Month: November 2012

A Vote for the Cloud

When President Barack Obama, in his first term, set out to increase the centralization and lower the costs of the federal government’s vast IT infrastructure, he turned to cloud computing. His administration’s “cloud-first” policy motivated federal agencies to choose the cloud over new on-site infrastructures and mandated that they transfer at least three old on-premise systems to a web-based infrastructure. Thus far, government organizations that include the departments of Agriculture and the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the General Services Administration have switched to cloud-based email and business applications. The “cloud-first” policy has saved the government $5.5 billion per year (an amount that could rise to $12 billion/year) and will let the feds close down over 1,200 data centers by 2015.

The President turned to the cloud again to collect and analyze voter data and contact supporters during the 2012 campaign. With cloud-based analytic software, the Obama team could target potential supporters based on variables such as gender, race, location, income, and voting history. Hosting their applications and data in the cloud gave them much more flexibility (more software options) and accessibility (available anywhere in the world) while reducing their costs. Some observers even credit the Obama campaign’s IT infrastructure with “helping to deliver the election.” In contrast, Mitt Romney’s attempts to harness the power of cloud computing to rally his supporters were less successful. His highly-touted, custom-designed get-out-the-vote application suffered from connection and usability problems. Its data center consisted of only a single web server and one application server, which failed to support an estimated 37,000 users throughout the country. The campaign also did not make the software available as a downloadable app, forcing mobile users to log in to the application via their browsers.

Not surprisingly, then, the experts predict that Obama’s administration will continue to embrace cloud computing as a way to cut costs and consolidate the federal IT infrastructure. As one government technology executive commented, according to Nextgov, “The first administration was about setting up the mechanics and infrastructure. Now you have that infrastructure in place and hopefully you’ll be able to really start doing something with it.” Other cloud computing-related issues that IT insiders and analysts expect or want Obama to address in the second term include cybersecurity (defining the mission of the military’s U.S. Cyber Command and coaxing business owners into supporting cybersecurity legislation), healthcare (implementing the state-by-state electronic healthcare exchanges mandated by the ACA), and immigration reform (developing easier paths to citizenship for skilled IT professionals).

The value of cloud computing has nothing to do with partisan affiliation, of course. Anyone that pays taxes and/or utilizes government services benefits from the money-saving and efficiency-raising effects of the “cloud first” policy. In fact, Mitt Romney probably would have adopted as his own, if not accelerated, a policy that has already resulted in a cheaper, smaller, and more effective government.

Among other things that anyone located anywhere on the political spectrum can agree on is the value of the IronOrbit Private Cloud Solution. IronOrbit, an all-in-one cloud-based IT infrastructure, comes equipped with virtual desktops, networking, 24×7 technical support, and data storage and backup. Fully scalable, it can be expanded at any time to support any amount of users, data, or processing power. No matter the location of the user—whether in a blue state or a red state—IronOrbit can be quickly and easily accessed from any web-enabled device.

Device Loss without Data Loss

Device loss happens more than most people think. The media tends to focus on the occasional theft or misplacement of the devices of public sector employees because these laptops and smartphones contain especially sensitive (confidential or personally identifiable) information. Private sector workers lose their devices just as often, however. Employees from 604 American and European companies somehow lost over 150,000 laptops in a single year, according to a 2010 survey. Over one-third of all people have lost a mobile device in public. Device loss accounts for between 1835% of all data breaches. The Cloud Security Alliance ranked it the #1 mobile security threat.

For small-and-medium-sized businesses, the loss of the device in itself would be enough to put a dent in their bottom line. However, the costs of responding to a data breach actually account for 80% of the losses associated with a stolen or misplaced device. A lost laptop costs businesses on average of $49,246.

A NASA worker’s laptop containing the personally identifiable information of at least 10,000 agency employees and contractors was stolen from a locked car last month. NASA has begun aggressively installing data encryption software on all of its laptops as a result. It now requires all agency-issued laptops containing sensitive data to be fully encrypted before they can be taken off-site. Adding to the costs and distractions of implementing its encryption program, NASA will also have to pay for free identity theft and credit monitoring services for all the employees and contractors affected by the data breach.

Forty-eight laptops were stolen from NASA between 2009 and 2011, including one that contained command and control codes for the International Space Station. Complaints about the performance-reducing effects of encryption software slowed the agency’s prior data protection efforts.

Not only do all these examples and statistics demonstrate the devastating impact of device-loss-related data loss, they also show the ineffectiveness of traditional security measures in preventing it. For instance, NASA’s attempts to secure its laptops resulted in encryption software that curtailed productivity and a “no encryption, no travel” policy that wastefully distributed mobile devices to stationary employees. The device loss statistics also discourage any attempts at some kind of “loss-awareness” program to motivate or teach employees to keep a closer eye on company-issued laptops and smartphones. Incompetence alone cannot explain the high number of mobile devices lost or stolen every year; momentary absentmindedness probably has a role in it, too. Until businesses come up with a solution for human imperfection, they will have to accept device loss as a natural byproduct of laptop and smartphone deployments.

However, with IronOrbit, businesses never have to accept data loss as a consequence of a mobile workforce. IronOrbit, an all-in-one cloud-based IT infrastructure, retains its data at off-site data centers. Authorized users can access this data, but can be restricted from transferring their files and applications to the hard drive of their device. In this way, IronOrbit prevents lost or stolen devices from causing a data breach.

The Hidden Cost of Free Software

Freeware ends up costing businesses and individuals more than commercial alternatives. IT solutions need management and support to ensure consistent security and performance. Inviting disaster, purveyors of freeware manage their expenses by limiting their infrastructure management and technical support to the bare minimum. Recent high-profile events demonstrate the consequences of trading security and reliability for lower prices. Despite higher initial costs, businesses get the most long-term value from better-protected and -managed commercial IT solutions.

No more well-known or frequently-used form of freeware exists than free online email. Nearly everyone has set up one of these online email accounts for themselves at some point. There are some companies—and, as we found out this week, some CIA directors—that consider free online email secure and reliable enough to transfer sensitive files and data and conduct important business over. Some organizations may even replace their private email servers and business domain with freeware email to cut costs. The Petraeus scandal, as well as other notable hacking incidents involving free online email, illustrates the ineffectiveness of the security measures of these cloud-based services, however. Even accounts with strong passwords can be breached using brute force hacking. These free email providers have neither the personnel resources to respond to in-progress cyberattacks or to provide post-attack individual technical support, nor the storage capacity to prevent permanent data loss. Worse, the free email service involved in all of these highly-reported breaches has long been considered the most secure of its ilk.

In another recent case demonstrating the limitations of free IT solutions, a leading VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) program developer has been criticized for waiting two months to remove a well-known and highly-damaging security vulnerability. Hackers only needed to learn the email address of their target to gain access to his or her VoIP account. They could then eavesdrop on the person’s conversations, lock users out of their accounts, or steal an account’s financial information.

The superior management and support of commercial IT solutions would have averted or minimized the security breaches of both the free online email and VoIP services. A commercial solution provider has the personnel to respond to in-progress cyberattacks (including brute force, SQL injections, password guessing, and malware infiltrations) and to supply one-on-one technical support. It has the storage capacity and fail-safe infrastructure to prevent any kind of unwanted data loss. A commercial solution provider would also have the available personnel to adjust its software code or data protection policies in response to a security vulnerability much sooner than two months.

To be clear, commercial solution providers are not necessarily more efficient, capable, or conscientious than their freeware counterparts. The bottom line is that the latter model of software distribution is fundamentally flawed, at least as it relates to business applications. Companies need their IT solutions to be managed and supported to ensure security and reliability. The lower upfront costs of freeware do not justify their increased risks of unauthorized access, data loss, and downtime.

For an IT solution with the best combination of reliability, security, and cost-efficiency, businesses should select IronOrbit. With IronOrbit, companies can get a complete cloud-based IT infrastructure that includes Virtual Desktops, Applications, Email, VoIP, Data Storage, and Bandwidth. For no extra cost, our users also get Complete Data Backups, 24x7x365 Technical Support, and Around-the-Clock Performance and Security Monitoring. There’s no need to settle for freeware when IronOrbit provides businesses with Complete and Fully-Supported IT Infrastructure for a fixed, low monthly fee.

The Cloud: Better for Business and the Environment

WSP Environment & Energy and the National Resources Defense Council published new research this month that confirmed cloud computing’s environmental-friendliness. In their study, the cloud outperformed on-premise IT infrastructures in every measurable energy efficiency category. In PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness, the ratio of a data center’s energy usage for computing purposes to its total energy usage, with an ideal value of 1.0), the best private cloud beat the best non-virtualized on-premise IT infrastructure 1.3 to 1.5. In the Server Utilization Rate category (the measure of how much a data center’s servers’ CPUs are being utilized at any given time), the best private cloud surpassed the best non-virtualized on-premise infrastructure 60% to 25%. The report concluded that even the least environmentally-friendly cloud infrastructure would be guilty of less than half the carbon emissions of the average on-premise system. More remarkably, the most environmentally-friendly cloud would be responsible for an amazing 48-times less carbon emission than the average on-premise infrastructure.

Reasons for cloud computing being more “green” than on-site IT infrastructures include:

Superior hardware efficiency. According to the study, on-site, non-virtualized infrastructures utilize only 5-15% of their servers’ CPU on average. This would not be an issue if power consumption corresponded with server utilization. However, idle and underutilized servers consume as little as 10% less energy than a fully-utilized unit. Meanwhile, the report also points out that a cloud infrastructure has an up to 65% better Server Utilization Rate than non-virtualized, on-site system. The cloud also lets multiple organizations share a single server. Therefore, cloud computing not only increases the efficiency of servers, it also reduces their overall number (eliminating the energy usage and pollution associated with manufacturing, disposing of, and recycling the hardware).

Improved data center management. As the WSP Environment & Energy and the National Resources Defense Council report puts it, “Small SMO [small-and-medium-sized organization] server rooms are often managed inefficiently and suffer from classic economies of scale issues that cloud server providers are directly incentivized to manage…Most SMOs are unable to achieve the low PUEs that cloud server providers are realizing in their best-in-class data centers.”

Enhanced mobility. With a cloud infrastructure, employees can access their files and applications from home. This reduces the number of times that people have to commute to an office, which in turn limits the travel time of carbon-emitting vehicles. Cloud-based virtual offices may even replace physical workplaces in the future, cutting vehicle and office building emissions and energy usage even further.

Cleaner energy source. The nearest electricity-generating facility determines the energy source of a data center. A cloud data center may therefore be less environmentally-friendly than an on-premise system if located close to a coal plant, as a result. However, environmentally-conscious cloud hosting providers often build their data centers near dams and wind and solar farms for this very reason.

For most businesses, the environment isn’t a top concern. But since the cloud improves energy efficiency and lowers emissions while increasing IT infrastructures’ reliability, security, and cost-effectiveness, companies with on-premise IT infrastructures have every financial and moral incentive to switch. Other benefits of adopting a “green” cloud infrastructure include:

Marketing. Eighty percent of consumers have a moderate-to-high interest in “green” products. An environmentally-friendly IT infrastructure gives businesses something to entice this sizable audience with.

Cap-and-trade. California recently became the first state to impose cap-and-trade. Federal adoption may be close behind, with the recently re-elected President Barack Obama being a cap-and-trade supporter. This market-based approach basically forces polluting companies to pay money to “green” businesses. Cloud-based infrastructures could save businesses from burdensome environmental taxes and fees in the future.

Reduction of global warming. Hurricane Sandy caused $50 billion in damage. Experts and columnists disagree on whether global warming amplifies the strength of natural disasters like Sandy. However, a low-emissions cloud infrastructure would help business owners that believe in global warming to prevent further destruction of lives and property.

When selecting a hosting provider, businesses should remember that well-run private cloud data centers have almost half the PUE (1.3 to 2.5) and more than eight times the Server Utilization Rate (60% to 7%) of poorly-run private cloud data centers. IronOrbit, a leading IT hosting company, has a Server Utilization Rate approaching 90% thanks to our Atomic Speed Technology. 24x7x365 performance monitoring by our technicians maximizes the efficiency of our data centers, ensuring a low PUE. No other hosting firm surpasses IronOrbit in efficiency or ecological best practices.

IronOrbit After Sandy: The Data That Survived The Storm

Businesses shouldn’t gamble by settling with less-than-adequate disaster recovery. Their IT infrastructure absolutely needs to be able to withstand the most sophisticated cyber-attack or the most destructive natural disaster. Budgets are too tight and the competition is too high in this economy for any kind of setback. Fortunately, businesses with on-site infrastructures have an alternative to expensive, self-run, off-site backup facilities: fully-managed private cloud solutions from IronOrbit.

Many businesses in the northeastern United States with on-site IT infrastructures recently found themselves under-protected with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. These companies lost all their files and applications as floods destroyed their computing equipment—part of the toll of $50 billion in total economic losses related to the storm. On the other hand, some businesses may have been able to protect their IT hardware from water damage but were one of 8.5 million customers without power. Many companies lost productivity, sales, and customers as a result. The Manhattan-based websites Gawker, Buzzfeed, and the Huffington Post all went down after power outages at their self-hosted data centers, for example. They each lost about $100,000-$150,000 in ad revenues per day during the downtime (based on their yearly revenues of around $60 million).

Businesses caught off-guard by Hurricane Sandy shouldn’t dismiss the disaster as a “once-in-a-lifetime-storm” that will never be repeated and thus does not justify future preventative adjustments to their IT infrastructure. Firstly, “once-in-a-lifetime” natural disasters, in spite of their name, seem to be occurring every six-to-twelve months. Consider that the Japanese tsunami ($300 billion in total economic losses), the Thailand floods ($45 billion, while also causing a 28% increase in the price of hard drives), and the 2011 U.S. tornado outbreak ($20+ billion) have all happened within the last two years. Secondly, businesses with on-site IT infrastructures can attain better protection from data loss and downtime without having to pay for expensive off-site backup facilities and hardware by switching to the cloud. With the cloud, companies get a more reliable, mobile, and secure infrastructure for a lower cost and with superior disaster recovery.

Cloud computing can be trusted to prevent data loss and downtime better than on-premise IT infrastructures for several reasons. First, the cloud’s off-site servers will usually not be affected by the same localized storms that its users deal with. Second, even if a cloud data center were damaged by a hurricane, clouds have data backup sites and ready-to-go infrastructures or “hot sites” throughout the country. Finally, the cloud does not require any on-site hardware and can be accessed from anywhere. If the main office of a business has been destroyed, employees can access their files and applications from a cloud-based infrastructure while reconvening at a temporary location or working from home.

IronOrbit users in the Northeast experienced first-hand the ability of the cloud to prevent data loss and downtime. During Sandy, it was business as usual for all the IronOrbit users with Internet access (including via mobile data networks). Guillo Cianci of the Long Island-based Fratello Construction Inc. remarked, “Hurricane Sandy could have been a catastrophic data disaster for our company but our business didn’t skip a beat. Some of our neighbors were not so lucky. Hosting our IT with IronOrbit has been one of the best business decisions we have made; knowing that my business will always be up and running pays off every day.”

On top of the inherent disaster recovery capabilities of the cloud, IronOrbit takes additional measures to prevent even the possibility of data loss and downtime. With 24x7x365 technical support, we can help you with any issue at any time—even in the midst a power outage or destructive storm during the middle of the night. We’ve set industry-low Recovery Point Objectives (RPOs) and Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) of 4 hours and 12 hours respectively. At the moment, we’re also offering to rebuild the IT infrastructure of any company that has been affected by Hurricane Sandy for free. Signing up with IronOrbit means no more worrying about disasters, downtime, or data loss—with us, you’ll be protected from all three.

Low Cost High-Tech

Businesses do not have to spend a fortune on or deal with big-name vendors or developers to get their hands on the latest, cutting-edge technologies. Cloud computing, the most important and popular IT advancement of recent years, gives companies access to better and more powerful forms of computing at a fraction of the cost of on-site hardware.

Thanks to the cloud, businesses can afford larger IT infrastructures and a greater amount of applications in support of more users. The cloud also lets companies consolidate their IT resources, so that each branch or office no longer has to build and maintain its own infrastructure, and everyone in the business has access to the same, up-to-date versions of files and applications. Technological advances usually go in the opposite direction: entering the market at a restrictively high price, only the companies with the greatest financial resources can afford them. In contrast, the cloud lets small-and-medium-sized organizations measure up to their larger competitors by providing them with enterprise-level IT resources at SMB prices.

Cloud computing, affirming its position at the forefront of IT, figured prominently in Gartner’s declaration of the top ten emerging IT trends for 2013. Gartner, one of the leading IT research firms, puts out a new trend list every year. For a technology to be included on the closely-followed and hotly-debated list is a confirmation of its viability and value. Cloud computing, for example, was included in the 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 editions. Gartner did not include cloud computing in its 2013 list of emerging technologies, presumably because of the cloud’s maturity and widespread popularity. However, the cloud’s direct or indirect influence can still be perceived in a majority of the items on this year’s list:

Mobile Device Battles. Gartner predicts that smartphones and tablets will overtake desktops and laptops as most workers’ devices of choice. Cloud computing, by letting people access files and applications and utilize high-performance and high-capacity servers from any location, made this evolution possible.

Personal Cloud. According to Gartner, hard drives will soon be a thing of the past as people move all of their applications and data (not just files that they want to duplicate or share with other people) to a personalized cloud.

The Internet of Things. Gartner says that consumer products such as pharmaceuticals and automobiles already have sensors and connectivity devices in them that integrate them with the Internet. In the future, people will not have to type any codes or commands into a system; everything will already be integrated and communicating with a cloud-based computer. Empty drug bottles will notify a pharmacy to prepare a refill and cars with a driver that has suffered a heart attack or stroke will maneuver themselves to the side of the road, for example.

Hybrid IT and Cloud Computing. A hybrid cloud lets companies store data and host applications however they want. For example, they can store their more dormant records in an on-premise system while putting their more active files on a public or private cloud. Gartner predicts a rise in hybrid cloud computing, as well as a rise in the amount of tools, skills, and personnel that help support it.

Actionable Analysis. The cloud can provide anyone with a mobile device with the computing power and storage capacity of a supercomputer. With this amount of computing resources at their beck and call, business owners can crunch a lot of data in a little amount of time. As Gartner puts it, “IT leaders can afford to perform analytics and simulation for every action taken in the business. The mobile client linked to cloud-based analytic engines and big data repositories potentially enables use of optimization and simulation everywhere and every time.”

Businesses should select IronOrbit if they are looking for a cloud computing solution that brings together all the best features of cost-efficiency, performance, and functionality. IronOrbit is a cloud-based IT infrastructure. It incorporates the cost-efficiency and resource-multiplying advancements of cloud computing as well as some performance and security enhancements of its own. With its unique Atomic Speed Technology, IronOrbit can be deployed within seconds. Its custom-designed Orbital Security System protects a company’s data from every kind of threat. To get ahead of the competition, draw even with formerly-out-of-reach enterprises, and take your place at the forefront of the cloud computing revolution, sign up for IronOrbit now.