decisions while selecting your antivirus. By choosing to buy your antivirus for business from our online store, you will save both time and money. You can now buy your antivirus software from any part of the world. All that you need to do is to make a few clicks. We feature only the best antivirus software products; you need not have to settle for unreliable antivirus solutions any longer. 

We provide our customers with the best customer support. You can also avail yourself virus removal support services from our company. We offer remote virus removal services as well as on-site services. Whether you are purchasing your antivirus software or looking for antivirus support services, we guarantee complete satisfaction. 
Windows-Small-Business-ServerSituation at hand: an organization is running a computer network based on a Small Business Server 2003 or SBS 2008 that is approaching the end of life (or already operating beyond its life expectancy) and so there's a need for upgrading to an IT solution that would work for four-six years. There is no universal answer to the question of which platform to choose for the migration. A popular choice is a Small Business Server 2011 which would deliver those years of solid performance (supported by Microsoft) while minimum changes would be necessary for the network, training of personnel and overall IT philosophy. Other folks might find a cloud route more suitable and some would explore a hybrid approach of running an inexpensive Windows Server 2012 Essentials accompanied by a Hosted Exchange. In this article we'd share our perspective on these migration options based on experience of migrating SBS since late 90's.
  1. Small Business Server 2003 migration to SBS 2011
  2. Migration of SBS 2008/2003 to Windows Server 2012 + hosted Exchange
  3. SBS migration to a cloud solution (Office 365 , Google Apps)
  4. SBS migration to a hosted SBS 2011

SBS 2003 (2008) migration to SBS 2011

There are two paths in this scenario. The first is a clean installation of SBS 2011 and manual recreation of user accounts and importing of the data. The second route is performing a migration type of installation of Small Business Server 2011 which would gradually take over all tasks from the old server before the latter would be decommissioned. Let's discuss PRO's and CON's of each approach and then compare them for common office networks.

Clean installation of SBS 2011

  • a fresh start guarantees that the server setup is going to be as good as it gets
  • if there's been a nagging need for a drastic change (domain name, data folder structure) - now is a good time to make it happen
  • this approach typically brings some spring cleaning and re-evaluating important aspects of the network which is a good thing to do every few years
  • it's easy to make a fairly accurate estimate of time required for the migration
  • the old server stays intact. This might be a crucially important factor for certain specialty applications and / or a need to get a reference from the past during a few months of the transition period
  • any scars or illnesses of the old server are naturally cut off
  • a lot of workstation labor is to be expected: disjoining the old domain, house-keeping, joinging the new domain, profile configuration, etc
  • company's network is completely UNAVAILABLE during the transition time (1-2 days)
  • all usera accounts have to be recreated by hand
  • all group policies have to be recoded
  • all permissions have to be set from scratch: Shared Folders, Exchange Public folders, Mailboxes, etc

Migration to SBS 2011 (in-place upgrade)

  • no drastic changes to workstations
  • no signficant down time
  • complex sets of permissions and policies naturally propagate to the new domain controller
  • the migration wizard consists of hundreds of steps and it won't finish until all stages are completed
  • there are strong prerequisites to the condition of the old server resolving which might become a project of its own
  • old problems and unexpected issues might substantially contribute to the amount of labor required to conduct the migration, hard to predict time-frames
  • all group policies have to be recoded
  • all permissions have to be set from scratch: Shared Folders, Exchange Public folders, Mailboxes, etc.
As you see there is a lot to consider. Generally speaking a server network with under 10 workstations would benefit the most from a Clean Installation route as it'd be neat and cheaper. Networks with more than 20 workstations would heavily lean towards the Migration scenario because otherwise there would be a lot of labor around workstations and it'd requrie a two-man job. We'd strongly recommend hiring an IT consultant to assess your situation and identify your best options.

Migration of SBS 2003 or SBS 2008 to Windows Server 2012 Essentials + cloud Exchange

microsoft exchange migrationFor a company with ~5 workstations there's a very appealing network solution of Windows Server 2012 Essentials accompanied by a cloud player - Hosted Exchange. We are looking at ~$1500 server hardware, $440 server OS, $400 AntiVirus and $1200 for Exchange Hosting of 5 mailboxes for 5 years: ~$3500

The situation changes dramatically if you have 20 users, in this case SBS 2011 route is much better (five year span):
$800 SBS 2011 +$1000 CALs + $2500 AntiVirus / AntiSpam + $2000 Hardware < $6500
$440 Server 2012 Essentials + $2000 AntiVirus + $2000 Hardware + $4800 Hosted Exchange > $9200
One could say that outsourcing to Cloud Solutions (aka Hosted Exchange) is much like financing: you'd get lower up-front costs however you can rest assured that the army of marketing gurus at Microsoft or Google would maximize their profit when all is said and done.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials is limited to 25 users max, anything above would require a more expensive Windows Server 2012 Standard and costly CALs. If money is a factor this proposition sounds pretty awful, especially when you consider that new features of Server 2012 like anti-GUI approach or questionable competition with VMware wouldn't benefit a small business what-so-ever. In case you're looking for a cherry on top of 2012 cake: unlike SBS 2011 there's no SharePoint.

Migration options here are very similar to SBS 2011 discussed above (Clean Install vs Migration) and much the same considerations apply. Most likely it'd be a Clean Install path since there would be fewer than a dozen computers.

SBS migration to a cloud (server-less) solution

Two options instantly come to mind here:
The main criteria for the migration would be STORAGE. It's unlikely that you'd be able to squeeze your needs into a 5GB-25GB cage.

Office 365 Small Business Plan comes with 10GB storage in SharePoint and it does NOT permit adding more storage other than 500MB given for each new user (35GB max!). There are other strong limitations discussed here, most important of which: you CANNOT switch plans. So, if a current server carries ~200GB of data that an organization wouldn't want to part with, then Office 365 Small Business is out of consideration. More expensive Mid-size business plan is $15 per user/month. Before one decides to migrate along this route it's important to understand that five years of 10 users with 200GB storage would run over $11,000.

Google Apps is not anywhere as expensive and there are fewer fences and "catches 22". 10 users with a 200GB storage over five years would run about $4000. Of course, Microsoft Office is not included and that would add another ~$2000 unless employees can preserve their productivity using surrogate Office applications in a browser window.

The migration itself would be split into Email, File (and SharePoint for Office 365) export-import operations. In case of Office 265 some tasks like Email migration could be semi-automated as described in this article. In general, however, the migration to the cloud would require a lot of custom labor and IT expertise.

SBS Migration to a hosted SBS 2011

The last type of migration that we'd like to highlight is a switch to a hosted SBS 2011. You could see the features and pricing of SBS 2011 managed hosting here. It's a bit difficult to run a direct comparison with a local server approach because a Managed hosted solution incorporates the cost of the setup, support labor and customer service which constitutes ~40-70% of the price-tag, and the value of Bandwidth and Electrical Power. Our philosophy here was to come up with a product that would facilitate the migration with the expertise of Allora's IT consultants, bring a predictable monthly cost for budgetting reasons, deliver ongoing server support and, most improtanly, provide a cloud solution with all its benefits. (We did a study using 10 years of our accounting data and Allora's pricing was set to make it more advantageous for a client to switch to a managed SBS 2011 hosting vs in-house server over the term of five years.)

Please, don't hesitate to Contact Us and we'd generate a plan that suits your preferences and budget.

Businesses, whether big or small, need continuous IT support to make sure that their day to day commercial activities are conducted smoothly. In this age of technology, all kinds of operations in a business are dependent on Information Technology or IT. Hence, the businesses need to make sure that the IT components of their organization are always up and running.  If a business does not get the required IT support, it will not be able to function properly and might need to face losses.

Let us take the example of a small business in the area of Morrisville and Cary, NC with employee strength of 40 - 50, which requires IT support. There are two ways through which small businesses in this region can get the required IT support. The two ways are:

a) Hiring a system administrator.

b) Outsourcing IT work through a computer consultant.

Before you decide to opt for any of these two options, you will need to consider the pros and cons associated with them. You have to make sure that your organization in selecting the best available option, when it comes to getting the required IT support.

Hiring a system administrator Vs Outsourcing IT work through an IT consultant

Most big businesses hire a system administrator who provides them with continuous business IT support by taking care of all of IT related problems. Such employee is entitled to receive all benefits like any other worker. The advantage of hiring a sysadmin is that the business gets dedicated support as the admin is almost always present at the business premises. Thus, the response time for troubleshooting problems is insignificant whereas the response time is higher when troubleshooting assistance is provided by a computer consultant. Any IT consultant firm would require at least a couple hours before a technician arrives onsite. The option of remote business IT support is a lot faster but still there might be delays.

A major drawback of hiring a system administrator is that it is not a very cost-effective solution. The average yearly salary of a system administrator in Cary - Morrisville area is $78,000. Besides, a person on staff also needs to be provided with other industry standard benefits like health insurance, and there's also an overhead of unemployment tax at 7%, etc. It's easy to see that in order to hire a pproficient system administrator, an organization would need to spend around $7500 (approx.) on a monthly basis. Such amount is surely too high for a small business in this region.

On the other hand, if you outsource IT work through an IT consultant, you can get the required IT support at an affordable rate. The computer consultants, who offer small business IT support in this region, are highly efficient and they charge an hourly rate of $90-180. Usually, the maintenance of IT network in any small business requires 4-8 hours of work per week. Hence, the total amount of money that your organization will spend, on a monthly basis, for outsourcing IT work, will be less than $3000.

Moreover, needs for Small Business IT support are not very extensive therefore the admin is often out of work. In order to increase organizational productivity, a manager has to make sure that the system admin is always tasked. However this can become a headache for the manager as inventing tasks to the system admin on a regular basis is not easy. This problem simply obviously does not exist when the business opt for the services of a computer consultant.

Another drawback of hiring a system administrator is that, when the individual is sick or is on vacation, the business might have a very difficult time resolving technical problems. On the contrary - an IT consulting firm would have techs with different skill sets who can substitute each other and complement each other on tasks requiring specialty skills. They can provide continuous support over a prolonged period of time.

Based on the rates typical for Morrisivlle - Cary, NC region outsourcing IT work through an IT consultant is the ideal solution for getting IT support for an organization with fewer than 70 emloyees.

You may know what you need and when you want it scheduled. When you hire a new employee for example, you know they will need a desktop computer and printer. You know that you want your data backed up on a timely basis to ensure reliable and secure access to that data. Because you want to maximize productivity, you may want any work done on your computer network after business hours. But what happens if your laptop crashes right before your next business trip? Who will you call if your server is down, or if your employees can't print? What do you do if you need technical assistance on short notice without any hassle?

These scenarios result in two types of work as discussed below.

1) Recurring services (non-urgent in nature such as tune-up, maintenance) are driven by a legal agreement and therefore called Contractual Services or just Services for short. They are scheduled ahead of time and generally require a fixed or known amount of time to accomplish (unlike Consulting). Several Contractual Services are often combined into a single service event, such as a site visit for a server backup and Windows updates. We comprehensively cover the IT needs of small to mid-sized businesses across Central North Carolina.

2) Businesses that depend on IT for their operations need timely support, so that they can overcome unexpected technical difficulties and continue their profitable activities. Allora provides swift and effective support for a wide variety of technical issues. Allora provides all of our registered customers with a telephone Support hotline, as well as access to the Customer Support via email or our online intranet - AlloraNET. Using these tools, you can directly request support from an Allora employee. In the latter case, a qualified person will respond to your request in a timely fashion and provide Support Labor required to resolve your issue (Labor for short). Customers with a Service Contract enjoy distinct regulations of our response time.

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