Are You an IT Cave Man? – Part 1: Computer Servers
If you’ve been in a cave for the last five years you’ve missed some amazing advances in Information Technology. Yes, you are now an IT Cave Man! Most IT people know about Moore’s Law (approximately every 18 months microchip density doubles – increasing computer speeds) but microchip advances are actually one of the least important stories right now.
Five years is an eternity in IT and here’s what you need to get caught up. Reader beware… this is a long, but not complete list. It would be difficult to impossible to cover all of the various IT advances in just the last year, let alone five! If you have a favorite tech you feel I left out and should not have please comment to let me know.
I’ll tackle this task in three chunks:
- Computer Servers
- Desktops, Laptops & Mobile Devices
- Applications & Services
Here is what’s ancient, tired and wired – Part 1: Computer Servers…
Servers have come a long way since 2006. Quad-core CPUs are now standard and you rarely see a server with less than 8GB RAM. Blade servers became popular and then virtual servers revolutionized the whole category when you no longer required one server for one operating system. Finally, through virtualized hosted servers – once the homes of websites and ftp servers – became popular destinations for running software applications (SaaS), started providing platforms for developing and deploying services (PaaS) and hosting entire server infrastructures for customers (IaaS).
Server Operating Systems
Software and hardware advanced in lock-step with new features appearing to take advantage of the exploding CPU power, memory and storage on servers. With Windows Server 2008, virtualization became a part of the O/S in the form of Hyper-V and tools got better and better, eventually allowing for “servers” to be virtually deployed at a whim, without configuring new hardware. Cheap and easy virtualization from Hyper-V and VMware enabled the hosting of fully functional “servers” on the Internet, moving infrastructure offsite. As internet speeds increased, reliability was enhanced and better tools were developed, “cloud” services began competing with on-site servers… are the days of buying Windows and owning your own servers numbered?
|Windows Server 2003||Windows Server 2008||Cloud|
Server monitoring used to be the work for system vendors like Dell, HP & IBM. Their products are familiar to many and include OpenManage and Insight Manager. More recently Microsoft’s System Center Operations Manager (SCCM) has offered a standardized and easily accessible solution. The latest trend however is to cloud-provided services. Already widely used by managed IT service providers, hosted Remote Monitoring & Management (RMM) solutions provide most of the same benefits without requiring the hosting of dedicated monitoring hardware and hiring a new team of IT experts to run it. Vendors like Level Platforms and N-able have mature products that provide onsite and hosted versions of their product suites. They also offer integration with popular service automation platforms, e-mail and collaboration software.
|Alerts & Logging||OpenManage, Insight Manager, Nagios,
Storage has revolutionized the backup and disaster recovery industry. Serial ATA hard drives combined with Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) enabled high-capacity, low-access storage that has either replaced tape backups altogether or is used in a nearline or near-online function. This has enabled backups to occur to intermediate, relatively high-performance media and then to be later archived to tape for longer-term storage if necessary. Often, tapes are totally removed from the system and the nearline storage becomes the primary archival medium.
Backup software has also progressed. New technologies have enabled high-capacity storage media to store even larger amounts of data through impressive compression and now data deduplication. Through deduplication, similar or identical data is stored only once with changes being recorded only. In this way, two backup copies with only one bit of data changed only store the change rather than the full data set.
Combining hardware and software in appliances, companies like Datto and Zenith Infotech started selling integrated backup systems that were remotely managed and would synchronize data to the cloud for an off-site copy. While these systems have proved popular in small and medium businesses (SMB), larger enterprises need higher-capacity solutions and the cloud-synchronization of data is as of yet too slow for larger datasets.
|Tape, Optical||Backup-to-Disk||Data Deduplication, Offsite Sync|
Watch in the next few days for Part 2: Desktops, Laptops, & Mobile Devices.
After working with the Datto and Zenith backup and disaster recovery (BUDR) appliances for a while it’s time for an update. I’ve covered 5 categories: Reliability, Service, Integration, Pricing/value, Ease of Use. I’ve scored each device in each category and summed the scores out of a total of 50 points, 10 for each category.
Here’s how it played out:
—————————— Zenith ——————————
Reliability – the boxes themselves seem to work fine, but periodically I get errors in the backups that require me to restart either the Zenith or the target box. I’m not sure if it’s Zenith’s software or Shadowprotect. It doesn’t happen all that often and the monitoring and ticketing system notifies me well when it does.
Service – For being a e-mail/instant messaging only service, Zenith does a good job. I still wish I had a person to talk to on the phone though.
Integration – I use Autotask and Level Platforms and the Zenith just doesn’t integrate all that well with them… I assume since they do their own monitoring. I understand that now I can have the Zenith system push tickets in to my Autotask but I haven’t done it yet. I’m not sure I can do any monitoring of the Zenith box with my Level Platforms. I’d like to in order to keep everything managed by my NOC. That’s a task for another day.
Pricing/value – While the Zenith has a considerably higher up front cost I’m not getting as much hardware for the buck. Zenith beefed up their servers in the last iteration but Datto still beats them in most all the models. You just need more RAM for virtualization… especially for things like SBS 2008.
Ease of use – the Zenith has a more robust interface, but it’s clunky and has too many options buried in submenus. The remote access on the other hand is better for the Zenith since it uses Logmein IT Reach.
—————————— Datto ——————————
Reliability – The machine itself is at least as reliable as the Zenith. No problems with the hardware. The box is smaller and looks more like an appliance, so I thought maybe it would have cheaper hardware, but apparently not. They’ve been solid.
Service – The phone support has been spectacular. This is why I’m not looking back at Zenith. I call, get a person on the first try, and they speak English as a first language. Don’t get me wrong, some of the support guys overseas are great, but you never know how much of an accent they’ll have and sometimes that’s a bar to communicating technically. As another item, it’s a really nice but small thing to have them send out the offsite hard drive. They even notify you that you need to do it and it’s easy to request. They manage the whole process better.
Integration – I don’t think the Datto is much better than the Zenith, frankly. In addition, it’s a Linux box rather than Windows, so I imagine it’ll integrate less well with monitoring services. On the other hand, I’ve had less problems with the backups on the Dattos, so maybe it’s not a big deal. I need to look further in to having the Dattos monitored and fully managed by my NOC.
Pricing/value – When I considered the two products pricing I took in to account several variables: initial cost, monthly cost for support, monthly cost for offsite storage. Because the Datto charges in 1 TB increments for offsite storage I compared the Zenith with similar amounts of storage offsite (the Zenith charges a base plus per GB over last I checked). It comes down to this… the Zenith has a much higher up front cost than the Datto. The Datto has a somewhat higher monthly cost. When I projected the cost of both out 3 years using 2 TB & 3 TB the Datto was hands down cheaper by over 20% for the term. Having more monthly charges for Storagecraft might change this slightly, but not enough to sway me… especially with the service and support bonus for Datto.
Ease of use – Ordering off their website is easy although I’ve had a couple problems with their website now and then. Maybe they were just doing upgrades to their web hosting hardware? It’s easy to buy the Shadowprotect licenses and assign them to clients. Their phone tech support is stellar… have I mentioned that yet? The only problem I have is with the remote management capability of the box. There’s a silly drop down box on the support website where you have to choose what you want to do and click submit. You then wait a while for an e-mail link that gives you the remote capability you requested (VNC, web access, etc.). It seems like this could use some work. It’s just not nearly as nice as the LogmeIn IT Reach service.
—————————— Scoring ——————————
Scoring Zenith & Datto out of 10 in each category:
|Ease of use||7||6|
—————————— Conclusion ——————————
While I don’t have any real problems with the Zenith product and they’re both pretty slick offerings, I’m going with the Datto for two reasons – price and service. If you are on the Zenith monitoring platform that’s probably enough to push you to the Zenith, but otherwise I recommend the Datto.