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Small Biz Tip - Cloud Computing

okanogen's picture

I would love to see others giving their small biz tips. With that goal, I'm going to start sharing my experiences.

Background, I run a small company that works all over, sometimes out of country, but mostly in the midwest. We gather data for our clients which we transfer over the web via a secure server. Transferring the data is not our main business, but an integral task.

In the early days we emailed it, but emailing 10 megs, then 20 megs, then 50 megs of data became a pain, especially when you are doing it from a slow connection in Carroll, Iowa. So we came up with this secure server idea, using repository version control software to keep track of changes and ensure the data is properly backed up and complete. It works like AWESOME.

At first the company was just myself, my "pardner", and one part-timer, now we are up to 4 full-timers besides us, and a couple floaters. So we have need of more computers. Combined with updating 3-5 year old computers, that is a major expense!

What to do? Computers are getting outdated every six months. Their hard-drives fill up. You have to back them up (uh, yeah, sure). Unless you run an email exchange server (EXPENSIVE) you can't use the same email name on different computers, or if you do, you don't know which computer you sent from or received important emails, or you have to continuously synch, which sucks. Then there is upgrading software, and buying multiple copies of Office and other software for each machine. Managing the licenses. The list goes on. A real headache!

Solution?

Remote desktopping, virtual servers and "cloud computing".

Here is the setup we are going with. We got a deal on a storage server which we purchased together with our IP (a small company too, friends, good guys, you have one near you too). They use half, we use half of it's mucho terabytes, for this investment they maintain it for free. We set up remote virtual desktops (approx. $40/month per user) on another super fast (when it was new one year ago....) server that we bought which is redundantly backed up on their servers (the same type of machine) in case ours goes down. These run the application softwares we use which are the same for everyone (even share the licenses). These are backed up daily, weekly, monthly with a beefy system including offsite storage. Worries about losing data are gone. The beauty now is that whatever computer/laptop we get can be dumb, dumb, dumb (cheap, cheap, cheap). No need for massive, superfast harddrives, no need for tons of memory, no need for the newest processors. All that is needed is a keyboard, decent internet connection and screen real estate. Laptops like that sell for $300. And that is an investment I can realistically expect even my employees to make.... We can even work from mobile phones like the Omnia or Blackberry if they support remote desktop.

Some links:
Personal Cloud Computing + Netbooks = Mobile Supercomputing?
Uptime Institute
Most links via Slate's BizBox which is not a bad blog.

They have more posts here, but cloud computing is so du jour that you can read about it anywhere.

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Comments

Submitted by lambert on

I hate the idea of my data being under somebody else's control, though.

Do you see any issues with that, technical or legal?

kerril's picture
Submitted by kerril on

What's holding me back from what is a really great solution is the worry that my data isn't local and it's dependent on a server (and someone I don't know) elsewhere. Granted, if your internet connection fails in one place you can run your apps and work from another location. That's terrific!
But if I was working, with someone's private data like SSN's etc.. I would worry. Most db's with private data I understand are not connected to the internet but are on an internal server and there's an edge server for forwarding external requests. Some businesses I have talked to don't even connect their servers with private data to the internet at all. Usually tax professionals.
What security is in place for it? Can your db be downloaded from this site? How is it secured at the remote server?

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

on a good day.

It all depends on the relationship you have with your IP/vendor. I happen to have a partnership type arrangement and leverage their considerable capabilities.

Since they have the horsepower for much greater security/redundancy than I do (without investing multiples of tens of thousands of dollars), my own best option is to take advantage of that.

Having my data in a version control repository means I have a duplicate on my own site. At least for the data that I keep, security is secondary to redundancy (actually security is a part of the redundancy).

If I was storing financial or medical data, I might have a different view. Now this is only my view, but since I'm not a serious expert in how to set up a secure, bombproof electronic data storage (if that possibility even exists), I have to rely on others (just as I would have to rely on employees) to make it happen for me while I work at being the best in the field that is my own forte.

At least I have somebody to blame if it goes pear-shaped!

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

My company website is also run on it.....

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

A lot of scientific software is written for unix/linux systems (freeware) and can take forever to run on a laptop (or slow down other processes). I had my adviser buy a kick ass linux computer and I set up remote desktop for it. I was able to run a lot of programs from my computer wherever I had a fast connection. I loved that.

kerril's picture
Submitted by kerril on

And it's pretty much this. The husband is playing with it and is using it to sync his desktops, virtual desktops and pda's. He doesn't have it store his data, just uses it to remote desktop and sync. He likes it a lot. As of yet, I don't have a use for it. But I only have two computers and organize my files myself.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

and works with a variety of systems -- my ubuntu box as well as my mother-in-law's Windows XP box. This helps keep my SO sane (as he is by default our tech support guy as well as doing that professionally).