Archive | February, 2011

The Art of High Availability

All organizations are becoming increasingly reliant upon their computer systems. The
availability of those systems can be the difference between the organization succeeding
and failing. A commercial organization that fails is out of business with the consequences
rippling out to suppliers, customers, and the community.

This series will examine how we can configure our Windows Server 2008 environments to
provide the level of availability our organizations need. The topics we cover will comprise:

• The Art of High Availability—What do we mean by high availability? Why do we
need it, and how do we achieve it?

• Windows Server 2008 Native Technologies—What does Windows Server 2008
bring to the high?availability game, and how can we best use it?

• Non?Native Options for High Availability—Are there other ways of achieving high
availability, and how can we integrate these solutions into our environments?

The first question we need to consider is why we need highly available systems.

Why Do We Need It?
This question can be turned on its head by asking “Do all of our systems need to be highly
available?” The answer for many, if not most, organizations is no. The art of high
availability comes in deciding which systems need to be made highly available and how this
is going to be achieved. When thinking about these systems, we need to consider the effects
of the systems not being available.

Downtime Hurts
Downtime is when the computer system is unavailable to the user or customer and the business
process cannot be completed. If the server is up and the database is online but a network
problem prevents access, the system is suffering downtime. Availability is an end?to?end
activity. Downtime hurts in two ways: If a system is unavailable, the business process it
supports cannot be completed and there is an immediate loss of revenue. This could be due

  • Customer orders not being placed or being lost
  • Staff not working
  • Orders not being processed

The second way that downtime hurts is loss of reputation. This loss can be even more
damaging in the long term if customers decide that your organization cannot be trusted to
deliver and they turn to a competitor. The ability to gain business increases with ease of
communication and access. The converse is that the ability to lose business increases just
as fast if not faster.

Mission Critical Systems on Microsoft Windows
Critical business systems are hosted on the Microsoft Windows platform. These can be customer
facing or internal, but without them, the business grinds to a halt. Email may not seem to be
a critical system, but it is essential to the modern business. More than 60% of person to person
communication is via email in most businesses. This includes internal and external
communications. If a company is non?responsive to communications, it is judged, perhaps
harshly, as being out of business. This can become reality if it progresses too long.

24 × 7 Business Culture
The “Global Village” concept has been accelerated by the adoption of the Internet for
business purposes. Globalization in this case means that business can come from anywhere
in the world—not necessarily your own time zone. If your business competes at this level,
high availability isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.

Industries such as the financial services and health sector have a requirement to protect
the data they store. This requirement can involve the availability of the data. In other cases,
the systems must be highly available to meet safety requirements.

Once you know why you need it, you need to define what is meant by high availability.

What Is High Availability?
High availability is usually expressed in terms of a number of “9”s. Four nines is 99.99%
availability. The ultimate goal is often expressed as 5 “9”s availability (99.999%), which
equates to five and a quarter minutes of downtime per year. The more nines we need, the
greater the cost to achieve that level of protection.

One common argument is scheduled downtime. If downtime is scheduled, for example, for
application of a service pack, does that mean the system is unavailable? If the system is
counted as unavailable, any Service Level Agreements (SLAs) on downtime will probably
be broken. In hosting or outsourcing scenarios, this could lead to financial penalties.
However, if scheduled downtime doesn’t mean the system is counted as unavailable,
impressive availability figures can be achieved—but are they a true reflection of
availability to the users? There is no simple answer to these questions, but all systems
require preventative maintenance or they will fail. The disruption to service can be
minimized (for example, the patching nodes of a cluster in sequence) but cannot be
completely eliminated. Probably the best that can be achieved is to ensure that
maintenance windows are negotiated into the SLA.

These measurements are normally taken against the servers hosting the system. As we
have seen, the server being available doesn’t necessarily mean the system is available. We
have to extend our definition of highly available from protecting the server to also include
protecting the data.

The Server Clustering Service built?in to Microsoft Windows is often our first thought for protecting the
server. In the event of failure, the service automatically fails over to a standby server, and
the business system remains available. However, this doesn’t protect the data in that a
failure in the disk system, or even network failures, can make the system unavailable.

Do We Still Need to Back Up our server and data?
One common question is “Do I still need to take a backup?” The only possible answer is
High availability is not, and never can be, a substitute for a well?planned backup
regimen. Backup is your ultimate “get out of jail card.” When all else fails, you can always
restore from backup. However, this pre supposes a few points.

  • Test restores have been performed against the backup media. The last place you
    want to be is explaining why a business?critical system cannot be restored because
    the tapes cannot be read.
  • A plan exists to perform the restore that has been tested and practiced. Again, you
    don’t want to be performing recoveries where the systems and steps necessary for
    recovery are not understood.

Backup also forms an essential part of your disaster recovery planning.

Disaster Recovery vs. High Availability
These two topics, high availability and disaster recovery, are often thought of as being the
same thing. They are related but separate topics. High availability can be best summed up
as “keeping the lights on.” It is involved with keeping our business processes working and
dealing with day?to?day issues. Disaster recovery is the process and procedures required to
recover the critical infrastructure after a natural or man?made disaster. The important
point of disaster recovery planning is restoring the systems that are critical to the business
in the shortest possible time.

Traditionally, these are two separate subjects, but the technologies are converging. One
common disaster recovery technique is replicating the data to a standby data center. In the
event of a disaster, this center is brought online and business continues. There are some
applications, such as relational database systems and email systems, that can manage the
data replication to another location. At one end of the scale, we have a simple data
replication technique with a manual procedure required to bring the standby data online in
place of the primary data source. This can range up to full database mirroring where
transactions are committed to both the primary and mirror databases and fail over to the
mirror can be automatically triggered in the event of applications losing access to the
primary. In a geographically dispersed organization where systems are accessed over the
WAN, these techniques can supply both high availability and disaster recovery.

We have seen why we need high availability and what it is. We will now consider how we
are going to achieve the required level of high availability.

Achieving High Availability
When high availability is discussed, the usual assumption is that we are talking about
clustering Windows systems. In fact, technology is one of three areas that need to be in
place before high availability works properly:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Technology

People and Processes
These are the two points that are commonly overlooked. I have often heard people say that
clustering is hard or that they had a cluster for the application but still had a failure. More
often than not, these issues come down to a failure of the people and processes rather than
the technology.

The first question that should be asked is “Who owns the system?” The simple answer is
that IT owns the system. This is incorrect. There should be an established business owner
for all critical systems. They are the people who make decisions regarding the system from
a business perspective—especially decisions concerning potential downtime. A technical
owner may also be established. If there is no technical owner, multiple people try to make
decisions that are often conflicting. This can have a serious impact on availability.
Ownership implies responsibility and accountability. With these in place, it becomes
someone’s job to ensure the system remains available.

A second major issue is the skills and knowledge of the people administering highly
available systems. Do they really understand the technologies they are administering?
Unfortunately, the answer is often that they don’t. We wouldn’t make an untrained or
unskilled administrator responsible for a mainframe or a large UNIX system. We should
ensure the same standards are applied to our highly available Windows systems. I once
worked on a large Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2003 migration. This involved a number of
multi?node server clusters, each running several instances of Microsoft Exchange. One of the Microsoft Exchange
administrators asked me “Why do I need to know anything about Active Directory?” Given
the tight integration between Exchange and Active Directory (AD), I found this an
incredible question. This was definitely a case of untrained and unskilled network administrator.

Last, but very definitely not least, we need to consider the processes around our high availability
systems. In particular, two questions need to be answered:

  • Do we have a change control system?
  • Do we follow it?

If the answer to either of these is no, our system won’t be highly available for very long. In
addition, all procedures we perform on our systems should be documented and tested.
They should always be performed as documented.

Technology will be the major focus of the next two articles, but for now, we need to
consider the wider implications of high availability. We normally concentrate on the
servers and ensure that the hardware has the maximum levels of resiliency. On top of this,
we need to consider other factors:

  • Network—Do we have redundant paths from client to server? Does this include
    LAN, WAN, and Internet access?
  • Does the storage introduce a single point of failure?
  • Has the operating system (OS) been hardened to the correct levels? Is there a
    procedure to ensure it remains hardened?
  • Does our infrastructure in terms of AD, DNS, and DHCP support high availability?
  • Does the application function in a high?availability environment?

Highly?available systems explicitly mean higher costs due to the technology and people we
need to utilize. The more availability we want, the higher the costs will rise. A business
decision must be made regarding the cost of implementing the highly?available system
when compared against the risk to the business of the system not being available.

This calculation should include the cost of downtime internally together with potential loss
of business and reputation. When a system is unavailable and people can’t work, the final
costs can be huge leading to the question “We lost how much?”

You need high availability data solutions to ensure your business processes keep functioning. This ensures
your revenue streams and your business reputation are protected. We help you achieve high availability
through the correct mixture of people, processes, and technology.

Posted in Computers, Data Backups, Data Storage, Hardware, High Availability, Servers0 Comments

Microsoft Office 2010 Suite and Version Comparison

Why Microsoft Office 2010?

Because your business success depends on productivity.

If you’re like most Business Owners and IT decision-makersin in Orlando and Central Florida , you face a tough balancing act—to support your company’s diverse business needs and varied employee work styles, while efficiently providing consistent technology with reduced budgets and staff.

You are expected to extend capabilities to mobile workers, improve information workflow, and reduce
risk. You need a reliable technology consulting firm to respond quickly to constantly changing business
requirements. You must control the costs of support, training, and integration and connect your users with
key business processes while you protect vital company information.

Where do you turn with such enormous challenges?
SIMPLE: Contact Central Florida Computer Engineering for the reliable IT support you need to make your business succeed.

Discover how you can meet all these challenges with one, efficient, cost-effective platform—
Microsoft Office 2010 and the related Microsoft business productivity servers.

What’s New in Office 2010?

Microsoft Office 2010 helps you rise to the challenge of today’s business environment without losing
sight of what’s needed for IT success. The people in your organization can now work in ways that
are faster, easier, and more intuitive. What’s more, your IT staff can take advantage of a set of smart,
security-enhanced, easy-to-integrate tools, so you can grow your business instead of your budget.

Microsoft Office has been the productivity standard for quite some time. Features like Copy and Paste
and the Ribbon toolbar—which were breakthroughs when they were introduced—have now been
further enhanced. Advanced new capabilities have also been added that will become the new standards
in productivity for the future.

With Office 2010, productivity knows no boundaries. Microsoft Office 2010 can keep your employees in
touch and working effectively no matter where they are. They can use the same applications from their
PCs, from a smartphone, or from a Web browser—and they can even switch between modes of access
without losing a thing. And now that Office Web Apps are available as lightweight companions that
can be hosted on premises, your IT staff gains more manageability and control. All those reasons make
Office 2010 a “must have” productivity tool for any organization.

Top New Capabilities

Office Web Apps are online companions to Microsoft Word,
Excel®, PowerPoint®, and OneNote® that let you review and
make light edits to documents from a supported browser.
Feel confident with your data since document formatting
and content are maintained when edits are done in the browser.
Office Web Apps can be hosted on premises, running on
Microsoft SharePoint.

Microsoft SharePoint Workspace 2010 lets you keep your
important SharePoint documents and lists available offline. It
automatically syncs only the changes, so you get them fast even
over a low-bandwidth connection.

Office Mobile gives co-workers in different locations the
ability to share, edit, and comment on documents with
their smartphones, using a familiar Office experience that is
optimized for mobile devices.

Microsoft Office 2010 keeps security in mind while
helping people work better together through
collaboration without compromise.

Co-authoring supports simultaneous editing to reduce the
administrative work associated with team collaboration;
security is not compromised since the information can be
hosted on premises.

Conversation View, Clean Up, and Ignore in Outlook 2010 can
group messages, remove duplicate information from message
threads, and act like a “mute button” for your inbox. Mail Tips
give users important information before they hit “send” to avoid
unnecessary, embarrassing, or even damaging e-mail.

Broadcast Slide Show allows you to present a slideshow
directly from PowerPoint 2010 to anyone who can access a
Web browser by hosting the content on premises through
SharePoint, or through a free service provided over the Internet.

The Microsoft Outlook Social Connector gives you a people-centric view
of your company, including messages, meeting schedules,
attachments, and SharePoint activities like the posting of status
updates. And because it can be connected to popular social
networking sites, you can also get news from customers,
prospects, and partners.

Microsoft Office 2010 provides tools that help people
draw insights from information and bring
ideas to life.

PowerPivot for Excel 2010 gives you the ability to quickly
calculate data sets of hundreds of millions of rows from multiple
sources at lightning speed—which can eliminate the need
to purchase additional BI tools. Sparklines save real estate
on-screen by charting trends in a single cell adjacent to the
corresponding data.

Photo and video editing tools in Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 can trim a video
clip, turn a color film into black & white, add artistic effects to
photos, and more without the need for expensive third-party tools.

Ribbon toolbar is now provided in all applications, so your
team can find the commands they need most often and
ultimately deliver better results, faster. The new Microsoft Office
view gives everyone quick access to important
operations such as viewing document information, saving,
printing, and sharing; it’s extensible, so it can be customized
to surface commands or workflow operations that are most
important to people in your organization.

Microsoft Office 2010 was designed with performance,
security, and manageability in mind, making it
the practical productivity platform for IT.

Maximize performance across the hardware you already own,
while also positioning your organization for future hardware
investments such as 64-bit chips, advanced graphics cards, and
multicore processors.

The Trusted Documents and Protected View features of layered
defense combine to first determine the trustworthiness of
a document and then, if not trusted, open for viewing in a
protected area for users to view before enabling. This tiered
approached to document security is new in Office 2010.

Backstage view, Web Apps, and application services such
as Excel Services help users connect to important business
information and services, without leaving their familiar Microsoft
Office environment, which increases participation in server
investments and reduces training costs.

The Accessibility checker scans documents for issues that
will affect users with disabilities. It also helps eliminate errors
before they can cause harm to the business to maintain legal
compliance with statutory requirements.

Compare Microsoft Office 2010 to Previous Versions of Microsoft Office
See how much more efficient your organization can be with Microsoft Office 2010. Although not
a comprehensive list of features, this chart shows why Office 2010 is a critical tool to extend
productivity. It also increases the value of your existing IT infrastructure and helps you accomplish more,
even with fewer resources.

Note: Some features require a related Microsoft Business Productivity Server or Service such
as Microsoft SharePoint Server, Microsoft Exchange Server, or Office Communications Server
to be enabled.
If your organization is located around Orlando Florida or in Central Florida we can help you choose the best options for your organizational goals and budget.

Which Microsoft 2010 Office suite is right for you?

Posted in Computers, Microsoft, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Outlook, Software0 Comments

iPhone 5 rumor roundup: what to expect from the next iPhone

Cheaper, faster, better camera among likely improvements

The farther into 2011 we get, the closer we come to a new version of the Apple iPhone. Apple has released a new iPhone each year like clockwork — so what can we expect to see in the iPhone 5?

As it always is with rumors, the iPhone 5 has been associated with just about every new technology out there. Here are the things that seem most likely to actually happen:

Summer release date

This is a no brainer because Apple has been quite consistent in releasing a new iPhone around June or July of each year. You can expect with reasonable certainty that Apple will do the same with the iPhone 5 in 2011.

Faster, multi-Core processor

One of the most widely reported and sourced rumors is that Apple is manufacturing a successor to the A4 processor in the iPhone 4 and iPad. The A5 processor will be based on a Cortex A9 design and feature multiple cores. That would mean significant increases in performance and possibly battery life. It would also keep Apple securely in the technology curve as several other manufacturers are introducing dual-core processors into Android smartphones.

Integrated graphics upgrade

Along with a newer, faster processor, the iPhone 5 is rumored to have an upgraded integrated graphics and video processor (also referred to as IGPU). With Apple’s continuing emphasis on media, especially video and apps, this makes sense because a new graphics processor would boost the iPhone 5’s media capabilities. That means better video, game graphics and possibly even HDMI-out to TVs.  Apple’s OpenCL technology would also be able to use the IGPU to do additional tasks when idle.

NFC technology makes iPhone your iWallet

Near-field communication technology would make it possible to pay for goods and services by simply waving your iPhone 5 over a terminal, no cards or checks needed. Multiple sources have cited engineers working on NFC technology for the iPhone 5. Rumors even indicate that iTunes would expand to manage your debit or credit accounts, basically making the iPhone 5 a futuristic wallet.

New antenna, bye-bye deathgrip

Apple took a beating in the Antennagate scandal following the release of the iPhone 4. Holding the iPhone a certain way, dubbed the “deathgrip,” would drastically reduce the signal. It’s no surprise that Apple is rumored to be changing the antenna design, possibly moving it behind the Apple logo on back, in order to alleviate the problem.

Spec bump

As with each iteration of the iPhone, the iPhone 5 specs will likely get a refresh. Aside from the processors mentioned above, this likely means a little more memory, more storage and possibly a slight increase in screen size (evidence points to a 3.7-inch screen instead of 3.5).

Those are the rumors that are either backed up by multiple sources or obvious from Apple’s iPhone record. The following are several other rumors that are much less reliable, for one reason or another.

Better camera, 1080p video recording

This one isn’t unbelievable, but there is little evidence to back this up. The 5 megapixel, 720p video recording rear camera is already pretty impressive, and Apple may see no reason to update it on this version cycle. However, the upgraded graphics processor could certainly handle 1080p video recording, and 8 megapixel 1080p cameras are the standard for new smartphones.

LTE 4G speeds

4G is all the rage, so it seems like an obvious move for Apple, right? They certainly wouldn’t want to be left behind when almost every other manufacturer is aiming to put out a 4G phone soon, would they? Well, it seems like an obvious choice, but several reliable sources have said that Apple isn’t working on LTE compatibility. Instead, the company is said to be including a dual GSM/CMDA chip (3G technology) from Qualcomm for the iPhone 5. This wouldn’t be the first time Apple decided to hold back, either. The original iPhone was only able to download data at 2G, or EDGE, speeds even though AT&T already had a 3G network in place.

A cheaper iPhone?

Several outlets have breathlessly reported on backroom deals Apple has made that would lead to a cheaper iPhone. However, that seems pretty unlikely. The new hardware isn’t going to be that much cheaper, if it is at all, and Apple already has a pretty stable price point for the iPhone. What’s more, carriers already heavily subsidize the iPhone, so even if its retail price dropped, carriers wouldn’t necessarily lower the subsidized price, too.

Verizon and AT&T Simultaneously?

Just because Verizon finally got access to the iPhone 4 doesn’t mean they have rights to the iPhone 5. AT&T had a longstanding exclusive deal with Apple, and it’s quite possible they might be able to negotiate another exclusivity period for the iPhone 5, even if it’s only a few months to give AT&T a head start. On the other hand, Verizon will be actively lobbying for the same opportunity, and it’s in Apple’s best interest to have the iPhone on as many networks as possible.

Posted in APPLE, AT&T, Cell Phones, Hardware, IPhone, Verizon Wireless, Wireless Carriers0 Comments

iPhone 4 comparison: Verizon vs. AT&T

We’ve managed to get a hands-on with the new Verizon iPhone. The big questions are: What’s the same? What’s different? While only thorough testing will tell us variations in call and data performance, here’s what we know today:

1. The dimensions are the same
There was fear that the CDMA iPhone would be thicker, but we have confirmation that the thickness and other measurements — including weight — are identical.

2. Antennas are slightly different
Though the bottom antenna gaps — which on the AT&T iPhone 4 can be grasped to recreate the “grip of death” known to reduce reception and occasionally drop calls — are still in the same place, the top antenna gap is moved. Instead of being located up next to the headphone jack, it is located on the side, above the mute switch.

Though this doesn’t necessarily correspond to any difference in performance, it did cause the switch and volume buttons to drop down “ever so slightly,” says Rivera. Our friend Rosa at Gizmodo points out that this hard-to-notice button shift could affect case makers, and might even throw off the iPhone 4 “bumper” that saved many a dropped call.

3. No SIM slot
Anyone familiar with the CDMA phones from Verizon and Sprint knows there’s no SIM card slot. Therefore, it’s no surprise that there’s none found on the first CDMA iPhone. (If this were a Verizon LTE 4G phone, or a CDMA/GSM world phone, there would be a SIM slot, however.)

4. “Internet tethering” vs. “personal hotspot”
While both phones can be used — at extra service cost — to provide Internet access to your computer, only Verizon’s is offering a personal hotspot, enabling not one computer but up to five devices to access the phone’s Internet connection, via Wi-Fi.

5. No simultaneous data and voice
Something we assumed before that was confirmed today was that the first Verizon iPhone would not allow for simultaneous voice and data connections. This means that while a call is engaged, you’ll be able to access Contacts and apps, but no app or services that requires Internet access will function properly.

If some of these differences sound a bit subtle, they are. After a thorough going over, we’re convinced that Apple did its best to make these phones all but indistinguishable.

Posted in APPLE, AT&T, Cell Phones, IPhone, Smart Phones, Verizon Wireless, Wireless Carriers0 Comments

Who should buy the Verizon iPhone – and who shouldn’t

So, the truth is out: The Verizon iPhone is a better “phone” than the one so many have been using for years on AT&T. Time to buy it, right? Not necessarily. While many Verizon customers and people yearning to switch to Verizon should indeed get on board, you might want to hold off.

Who shouldn’t buy it:

Early adopters
Perhaps the biggest reason for anyone not to buy the Verizon iPhone right now is that it’s extremely likely that a new iPhone will come to Verizon as early as June. Most buzz indicates that the iPhone 5 would either come in Verizon and AT&T flavors, or have a super cell-phone chip that lets it run on both networks. If you consider yourself an Apple fan and an early adopter, you probably already have an iPhone 4 from AT&T, so a Verizon iPhone 4 would actually feel like a bit of a letdown. So suffer through another four months with those “Can you hear me? Hey, are you there? Hello?” calls, and your waiting will be rewarded — probably.

Speed freaks
Verizon’s iPhone 4 is being hailed for its call quality, but it’s a simple technological fact that Verizon’s 3G network is slower than AT&T’s. (More reliable, say many, and I’d agree, but still, it’s slower.) That might not matter for most messing around with the iPhone — loading maps and getting e-mail should be about the same, with possibly fewer connectivity problems to hold you up. But if you plan to tether your phone to your laptop — and pay $20 extra every month for that privilege — doesn’t it just make sense to do it with a faster phone?

Given the fact that by mid-year, Verizon will be selling four smart phones that run on its ridiculously fast LTE 4G network, most tech industry watchers are now hoping that Apple’s iPhone 5 will be the fifth.

Business travelers
There are two key reasons why business travelers, who live and die by their mobile phones, would want to wait on the Verizon iPhone. First, it’s not a world phone. Unlike some BlackBerry and Droid models sold by Verizon, this one can’t roam overseas on GSM networks. The AT&T iPhone already runs on America’s GSM network, so roaming with it is easy (if expensive). The next Verizon iPhone may very well think globally.

The other reason is that on Verizon’s iPhone 4, you can’t talk and work at the same time. If you are tethered to your laptop and a call comes in, the data connection drops. If you are on a call and want to check something on the Web, you just can’t. Most of us won’t have a problem with this most of the time, but for people who use a single phone as a universal connection to the outside world, it’s definitely an issue.

Penny pinchers
The Verizon iPhone isn’t going to drop in price. Apple tends to sell out their high-end models, and “discount” their lower-end models only after they’re essentially obsolete. So although you might be able to buy an AT&T-ready iPhone on the cheap on eBay, you’re going to be paying full price up front for an iPhone at Verizon for many months to come. Verizon has a phone trade-in offer, but as the largest credit goes to those who paid full price for an AT&T iPhone 4 only a few months ago, this is mainly a way to help people get out of their AT&T contracts.

But regardless of the phone you choose, Verizon itself isn’t really the carrier for penny pinchers. If you compare 450-minute smart phone plans with mobile data and unlimited texts, Verizon comes in the highest at $90 per month. T-Mobile and Sprint give you more or less the same plan for $80, with other monetary perks, too. Verizon may be reliable, but you pay for that reliability.

Who should buy it:

Everybody else who wants one
There are a lot of great phones in Verizon’s lineup right now, but there are millions of Verizon subscribers who have waited for an iPhone, and probably quite a few AT&T subscribers who have held off on upgrading so that they can jump ship. I have outlined all of the reasons why you wouldn’t want to take the plunge right now, but if you want the coolness and rich functionality of an iPhone — and all that comes with it, from iTunes and Apple TV to the most diverse assortment of docks, cases and car kits — on a network you prefer, then maybe it is time.

If you don’t care about super fast download speeds, if you don’t care about the Next Great Thingamajig, and if you rarely cross the county line, let alone national borders, then follow your instinct and go for it.

Posted in Cell Phones, IPhone, Smart Phones, Verizon Wireless, Wireless Carriers0 Comments