Why I Sold Orpheum

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Two years ago I founded a web hosting company, Orpheum Hosting Solutions. I set out to build a web hosting company that could compete with the likes of MediaTemple on infrastructure, and HostGator on price. As time went on I added more plans, did a wholesale move from a cloud server infrastructure to big, dedicated servers, and even switched backend client management systems to make things easier for everyone.

A few months in, I started to think, “Orpheum should be a business services company. A one-stop shop for small businesses to get their website, web-based applications, and even phone lines, or a phone system all from the same place without having to call Rogers, or worse yet Bell.” So, over the course of the next 36 months, Orpheum began to expand into managed servers, hosted PBX, SIP trunks, and eventually virtual private servers via the acquisition of AeroVPS.

Orpheum was doing well. It was not, however, doing well enough to pay anyone a full-time salary. Two years in Orpheum had acquired several high profile, lucrative customers worth over $1,000 a year. Unfortunately, due to a mix of issues with billing systems, and user interface challenges, onboarding these customers was time consuming. Too time consuming when you factor in that I still had a full-time job, and a young, growing family. Too time consuming when, through my own fault, each VoIP customer required several hours of assistance to get online.

So what happened? Orpheum expanded too quickly. I felt like I spent a lot of time finding the right solutions, and partnering with the right vendors. However I don’t feel like I spent enough time ensuring everything worked properly, that I really understood the technology behind the service and what Orpheum’s customers saw on a daily basis (with the exception of the web hosting and VPS services), and ensuring that customers were onboarded properly. I started to fix this a few months ago, but again… the things I *needed* to be doing had to come first, and the things I *wanted* to do came second, or even third or fourth. Orpheum’s customers suffered.

I brought on a team of people to assist with tech support. They provided level 1 support for the web hosting service, but they were not as familiar with the control panel I used as they were with other, more popular solutions. But it still took a lot of weight off my shoulders, and let me focus on supporting the VPS and VoIP customers. It wasn’t quite enough help though.

And then I really bunged things up when I spent several months, and a good amount of my capital, attempting to build a cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (like Amazon AWS, or Rackspace Cloud) offering. My vendors were not forthcoming enough with pertinent information, over promised, and then under delivered. I blew $1,000 to find out I couldn’t do something the way someone told me I could.

So, I made a very difficult decision to sell Orpheum Hosting Solutions. However, despite the disgruntled customers and accusations otherwise, I did not sell to the highest bidder. I had multiple bidders put offers in over five digits, but I chose to sell to a company/owner that I knew was going to leverage the existing services offered, regardless of whether they kept the brand intact or not. Those other high bidders wanted to dismantle the company, separate off the VoIP customers, perform wholesale moves off of the existing clustered hosting infrastructure onto more traditional, single-box solutions. I said “No” to those bidders.

At the end of the day, this was a lesson in growing too fast, without enough resources. You can build a business yourself, part-time, but it isn’t easy. You need razor sharp focus in the first few years… something I’ve read about time and time again, but once again I make myself learn it the hard way. I will be trying again… it’s in my blood, I can’t help it. But next time the messaging, the onboarding process, the support… everything will be polished, ready for customers on day one. And I’m going to focus hard on the core services people want and need out of the company.

SQL Server 2012 – Best New Features for Small Business

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I recently read through Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2012, the book published by Microsoft Press. It’s a rather large book, and going through it I saw a lot of terrific features for medium and large enterprises, especially from a Business Intelligence point of view. However, I also pinpointed some features that I feel will be very useful for small businesses, so I wanted to give them a bit of explanation here. This is not going to be a series, just a single blog entry.

Multisubnet Failover Cluster

SQL Server 2012 features much better failover options than SQL Server 2008. My favourite, Multisubnet Failover Cluster, simply wasn’t possible in SQL Server 2008 because a failover server had to be on the same subnet. In SQL Server 2012, failover servers can be on different subnets. That means no VPN or VLAN is required between servers in different locations or network segments, which also frees up the possibility of putting your SQL failover server in a remote datacentre, whether it’s a colocation, virtual private server, dedicated server, or even a cloud server.

Support for Windows Server Core

SQL Server 2008 had to be deployed on a full-blown Windows Server instance. That’s no longer the case. SQL Server 2012 can be deployed on Windows Server core 2008 or 2012. This frees up additional resources for SQL Server, reduces the attack surface of Windows Server (therefore providing better security), and also reduces the number of patches that need to be deployed to the server overall. It’s a big win, but be sure to look at all of the things that are not supported when deploying on Windows Server Core. The list isn’t that bad, but you should be aware of the limitations.

Database Recovery Advisor

Backing up and/or restoring a database is now a much more visual experience in SQL Server 2012, and in a good way. The Database Recovery Advisor now gives you a visual representation of what point in time you would like to take a backup from (assuming transaction logs are available), and the same interface is provided for restoring backups. So now you can easily take a snapshot of a specific point in time, and restore back to that same point. Having a great deal of experience with this procedure, I assure you it’s a massive improvement over the current method.

Audit Supported on All Versions

SQL Server 2008 introduced the Server Audit Specification, and Database Audit Specification objects. These specifications were used widely for auditing and compliance requirements, but many users were not satisfied because these features were only available in premium versions of SQL Server. Many users had to rever to using SQL Trace instead, which brought about challenges. The Server Audit Specification and Database Audit Specification objects are now included in all versions of SQL Server 2012, and SQL Trace will likely be retired in the next version of SQL Server.

Contained Database Authentication

SQL Server 2012 now brings the ability to create users authenticated for only a single database, and transferring the database to another server also brings the user setup with it. That means greater portability for databases (important when moving a database to a more powerful/its own server), easier configuration of failover clusters, and just easier administration overall.

Those are the insights I wanted to share with you regarding SQL Server 2012 in a small business. Any other enhancements have been made around Business Intelligence capabilities which, while very interesting, aren’t critical for the day-to-day operations of a small business. Plus, if you’re doing homegrown BI, chances are you either specialize in such functions, or you’re not a small business after all.

London, Ontario – A City of Bests?

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Well… the past few weeks have really gotten London, and its citizens, reeling. Amongst the day-to-day stuff that happens – snarling traffic, complaints about students, store/factory closures – we also have some heartening news like progress on an HIV vaccine, and the ability to communicate with some people who are in a vegetative state. Can London turn itself around? Can we focus less on Mayor Fontana’s criminal charges and mounting legal battles, and instead focus on what the Forest City does well?

I know… in this recent era, you may be asking yourself… what on Earth does London have going for it? Plenty, actually! And I’ve come up with a brief list if things that either London is tops in, or near the top.

Let’s face it… we need to focus more on what we do well, and continue to push other institutions to do more. Let’s strive for better, take risks, continue to invest money where it makes the most sense, and prepare ourselves for the future. We cannot foresee all that will happen, especially with JoFo at the helm, but we can make the decisions necessary to ensure London survives, and thrives, even in the face of adversity at the top.

What else is London tops (or near the top) in?

Windows Server 2012 In Your Small Business – Part 8

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Windows Server 2012, as always, is available in a few different flavours. The names have changed a bit from Server 2008 R2, but overall the effect is the same. Your small business will want to focus on evaluating Windows Server 2012 Essentials. Why? For a few simple reasons:

  • It’s a full-fledged version of Windows Server 2012.
  • Essentials can perform complete system backups, and bare-metal restores, of the server itself.
  • Essentials can perform complete system backups of client workstations.
  • Microsoft Online Backup, its own cloud storage service, can be used to protect data.
  • Essentials centrally manages and configures the new File History feature of Windows 8 clients. This helps users recover accidently deleted or overwritten files without IT support.
  • It can monitor the health of Windows 7, Windows 8, and even Mac OS X 10.5+ clients, notifying of any issues related to backups, low disk space, and others.
  • As nice as Exchange Server can be, you’re no longer tied to it. You no longer need to feel as though you have to leverage the investment made into Exchange, because it’s no longer included. Head for the cloud!

All this for up to 25 users, and 50 devices. Fully recognizing that employees now use multiple devices at work, the device count is higher than the employee count. Smart move.

Now, I say all this, over the past few weeks, with most of you knowing full well I’m a big open source guy. And I still am. But when dealing with smaller businesses, few are willing to entertain the idea of completely ditching Windows. So even if they employ a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategy and let power users bring their own Ubuntu Linux laptops, or Apple iMacs, the vast majority of businesses are still running Windows in the server room/wiring closet.

And that, dear friends, concludes my series on leveraging Windows Server 2012 in your small business. I truly hope you found it informative and worthy of the time you spent reading each entry. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email through the Contact page.

Windows Server 2012 In Your Small Business – Part 7

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Many smaller companies operate globally, with small offices dotted around the world. There may be a small “head office” that houses the CEO and a few key people, but with small offices of two or three people in various different cities, it can be hard to keep things centralized. Even large restaurant chains run into the same problems. Windows Server 2012 has enhanced some existing features to make life easier for these types or organizations.

BranchCache

BranchCache isn’t new. It was introduced in Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7. What BranchCache provided was a way to cache content from file and web servers at a branch office, dramatically reducing traffic across the WAN, and also reducing the amount of time it took for users at branch offices to access that content/data.

In Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, the quicker/easier theme continues. Branch offices no longer require a GPO at each branch, deduplication has been introduced to reduce storage usage and bandwidth, and you can now preload content to a cache server before its requested by a user. Add it all up, and you get a useful feature that’s now easier to deploy, and works even better than it used to at reducing the cost to serve your branch office.

Branch Office Direct Printing

Branch Office Direct Printing is a new feature. It allows print jobs from your branch office to be sent directly to a local printer instead of having to be sent to a print server, first. This is a massive improvement to a problem I’ve seen for ages in centralized printing environments! Time and time again I’ve seen companies with a central print server at their head office, and people printing multi-megabyte files wait upwards of 10 minutes just to get things going.

Why? Only to see their print job finally show up at the printer 3m away from them? It makes no sense!

This will be a boon to any small business currently experiencing WAN slowdowns due to large print jobs. There are, thankfully, free (as in beer) WAN optimization virtual appliances available, but if you can reduce the need for any such solution, or put it off and focus on more important things for awhile, Branch Office Direct Printing will pay off.

That’s all the information I wanted to share today! We have one more entry left in the series, so please check back in a few days for the wrap-up!