Small Business

Internet Fail Over Strategies for Small Businesses

Method 1 - Single Device - Two Internet Circuits - Network
 
Congratulations! You are on the leading edge. You’re blazing a trail into the future and leaving your competitors in the dust. Your company is saving buckets full of money on information technology by wholeheartedly embracing the cloud. You are even using the cloud for mission critical applications and data. What if your connection to the Internet goes down? Here is how to make sure it doesn’t, with automatic Internet fail over.
 
It’s not as if you haven’t thought of this before. You may have even justified your plan to use the cloud by telling yourself and management, that if your Internet connection goes down, your road warriors and employees that work from home can still access their applications. 

What if you have an office full of employees? You could send them home to work, or to your other office if you have one. But either way, production is going to suffer, opportunities will be missed, sales will be lost, and you are going to get behind schedule.

Fortunately, there are cost effective methods to protect your small business from Internet service outages. Even if your business is only using DSL or cable Internet, there are affordable ways to install a system that provides automatic fail over to a backup Internet circuit.

Building Internet Reliability

Business class Internet service

Building more reliable Internet connectivity is not complex or expensive. The first step is to upgrade to a business class Internet service if you are not already using one. Business class Internet circuits provide higher priority service levels than consumer class Internet services. They are more suitable for the up time requirements of a business. They also include dedicated IP addresses and greater upload speeds, for on-site web or email servers.

Internet circuit redundancy

There are a couple of different methods I have used for small business clients that work very well. Both methods need a second Internet circuit with a different ISP than your current connection.

Using a different ISP for your fail over circuit protects you if your ISP has infrastructure or routing problems. If both circuits were with the same ISP, the fail over circuit would have the same issues as your primary circuit.

There are also methods to load balance your Internet traffic between the two circuits, but our primary goal here is to automatically fail over to a secondary Internet circuit.

Method 1 – Single Router/Firewall – Two Internet Circuits

Single Router/Firewall – Two Internet Circuits


 
 
With this method, each ISP Internet circuit connects to a single Internet router/firewall. In a typical configuration for a small business, one circuit is business class Internet service with your local cable TV/Internet company, and the other is business class Internet service using DSL provided by your local phone company.
 
If fail over redundancy is your primary concern, the “backup” link doesn’t necessarily need to be as fast as your primary link. You may be able to use a slower, less expensive link until your primary Internet circuit is functioning again.
 
The cost of deploying this solution includes the one time cost of an Internet router with fail over capability and the monthly cost of another Internet circuit. Both Cisco and Dell SonicWALL offers affordable router/firewalls with fail over ability. 
 
A backup, business class, DSL Internet connection in my area starts at $40/mo for a 3 Mbps circuit and goes to $120/mo for a 40 Mbps circuit. My local cable TV/Internet company provides business class Internet starting at $80/mo for a 7 Mbps circuit and goes as high as $466/mo for a 100 Mbps Internet circuit.
 
 
Method 2 – Two Router/Firewalls – Two Internet Circuits
 
 Two Router/Firewall – Two Internet Circuits
 
 
With method 2, each ISP Internet circuit connects to its own Internet router/firewall. 
 
The advantages of using this method are fewer single points of failure and better overall Internet connectivity performance.
 
There are more options for configuring fail over with this method. If routers are already in place, you may be able to use another routing configuration called OSPF (open shortest path first). In other words, if one router fails, computers on your private network will automatically use the other router to get to the Internet. This configuration is more complex, but it may save you the cost of new routers.
 
 
Method 3 – Two Locations -Two Router/Firewalls – Two Internet Circuits
 
Two Locations -Two Router/Firewalls – Two Internet Circuits
 
With method 3, like method 2, each ISP Internet circuit connects to its own Internet router/firewall, but the router/firewalls are in different locations, and the locations connect with a private WAN (wide area network) circuit.
 
There are also more options with this arrangement. As in method 2, you can configure the routers to use OSPF routing. If the WAN circuit fails, you can use a VPN (virtual private network) over the locations’ existing Internet circuits, to keep your offices connected.
 

Dynamic DNS

If you plan to host your own web or email server on-site, you will need a dynamic DNS provider. DNS is what translates a web address (domain name) like www.mydomain.com to an IP address. 

Each ISP will assign you IP addresses from their respective networks. Because you will want your customers to reach your web server if one of your Internet circuits goes down, you will need a dynamic DNS service 

A dynamic DNS provider will constantly monitor each of your Internet connections from multiple locations. If they detect that one of your circuits is down, they will change the corresponding IP address of your server’s domain name to an address assigned by the ISP of the circuit that is still up. 

Normally DNS changes can take a while to propagate to computers and other DNS servers, but dynamic DNS services will set the TTL (time to live) of your domain names to one minute. When a computer looks in its cached DNS records, it will see the one minute TTL, and request a new record from the DNS source of authority – your dynamic DNS service. 

Two reliable dynamic DNS providers are zoneedit and Dyn. There are others, but many only provide services for home users that need to access their computers remotely.

The combination of router circuit fail over and dynamic DNS, will provide reliable Internet connectivity for your employees, web servers and mail servers. I have used this exact method with an organization that had over 100 users in two locations. Of course, they were using high speed circuits and not DSL or cable Internet, but the concepts are the same. While testing, I have walked into the wiring closets and unplugged the Internet circuit in both of their locations, and no one ever knew! 

All of these methods are too complex for DIY (do it yourself). You will need to hire an IT network professional to spec, install and configure your equipment. They will need to work with your ISPs and DNS providers, to ensure the needed services are understood, delivered, and configured properly. 

There many advantages of cloud computing: 
 
  • Access your systems and data from anywhere
  • Savings from less IT infrastructure
  • Rapid deployment of new systems and applications
  • Ease of collaboration with remote employees and customers

 

The biggest concern of most businesses is their Internet reliability. The overall costs of deploying Internet fail over is small, compared to the savings and advantages businesses can get from using cloud computing.
 
If you would like to know more about Internet connection fail over, 
South Side Tech can help you see if it’s the right solution for your business.
 
For more information:
 

 

9 Steps for Managing Small Business IT

Information Technology has never been more affordable. Small businesses can now take advantage of technology that will help them level the playing field and compete with larger companies, even on a global scale. Yet, the costs for small businesses that compete with you have come down too. How do you use IT to gain a competitive advantage?


Business leads – IT follows

1. Use IT to provide value to your customers

If IT doesn’t add value for your customers, what’s the point? Technology should allow you to either, lower costs, provide better customer service, or develop new products and services your customers need. If deploying new technology doesn’t do one of these, don’t bother.

2. Don’t buy more complexity than you need.

Efficiency is found in simplicity – fewer moving parts. Don’t buy feature laden software if simple software gets the job done. However, you should take care to analyze and anticipate your needs so you don’t under buy. A good tactic is to plan for a progression of features or capabilities that match your expected growth. Choose software that is easily upgraded and allows you to use your existing data with new versions or modules.

3. Apply technology only if it improves a process

A manual process is often the most efficient. Don’t spend 200 man hours implementing a technology that will save you 8 man hours a month. Any technology should also add customer value over and above the manual process.

4. Monitor capacity, performance and health

Don’t just set it and forget it. There are too many inexpensive management tools that will allow you to monitor your systems and alert you in time to avert a disruption of service. Something as simple as running out of disk space can cause a service outage that takes days to recover from.

5. Be proactive instead of reactive


Monitoring your systems also allows you to collect data that can be used for trend analysis. For example: By knowing the rate of increase in your disk space usage you can predict when you will need to add capacity and plan accordingly.

Replace your equipment before it wears out or becomes unreliable. Practice “life cycle management.” Budget for computer replacement every 3 to 5 years. For example: if you have 40 computers, consider budgeting to replace 10 of them each year.

6. Plan for contingency

Hardware fails. Users screw up. Viruses are always a threat. It’s prudent and cost effective to use redundant disk technology on your server, but you don’t have to go crazy trying to build fault tolerance into all your systems. If you have 20 computers, having a spare ready to go only costs you an additional 5%. That’s a very cost effective way to increase availability. I’ve worked with large companies that will spend days trying to source parts and repair a computer while the user cannot work.

7. Provide operational structure

Define the processes you will use to manage your information technology just as you would any other business process. Use a regimented approach to performing the tasks needed to complete the processes. For example: backing up your data requires a number of specific steps. Write them down, perform them at the same time every day, and train more than one person to do them. Plan how you will update software and apply patches. Create processes, document them and develop a routine.

8. Train users

Your users don’t need to know how to use every little bell and whistle. If they help them do their job faster, they’ll learn them. Train them how to use their hardware and software to complete the business processes they are responsible for first. Teach them about Internet safety and help them organize their files and data.

9. Hire professionals to do the technical stuff

Find competent and reliable professionals to help you plan and maintain your systems. A good professional will want to understand your business, your customers, and your plans for the future. Once you have a good technology partner, you can focus on your business and customers.

Simplify

Information technology supports your efforts best when it is reliable, predictable and efficient. The best way to improve all three is to simplify.



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Hype, The Cloud, and Why Small Business Should Move Now

Hype cycle

Just a little over 3 years ago (July 2009), Cloud computing was at a stage of the Gartner, Inc. Hype cycle called “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” Gartner has since segmented Cloud technology into several components, most of which they now (October 2012) show on the “Slope of Enlightenment.”

I believe several components of Cloud computing are now at the “Plateau of Productivity,” especially for Small Business.


At the beginning of the hype cycle, many different but related technologies are lumped together in one big family and given a catchy name. While this may be necessary in order to generate the excitement or “buzz” that motivates investment and product development (the trigger), it confuses many potential customers, especially those without ready access to technical knowledge – small businesses.

Later in the hype cycle, each technology begins to be scrutinized separately and the group fragments into different components again. But, it can still seem to the less technical, like an all or nothing proposition. Small businesses need to understand what pieces of cloud technology are important to them and which pieces can be left for service providers and others to worry about.

Cutting through the hype

All small businesses use electricity, but most don’t need to understand how it is generated. Virtually none of them generate it for themselves. Cloud computing can be thought of as a utility, much like electricity. Cloud computing encompasses many different outsourced data processing services. There are three major categories of services:

IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure includes server and network hardware, operating systems software, backup systems, data center cooling, fire suppression and operations services like monitoring and maintenance. Companies that use only IaaS have to provide platform, application and other software, as well configuration and maintenance of the software.

One of the promised benefits of IaaS is “on demand,” scalable processing power. It is hoped that when this technology matures, a more cost effective “metered” approach to billing for IaaS services will develop. IaaS customers will likely be larger businesses. They will migrate slowly by business unit and application. Some will deploy “private clouds” and many will adopt a hybrid of private and managed services clouds.

PaaS – Platform as a Service

Platforms are database systems and middleware – application, web, email and groupware servers. Companies using PaaS will also need IaaS. Like most technologies, once widely adopted, IaaS and PaaS services will move down market as they become more and more affordable.

SaaS – Software as a Service

SaaS includes applications like Salesforce.com, Google Apps for Business, and Microsoft Office 365. Accounting, finance, customer relationship management, expense reporting, project management and many other types of business software are available as SaaS.

SaaS can be thought of as “off the shelf” application software. Most small businesses will be able to find all the SaaS applications they need to run their business. It is configurable and customizable, just like other “off the shelf” software, but with the major advantages that come with not needing to provision and maintain platforms and infrastructure.

Businesses using SaaS only need to worry about inputting, processing and retrieving their data. They access their applications via the Internet. Their employees need only a computer, web browser and Internet connection. Businesses large and small will benefit from greatly reduced costs for information technology. Existing IT staffs will need to become more business oriented and use their skills to focus on integration, solutions and training.

Many SaaS cloud offerings available today are already in the “Plateau of Productivity” stage of the hype cycle. SaaS is secure, reliable and affordable. Remote computing, real time collaboration, and video teleconferencing are just some of the affordable features included in many SaaS products and services.

Small businesses should start taking advantage of the cost savings, flexibility and capabilities of cloud computing now. If you would like more information about cloud computing, please visit our website for videos, links and other resources. South Side Tech can help you get there!


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Yes! Your Business IS Ready for the Cloud

Not only is your business ready for cloud computing but, you should be moving or planning your move to the cloud now. Large corporations and companies of all sizes are moving the bulk of their information technology and data to cloud computing services. It no longer makes sense to manage data centers and IT infrastructure in-house. Cloud vendors have advantages of scale and expertise. Now, their security and quality of service is as good or better than any large corporation’s.

Now is an especially good time for small businesses to begin their move to cloud computing too! In most every conceivable case, cloud computing will be more cost effective. Cloud application and data services are inexpensive and can be deployed rapidly. Even if your business needs customized applications, the cloud infrastructure services needed to host them, and the cloud platform services required for their data, have never been more widely available or more affordable.

Google Apps for Business will be all the cloud services many small businesses will need. In fact, Google Apps will provide many small businesses with more capabilities than they ever had before. If businesses require specialty applications, they will likely be able to use cloud services for them too. Virtually every type of application is available as a cloud service today.

As an Authorized Google Apps for Business Reseller, South Side Tech can help you with everything you need to start saving and get the benefits from cloud computing today!

  • Migrate your existing data and ensure it is secure.
  • Email, Microsoft Exchange and Outlook migration services.
  • Customize Google Sites so your team can collaborate better on tasks and projects than ever before!
  • Train your team to take advantage of all the features of Google Apps for Business.

Get started with Google Apps for Business today!

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For more on Cloud computing:

From GIGAOM:
Move to the Cloud? The Two Decisions That Matter

From ReadWriteWeb:
DeathWatch: In-house Datacenters

From Business Insider: