Windows Server 2012 in your Small Business – Part 1

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Windows Server 2012 was released just a few short weeks ago, and from what I’ve seen and read it is a significant improvement over the venerable Windows Server 2008 R2. While deploying Windows Server 2012 in a small business environment may seem like overkill, I have reason to believe it’s actually a very smart decision for a number of reasons. Those include:

  • A free hypervisor (Hyper-V)
  • Streamlined management tools
  • Increased flexibility
  • Better support for standards
  • Better remote worker support

And the list goes on. The balance of improvements done to the interface and the underlying code are almost 50/50, which will no doubt be a boon to any system administrator, especially those that administer multiple businesses or locations.

We’re going to start by covering Hyper-V, and how it can be used in a small business.

The easiest and most effective way to deploy Hyper-V would be to deploy the standalone Hyper-V Server 2012 onto a high-powered server. Hyper-V Server is not a full OS; it is solely the Hyper-V hypervisor deployed in a mode that does not require the full Windows Server running underneath it, meaning it is a bare-metal hypervisor. This has several advantages, but primarily it frees up a good deal of resources for the virtual machines (VMs) that are going to be deployed on the server.

Hyper-V itself has been improved with support for up to 160 logical processors and 2 TB of physical memory per host system, where VMs can be provisioned with up to 32 virtual processors and 1 TB of RAM. That’s a big step up for Hyper-V where it has traditionally trailed behind VMware’s ESXi hypervisor.

Hyper-V’s virtual switch in Windows Server 2012 has been enhanced with a great deal more flexibility. It can now be used for traffic shaping, protection against malicious/malware-infected VMs, and to make troubleshooting easier. The virtual switch also provides third parties developers with the necessary extensions and APIs so that they can add functionality into the virtual switch, negating the need for additional hardware.

My favourite part about Hyper-V Server 2012 is that it’s free. And you can put non-Windows VMs on it including Linux. So if you’re not a fan of IIS for hosting websites, or you just cannot part with that last FreeBSD server lying in the corner, have heart! You can move these machines to your Hyper-V Server as a VM and keep them running, without the added expense and infrastructure of having another physical box in the wiring closet/server room.

I’ll be covering off more aspects of how Windows Server 2012 can be used in a small business over the next little while. I hope you find this information useful.

Windows 8

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The new ‘Modern UI’ for Windows 8. Image © 2012 Microsoft

 

I think Windows 8 is a compelling OS. Yes, it’s different. And what of it? So was BlackBerry’s OS, and Apple’s iOS, and Google’s Android. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s bad. And this solution is surely far better (for the vast majority of consumers) than some of the things attempted by vendors like Lenovo, who put Windows 7 on a laptop and switched you to Linux when you detached the screen from its base (I love that idea, but I’m sure it would’ve been jarring for most).

Window 8 is designed to be a mobile OS, with a very neat, “live” interface. I’m fairly certain I’ll be replacing my aging tower with a 23″ or maybe 27″ all-in-one PC soon. The key will be that the screen needs to be adjustable, so that I can bring it down to a usable height if I want to use touch for more than 10 seconds, and those devices already exist.

On the other hand, I would caution anyone thinking of buying the Microsoft Surface RT device that was just released last week. You cannot install your “legacy,” desktop-based applications on the Surface RT. You will, however, be able to do on the Surface Pro coming out in a few months.

However, if you’re looking at a convertible laptop for mobile use, as I am as well, there’s already a full compliment of devices available, with more being released soon. Seriously, give Windows 8 a shot. It’s Windows, so eventually developers will build more apps for the ‘Modern UI’ (a.k.a. tiled interface) due to sheer market share numbers, and don’t think for a second Microsoft will bring back the desktop as the default interface. To do that flies in the face of where the personal computing industry is headed, and, despite Microsoft Bob, Microsoft surely isn’t that stupid. :)

E-Signature Solutions

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I hate signing documents. Okay, hate is a strong word, but I certainly don’t enjoy it. It’s even more cumbersome when someone is trying to fax me a document that I’m supposed to sign and fax back to them. While facsimile technology certainly had its day, and was very useful for a time, it’s become quite outdated. So outdated that we’ve replaced larger printer-sized devices with online fax services available from lots of different companies.

One thing I mentioned there was signing a document. That’s also a process that I find is stuck in the stone age. I recently went in search of a good e-signature solution; something that would let me electronically sign a document, in a secure manner, and that would also negate the need to print it at all. Lucky me! I found it.

I compared several solutions: Adobe EchoSign, SignNow, and e-SignLive.

A few first impressions about each solution, for the sake of a bit of thoroughness:

  • Adobe EchoSign – Adobe actually acquired EchoSign some time last year. The EchoSign website talks a lot about viewing changes made by the other party in Microsoft Word, and how the other party can print, sign, and fax the document back to you. That’s the exact opposite of what I’m looking for.
  • SignNow – Better. Much better. Details are a little sparse on the website, and the business model is very unclear. I mean, free is nice for consumers and all, but as a business owner I need to know this company’s going to last for more than a year or two.
  • e-SignLive – Perfect! e-Sign Live has a business model, I don’t need special software, multi-document signing,  I can set multiple signers on a document, third-party authentication, and even the ability to integrate the documents into a website or online form. While Orpheum doesn’t need that know, I could certainly see it needing such a feature in the future.

Overall, e-SignLive takes it. Again, free is nice for consumers, but I’m running a business. I cannot risk legal documents in the hands of a company that may not exist tomorrow, nor do I want to be hampered by desktop software. Give me a flexible solution, an API for integration into my enterprise software, a signed and secured PDF, that also just happens to be trusted by the U.S. military… now you’ve got my vote.

Bethesda Cannot Be Saved

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I’ve been worried about the fate of the Bethesda Centre ever since The Salvation Army announced its impending closure a couple of months ago.

Raise $1.5 million by May 31 so that Bethesda can be run for the next 5 or 6 years, or we’re closing it.

Well that’s not a very fair proposition, now is it? As of this moment the TSA has managed to raise $127,213 itself, and the Save Bethesda Committee (unaffiliated) has raised another $128,480. That’s a total of $255,693 and enough to let Bethesda Centre run for another year without any budget shortfalls.

And yet, TSA refuses to extend the May 31 deadline.

Justin freakin’ Bieber, whose mom stayed at Bethesda Centre while she was pregnant with him, is doing something to help out. His cut of the sales of “Turn To You,” a song he wrote for his mom, is going to Bethesda. And now another celebrity may be hopping on board to help out. But to what end?

Load up SalvationArmy.ca. Where’s the “Help Save Bethesda!” plea? Way below the fold for most monitors. I run a 1440×900 resolution on a 19″ widescreen monitor, and I still had to scroll down to find the link to click on. Nathan Smith just did a good job of summing up how little TSA seems to care. No press conferences since the announcement, TSA won’t talk to the press about it, TSA staff didn’t show up to the press conference about Justin Bieber’s support, no active fundraising out in public, etc.

Why? Because the Salvation Army doesn’t want to run Bethesda Centre anymore. That’s the conclusion I came to last week after taking a step back and looking at the big picture. And that was just before I had Orpheum Hosting Solutions embark on a business-led campaign to convince other businesses to donate a certain dollar amount per employee they have. I thought that at $5 per employee, if a company like rtraction can donate $100, and Info-Tech can donate $1,000, and Resolution Interactive donated $60, eventually we would hit the goal… or at least damn close.

Why a business-led campaign? Because a future employee could come out of Bethesda Centre. Because it’s important to show that your business cares about the place its located in, and this is one way to do that for a small cost. Because you can buy a lot of goodwill for $50 or $100 in this manner. Yes, those may all seem like selfish reasons, but I think the end more than justifies the means.

Instead, I decided to scrap the campaign. Bethesda, in its current form, cannot be saved because the Salvation Army doesn’t want it, and will not let it, be saved. They’re doing what they can to quell the conversation, and even go to some lengths to hide the fact that the centre is in trouble at all. If it wasn’t for the Save Bethesda Committee, there would be nary a mention of this whole ordeal in mainstream media.

What really makes me angry about all this is that the Salvation Army is a Christian organization, supposedly “Giving Hope Today.” Not today they’re not, and certainly not to the single moms that the Bethesda Centre supports. I would feel better about this is TSA had just come out and said they don’t want to run Bethesda Centre anymore. And with my support for the organization already teetering before, I can affirm I will no longer support The Salvation Army in any way.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the Save Bethesda Committee does with the money it has raised, and I’m hoping it can get the $127,213 the TSA has raised for this as well to start a new centre. After all, if that money won’t go to actually save Bethesda, then it should be handed over to some people who will.

Alternative Service Providers

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Many people are fed up with traditional, incumbent providers. You know their names – namely Bell, and to a lesser extent Rogers. Thankfully there is a lot of competition when it comes to providing business services. Any small business looking to save money on its communication needs has to do itself a favour and research alternative providers available in its area. For instance…

Phone Lines

  • Allstream – Allstream has actually been at it for quite awhile in Canada. It started out at AT&T Canada in the 90s, and was scooped up by Manitoba Telecom in 2004. It has a very large fibre optic network in Canada, and can provide business phone services just about anywhere in the country either through local land lines, PRIs, or SIP trunking.
  • Orpheum – You knew I had to include Orpheum. :) Orpheum only offers SIP trunking as an alternative to local land lines, but SIP trunking is highly cost effective and Orpheum’s been getting great feedback about the quality of the service.
  • Primus – Your mileage may vary when it comes to customer service/technical support, but Primus’ services are available at a good price. Like Allstream, they can offer SIP trunks, PRIs and local land lines for voice connectivity.

Internet

  • Allstream – Again, Allstream is a solid provider here. They can offer DSL for small businesses, and then upgrade you to a T1 or provide an E10 line when necessary. Larger businesses can look to Allstream for MPLS VPN, switched Ethernet, and other IP connectivity services if needed.
  • Start – Start Communications is a local company based in London. They offer DSL, cable, and also connectivity through their own network that spans across downtown London and then some. If you’re tired of dealing with larger companies, or work/live in London’s downtown core, Start is a highly viable choice.
  • Telus – Telus is similar to Allstream in that it offers services to businesses nationwide, but not consumers. However, if you’re tired of the duopoloy that is Bell and Rogers, give Telus a call and I’m sure they’ll be happy to engage in competition.
  • TekSavvy – TekSavvy is a large ISP (250 employees) based out of Chatham, ON. I don’t use them personally, but I have many friends who do and they all rave about TekSavvy’s service! It can offer DSL (including dry loop), T1, E10, and E100 to your business with “Unlimited” usage caps.

Fax

  • MyFax – The premise is simple here. Fax still lives on whether we like it or not. Instead of buying a fax machine, use a service like MyFax ($10/month) to send and receive faxes. Local numbers in most Canadian area codes are available, including 519/226.
  • eFax – eFax is a similar service except that it costs $12.49 a month. There are pros and cons to both services, so compare the features available from myFax and eFax before settling on one. If you’re using a hosted PBX from a company like Orpheum or Primus, chances are fax is available as part of the service as well, eliminating another monthly bill.

I hope this post was helpful to you! It’s certainly not an exhaustive list of providers, but it should put you on the right track to cutting your small business’ costs.