Data Centers Eye Altoona

LightEdge was featured in a Des Moines Register article on Thursday, December 4th discussing the growing trend for companies to construct their data centers in Altoona, IA. This newfound attention has been sparked by companies like Google, Microsoft and Enseva moving their high tech data warehouses to the area. The open land, central location and access to fiber optics & power were a few attractive benefits credited for driving this movement. There is also an interview with our CEO, Jim Masterson, about what appealed to the company when building our data center there in 2006, a move that is considered the “first of its kind” by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Please visit http://dmreg.co/SxFDpX to read the full article and browse some images that provide a glimpse inside the LightEdge Data Center.

LightEdge Solutions Achieves Silver Certification from Cisco

DES MOINES, IA – October 16, 2012 – LightEdge Solutions announced today it has achieved Silver Certification from Cisco®.  To earn Silver Certification, LightEdge had to meet rigorous standards for networking competency, service, support and customer satisfaction set forth by Cisco.

“Achieving Cisco Silver Reseller Certification is yet another validation of our accomplishments as LightEdge continues to redefine itself from a managed services provider to a complete Information Technology business partner,” said Jim Masterson, chairman and CEO of LightEdge Solutions.  “Through our collaboration with Cisco and the use of Cisco routing, switching and compute platforms, LightEdge is uniquely positioned to implement and deliver high availability IT services for our customers though managed platforms within our data center, dedicated on-premise customer-owned platforms or a hybrid of the two for the highest level of reliability and elastic scalability.”

“Cisco is committed to providing tools, training and programs to help drive partner growth, differentiation and profitability,” said Surinder Brar, senior director of worldwide channels at Cisco.  “With specializations in Advanced Unified Computing, Advanced Unified Communications, Telepresence Express and Advanced Data Center Architecture, LightEdge has made an investment in delivering the integrated and customized technology solutions today’s customers demand.”

As a Cisco Silver Certified Partner, LightEdge has met requirements for attaining a broad range of expertise.  To achieve Cisco Silver Certification LightEdge was required to achieve either two from the following four Cisco advanced specializations:  Unified Communications, Routing and Switching, Security, and Wireless LAN, or the Cisco Express Unified Communications Specialization and one of the following advanced specializations:  Routing and Switching, Security, and Wireless LAN.  In addition, LightEdge was required to integrate Cisco Lifecycle Services into their offerings and maintain high levels of customer satisfaction based on independently audited customer satisfaction surveys.

The Cisco Resale Channel Program provides partners with the training required to build sales, technical and Cisco Lifecycle Services skills, and then validates their skills through a third-party audit.  Cisco resale partner certifications—Gold, Silver, Premier and Select—represent an increasing breadth of skills across key technologies and a partner’s ability to deliver integrated networking solutions.  Cisco resale partner specializations—Master, Advanced and Express—reflect an increasing depth of sales, technical and service expertise in particular technologies.

About LightEdge Solutions

LightEdge Solutions is a customer-centric cloud computing and consulting company devoted to solving the IT issues of businesses nationwide. By utilizing our economies of scale, connections with world-class vendors and our own internal passion for engineering, LightEdge allows its customers to “plug in” to enterprise-grade IT solutions that maximize uptime and performance, yet fit into their budget. For more information, visit www.lightedge.com.

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Cisco, Cisco Systems and the Cisco logo are registered trademarks of Cisco Systems Inc. in the United States and certain other countries.

Yes or No to BYO: What’s the best approach for your business?

By Todd Wirth, LightEdge Engineer

The invitation list to the “Bring Your Own” party is expanding.  Before you RSVP, however, consider the impact…and the potential impact on your voice communications.

Most people have access to high speed Internet connections via cable, DSL, WiFi, or cellular data plans.  SmartPhone and Tablet use is growing and the costs are coming down.  Businesses are accommodating these trends with complex “Bring Your Own Device” and “Bring Your Own Bandwidth” policies.

Because of these trends, many users are now working over the Internet and on their own devices from various locations including home, libraries, airports, and hotels.  As a business owner, it makes financial sense to leverage these resources.  As much as possible, you can enhance your employee experience by allowing access to your company’s systems from whatever device they choose.

There are few obstacles accessing email over BYO networks or on BYO devices, but can corporate voice services be accessed as easily in a BYO environment?

Voice-over-IP is flexible enough to work over any high speed network including the Internet.  Technology is not the obstacle.  Much like the early days of cellular phones, VoIP over the public Internet should probably be avoided for critical calls to make sure that communication is reliable and high quality.

Voice services over ill-prepared data networks are sensitive to connection properties such as latency, jitter, and packet loss.  The best communications solution is to have a dedicated connection to provide all of your data needs including VoIP.  This allows network controls to traffic flow and quality of service.  With a well-managed connection you can have excellent quality.

There are situations, however, where installing dedicated connections does not make business sense.  For example, there is no need to add a WAN connection to a small remote office in a complex that receives high speed Internet as a utility.  Another instance would be when working from a hotel room. In these cases, the Internet can be used to provide a simple and consistent business presentation.  Tolerance is the key as quality will vary.

Simple communication needs:

  1. One number to be called regardless of where the employee is working.
  2. One number to show on calling line identification on outbound calls.
  3. Easy (and if possible fun) solutions.
  4. “Good” quality calls*

*It is important to note again that Voice communication in the BYO world is a cautionary tale.  Voice streams must be real-time to deliver the expected conversation experience.  Any network anomalies will affect conversations. 

The Public Internet is wrought with anomalies.  The best way to use the public Internet in voice solutions is to:

  1. Know the connectivity.
  2. Have alternatives.
  3. Be flexible

When setting up VoIP on public Internet, you should get to know the connection. Test the speeds. Assess the viability of voice communication over the network throughout several timeframes.  As part of a BYO installation, LightEdge uses professional assessment tools to make sure that VoIP will work.

On good networks the best alternative is use an Internet Proxy to register your communication device (IP phone, soft phone, etc.).   Utilizing the best technology including low bandwidth codecs and encryption will provide safe good quality communications.

On networks with quality issues, there are several VoIP alternatives that utilize public telephone or cellular networks.  VoIP Anywhere features can be used with or without Smartphone apps for signaling but use a telephone network for voice quality.   This a great alternative to using expensive hotel phones, for example, when the in-room Internet is less than stellar.

Flexibility in communications over the Internet is important.  Realizing that you have different methods that can provide high quality, secure and inexpensive communications can make BYO a real party.

What is Hybrid Storage?

By Matt Breitbach, LightEdge Engineer

What is hybrid storage and why should you be interested in it?  Traditional spinning disk-based storage arrays require large numbers of disks to generate high performance and low latency.  This tends to result in significantly more storage being purchased than is actually needed, just so you can satisfy the performance requirement.

Hybrid storage is the merging of RAM, Solid State Drives, and traditional hard drives to deliver better performance from storage arrays while keeping costs down.  Newer Solid State Drive (SSD) storage arrays perform significantly better than tradition spinning disk based storage systems, but lack the capacity that hard drive based systems can offer without significant budget modifications.

Hybrid storage systems work by keeping the bulk of your data on spinning hard drives and then storing the most frequently used data on the SSD for higher performance.  Typically the “working set” of data is less than several hundred gigabytes.  This means that the storage system can watch for the most actively accessed and most recently accessed bits of data, and keep those bits of data instantly available on the Solid State Drives.  When additional requests for that data come in, those requests are serviced from RAM or SSD, at a significantly higher performance level than if the data was coming from traditional spinning disk.  We still get the ability to store data that is less frequently accessed on the same storage system and write that data out to spinning disk, reducing the need for expensive SSD and RAM.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on hybrid storage arrays, and the knowledge that is out there could fill, well, a large hybrid storage array.  If you have any questions about hybrid storage, or would like to talk to someone about moving to a hybrid storage array, please contact our team at info@lightedge.com.

What does SIP mean to you?

By Todd Wirth, LightEdge Engineer

Businesses depend on voice communication.  Even today in a world of text messaging and email, voice calls are vital to connect businesses with customers, suppliers and partners.  Most enterprises have aging phone systems doing the bare minimum: making and taking calls.  Times they are a-changing, however, and business people are expecting more features than most phone systems can deliver.  People want features, flexibility and mobility.  The cool thing is you can all of this without recycling your old system.

Think about your phone system like a car.  The average age of cars on in the U. S. is 10.8 years.  New Cars in 2012 have a lot more computer-driven features and with little doubt more (and bigger) cup holders than cars from 2001.  The 2001 cars are still valuable.

With both cars and phone systems upgrading is inevitable. Upgrading either to get the newest features is unnecessary.  You can add a GPS to a car and you can add SIP to your phone system.

Upgrading a phone system connection to SIP will add features, flexibility and mobility.

So, what is SIP?

SIP is cool.

SIP (Session Initiated Protocol) has become the default signaling protocol for next –generation phone systems. It is a data protocol much like the HTTP that you are using in your web browser right now to access this post.

SIP is flexible and allows phone systems to do more than would be possible with a traditional voice connection.  It is also used to tie into other communication systems with relative ease and little expense.

Here is a quick list of potential features:

  • Smartphone integration
  • voice mail to email
  • instant messaging and presence
  • web based call control
  • system redundancy
  • advanced routing systems

SIP features are exciting…And you do not have to upgrade your phone system to take advantage of most these features.  Lightedge website shows the basics of Converged Access but this article introduces new features for enterprises.

To make this simple; People need to communicate clearly and quickly to conduct business. If a phone number is published for a business, it needs to be answered.  People build processes to make sure that each phone call is answered.  A phone system change in an enterprise can be a monumental task as it can break all of these processes and irritate users.

If you have a phone system that still has some life, LightEdge can connect it with Enterprise Trunking and make sure that it works the same as today.  We can then work with you to leverage business-enhancing functions like:

  • Having  two sites share a call load
  • Call forward to outside numbers such as cell phones
  • Allowing your users to bring their own SmartPhone to answer or make phone calls without revealing their personal number to the world
  • Giving each user a web portal to control their features such as call forwarding
  • Providing your enterprise with flexibility for future growth allowing for incremental expenditures by easily adding Hosted PBX Phones to your service
  • Promises of more integrations and improvements

SIP is the future and using Converged Access with Enterprise Trunking provides businesses with a smooth transition from today to that future.

Smooth is cool.

Microsoft’s head is in the clouds, but for providers, that’s a good thing!

By Rod Newcomb, LightEdge Engineer

“Providers, Providers, Providers!” was the chant at Microsoft’s TechED 2012 session, and everything I have read, the webinars I have watched and the training the Redmond company is delivering, tells a simple story of Microsoft’s interest in dominating the service provider space by not only delivering cost effective platform solutions, but the tools and training required to help service providers, like LightEdge, bring those services to market.

I’ve seen several examples of that over the last few months, and the ones I find most interesting are:

Hyper-V 3.0 –  This new Hypervisor ships with Windows Server 2012.   The technical excitement over this product, along with the cost savings has both CTO’s and CFO’s talking.

SQL 2012 - It’s not just for Databases Anymore.  Ok, so it’s still mostly about databases, but with Multitenant capabilities (i.e.  Constrained Data Bases and Enhanced Security Segregation) makes DaaS (Database as a Service) a much more plausible solution.  Add in Hosted Business Intelligence, and multi-site SQL DR backup and you have more service offering possibilities than you can imagine. Did I also mention they are including resource management for Memory and CPU?

SCCM/App Manager – Imagine being able to manage your on Premise and Cloud based environments (Hyper-V and VMWARE) all in one application?  Microsoft is making that a reality now, along with the hints of expanding into Citrix/Zen and even Amazon as well.  SCCM also brings Providers the tools necessary to provisions customer systems from Bare-Metal to fully installed Operating Systems and Applications, SLA Reporting to SharePoint, and Application level Monitoring that brings proactive monitoring to both Providers and clients as well.

Active Directory AZURE Single Sign on – Imagine being able to project your Active Directory into the cloud?  With Microsoft’s Active Directory AZURE technology, service providers may actually achieve what I like to call the “Holy Grail” of Enterprise Single Sign on at a fraction of the cost of the third party offerings out there today.

Microsoft Orchestrator – Bringing PowerShell to the masses.  With Orchestrator, you can  develop “Run Books”, which are PowerShell scripts designed to address thousands of Administration Tasks.   With a growing PowerShell community, you will be able to share or even purchase these scripts to help build Provisioning and Management and Maintenance systems internally.

The message here is clear – Microsoft has seen the future, and Service Providers are a large part of it.  They have pledged to make all their platforms (Active Directory, Exchange, Lync and SQL just to name a few) Multi-Tenant capable and priced in such a way to help LightEdge not only roll out compelling solutions, but price them in a way that is compelling for all of our customers.

Should you backup data or entire VM?

By Matt Breitbach, LightEdge Engineer

With the rise of virtualization, there is a persistent question that comes up when people evaluate backup platforms. That question is: should I back up my data (documents, emails, databases) or my entire VM?  This is a great question from many perspectives. Below are some tips to help you decide what the correct backup strategy should be for your use case.

Today, we run virtual machines for all types of workloads.  Some of those are webservers, some are fileservers, and some are SQL servers.  Each one of these systems is going to have different requirements for RTO (Recovery Time Objective) and RPO (Recovery Point Objective).  These requirements will strongly influence the backup strategy that you choose.

Backing up an entire VM can be resource intensive, but companies like Veeam, Quest, and EMC have come up with solutions that allow you to take full system state backups of your VM’s on a daily or hourly basis (depending upon the activity of the system).  This lends itself very well to disaster recovery situations where if a system crashes, you can be up and running with a recent backup in a matter of minutes, in some cases.  It simplifies restoration to the point that in 5 clicks of a mouse, you can have a fully functional copy of your VM up and running from your most recent backup.  This is great news for your webservers, fileservers, and SQL servers that need to be online at all times.

There can be drawbacks to full VM backups. Granular restoration of filesystem objects can be a bit more painful.  There are no simply interfaces inside your VM to say “hey, I want to grab the backup of this file and restore it to its original location”.  File level recovery can be done, but it involves invoking a management interface on the backup server, mapping network drives, and then copying the backup file over the network to the VM that needs the restore.  Self-service is nearly impossible in that situation.

Backing up files using traditional backup software typically allows you greater access to granular file restores since there is an agent running inside the VM.  For a fileserver or webserver, you can simply open the backup agent, select the file that you want to restore, and restore it.  The backup agent handles all of the background tasks for you without forcing you to interact with the backup server.

Many times the correct answer for your backup needs is to use a combination of both technologies.  Full VM backup for disaster recovery purposes (ie. “Oops. I just crashed the registry on my server.”)  and file level backups for individual file restores.  The first step in assuring recovery from a disaster, however, is having a qualified person look at your infrastructure and your RTO / RPO requirements. For more information about backup and recovery solutions at LightEdge, feel free to contact sales@lightedge.com.

Questions to ask before moving to the cloud

By Matt Patterson, LightEdge Engineer

Everyone is talking about Cloud these days? Are you in the cloud? Is your infrastructure cloud ready? What the heck is the cloud? You may already be using the cloud and just don’t know it.

With all the talk of the cloud of what it is and what it isn’t, there’s a general agreement that at some point, you’re going to have a conversation about moving your infrastructure out of your four walls and what that really means to your organization. Whether you’ve taken the leap already or are planning to in the near future, it makes sense to fully understand certain considerations that help lead to a successful platform.

Questions to ask

When evaluating a shared cloud provider, you should be asking some of these questions (and many more pertaining to your particular needs) to make sure that you are prepared for various scenarios that can develop. Even the well known names have the occasional issues. It’s best to, at a minimum, consider what your plan is for different situations to make sure you are making the best decisions for your company.

  • Access to the VM. Do you have a remote console access? Do you need to VPN in to then RDP or SSH? What level of security is offered by default to your VM?
  • Backups! Even though your workloads are now virtualized instead of running on a physical server, you still need to be able to both successfully back up the data and successfully recover in a timely fashion. Test your backups and make sure that you can recover the necessary data to be up and running within your recovery window.
  • Access to support. One of the tricks to use when checking out cloud providers is to see how fast they will respond to a phone or email inquiry. When you call their support number, are you in a long queue before you get a real person? If you leave a voice mail, do you get a return call that day? How about email? What’s the response time? Do they have an online chat that you can use? How comfortable are you with the response you received before you have an actual issue?
  • Brick and Mortar. For the truly tech savvy folks out there, you want to know that the physical facility that your virtual bits are going into can stand up to the various outage-causing issues that may come its way. Not everyone is going to be able to take a data center tour based on your geographic location. But hopefully you can find information about the facility on a web site or with a quick chat with someone from sales. Mother Nature has a habit of taking out the biggest of the power grids. Is the data center prepared to run for a while without power? What happens when the generators run out of fuel? Is the facility on multiple power grids?
  • If you are a high end site that can’t handle much downtime, then you’ve probably made the investment to have your workloads in multiple data centers. One thing you’ll want to make clear – If datacenter A goes down, is there any limitation either of your application or the data center itself that relies on the other data center. You should be fully separated and able to run active/active if you truly want to mitigate downtime. This is often an area that can haunt a company who has put a lot of hard work (and money) into making their environment as redundant as possible.

Is this a fully comprehensive list of everything you need to ask your cloud provider? No, but it does give you a good starting point. Physical servers and cloud servers…they’re not that different. Ask the right questions and be comfortable with your level of risk.

Happy computing!

LightEdge Solutions Achieves Gold Level Status as a Polycom Choice Partner

LightEdge broadens its expertise in implementing unified communications solutions within today’s complex customer environments

DES MOINES, IA – July  9, 2012 – LightEdge Solutions, an industry leading cloud IT services provider, today announced it has been named by Polycom, Inc., the global leader in open, standards-based unified communications (UC), as a Gold Level Polycom Choice Partner. Now organizations seeking to implement world-class UC platforms can turn to LightEdge for customized solutions that address their immediate and future business needs.

The Gold Level designation indicates that LightEdge has made the investments in its technical expertise and go-to-market capabilities required to address the complex needs of today’s UC customers. Gold Level Polycom Choice Partners also must have met the program’s exacting standards, including achieving and maintaining specialization in multiple areas.

Customers can be confident that, in alliance with Polycom, LightEdge has the expertise to handle all their UC project needs, from concept to installation through ongoing support and management.  Polycom provides open, standards-based UC solutions for telepresence, video, and voice powered by the Polycom® RealPresence® Platform. Polycom® RealPresence® video solutions interoperate with the broadest range of business, mobile, and social applications and devices.

“LightEdge has used and continues to use Polycom to meet the increasingly complex voice and video needs of customers,” said Mike McHenry, vice president of engineering for LightEdge Solutions.  “As Voice-over-IP technology continues to be adopted in the business sector, we feel that our relationship with Polycom will keep LightEdge ahead of the curve, both in terms of the voice and video technology but also the technical training our teams will require to ensure our customers the best communication experience.”

“The Polycom Choice Partner Program gives customers the confidence that, by choosing LightEdge and Polycom, they’re selecting a world-class team to help them design and implement a world-class UC solution,” said Ron Myers, senior vice president, Global Channels at Polycom. “By collaborating with Polycom as a Gold Level Choice Partner, LightEdge can deliver UC solutions that power greater productivity and smarter conversations, transforming lives and businesses in the process.”

Winner of CRN Magazine’s 5-Star Partner Program Award, Polycom’s Choice Partner Program emphasizes skills development, specialization, and other value added activities that help partners support the needs of their customers and improve the customer experience.

 

About Polycom

Polycom is the global leader in open standards-based unified communications (UC) solutions for telepresence, video, and voice powered by the Polycom® RealPresence® Platform. The RealPresence Platform interoperates with the broadest range of business, mobile, and social applications and devices. More than 400,000 organizations trust Polycom solutions to collaborate and meet face-to-face from any location for more productive and effective engagement with colleagues, partners, customers, specialists, and prospects.  Polycom, together with its broad partner ecosystem, provides customers with the best total cost of ownership, interoperability, scalability, and security for video collaboration, whether on-premises, hosted, or cloud-delivered. Visit www.polycom.com or connect with Polycom on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

About LightEdge Solutions

LightEdge Solutions is a customer-centric cloud computing and consulting company devoted to solving the IT issues of businesses nationwide. By utilizing our economies of scale, connections with world-class vendors and our own internal passion for engineering, LightEdge allows its customers to “plug in” to enterprise-grade IT solutions that maximize uptime and performance, yet fit into their budget. For more information, visit www.lightedge.com.

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Cloud: Are you there…and just don’t realize it?

Everyone is talking cloud today. That can lead to a lot of in-depth discussions about where a company sits in their ability to take advantage of the cloud, security concerns, management and control, and the list goes on. What a lot of companies don’t consider as they hold these conversations, is that they’re probably already taking advantage of “the cloud” and don’t realize it.

How can you not realize that you’re using cloud services? They’re those services that you’ve used for a while, they work, and as such, they feel like they’re a natural part of a department’s daily system and work processes. Need some examples? How do you handle payroll? Do you have a server in-house that you manage, host the application, and maintain yourself or do you use an outsourced service for payroll management that you access via a web interface? What do you use for your customer relationship management (CRM) system? Do you have that in-house or do you utilize an online service such as salesforce.com, as do an increasing number of businesses? These are the areas where companies have already moved into the cloud, but because they’ve been doing it that way for years, they don’t consider that as a hosted service. It is.

So, if you’re contemplating the concept of cloud and can’t figure out if it’s right for you…do a quick, informal inventory of all the departments in your company. Look at the different applications that you’re already using that you don’t host yourself. We’re willing to bet you can find at least one. Then, ask why the decision was made to go that way in the first place? What problem or pain did it alleviate? What issues have you had to deal with and how were they resolved? Finally – how can you solve other problems you’re currently facing with in-house systems, applications, infrastructure in the same way?

The cloud may be the buzz and can be confusing with all the offerings and opinions that are emerging. Make it simple on yourself and consider the cloud in a new way. We’re willing to guess that you’re already there…you just don’t realize it.

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