Month: March 2012

Going Green Without Sliding Into The Red

March 28, 2012—Anaheim Hills, CA—IronOrbit, a leading cloud-based solutions and IT hosting provider, recently provided fully-integrated IT infrastructures to the tenants of SuitesPro, the eco-friendly executive suites firm. SuitesPro, which builds and leases “green” office suites to small businesses and independent professional, converted a 2,000 sq. ft. complex into Anaheim Hills’s first LEED-certified property of 9 beautifully-furnished private offices employing natural and solar lighting and intuitive conservation of water and electricity. SuitesPro’s fundamental concept was to offer fully-integrated IT services for their entire Anaheim Hills complex. onthenetOffice fulfilled SuitesPro’s unique IT requirements by providing a complete, customized virtualized desktop infrastructure (VDI).

SuitesPro CEO Alexander Saca commented, “We wanted our new tenants to possess immediate, first-day access to the Internet, data storage, hosted desktop and a flexible VoIP telephone system. Our IT infrastructure needed to be capable of quickly and painlessly integrating new users and connections and handling heavy workloads throughout the day. As promised, onthenetOffice provided day-one integrated IT services to all of SuitesPro’s tenants and relieved SuitesPro from large capital expenditures on desktops, servers and networking equipment, unpredictable IT costs, and the headaches of managing and supporting all of the systems involved.”

Virtualized desktops provide for the same appearance and capabilities of a standard workstation but are available from anywhere in the world. Unlike a conventional “standard” desktop, these desktops are professionally managed, maintained and backed-up to ensure maximum business efficiency for its user. A virtual desktop is accessible to its owner from any web-enabled device. The onthenetOffice VDI solution for SuitesPro eliminates the need for on-site hardware or IT management. onthenetOffice’ s desktop virtualization increases efficiency, reduces costs, and improves data security.

VDI powered by onthenetOffice enabled SuitesPro to:

• Scale up or scale down its infrastructure according the exact amount of users, connections, and storage required for each tenant

• Easily migrate or remove the infrastructure services of a vacating tenant

• Not purchase, maintain or continually replace costly on-site IT hardware

SuitesPro CEO Alexander Saca added, “With LEED-certified construction processes, SuitesPro reduced its energy usage by 27%, its water usage by 48%, and construction material waste by 90%. We added an additional 30-77% reduction in energy consumption by selecting onthenetOffice’s hosted solutions over an on-site IT infrastructure. All at once, SuitesPro achieved greater IT efficiency, lowered its expenses, and maintained its status as an elite provider of environmentally-friendly executive suites. The synergy between onthenetOffice and SuitesPro clearly demonstrates that going ‘green’ doesn’t have to involve sliding into the red.”

Think Before You Click: How to Avoid Phishing

According to a recent InformationWeek article, a specific type of deceptive Internet fraud called “phishing” has been rising in both frequency and complexity in the last couple years, even as other forms of generic spam have declined. In a phishing attack, the cyber-criminal contacts the victim through email, instant messaging, or social media disguised as a trusted organization, colleague, or friend. The perpetrator will attempt to obtain the victim’s information. In the most common form of phishing, the criminal pretends to be an organization such as a bank, online payment company (PayPal, eBay), government organization (the IRS), an online email provider, or social media site. The con-man contacts the victims by email and asks them to “verify” and “confirm” their account information by re-entering their usernames and passwords, for example. If fooled, the marks will send the criminal their account information either by email or by visiting and filling out a form on a website that the criminal provides them the link to. Phishing can deceive even cautious and advanced Internet users because both the fake email and website will look extremely similar to the real company’s versions. This kind of phishing can also be done over social media and instant messaging. Some also consider the practice of tricking people into clicking malware-infected links or files to be phishing (though most classify these more generally as “social engineering” attacks, of which phishing would be a subcategory).

Phishers stole a total of $3.2 billion from U.S. Internet users in 2007, averaging $886 stolen per incident. The frequency of phishing attacks began to decline in 2008 but has climbed back up to similarly-high levels recently, according an IBM security report released last week. The popularity of social media sites can account for much of the increased activity.  Social media sites encourage phishing because: 1) simply, they contain other accounts that phishers want access to; 2) they make information public that can be used to fool victims; 3) a lot of accounts have already been hijacked, allowing phishers to pose as companies, colleagues, and friends; 4) social media sites do not have the customer support or fraud protection resources to regain control of hijacked accounts.

Phishers target businesses, too. In 2006, companies in the U.S. lost an estimated $2 billion to phishing. Unsuspecting users can pass on company-related logins and financial info to criminals either directly or by compromising accounts containing organizational data. In a practice called “spearphishing,” phishers may also target the heads of companies to get complete access to an organization’s finances. On the flip side, businesses can also be harmed when they become the phisher’s “bait,” or when the fraudster sends fake emails or other messages pretending to be from the company. According to a 2007 survey, 40% of people would lose trust in an organization if a phisher sent messages pretending to from the company, even if the company had no knowledge of and nothing to do with the fake messages.

IronOrbit packages all of its solutions with a security infrastructure that protects its clients from the vast majority of common Internet threats. Our patented Orbital Security System repairs vulnerabilities and prevents, repels, and removes problems at the physical, operational, backup and disasters recovery, and logical and system levels. By default, IronOrbit guards against internal threats like leaks, unauthorized access, and irresponsible handling of sensitive data; and external threats like malware, spyware, and other intrusion attempts. But despite these extensive security-enhancing methods, IronOrbit cannot impede users from unwittingly communicating sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers to cyber-criminals. We can also not control much of what users do on social media sites, unless the company prefers that these sites be blocked for productivity and security reasons. We offer these tips to our users to both protect themselves from and minimize the damage of any potential phishing incidents:

-Be aware that the email and social media accounts of friends and colleagues can be or may have already been compromised. Consult with them in-person or over the phone before sending any sensitive information or data that they may have requested. Always be careful clicking links or opening files, no matter who sent them.

-Phishing messages by inept fraudsters should be easy to spot by their misspellings, strange wording, and lack of logos or any other visual decoration. Phishing attempts by more sophisticated criminals might be harder to suss out, but they generally contain less personal and specific information than a real message (saying “Dear user” or “Dear customer” instead of a username).

-If you aren’t sure if a message is real or fake, contact the organization directly to confirm that they need the requested information.

-If you suspect that you have become a victim of phishing, immediately change the usernames and passwords of the infected accounts and all the accounts associated with it. If your account has already been hijacked (the phisher has changed the login information so that you cannot login), contact the customer service department of the organization that manages your account.

-Lastly, businesses should warn both their employees and their customers of the dangers of clicking unknown links and sending information to unknown entities. A company should inform customers from the start when (if ever) it will ask them to verify account information.

From Cloudy to Clear: Cloud Terms & Concepts Explained-Part 4

In past editions of “Cloudy to Clear,” we’ve defined terms related to the cloud’s deployment methods (public, private, hybrid), architectures (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS), and basic characteristics (API, reliability, scalability, multi-tenancy). Today we’ll turn our focus to terms related to virtualization.

Cloud computing might not exist without virtualization. Virtualization accounts for the cloud’s reliability, scalability, and multi-tenancy. Without it, the cloud would be indistinguishable from older, less efficient types of web-based hosting. Not all forms of virtualization relate to cloud computing, but almost every form of cloud computing requires virtualization.

Virtualization. This blogger defines virtualization as “a framework or methodology of dividing the resources of a computer into multiple execution environments, by applying one or more concepts or technologies such as hardware and software partitioning, time-sharing, partial or complete machine simulation, emulation, quality of service, and many others.” In a normal computing environment, the operating system has an indivisible 1:1 ratio with its hardware. In contrast, virtualization platforms allow multiple, distinct computing environments to operate on a single hardware system (or “core”).

People may confuse a Windows operating system that allows a user to utilize different “computing environments” in the form of programs like Microsoft Word and Excel as a type of virtualization. But this view overlooks two important aspects of the technology: 1) Virtualization allows numerous computing environments (such as an OS) that would normally require a 1:1 ratio with a dedicated hardware system to run simultaneously on the same hardware. Applications, much less integrated with the hardware and requiring less computing resources, already have a many-to-one ratio with their hardware system in a normal computing environment. 2) A hardware system gives highest priority to the function of its dedicated operating system. Virtualization tricks the hardware system into giving #1 priority to multiple virtual operating systems. If the virtual operating systems shared the same priority level and access to the resources of the hardware as applications, they would not have the processing power to be functional.

Cloud computing relies on virtualization technologies in a number of ways. Virtualization’s ability to compress multiple computing environments into a single hardware system, combined with the slight disassociation of the virtual machines from the hardware, allows the cloud to: 1) host a large number of infrastructure and application deployments on a small number of servers; 2) maximize computing resources by intuitively transferring or prioritizing virtualized deployments; 3) ensure security by isolating, deleting, and replacing infected virtual machines; 4) centralize control of an entire virtualized infrastructure, making system-wide repairs, upgrades, scaling, and backups faster and easier.

Outside of cloud computing, virtualization also allows people to switch operating systems; to test applications in a stable and controlled environment; and to perform inherently insecure tasks in a contained environment.

Desktop virtualization. A type of virtualization. With regular virtualization, the hardware hosting and the hardware utilizing the virtual machines are the same. With desktop virtualization, external hardware connects over the Internet to the hosting hardware to utilize the virtual machines. IronOrbit provides virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs) for most of its customers.

Hypervisor. The platform that creates, contains, prioritizes, and manages the virtual computing environments or virtual machines (VMs). The two types of virtualization hypervisors are bare metal and hosted. Bare metal installs directly onto the hardware, while hosted integrates with an already-installed operating system. Bare metal hypervisors provide superior performance speeds and administrative access. IronOrbit employs the industry-leading VMware ESXi bare metal hypervisor on all its deployments.

VoIP: Give Savings a Ring!

When businesses search for ways to save money or optimize their operations, they seldom think of overhauling their phone system. Companies don’t expect a hundred-year-old technology to have the potential for increased efficiency or competitive advantage. But Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a technology invented in 1994 and widely available since 2004, has been proven to save companies over 50% on their phone bill. For larger enterprises, VoIP also centralizes sprawling internal phone networks and integrates with company-wide records management and performance monitoring systems like CRMs.

As the name suggests, Voice over Internet Protocol allows people to have phone conversations over the Internet. VoIP also enables Internet-based faxing and texting. To call someone using VoIP, you need one of these three easily-obtainable devices or programs: 1) a specialized VoIP phone; 2) an analog telephone with a VoIP-compatible adapter; 3) VoIP software on a computer with a microphone, sound card, and speakers.

This fascinating article from describes exactly how VoIP improves on traditional phoning methods. The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) works by circuit switching, a method that establishes a continuous flow of information between two connections. Circuit switching doesn’t compress data and wastefully transmits even the silent portions of a conversation. Each minute of conversation delivered by PSTN equals 1 MB. Conversely, VoIP works by packet switching. In this method, connections exchange only relevant or audible data in small clumps or “packets,” reducing the size of the data of a conversation to about .5 MB per minute. VoIP packets can also choose the quickest or most convenient route among available networks, while by definition PSTN circuits retain their defined and occasionally slow or out-of-service routes.

The United States Social Security Administration, in one of the highest-profile VoIP deployments, initiated in 2008 a conversion of the 1,526 separate PSTN systems of each of its field offices into a consolidated 60,000-user capacity VoIP system. Not surprisingly, the SSA’s Telephone Systems Replacement Project will cost $300 million and take 10 years to implement. By 2009, the third of the system that had already been implemented had received 1.6 million calls. So far the system has lowered costs, increased managerial oversight of phone-based services, and standardized the type and quality of services offered to citizens.

SMBs that want to share the SSA’s benefits from an implementation of VoIP will of course not have to wait 10 years or pay $300 million. onthenetPhone’s VoIP services can be deployed within days; require the payment of only a low and flat monthly fee; and can be integrated with IronOrbit’s other cost-efficient and business-optimizing cloud-based solutions and services. Features of onthenetPhone include unlimited local, nationwide, and long-distance calling; voicemail and voicemail-to-email; menu systems; conference calls; on-hold music; echo cancellation; and time-based routing. As with all of our services, we supplement our VoIP deployments with 24x7x365 technical support from our knowledgeable, personable, and highly-experienced staff. With onthenetPhone, you can call anyone, anywhere, at any time, for as long or as many times as you like—all for a low, flat, monthly fee.

From Cloudy to Clear: Cloud Terms & Concepts Explained-Part 3

In previous editions of “From Cloudy to Clear” we defined the different kinds of cloud delivery methods (public, private, hybrid) and architectures (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS). Today we will describe the characteristics shared by all clouds regardless of delivery method or architecture: API, reliability, scalability, and multi-tenancy and virtualization.

API (application programming interface): Basically, API lets two separate software programs “speak” or partially integrate with one another. The cloud’s API allows it to quickly and easily install and host any number of applications. API gives the cloud its near-infinite variety in functionality. With API, IronOrbit can host Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, or any program our clients request.

Reliability: The cloud is more reliable (less susceptible to downtime and poor performance) than other computing methods because: 1) Most clouds run on platforms, meaning that they are dissociated somewhat from the physical hardware that sustains them. This allows problematic clouds to be easily repaired, deleted, and replaced, while the underlying hardware remains unaffected. 2) The centralization of clouds lets them be a) easily repaired, upgraded, and deleted and b) quickly and simply backed up or migrated to superior hardware.

Scalability: A system is scalable that can be “scaled” up or down, or enlarged or shrunk, and still maintain its basic composition and proportions. A scalable cloud can add further users, storage, or processing power simply by connecting extra hardware to the existing infrastructure. By definition this type of expansion does not require any extended integration or reworking of the existing system and will not disrupt the service of ongoing users.

Multi-tenancy and virtualization: With both multi-tenancy and virtualization, users with different devices or located in different offices or organizations share the same hardware resources via the cloud but not the same specific software, platform, or infrastructure. In both cases, unless intended for collaboration or combined storage, the end users should only be able to access and edit their own or their organization’s data.

Though slightly different, multi-tenancy and virtualization both account for the cloud’s incredible efficiency. On average, an organization will use less than 50% of its on-site computing resources less than 50% of the day. A cloud hosting provider, delivering off-site computing resources for dozens of organizations, will continually use almost 100% of its resources almost 100% of the day. The hosting provider purchases only the amount of hardware that its clients need; can provision more or less computing resources depending on workload, avoiding having to purchase surplus hardware; and hires a fraction of the total IT staff that dozens of organizations would need to keep their inefficient IT infrastructures running.

Come back next week for Part 4 of “From Cloudy to Clear,” which will explain virtualization, desktop virtualization, and related terms in further detail.

Go Green, Go to the Cloud

Go Green Cloud

When people talk about “going green,” they usually mean recycling, installing a solar panel on the roof of their home, or conserving their water usage with briefer showers and sprinkler control systems. When businesses talk about “going green,” they usually mean replacing their current fleet of service vehicles with Priuses, renovating their office building to comply with LEED standards, or removing environmentally-harmful ingredients from their products. People or businesses seldom mention cloud computing as an example of “going green,” perhaps because so many of them do not know of or understand the technology. But cloud computing can be as environmentally-friendly as any of the better-known “green” techniques or innovations. And unlike many expensive and relatively impractical green technologies, cloud computing actually costs less and performs better than its non-green alternatives.

We have defined cloud computing elsewhere as scalable data processing and storage resources delivered as a service via the Internet or another network. Before cloud computing, businesses large and small would have to invest a lot of time, money, and manpower in their on-site IT infrastructure. They would have to purchase, install, and occasionally replace the hardware; coordinate, secure, and manage the networks; and train, hire, or outsource their technical support. Aside from being costly and difficult to maintain, an on-site IT infrastructure could also be inefficient and inflexible. For example, a business could exhaust its existing IT infrastructure during one particularly busy month and have to purchase additional hardware. If the business slows down the following month and never again reaches the same level, the company would be stuck with thousands of dollars in hardware that it didn’t need.

In contrast, cloud computing maximizes hardware and personnel resources and lowers costs by consolidating the IT infrastructures of several companies into the facility or facilities of a single hosting provider. Cloud technology qualifies as “green” because:

-Its maximized resources add up to less physical hardware waste and overall energy usage

-Consolidating personnel ultimately leads to less travel time and less staff, which reduces vehicle emissions and other forms of pollution and waste

-Delivered via the Web, cloud computing encourages telecommuting

IronOrbit provides environmentally-friendly services such as desktop virtualization platforms and other cloud-based infrastructures. We optimize our servers to maximize their processing and storage resources. We only purchase and install the exact amount of hardware we need to fulfill our customers’ requirements. Neither our servers nor the personnel implementing, tweaking, and managing them ever sit around unoccupied. Through our 15 years’ experience providing “green” web-hosted services and solutions, we’ve refined the art of saving our clients money through reduced waste and uncompromising efficiency.

In addition, SuitesPro, Orange County’s premier eco-friendly business suites firm, recently tasked IronOrbit with providing all of its tenants with reliable, flexible, high-performance IT services including Internet access, hosted desktops, and VoIP. SuitesPro utilizes “green” construction practices and conservation technologies to lower energy usage 27%, water usage 48%, and construction material waste 90%. IronOrbit provided SuitesPro’s tenants with a fully-equipped, anywhere-enabled cloud infrastructure that reduced SuitesPro’s IT potential energy costs 30-77%.

Beyond Secure

Basic Network Security vs. IronOrbit’s 4-D Unified Threat Management

Recent high-profile, politically-motivated hacking incidents have made people more aware of the vulnerability of corporate and government networks. Yet despite the recent trend of “hacktivism,” financial gain remains the primary motivation for network attacks. And more total SMBs still have their networks attacked than large enterprises or government institutions.

For SMBs to provide themselves with even the lowest level of network security, they need to implement the following protective measures:

Authentication: how the network identifies and provides access to authorized users. Usually takes the form of a login interface where users have to enter their names and passwords to access the network. Two-factor authentication combines a login interface with another method such as device-recognition, card swipes, and fingerprint or retina scans.

Firewall. Once the user has been authenticated, the firewall restricts the services that the user can access from within the network based on pre-set rules. It likewise restricts the access of external services and agents to the internal network.

Intrusion prevention system (IPS) and antivirus software. The IPS scans incoming data for malware. The antivirus software will find and remove any forms of malware that the IPS fails to detect.

Intrusion detection system (IDS). Instead of scanning for malware, the IDS watches for data transactions that are suspiciously large, strangely timed, or sent in an abnormal way or to a unknown destination.

IronOrbit goes beyond these measures with our patented Orbital Security System. With 4-D we ensure security in these main areas:

Physical and environmental security. While many companies do not think to protect and secure the actual hardware that hosts the network, IronOrbit’s data centers have on-site security teams, palm readers, around the clock closed circuit video and alarm monitoring, cooling and fire suppression systems, and backup power systems.

Operational security. IronOrbit relentlessly trains its technicians in security best practices, including password difficulty, encrypted data storage, and data handling procedures. We also restrict access to customer data to authorized personnel only. For oversight, our systems log all network-related access and actions by employees.

Backup and disaster recovery. By default IronOrbit preserves all of its customers’ data with daily backups and weekly server snapshots. In partnership with the security consulting and services company True Defense, IronOrbit can also provide complete off-site hosted backups of a company’s on-site IT infrastructure. Our business continuity planning and disaster recovery systems add further support.

Logical and system security. Including Cisco firewalls, interlinked IDS and IPS, regularized patch management, gateway antivirus, and content filtering.

Why Your Backup Plan Should Be Priority #1

Anyone that has ever lost data as a result of a lost or malfunctioning computer understands the importance of remote backups. The same applies to businesses. Unfortunately, people and businesses often do not fully grasp the importance of remote backups until they have experienced a catastrophic loss of data. Untrained, they do not recognize the signs that indicate a device, system, or network on the verge of a crash. Neither do they appreciate the value of their data until it has been wiped out for good. If they have taken extensive measures to secure their network, they may also mistake security with stability and view remote backups as a superfluous protection. A system costs x amount of money, they reason; so a backup system will mean that they have to pay 2x, doubling their costs for dubious and unguaranteed benefits.

For shortsighted and unambitious organizations these may seem like good reasons to avoid backing up their files. But for responsible businesses that think in the long-term, backing up files can seem like both a necessity and a smart investment. The benefits of a remote backup of an entire organization’s data goes beyond the simple advantage of never losing or unintentionally deleting information. 1) With most backup systems these days, the process of replicating data occurs automatically. The backup transpires without interrupting your normal business operations and cancels out any potential delays from manual backups and absentminded or irresponsible employees. Most backup systems can also prioritize bandwidth and computing resources, making sure that the backup process does not supersede or interfere with your normal processes and tasks. 2) A backup system allows an organization to retain documents and records for a long time. This makes it possible to be consistent as a business; to serve long-lasting customers; to identify long term trends; and to fix problems that have developed or become apparent over an extended period. 3) On a related note, today’s data compilation and analysis tools allow organizations to process huge amounts of archived information. So-called Big-Data tools can make on-the-fly calculations and projections based on information as old as thirty-year-old record and as new as a two-second-old draft document. 4) Backing up and archiving your data reinforces to your customers and to yourself that you have long-term ambitions.

Some businesses have already had the choice of backing up or not backing up their information made on their behalf. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires healthcare organizations to maintain secure backups or patient records for lengthy periods of time; the Sarbanes-Oxley Act demands that financial companies do the same. Many other industries have similar data backup requirements in place or in the works.

The severity of the consequences of the permanent loss of data also compels organizations to remotely back up their data. Data loss can result in financial penalties, decreased productivity, and loss of customers. In some cases the losses can be severe enough to destroy a business. Here are a few high profile incidents of data loss:

-The archives and data of the Credit Lyonnais bank in France were destroyed in a fire. The bank had no off-site backup storage.

-Hundreds of thousands of email accounts of an ISP in Norway were affected when the company’s email server crashed. The ISP had not backed up the data of the email accounts for the last 2-3 weeks.

-A software bug deleted the accounts of a small percentage (.02%) of Gmail users. Google eventually succeeded in restoring those accounts using data from its backup archives, however.

IronOrbit provides full-scale backups and business continuity and disaster recovery planning for all its IT solutions and services. We staff our geographically-separated data facilities with backup management and disaster recovery experts. For each solution and system we perform daily off-site backups and weekly server snapshots. IronOrbit has 15 years’ experience building custom HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley-compliant IT infrastructures for clients in the health, financial, and other industries. Best of all, we package backup systems and services with our IT solutions for no extra charge. For a low, flat monthly fee, IronOrbit can assure you of the long-term safety and security of your data.

From Cloudy to Clear: Cloud Terms & Concepts Explained-Part 2

Last week in our first edition of “Cloudy to Clear”, we covered the basic definition of cloud computing and its three main deployment methods (public, private, and hybrid). This week, turning our focus to the internal architecture of a cloud, we’ll identify and define its three service layers: software, platform, and infrastructure.

Echoing last week’s post, IronOrbit seeks to educate SMBs about cloud computing and its benefits. Most organizations would select cloud computing over the alternatives if they were given an honest assessment of the cloud’s strengths and weaknesses. But three groups prefer to spread a dishonest representation of cloud computing: 1) cloud solutions vendors compensating for their mediocre products and services; 2) on-premise solutions vendors struggling to retain customers; 3) IT journalists variously trying to stand out as technology soothsayers, cheerleaders, or “voices of reason”. Together they hyperventilate over cloud computing as alternatively a financial miracle solution or IT booby-trap.

As we have attempted to show in our “Cloudy to Clear” series and other blog posts, a cloud, when delivered by an experienced and knowledgeable hosting provider, can be secure, stable, and a catalyst to lower IT costs and smoother organizational growth. The convergence of a few long-trusted, proven, and suddenly-cheap technologies (high speed internet, virtualized servers, scalable infrastructures), very little about the cloud has been surprising or scary to IT veterans. IronOrbit hopes that after reading these blog posts SMBs will share a similarly realistic yet still overwhelmingly positive view of cloud computing.

Cloud Computing Glossary: Architecture Terms

Software as a Service (SaaS). Most people have heard of or used the SaaS form of cloud computing. With SaaS, the hosting provider takes care of the infrastructure and the platform. Users connect to the provider’s servers to access an application. The users’ application-related data remains on the provider’s servers. SaaS solutions give companies the same productivity as locally-installed software. Meanwhile, SaaS requires zero investment from the subscriber in processing and storage hardware and requires no long-term software licenses. IronOrbit classifies our SaaS offerings as “hosted applications.”

Platform as a Service (PaaS). In contrast with SaaS, relatively few people have heard of or used the PaaS form of cloud computing. PaaS can be utilized by software developers to build or extend applications. The hosting provider handles the infrastructure. PaaS allows larger organizations with on-staff IT development teams to build custom applications without having to purchase and prep the infrastructure and its hardware. IronOrbit possesses the knowledge and ability to host a PaaS offering but has yet to receive such a request from its mainly SMB client base.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). With IaaS, the hosting provider delivers to the client a bare-bones cloud-based IT infrastructure. The hosting provider handles the servers, storage devices, databases, operating systems, and networks. Meanwhile, the clients get to improvise their own software, platforms, and network management. The IaaS model gives organizations the most amount of choice, freedom, and control. They can purchase and customize their own IT infrastructure without having to procure and maintain any IT hardware. IronOrbit specializes in IaaS and has been delivering web-hosted IT infrastructures to SMBs for almost 15 years.

Make sure to read our Cloudy to Clear post next week when we will attempt to pin down cloud-related concepts and terms such as virtualization and scalability.

Bookkeeping 2.0: Hosted QuickBooks

Take Control of Your Finances with IronOrbit-hosted QuickBooks

With already tight budgets made tighter by the economic downturn, SMBs need to track their finances carefully. Accounting methods like paper-and-pencil or Excel-based bookkeeping, while thrifty, can lead to errors in calculation. Even if done right, these methods require trained professionals and can result in unorganized and incompliant records. Accounting software, on the other hand, has features that allow SMB managers with no financial training to electronically balance their books. With accounting software SMBs can limit financial mistakes and miscalculations, conserve paper, and maintain precise and auditable records.

SMBs, fond of their old-fashioned, time-tested accounting methods, may find it difficult to switch to specialized accounting software. However, the SMBs that make the decision to switch apparently find the software selection process easier: 75-90% of them choose Intuit’s QuickBooks. Noted by PCMag for its “superior blend of accounting tools, usability, and integration,” QuickBooks possesses the three main characteristics of successful software: it works well enough, it has been around for a long time, and its domination of the market discourages people from trying anything else. The 2012 edition has nine different versions, each specialized for the size of the company (Pro, Enterprise) or the skill-level or operating system of the user (Premier, Accountant, for Mac). Except for the three online versions, QuickBooks has to be installed on, contained in, and integrated with the on-site IT infrastructure of the SMB.

However, an on-site or “local” deployment of QuickBooks will limit the usefulness of the software to an organization. Installed on-site, the software cannot be accessed by mobile or off-site users. With each repair, upgrade, or removal of the on-site program, each “instance” of QuickBooks will have to be manually altered and calibrated by the user or IT manager. On-site deployments also require the purchase of restrictive and exorbitant software licenses. SMBs can subscribe to the mobile-ready, auto-updated, fee-based online versions of QuickBooks to remove some of these drawbacks, but they would be jumping out of the on-premise frying pan and into the public cloud fire.  For example, power outages inactivated QuickBooks Online for nearly three total days from Winter 2009-Summer 2010. Online versions of QuickBooks also have less accounting, management, and security features than on-premise editions. SMBs already comfortable with an on-premise interface and that have their data and settings interlaced with a certain on-site version will find migrating to an online edition disruptive, as well.

To get the best of both the on-site and online versions and avoid both their drawbacks, SMBs would be advised to let IronOrbit host their preferred on-site edition of QuickBooks. The benefits of an IronOrbit-hosted QuickBooks would be:

Anywhere-enabled. People not directly connected to the internal company network, such as mobile workers and external partners, can access and use a version of QuickBooks hosted by IronOrbit.

Increased control. A hosted version of QuickBooks centralizes the program, reducing the number of installations from dozens down to one. This simplifies managing, updating, and repairing the software.

Increased security. The centralization of the program also allows IT managers to broadly impose access control and security policies and settings.

More reliable. IronOrbit delivers 100% uptime. IronOrbit also has extensive backup systems and risk management procedures in place.

More support. IronOrbit promises 24x7x365 technical support. In addition, IronOrbit partners with a network of QuickBooks ProAdvisors to tutor first-time and amateur users.

Less worry. A hosted version of QuickBooks retains your original interface and preserves your data and settings. Meanwhile, IronOrbit does all the hard work: migrating your data, calibrating the software, and providing all the IT infrastructure hardware.

In addition to QuickBooks, IronOrbit can also host any other application, including QuickBooks competitors like Peachtree and AccountEdge. With its 15 years’ experience, industry-best customized solutions, and dedicated 24×7 technical support, IronOrbit helps SMBs improve their productivity, lower their costs, and keep better track of their finances with hosted applications and IT infrastructures.