Go2Cloud Team Blog

Tips and Tricks from the Go2Guys

WARNING – Cloud Disillusionment Approaching

Overheard at a coffee shop the other day:

Gartner Hype Cycle

Gartner Hype Cycle. Credit to @takeshiDAS

“I’m sick and tired of the HYPE around Cloud Computing”

You would think that given the business we are in, I should have been concerned by that statement and yet … I was actually ecstatic!

Here is why…

Have you ever heard of the Gartner Hype Cycle?

Our smart friends over at Gartner use the simple graphic you see above in order to plot the maturity and adoption of various technologies. It is broken down into 5 specific phases as follows:
read more…

We LOVE Our Competition! Find Out Why…

Yes, you heard right!

This is how we feel about our competitors:

Puppy-love

“We WUV you!”

It sounds totally bizarre, but it’s 100% true. Simply walk around our offices and ask anyone what they think of “Company x” or “Company y” and you will hear comments like:

“Those guys are awesome!”

“We love the way they work and hope they never change”

No doubt you are still a little confused, let me explain:

read more…

Upgrade Your Old Dev Machine Today!

Is this your dev machine:

Old_dev_laptop

 

For so long developers have harbored a secret envy of anyone who was able to carry a slinky ultra-portable or one of the newer Ultra-Books. Having to resort to showing off with the extreme laptop specs. 

I got to witness first hand as one of the Go2Cloud developers ended up in a spec showdown with another dev at a recent event. It started out like an old game of Trump Cards, except as it turned out, the Go2Cloud developer was holding the “Blackbird” card and calling “Speed”, a sure fire win!

How did he get this right? What dev machine does he use? It must cost a fortune! Well, it doesn’t cost a fortune but it does include Petabytes of storage, Terabytes of RAM and enough processor power to launch a space shuttle (if they still had any launches planned that is).

No prizes for guessing that the Go2Cloud developer in question does all his development work in the Cloud. Mentioning I was writing this post, he offered the following as the top reasons why he devs in the Cloud: 

  • On Demand
    Instant on capability means dev machines are spun up only when required.
  • Dynamic scale
    Dynamically scale resources as and when required (e.g. increasing performance ahead of a customer demo or when compiling)
  • Multi server environment simulation
    The ability to simulate deployment of a solution across multiple servers, simulating a VLAN or across internet connection.
  • Server side processing on enterprise grade hardware
    Dramatically reducing the costs of developers primary hardware requirements since processing is done server side (FYI, our developers all run Macbook Air’s and iPads)
  • Current state cloning and replication
    Ability to rapidly clone an entire server configuration or state for reuse (e.g. future requirements of the same base set-up or cloning ahead of deploying a “fix” or a change)
  • Instant off
    Instantly shut down development environments (and therefore the cost) once they have served their purpose. Either delete the drives, or simply pay for storage per GB  only (R1,32 per GB per month ex vat)
  • Accurate project job costing
    Accurate costing for development resources allocated to a specific developer, customer or project, allowing for granular project job costing. This may be passed on directly to  the customers directly if required.
  • Capital cost redirection
    No capital outlay for large equipment which may not always be at capacity, freeing up capital for other key initiatives.
  • Software licensing management
    Accurate management of software licensing to ensure compliance as well as re-use once a development environment is complete 
  • Location independence
    Allow developers to work from anywhere, anytime with just an internet connection and no additional security risks.
  • Client POC, Test and Prod environments 
    Move from development to demo to POC for customers within the same environment (no need to rely on the customers internal infrastructure). Even move to test and prod  environment within a single cloud solution. As above, staging and dev environments are easily created. 

The list of reasons carried on for some time, with the developer highlighting other benefits such as not having to manage the infrastructure ongoing and summing up with … 

“01000111 01101111 00110010 01000011 01101100 01101111 01110101 01100100 00100000 01100110 01101111 01110010 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01010111 01001001 01001110 00100001”

Which apparently means “Go2Cloud for the WIN”.

If you would like to experience dev in the Cloud, sign up for a free trial here

Mayhem, as Go2Cloud’s GetHelp Team Get Tagged!

(For the record – no members of the GetHelp team were harmed during the creation of the post)

Despite some customers insisting that the GetHelp team are actually bots, let me assure you that after many tests and scholarly debate, they are very much human. A fact that we were sure of until yesterday’s team meeting where an announcement was made that the GetHelp team were about to be “tagged”.

What ensued was at least 7 minutes of absolute mayhem.

The team once again settled down after it was clearly explained that “Tagging” had nothing to do with:

  • A paintball gun 
  • A numbering system that invovled ear piercing and semi-permanent yellow plastic tags, or…
  • A numbering system that invovled a branding iron and antibiotic ointment application for a week or so

(Note to the Go2Cloud management team – Next time lead with that)

“Tagging” was simply the announcement that a “Get Help Tag” would be added to the control panel so that customers can circumvent having to send email to Get Help by simply clicking the “Tag” and submitting their request.

Gethelp_tag

This enhancement is part of Go2Cloud’s ZenDesk roll-out designed to further improve our support process… which after yesterday’s mayhem , has thankfully brought an air of (I have to say it) inner peace to the GetHelp team.

If the GetHelp team has helped you out in the past, why not take the time to log into your account, click the “Get Help Tag” and tell them how you feel. While you are there, dont forget to review the new Control Panel (for info on this, see yesterdays post here).

Go2Cloud’s New Control Panel – Spring Release

Can you feel it? 

Despite one last cold snap in parts, spring is most definitely in the air and our Southern Hemisphere customers are feeling it! 

Our platform development team has been hunkering down during the cold months. Some of us were sure that they were plotting to take over the world, but we were wrong. They were actually working on something way bigger … a brand new Control Panel, aptly dubbed “Spring Release”.

As of 1 September 2012, here is what you will see when logging in to the Go2Cloud control panel: 

Go2cloud_jump_bar

While the official office poll to name the new menu structure continues, some of us are calling it the “Jump Bar”. There are a lot of enhancements in our Spring Release, but all of these follow three primary themes:

  • Fewer Clicks – Get your job done with substantially fewer clicks than our previous release. 
  • Less Scrolling – Forget scrolling to the top of the screen to Add Servers, Drives, Private VLAN’s and Static IP’s, part of the Jump Bar now follows you down (and back up) as you work through your list of servers. We also ensure that your account utilisation remains in plain site.
  • Usability Efficiency – All through the Control Panel you will notice changes that are aimed at improving the overall user experience. Easier access to Documentation, Firewall management and Server Layout view are just a few examples of these improvements.

It was suggested that this release was somehow focused on being kinder to your mouse, but the development team swears it’s focused on being kinder to you, and we are sure you will agree!

Don’t take our word for it, log into your account today an let us have your feedback on the Spring Release Control Panel!

No account? Don’t despair, sign up for a free trial here … and then let us have your feedback. 

 

How To Video – Create Your First Cloud Server

Hate reading … Me too. 

We decided to create a few basic videos to help guide you through the creating of your first cloud service inside Go2Cloud.

Check it out here:

Update: As you likely already know, we have updated the Control Panel look and feel since this video, however the principles remain exactly the same. Spin up a free trial server today at www.Go2Cloud.co.za!

Can Cloud Improve Your Customer Service?

Ask your customers, or any customers for that matter, what they value most from their provider of choice and the most common answer you will get:

 

Communication

 

At this point, you’re likely asking yourself: “So, if Cloud can help improve communication, I’ll improve my customer service?”

 

Well, yes, but it’s not quite that simple. Opening up new communication channels is only valuable if the information shared through those channels is relevant.

Customers who feel informed, feel empowered.

 

That means, the question you should really be asking yourself is: “How do I empower my people with the right information, at the right time to ensure that their communications leave customers feeling informed?”.  Now you’re onto something!

 

This is the exact question that two Go2Cloud partners, Vinewave and ECMPlus asked themselves and then answered with a collaboration that resulted in their latest product, named “In-Store Communicator”.

 

ECMPlus Director, Philippe Morin “We simply couldn’t accept that a dusty black book was the most effective way to capture customer requests in-store, but we also acknowledge that heavyweight software systems aren’t going to do much better.”

 

Looking at the “In-Store Communicators” onscreen interface reminds me of the saying “Simplicity, is in itself genius”.

 

The team have focused on delivering valuable information to the end user through an interface which is unintimidating and direct, even for inexperienced PC users (judge for yourself below). It even works across a wide range of devices including tablets, laptops and desktops.

Store_comms_-_tasks

The “In-Store Communicator’s” simple interface that can be tailored to meet any brand or information requirement.

 

More exciting than the beautiful interface, which is rebranded for each customer, has to be the speed at which this solution is deployed.

 

“Running the In-Store Communicator on top of the Go2Cloud platform allows us to rapidly deploy a custom, secure solution for each of our customers within a very short space of time. We get to focus on adding value for our customers, secure in the knowledge that the platform and performance are taken care of.” says Lawrence Cawood of Vinewave.

 

The simple answer to the title question has to be, if your goal is to improve customer service within a very short space of time, look to the Cloud to make rapid, positive changes for your business, your people and most importantly, your customers.

How do you reach 50 000 people on MXiT?


It’s easy!

A little time and a lot of imagination, oh and don’t forget two PhD’s and one Masters in Computer Science.

Those are the magic ingredients that cross platform mobile development house “Appceptional” already have in their basket.

If you aren’t sure that those ingredients are magic, perhaps 4th place in the Nokia Create4Millions worldwide awards or 2nd place in the SIMagine Developers Contest and Vodacom App Stars competitions will convince you.

Still no? Seriously? 

Okay, how about the close on 50 000 users who have chosen to interact with Mobiraba, just one of the apps built by the brainy team

V_photo

Left to right, Mileta Postic, Sanja Postic,Lorenzo Boccetti, Warren Hodgkinson, David Vannucci, Megan Russell, Chris Kieser, Jurgen Meekel 

 

Based on the internationally known game, Morabaraba, the cleverly named Mobiraba allows users across multiple platforms to either play against the computer or better yet, against another user. The smart engineering behind Mobiraba means that users don’t even have to be on the same platform to compete against each other.



In a world of platform dedicated apps, Mobiraba reminds us of that “ubiquitine” dream that web developers once held in such high regard, the ability to surface a similar end user experience no matter what the users platform of choice. No small feat in today’s multi OS ecosystems.

Co-founder of Appceptional, David Vannucci was quietly apprehensive at the initial launch of Mobiraba on the MXiT platform. “Mobiraba was already available to users on Nokia and Android platforms and based on this history we were expecting a manageable organic growth of new users”. 

The Appceptional team could not have been more wrong. 

“We released Mobiraba to the MXiT eco system late on Tuesday the 3rd of January 2012. Within 48hrs our external web traffic spiked so aggressively that we thought something must be broken.” Vannucci commented.

Graph

Proof that the growth of registered users was anything but organic growth.

Investigation revealed that the while nothing was actually “broken” the number of Mobiraba games played via MXiT was simply astounding.

With a wry smile Vannucci now comfortably comments, “Growth like this is usually every businesses dream and every infrastructure managers nightmare. It is a true testament to the power of the Cloud that we were able to remain up and running by instantly scaling to meet the demand.”

Appceptional leverage the Go2Cloud platform to manage a number of key elements that included the messaging relay for Mobiraba. Go2Cloud’s elastic cloud hosting capability provides customers and partners with instantly scalable compute capability. In addition local data centers ensure low latency and avoid any complications with data ownership often associated with providers in other geographies.

Go2Cloud Director and co-founder, Paul Slade, said in response “The amazing uptake of Mobiraba is fantastic. Seeing our customers go from concept through to such a successful product launch really is inspiring. The Go2Cloud team feel privileged to play a small part in powering Appceptional’s success”.

Since scalability is obviously no longer a concern for Appceptional, the focus must turn to “What next?” a question the team are no doubt continually ask themselves.

Vannucci’s obviously considered answer is a swift one, “This is simply the beginning of our plans. We have had over 22 000 user requests for Mobiraba tournaments, which will be our next feature. Of interest to our team at the moment is the number of brands looking to sponsor and brand the Mobiraba boards for these tournaments. Not surprising when you consider specific age groups and demographics are easily targeted and game play lasts over 8 minutes on average. That beats any billboard on the side of the road.”

There is no doubt that Appceptional is a business to watch, and that Mobiraba is just one of the apps up the teams sleeve. While they seem to be onto a winning recipe, one could argue that the secret ingredient was their ability to avoid any disappointment for users despite the rapid unplanned growth. 

Perhaps there is substance to this “Cloud” buzz after all, or maybe it’s simply the instant scalability of Go2Cloud

Update:

The Appceptional team shared the following with us post the writing of this article:

Sunday was really busy after we updated the mobiraba mxit codebase, instantly distributing this update to all players. Players were notified about the game update and the effect was amazing, we climbed to 2365 games played, with 4855 logins, and a combined high resolution exposure to the board graphic of 285 hours.

What would we have done prior to instant scale. 

Microsoft RDP Vulnerability – Security Update

Right off the back of our last blog post “How to Secure your Cloud Server“, the Go2Cloud GetHelp team flagged a potential security risk for all customers and partners using Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to access their Windows environments. 

As mentioned in the previous post, security is not an issue to that we take lightly and neither should you. Vigilance and action are the keys to ensuring that your environment remains secure.

Monsters

Not all threats are as tame as Mike from Monsters Inc

We recommended that you always ensure that your OS and APPS are up to date with the latest patches, bug fixes and enhancements. This tip turns out to the be the exact action which would have mitigated your the risks associated to the vulnerability.

Go2Cloud does not publicly share information about these potential risks until such time as the details have been shared with Customers and Partners, allowing sufficient time to update systems and reduce risk further. If you would like to receive these communications directly in the future, please email us (gethelp(at)go2cloud.co.za) and the team will send you a link to update your subscriptions. 

Details of the RDP vulnerability

Microsoft has recently announced a vulnerability in Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) that affected all versions of Windows from XP through the latest pre-release of Windows 8, including all Windows Server products.

This bug allows a remote hacker to execute code on a system, essentially running any software they wish, without any intervention on the part of the user. Obviously, this is a critical vulnerability and should be addressed as soon as possible by all customers who are affected. 

Anyone who uses RDP to connect to their Windows machines is vulnerable to this attack unless they take steps to ensure they apply the update.

Microsoft has released Security Update MS12-020 which will patch this vulnerability. 

Official information may be found at Microsoft’s TechNet blog post on the issue here

If you can¹t patch your system at present for whatever reason, the blog post linked above offers several ways to mitigate the risk. If you fall into this category, you can also disable RDP entirely and install some other remote desktop application in place of RDP such as VNC.

Microsoft states, at time of writing, that this hasn’t been seen used as an exploit in the real world yet, but expect it to only be a matter of time. They have stated that they expect to see this vulnerability exploited within a matter of days. 

Go2Cloud has been advising all customers to treat this as a matter of urgency, both in your Cloud and On-Prem environments.

I hope this information was useful!

For future updates please ensure that you are subscribed to the mailing lists relevant to you, check back with our blog or follow us on Twitter @Go2Cloud  

How To Secure Your Cloud Server

We hear it again and again:  “Is the Cloud really secure?”

Security

Before we get onto that, please excuse the immediate digression, but I cant help myself:

10 years ago my dad insisted that his data was critically important. So important in fact, that he bought a dedicated workstation which would “…never see the internet!“. I remember him boasting to his mates, “That will keep my data secure!“. He was right. At least until the moment that his well meaning IT guy, decided to do him a favor while topping up the printer cartridges and connected and configured the internal modem.

An hour later all the antibiotics in the world couldn’t have cured the viruses which had infected that machine. Data was a complete mess. On the plus side, the CD drive would randomly auto eject at exactly the right time to act as a handy cup holder. 

What my dad realised that day, is that it’s not about putting blinkers on and hoping that you’re okay. It’s about education and following the necessary steps (all of them) to secure your environment. 

The Cloud is no different.

Besides all the hard work that the Go2Cloud team put in to secure our data centers, at it’s most basic there are three things you need to look at when securing your Cloud Server:

1) Create strong passwords
2) Properly configure firewalls
3) Update your OS and Apps often (yes “apps” includes additional threat management software) 

Let’s look at that in more detail shall we:

Creating Strong Passwords

Structure strong passwords, and don’t share them with anyone. 

Why-be-careful-while-choosing-password-funny-illustration

Sounds like common sense, but it happens all too often. Passwords are given up way too easily. In some cases the individual may not have asked you for your password, but spends a little time guessing and trying out a few common options. 

If these individuals get more serious about cracking your password code, they may even use software tools to work through common passwords in an attempts to gain access to your server directly. Remember that you can see these attempts as well as the IP addresses they originate from within the Event Log. 

With your Cloud server, be sure to set the access passwords at both an OS level and inside the Go2Cloud control panel per server. 

Note that Go2Cloud do not broadcast our policies on password choice, but would gladly provide suggestions one to one if you like.

Properly Configure Firewalls

You wouldn’t leave your on premise server “firewalless” would you? Do the same with your Cloud server. 

Inside our control panel we offer you a general software based firewall capability. This allows you to specify which ports you want to enable on your servers. Feel free to treat this as a supplementary security layer if you also have an additional firewall in place. 

Most operating systems, such as Windows, have firewall capability built in. I know that the Go2Cloud technical team often recommend that it’s a good idea to start off by blocking everything and only opening ports when needed. It is also possible to restrict access on certain ports and protocols to certain IP addresses.

For multi-server setups you can take advantage of the private VLAN capability inside the control panel  and have a server acting as a dedicated firewall. All other servers on your VLAN could then have their public nics disabled.

Remember that there are many great firewall software packages out there. ForeFront TMG is good option in the Microsoft space and for Linux we often suggest tools like Untangle.

Update your OS and Apps Often

Ever wondered what happens to those error reports which you so diligently send back to the vendors and community?  Well, they actually go somewhere, get checked out by smart people and result in software updates.

This means that if any threat, loophole or bug is flagged in a current release, the future updates will work on addressing them

We all know that managing updates can be a bit of a pain, but it is a must.

For those Go2Cloud customers running Windows environments, you may have already noticed how quickly these updates download. This is because our smart technical team have done great work to ensure that updates are caching locally rather than having to be drawn from international servers all the time.

FYI – Rebooting and updating servers is “blazingly fast” (quote from an actual customer) on the Go2Cloud platform which should all contribute to making updates easy.

So there you have it, a few basics on how to improve the security of your Cloud servers.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out to our team!

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