Building Your Private Cloud

The public cloud is growing every single day. New services and vendors are popping up all over the place. It is a veritable developer’s playground. The cloud is a big sand box, and you might not be ready to jump all the way in. Maybe you are only comfortable testing the waters with services like Cloud based backup. You know though your employees want and need access to company data and systems no matter where they are, so it is up to you to roll out a private Cloud for your minions — I mean employees– to work and collaborate from wherever, whenever, and on whatever device they want. In this article we are going to build on my Cloud Strategy article from last month.

Server 2012 is a great place to start building your private cloud, but not before deciding how cloudy you want things to be. What do employees need access to? Email…sure, documents…why not, applications, printers, fax machines, copiers, staplers, and the coffee maker?!?! Slow down there buckaroo! It’s easy to get carried away by the Cloud. I recommend we take it a step at a time. Maybe you have decided to put your email out on the public cloud — that’s great. In fact, email and backup are two services you really don’t want to have to worry about managing yourself. There are too many things that can go wrong when you are a small organization trying to build your private cloud. Let’s see if we can get everyone access to the documents they need on the file server. Direct Access in Windows Server 2012 gives you a way to have your devices securely connected to the network when they are away from the office. In the example of a Windows laptop or tablet, access would give consistent connectivity to file servers and mapped drives anywhere the device goes as long as it is connected to the internet. This on demand VPN connection secures the transfer of data over the internet using SSL encryption technology. A traditional VPN is also an option and may be supported by more devices. Here we would just get a router that supports client VPN connections or use RRAS on a Window server and after some simple configuration employees are connected to the network the same as if they were sitting at their desk. So we are connected from outside — now what? Windows laptops and tablets have the ability to browse windows networks. They come with the required interface to browse a traditional Windows file structure. What about iPads and Android tablets? There is an app for that, quite a few of them actually. I haven’t used one that is perfect, but they do the trick. Looking at this VPN solution and supporting mobile devices you might just be tempted to throw in the towel…don’t, it’s worth the work. There is nothing like not being on vacation but feeling like you are as you sit in a coffee shop working, not missing a thing.

Ok so you want to keep going. What about applications. I will tell you that from my experience running a network connected application over a VPN is in almost all cases a recipe for disaster. I mean it is so slow and frustrating for the user that they really want to just throw the computer out a window and forget the entire thing. The exception here is a well written web application. So what now — my xyz software is the heart and soul of you entire operation. Well I am a huge fan of Remote Desktop Services, and I have written about it several times. We could set up a RDS server and install the applications on that server and the problem would be solved. But what if I want my desktop, the same one I have at my desk…I like to see my cat every time I minimize my apps! Well we could talk about virtual desktops or if you have a physical desktop at the office that employees use at their desks we could simply turn Remote Desktop on their office computer, allowing them to have that same desktop experience in the office and out.

Creating your own private cloud is not beyond the reach of smaller organizations. In fact, almost everything I talked about in this article is available and nearly pre-configured for you in Windows Server Essentials. Windows Server Essentials is limited to only 25 users in most cases, which will not work for offices with more than 25 users. The important thing to note here is that planning is key when developing your private cloud. It is a good Idea to determine a few key items to make available in your cloud then decide the best way to accomplish that task by determining what methods and devices you will support for access to your new fluffy white cloud.

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