Monthly Archives: March 2013

Online or Cloud Backup Solution – Things You Need to Know to Make a Decision on Which One to Go With


The Experts All Agree:

  • “A Company that experiences a computer outage lasting more than 10 days will never fully recover financially. 50% will be out of business within five years.
  • An estimated 25% of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster
  • 70% of small firms that experience a major data loss go out of business within a year.
  • Of companies experiencing catastrophic data loss:
  • 43% of companies never reopened
  • 51% of companies closed within 2 years
  • 80% of companies that do not recover from a disaster within one month are likely to go out of business.
  • 75% of companies without business continuity plans fail within three years of a disaster
  • Of those businesses that experience a disaster and have no emergency plan, 43% never reopen; of those that do reopen, only 29% are still operating two years later.”

Impact on U.S. Small Business of Natural and Man-Made Disasters, A compilation of public and private sector intelligence; Presented by HP and SCORE: Counselors to America’s Small Business; 2007.

Critical Considerations with Cloud backup solutions

Portable media is quickly becoming an outdated and expensive method for safeguarding important data, so it is essential to secure critical business assets and personal information with an easy-to-use, automated, online backup service as a complement to whatever backup solution you are using at the local level. You need proven technology that is user-friendly, reliable, ultra-secure and cost-effective.

Maybe you are of the camp that already knows how crucial it is to back up your data, offsite, but did you know that online backup can also be effortless once you set it up correctly? Wouldn’t it help make your life easier if these cloud backup solutions would offer several user-friendly features like simple installation, automatic backup, off-site storage, scalability and 24/7 file restoration? Believe it or not, such solutions do exist. Let’s talk about some of the things you will want to consider when you pick a cloud storage solution. Hint: It isn’t only how much per Gigabyte it will cost!


Let’s talk about security for a second. This is one of the most critical factors. You will want to find a solution that provides maximum security when backing up and archiving data. How do you do that? Well you will want to find a solution where files are first packaged to ensure that bandwidth is minimized during transmission of your data and then has that data encrypted using a 256-bit encryption key – that you choose – to ensure that files cannot be accessed by others if they should somehow happen upon your data file. For added security, you might look into a solution where each encrypted file is sent over the Internet via a secure channel, and then stored in at least a couple of redundant Type 2 or Level 4 compliant data centers, located some distance apart from each other to avoid catastrophic loss, if there were to be an earthquake or flood or some such disaster – so your data would be secure and available. There are approximately 150 Level 4 facilities across the US so access to them, through various vendors, may tend to be somewhat limited. It is not likely that you, as Mr or Mrs Business Owner, will be able to directly contact one of these data facilities and ask that they help you backup your data. Nevertheless it is a good idea to ensure that your offsite data backup is being stored in at least one of those secure facilities. The more likely scenario is that you will need to go through a trusted partner who will grant you access to one or more of these secure facilities via their service.


You will want to choose a secure online data backup solution which encrypts each file using 256-bit AES encryption technology. This will give you piece of mind knowing that your data is safe.

How strong is 256-bit AES encryption? Well, let’s put it this way. In June 2003, 256-AES was approved by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) for use encrypting the U.S. government’s documents classified “TOP SECRET.”


In addition to local encryption, you will want to be sure that the solution communicates with the backup servers using SSL (Secure Socket Layer) technology. This is the same encryption technology used by Internet browsers when a user enters a secured site such as an online bank. As a result, your data will be encrypted twice. It should be encrypted at all times using the 256-bit AES encryption, and it should be encrypted again while it’s being sent over the Internet.


As I mentioned earlier, you will want to be sure your encrypted data is stored in two secure online data backup centers, located at least hundreds of miles apart from each other. It would be great if they were on separate coasts. Each data center should also have 24/7 monitoring and advanced security measures, such as biometric controlled access, as well as backup generators and redundant connections to the Internet. This is to again be sure your data is accessible in the event of some major disaster. That is what you are paying for, right?

Simple Installation

Forget installing drives and changing tapes. Those methods are labor-intensive and can take hours or even days to complete, depending upon the size of the business. Setting up your solution should be an easy, one-time event. You should be able to be backing up files automatically on a schedule of your choosing. In minutes not hours.

Automatic Backup

The problem with tapes and other manual means of backing up your data is the fact that it is a manual process making it necessary for an individual to handle it every time it is done. Automation is the key to making data backups pain free. In addition, if someone else gets your external hard drive or tape backup, what is to stop them from getting the data contained on it? Data backups should be completely automatic but you should have the ability to manually initiate a backup at any time if you choose to. Once installed, you should be able to create a backup set that contains the list of files that you want to backup along with a schedule for when you’d like backups to occur.

You should not have to select each and every file. The software should use easy-to-configure wizards to help you with that. Once you finish creating your backup set, the online backup software should calculate how much data you have chosen and show you how much.

Setting up your secure online backup schedule should, in effect, be very easy. You will also want to have the option of setting a different start time for each day of the week. You may also wish to avoid running backups on certain days. After the initial backup, subsequent backups should only take minutes to complete because only new or modified files should be uploaded. Your solution should be intelligent enough to figure that out for you or you may end up spending tons of time just figuring that part out.

Off-Site Storage

With Online or Cloud Backup solutions, all backed up data should be automatically transmitted to off-site, geographically dispersed, data centers via a secure Internet channel. Not only does this protect your data from loss in the event of a natural or man-made disaster such as theft, but it also eliminates the hassle of having to physically transport tapes and drives off-site.


Have you had to catalog endless CDs or change tapes in the middle of a backup when space runs out? Your solution should eliminate the need to worry about purchasing more hardware to support your personal or business data growth. With the right solution, you can never run out of storage space. Your cloud storage solution should make it possible for your online storage account to grow with your needs.

File Restoration 24/7

Let’s face it – you could have the most powerful and most secure backup method around, but it is useless if you can’t easily recover your files when you need them. Restoring your files, after a local data loss, should be simple and fast.

You should be able to restore files when you want, as often as you want. You should have the ability to retrieve individual files, revisions of files, entire folders or backup sets or recover all of your data files in the event you experience a complete system failure or data loss.

A password should be required to restore any files, thus, preventing unauthorized restores, as per the HIPAA Security Rule.

In the event of a complete system failure, a full data recovery should be able to be initiated in just minutes. Do you really want to wait a long time to get your data back? Of course not! The recovery procedure should be able to be performed on any Windows-based computer – not just the computer where the data was originally backed up.

Logs and Reports

The problem with most online backup solutions is that there is not any way to tell if you have all of your files backed up. How do you know your backups actually worked? There needs to be some sort of logs and/ or reports to show you what was backed up and when. With detailed statistics and information about each file that is backed up or restored, you never have to wonder if your backups really worked. You can simply view the logs and reports whenever you like. Your cloud backup solution should have this feature as well.

Receive email notifications

If you want even more assurance that your backups are functioning, wouldn’t it be nice to have the option of receiving automatic email notifications following every successful backup? That would be very convenient and comforting and is offered in only some of the cloud solutions that are available.

Exchange and SQL Plugins

Let’s get more specific. If you are seeking a great solution as a business then you need the power to back up your Microsoft Exchange 2003, 2007, and 2010 databases as well as Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and 2008 databases. When you are considering Exchange, you need to be able to perform both full and incremental backups and with SQL, you will need to run both full and differential backups. Plus, you will need to be able to customize your backup schedule to lower the potential impact on your network.

Microsoft Exchange Plugin

If your solution has a Microsoft Exchange plugin, it should be able to perform live, secure Exchange backups according to Microsoft’s best practices. The Exchange plugin will need to run seamlessly in the background, never interrupting email flow otherwise you will be faced with shutting down email, etc. while you are running backups. Moreover, you should have the flexibility to perform individual mailbox level backups. With this second backup method, retrieving one lost or deleted email will no longer be a days-long procedure.

Microsoft SQL Server Plugin

Like with Exchange, your solution should offer a SQL Server Plugin where your server will never experience any downtime during a backup. The plugin should again run seamlessly in the background as a service, never interrupting or shutting down the SQL databases.

Wrap up

Hopefully, in this article, you have found some great information on the kinds of features you should be on the lookout for in a cloud-based backup solution for your business.


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Article: Five Low-Cost BI Ideas


… and a Reality Check

Until recently, the only organisations able to access the benefits of Business Intelligence would be large ones with the budget to take on the enterprise-scale offerings of BI software giants such as IBM (Cognos), Oracle, SAS and Business Objects. These client organisations almost always have an in-house BI department, large quantities of data, diverse computer systems and interesting technical challenges to boot.

But lately, things have started to change. Low-cost and easy-to-access options are now finally starting to appear. The cost-saving and competitive potential of BI are now accessible to organisations of all sizes. In this article I examine some of these ideas – and the benefits deploying them might bring to your organisation.

Idea 1 – Use Microsoft SQL Server

SQL Server now comes with a suite of Business Intelligence tools which allow you to both build and interrogate your Business Intelligence system. SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) is an ETL (extract, transformation, load) tool – in other words one that allows you to collect and organise data in a data warehouse; SQL Server Analysis Services contains tools to analyse and report on your data. Although earlier versions of SQL Server included some of this functionality it has become much more user-friendly since the release of SQL Server 2005.

One big advantage of SQL Server is its price. At the time of writing, the standard edition weighs in at around $US6000, which includes both the database itself and the Business Intelligence functionality. If you are planning to use the database anyway, you could make big savings by utilising the other tools bundled in with it. However, remember that you will need a good understanding of Business Intelligence principles to do the development in-house.

Idea 2 – DIY Data Warehousing

This means writing the data warehouse yourself, straight out of the box, as it were. This means no user-friendly “wizards” you get with the likes of Microsoft SQL Server. To develop this way you need a high level of skill and expertise. The advantage is that you have complete control over how the data warehouse is written, without having to purchase specialist applications. This level of control also means you can fine-tune performance yourself and achieve significant gains in data throughput.

On the other hand, a data warehouse built this way can be difficult to maintain. Development may or may not be quicker than other methods covered in this article, depending on the experience of the developer – and could well be slower and so more costly. Standards are less enforceable, adding to potential maintenance costs.

I should emphasise at this point that using less expensive tools does not excuse the need for a good strategy (see my article Seven Common BI Strategy Mistakes posted on the Acestar Solutions web site). Strategic mistakes can quickly cancel out the benefits of low-cost access to Business Intelligence.

Idea 3 – Outsource your development

Outsourcing has been around for a while. Outsourcing development, in the context of cost-saving, usually means indirectly hiring skilled resources from places where wages are lower. These locations are typically overseas, but they can also be in other parts of the same country.

Outsourced staff can either work on-site or remotely, depending on the needs of the project and other circumstances.

My own experience with outsourcing, as well as anecdotal evidence, indicates that it can work well but needs to be managed effectively. It is important to ensure that developers have the right level of experience, and specifications in particular need to be very clear and specific (as opposed to the scrawled notes on a Starbucks serviette I myself have often worked from!).

Idea 4 – Open Source

ETL applications integrate data, often from diverse sources, into a single place, so the most common use for ETL software is to build data warehouses. Open source ETL applications are now available from a number of vendors – notably Talend and Pentaho – and do away completely with licensing costs – although you still have to consider support and development costs.

To use any ETL application successfully you need to understand and apply best practice, getting the software for free does not excuse you from this! In a project of any size you need at least one data warehousing expert on board.

Being new – and free – the buyer should be concerned about not only what functionality is built into the product, but also how mature the product is in terms of robustness – in layman’s terms, how bug-free is it?

Open source reporting software is also becoming available through the BIRT (Business Intelligence Reporting Tools) project and a small number of software vendors.

Idea 5 – Cloud Computing and Saas

“Cloud computing” delivers computer services across the Internet (also known as the “cloud”). For example, you might purchase space on a server owned by another company – or several servers – without having to purchase or maintain the servers yourself.

Saas stands for “software-as-a-service”, which makes the applications themselves available online, usually through the Internet. Some of these have been around for quite a while, for example Hotmail and more recently Google Mail. A number of factors make Saas interesting, not the least of which is ability of suppliers to tailor their pricing structures.

For example, a contact management system vendor might offer a free fully-functional trial period, with an increasing price according to how many contacts you have. Contracts may be monthly and can often be terminated at short notice.

The advantages of Saas include

  • low capital expenditure (you don’t need to buy new servers and software licenses)
  • scalability
  • low entry-cost
  • Disadvantages might include
  • dependence on network bandwidth
  • potential system downtime
  • loss of control over performance
  • outsourcing of security standards
  • loss of overall project control
  • locked into a single vendor
  • does not fully address ‘siloed data’ issues

Despite its catchy name, Saas is in effect a way of outsourcing your IT delivery. After all, goes the argument, it’s not your core business so why be involved with it? But outsourcing has its advantages and disadvantages, like any other management approach (see above).

Of course, as with most things in computer-land there is as much air-ware as there are real applications. But that is changing rapidly and will continue to change as more and more providers see the benefits of joining the “cloud” market.

Like all new things cloud computing has an appealing gloss about it. It presses the right buttons: low-cost, distributed computing power etc. But it suffers from the ‘version 1’ syndrome – untried technology (that will no doubt be resolved when you upgrade to version 2). Every project feels a bit like a pilot project because you don’t fully know what’s upstream.

Summary – A Low-Cost BI Reality Check

Here are a few points you should consider before committing all your resources to these appealing low-cost options:

1. Bear in mind that low-cost solutions are not suitable to all projects and all organisations. There can be a number of reasons for this, including the desire to retain control over one’s environment, the unsuitability of the application, inability to access one’s data as one wishes and inability to find the required functionality.

2. Low entry-cost in the form of lower capital expenditure (servers etc.) and license fees does not necessarily result in lower overall costs, because development and expertise costs must also be taken into account. These will be dictated by a number of other factors, such as the solution chosen and the scope of the project.

3. A more specialised understanding of data warehousing might be required if using a relatively low-cost product such as Sql Server 2005.

Business Intelligence is truly coming to the small and medium-sized organisation. Low-cost alternatives to the traditional enterprise-scale solutions are now ready and waiting for you to take advantage of. The question is, are you ready for them?


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Understanding the Pricing Structure of Microsoft Dynamics GP


Microsoft dynamics GP is accounting or ERP software that is targeted for mid market business. The software is available in North America, South America, UK, Ireland, Singapore, Australia, the Middle East and New Zealand. Microsoft SQL Server 2005 or 2008 is utilized by the software in order to store data. The software was originally developed by Great Plains software, an independent company located in North Dakota. In the year 2000, Microsoft announced the position of the company for $1.1 billion. The software is written in the language that is called as dexterity.

Microsoft dynamics GP is mainly targeted for business that a small, medium and big. For a business to adapt the software, it is necessary that the pricing structure is affordable. This reduces the overall operational cost for an organization. It is also one of the ways to increase the profits. The software should be selected based on its performance, after service and implementation cost. Dynamics GP has been priced in variations according to the needs of a business. They are available in packages and contain a set of applications rather than the entire software itself. The pricing structure ranges from $1000 to $2300. The prices are negotiable and depend upon the seller of the software.

It is important for a business to consider the requirement before opting for a particular package of Microsoft dynamics GP. GP foundation, NAV foundation, SL foundation and CRM are the four packages that are currently available in the market. Though most of the functionalities and capabilities are similar for the first three foundations, the fourth one completely differs from them. This is where the pricing is usually changed. The functionality and the ability to package offers to the business is the reason behind its pricing. Also, a slight variation in price can also be found for the same foundation from one seller to another.

Many businesses feel that the pricing structure of Microsoft dynamics GP is relatively high. But, the point to be noted here is that Microsoft dynamics has the ability to do anything. Apart from being a management information system, the software also lets the organization connect customers, employees and various people within the organization and from outside. This makes it easy for a business to perform its activities at increased productivity levels. Every employee, stakeholder, customer, seller and individual is interconnected. This phenomenal activity ensures the business to reach its goal that it has set out for the financial year.

Taking into account the capabilities and functionalities, the pricing structure is completely affordable and fair. It is a good practice to invest in the software that helps an organization carry out increased productivity. Also, it is a one-time investment, which can cut down many expenses in the future. Furthermore, the software can be accessed from any device that has the ability to connect to Internet. Finally, it is a good choice for an organization to invest in Microsoft dynamics GP to increase productivity, communication, involvement and reduction in overall operational cost.


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