The story of the “as a service” sisters — SaaS PaaS IaaS

As a Service

First, there was the data center and time shared compute engines.  Then there was distributed computing to the desktop.

IT as a Service
IT as a Service

  Today, discussions of cloud computing is all the rage. 

Be it Microsoft’s Office365, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, or one of the many on site offerings, Cloud Computing is here to stay.   This article will begin by exploring some of the many cloud computing advantages and disadvantages (for there are some!).  Next, we’ll define the three primary “as a service” solutions.  Finally, we’ll apply Cloud Computing architecture and describe how “the cloud” can be used by real live businesses. 

Advantages of Cloud Compute models

Cloud computing
Cloud computing
  1. On-demand.  In Cloud Compute models, the services are “on demand”.  This means that instead of having to rent a physical location, apply for permits, purchase physical servers, standing up those servers in a physical data center, and hiring engineers and staff to run the data center, the Customer can focus on speed to market and stand up the cloud on demand.  This allows the equivalent of “leasing” equipment, instead of forcing large capital outlays.
  2. Rapid elasticity.  In Cloud Compute models, services can be expanded rapidly, and disposed of just as rapidly.  This reduces the concerns for oversizing or undersizing equipment purchases.
  3. Business Continuity Planning and disaster recovery.  Cloud compute offers location abstraction, where the Customer does not have need to control the geographic deployment area.  That said, if properly deployed, Cloud Computing models provide most of the computing infrastructure required to solve business continuity (BCP) and disaster recovery — all built into the deployment. That is, multiple geographically distributed compute solutions can be deployed, all without standing up independent physical locations.  Although this does not solve the entire Business Continuity plan (click here for a more comprehensive discussion of BCP), it goes a long way in the right direction.
  4. Security.  The Host company provides the physical security to the servers and datacenter.  Depending on the solution, the Customer is responsible for various levels of data security.
  5. Improved mobility.  All forms of cloud computing offer improved mobility for the workforce by centralizing the compute stack into a remote addressable solution.  There is no longer a need to create and protect a DMZ – if your employees have an internet connection, they’ll have access to the CSP.  

Disadvantages of Cloud Compute models

Sorry no Internet
Sorry no Internet

The cloud compute model is highly effective, and there are many reasonable advantages of moving to a Cloud Service Provider (CSP).   That said, there are disadvantages to any solution, and CSP is no different.  As with any solution, it is important to consider the CSP risks before fully embracing the architecture. Here we’ll explore some of the disadvantages.

  1. CSP Outages.  Unfortunately, like all cloud stacks, cloud providers also suffer outages.  If an outage does occur, the Customer may feel helpless in relying on the CSP in bringing the system back online.  That said, Outage risks can be overcome by building multiple cloud stacks with multiple CSP’s providing distributed geographic deployment. 
  2. Network outages.  Network outages do and will occur.  In a purely on site solution, Internet Service Provider (ISP) failures do not impact the business.  However, in a cloud solution, the ISP is a primary point of failure.  To manage these risks, multiple ISPs can be employed.
  3. Security.  While CSP’s offer tremendous Security value, there is a risk that policies are not followed.  Depending on the type of business you are running, some of those risks can be transferred by way of contractual language such as Business Associates Agreements in a healthcare environment.  
  4. Vendor lock in.  Vendor concerns exist with shrink wrapped software, and even more concerns exist for cloud services.  The customer must always be cognizant of vendor lock in risks.  For example, the customer should have mitigation plans in place if a vendor goes out of business, or if a contract ends, or if the contract becomes unaffordable.  These plans should be tested on a regular basis to confirm that all data is recoverable and the business is able to continue unabated.  

Types of “As a Service” solutions

Types of cloud
Types of cloud

Although there are many different marketing descriptions, there are three primary “As-A-Service” cloud compute service models.  Here are the three models.

  1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).  Infrastructure as a Service is the most basic “as a service” model.  IaaS is a solution where the customer is provided the ability to provision processing, storage, networking, and other basic computing components.   The consumer does not control the underlying cloud infrastructure, but does control the operating system and applications.  The Hosting company controls the data center including physical access to the infrastructure, heating and cooling, insurance, and other infrastructure costs. 
  2. Platform as a Service (PaaS).  Platform as a Service is a solution where the Customer is controlling the platform from the point of view of the Operating System.  In PaaS solutions, the Hosting company provides a Platform Deployment Template (or a selection of templates).   For example, a PaaS hosting company may provide templates for Windows 10 or Linux with a specific number of CPUs, specific amount of RAM, and specific hard drive capacity.  The Customer has full control over, and full responsibility, for configuring the Operating System and any associated applications.
  3. Software as a Service (SaaS). Software as a Service is the most controlled “As a Service” solution.  In this environment, the Customer is purchasing access to a software package that is hosted on the Host company’s platform and infrastructure.  Typically, the SaaS solution is accessed via a web interface, or deployed application.  Configuration of the SaaS is limited to configurations within the software itself, not associated with the Platform (the operating system) nor the Infrastructure (for example the number of CPUs).  If there are speed considerations that are purchased, the speed considerations are related to artifacts such as “Transactions per Second” instead of the number of CPUs.

Real life examples

Example
Example

We’ve covered Advantages and Disadvantages of Cloud Service Providers.  Now lets explore where these CSP solutions can be beneficial.

  1. Say, for example, you own a retail store.  You regularly serve 100 customers per day, but on Black Friday your customer base expands 10 fold to 1000 customers.  Through a CSP model, you can rapidly expand the services to handle these additional customers for those days, then tear down the services after the rush.  There is no need to purchase hardware and deploy it in your own data center, just lease the engines to accommodate the surge.
  2. If a business is wrestling with the risks and unknowns of building out a full data center, it may be more reasonable to stand up cloud services as are necessary.  In this way, the business owners can focus on the business instead of managing a data center and the staff to maintain it.
  3. In a SaaS environment, a business does not have to be concerned with regular software updates.  Instead, the CSP host will maintain the SaaS environment, and the business can focus on the business needs.  Security risks are also reduced since the most recent software package is regularly deployed.
  4. If a business experiences a recession or other cut backs, the cloud expenses can quickly be reduced.  Due to rapid elasticity, the business is not at risk of purchasing and maintaining large unused data centers.

Where to go from here

What's next
What’s next

As with any solution, it is a good idea to outline the specific benefits and concerns that you will have as you explore cloud computing.  As a recommendation, I’d say jump to Cloud earlier rather than later, but be confident that the risk plans are defined and managed appropriately for your business.

Reach out to me with any specific questions.  As always, let’s be careful out there! 

 

 

Key acronyms and technologies

  1. AWS – Amazon Web Services
  2. CSP – Cloud Service Provider
  3. ISP – Internet Service Provider
  4. SaaS – Software as a Service
  5. PaaS – Platform as a Service
  6. IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service

References

  1. The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing“,  http://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/Legacy/SP/nistspecialpublication800-145.pdf
  2. “Advantages and Disadvantages of Cloud Computing”,  http://www.levelcloud.net/why-levelcloud/cloud-education-center/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-cloud-computing/
  3. “Google Cloud Platform”, https://cloud.google.com/products/
  4. “Benefits of cloud computing”, https://www.ibm.com/cloud-computing/learn-more/benefits-of-cloud-computing/
  5. “11 Advantages of Cloud Computing and How Your Business Can Benefit From Them”, https://www.skyhighnetworks.com/cloud-security-blog/11-advantages-of-cloud-computing-and-how-your-business-can-benefit-from-them/
  6. “Cloud Computing and Is it Really All That Beneficial?”,  https://www.lifewire.com/cloud-computing-explained-2373125
  7. “Why Move To The Cloud? 10 Benefits Of Cloud Computing”,  https://www.salesforce.com/uk/blog/2015/11/why-move-to-the-cloud-10-benefits-of-cloud-computing.html

Registering a domain

Domain name

Branding, Searching, Buying, Building… You are likely here because you want your very own domain name.  That is great news, and I’m here to help!

Branding

A domain name (also known as a URL, Uniform Resource Locator, or web address), is the unique way for the world wide web to know you.  Each URL is a branding, a brand name where others can find you.  Inasmuch, the brand should be unique, and memorable.  

Consider, what are you tying to convey?  Is it that you want people to find you as a person, or is it that you are selling something?  Ideas for branding might include:

  1. Your name.  Like this domain, marksatterfield.com, it is my name.  It might be unique enough, and descriptive enough for everyone to find you.  But it might not be exactly what you are looking for, and it might not be unique enough for other people to find you.  If your name is a common name, it is likely already taken.  If your name is Mark Satterfield?  Yes, the domain is already taken.  Sorry about that!
  2. Your nickname.  This might be an acceptable domain name, depending on how common your nickname is, and whether it is available.
  3. Have you started a company?  Then use the web address associated with your company.  
  4. Are you selling a book or product?  Then use the name of the book or product in your web address.

The next few steps are going to be iterative.  You are going to dream up the ideal name, only to find out that your ideal name is already someone else’s ideal name and registered.  Then you’ll have to dream up a different ideal name.

Searching for your domain name

A registrar is a company that is authorized by ICANN to register domains.  Once you have a few ideas for a domain name, you’ll next have to check if the domain is available.  This is a bit tricky.  if you search for a domain on the wrong registrar, the registrar might hijack and camp on your domain!  Although no one can prove this happens, I’ve searched for names on GoDaddy, only to go back in the next day or two to find out the domain is then taken. 

My recommendation is to use internic.net for domain searches.  Go to the whois page on internic.net, and enter your choice of domain.  For example, enter “godaddy.com”.  Be sure to use the Top Level Domain nomenclature (the .com, or whatever else TLD extension you’ve decided to use).

If you receive a No Match message, that means your domain is available!  If you receive anything else, that means your domain is not available and you’ll have to go back and search again.

Buying: Registering your domain

Next comes the registration process.  Be careful with unscrupulous registrars who might register the domain in their own name.  I’ve used several domain registrars and have not had a problem.  Google is actually a domain registrar, but other than Google I don’t want to recommend any particular ones here just in case you have an issue.

Building: Setting up your web site

This part gets a little more complicated and beyond the scope of this article.  

Next steps

If you have special requests, or you’d like to have a domain registered and site set up and configured, please reach out to me and I’ll help you out.

A few thoughts as you start or continue your business

Opportunity Ahead

Business continuity

Business Continuity
Business Continuity

How does your company deal with Business Continuity? Business continuity planning is almost always a difficult endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Business continuity planning for small businesses sometimes feels even more difficult.  Before discounting the idea of planning for disaster, realize that sometimes changing small practices can make significant impacts on continuing your business during adverse situations. In the case of one of our Home Health Agency customers, the strategy is to put as much computing power “in the cloud” as quickly as possible, reducing our Recovery Time Objective to near zero.

See this article for more information on Business Continuity.

Physical security

big bully
big bully

Physical security is more than just a lock on the door or a guard at the gate.  Many times the first consideration is cameras — the thought is that if we deploy a large network of cameras, then our site will be physically secure.  But truly, when it comes to security solutions deployment, cameras (or at least cameras alone) are simply not the best practice.

Cameras and photo evidence

area under surveillance
area under surveillance

Cameras are great for forensic analysis, that is, to catch a thief. But as many law enforcement agents will advise, cameras don’t do much to stop a thief.

What is better?  In the case of a Time Share Community customer, the community was being hit by midnight bandits stealing items off of boats.  In this community, a two fold solution was employed:  (1) Motion (passive Infrared) lighting throughout the community and (2) reducing the access and availability to the protected area through easily designed terraine chokepoints.

In this case, the protected area was specifically a boat trailer lot, adjoining ramp, and marina slip area. Reducing access involved creating a single entry point with natural artifacts like large rocks surrounding the area. Restricting access with a keyed gate was considered but decided against because of aesthetic appeal.

Are lights high tech? Nope. Are lights a trending practice in the industry? Some will advise yes.

But most importantly, did the combination of lights and pleasingly aesthetic chokepoints solve the problem at the community?

Yes, it did solve the problem.  Two years running, and there have been no recurring incidences of theft.

Wireless access deployment

Free WiFi
Free WiFi

There is a current trend in the business community to provide free WiFi Internet access for customers.  You see it at McDonald’s, at Starbucks, at Home Depot, and at your local grocery store.  But why?

Will deploying WiFi cost money and impact your revenue?  You bet.  Your company will incur a capital expense in buying the equipment, as well as a recurring expense of both maintaining the equipment and the cost of the internet.  Then why do it?  Because it may impact your revenue in a positive way and keep your customers around.

Free coffee

Free Coffee Makes Me Happy
Free Coffee Makes Me Happy

Deploying WiFi is the modern way of providing free coffee to your customers.   It creates a hospitable environment for your customers, an environment that may appeal to them in a very homelike, friendly way.  Not everyone will be drinking the coffee, and not everyone will even care.  In the same way, most customers who have a WiFi enabled device are likely to already have data capabilities from their phone provider.  So why do it?  Because everyone will see the sign that says “Free Coffee”, and everyone will see the sign that says “Free Wireless Internet”.

The return on investment for “free guest WiFi access” is difficult to establish for a cost conscious executive.  Free anything is marketing.  It is just a way to reduce the “salesman vs customer” feelings, and create an environment where your customers are, well, at home.  It helps to keep them around.

 

 

Websites – time to make a web presence!

Domain name

Wait, make a what?  Make a Web presence.

Web Presence
Web Presence

What does that even mean?  Well to be totally straight, it is more than just a website, but a website is a good starting point.

So first things first.  I think I’ve heard of HTML and stuff related to websites somewhere. I suppose I better learn about it.  Let’s read up about HTML (the language that powers the web), and CSS (the format scripts that help your site look homogeneous), and WWW, oh wait, HTML5 is new let’s look into that, oh and URL, which is of course much different than UML   And PHP!  Yes, we better learn PHP Hypertext Preprocessor, and MySQL, and PostgreSQL, and, and, and … wait, where is my Ritalin.  I’m exhausted already.  Isn’t there a better way?

Well, I’m glad you asked.  In fact, there is a better way.

Web design in the wild west days

Early screen capture of Alta Vista web search engine, circa 1997
Early screen capture of Alta Vista web search engine, circa 1997

Way back at the turn of the century and even ten years ago, when it was time to start a web site, a web developer needed to learn all this and more.  Web sites were coded, Dreamweaver was king.  Back then a content editor would create the perfect prose and package it up for the web developer.  The content editor would then tell the web developer where to put the important stuff and where to put… well, you get the idea.

But today it is different.  That was the Old Covenant of the World Wide Web.  Today, we are under a New Covenant. It is totally different!

Well kind of different.  And kind of the same.  The content editor’s job is very close to the same.  But it is true, the web developer portion has changed a lot.  There is still a web developer, but the developer’s job has changed.

Today, most web sites are not home brewed, new framework sites.   Today when we think of web sites, we think (or should think) Content.  As such, we will have the web developer look for a Content Management System (or CMS) to handle most of our back end work.

Custom development vs standards based off the shelf development

Foundry
Foundry

Think of it this way.  If you were going to build a home, what would you change?  Right, you’d change the doors, and the windows.  Oh, and the color of the house, and the size of the rooms.  But would you use custom sized doors that required a custom builder?  Would you hire a metal worker and forge your own water faucets, or buy them ready made off the shelf at Home Depot or a supply shop?  Would you hire a light company and create custom light bulbs, or use standard Fluorescent T8 and Edison screw light sockets? [ Bet you didn’t know they were called Edison screws… 🙂 ]

Edison Screw
Edison Screw

In most situations — scratch that, almost all situations — creating a brand new from scratch anything is just way more expensive, and also causes a lot of issues with the customers and users.  I mean, who wants to go to a special light bulb manufacturer and pay that extra special price when they need to replace a light bulb?  Not many people.  It creates a hard to build, hard to manage, and hard to maintain solution.

Same goes for web sites.  People have become used to seeing a certain format on web sites, and the easier we can make our site to use, the more likely we’ll have customers that stay around.  So for web development, keep it, well, normal.  Unless you have a very special need, there is no need to home brew a web site.

Get me started!

So now that we’ve decided we really don’t want to learn all this stuff, we just want to get on the web.

Person blogging
Person blogging

We want folks to be able to see news articles we find important, or rants about our children, or ideas that we’d like to share — like this page you are looking at right now.  We don’t want to be web developers, we want to be content editors.  We won’t be creating a brand new web development platform, so what do we want?  We want a content management system all our own.

Great!  Let’s go read about that.  What is the CMS paradigm?  What is a CMS engine?  Searching for Content Management Systems leads to WordPress, and Joomla, and Drupal,  and…. wait, gosh darn it!  Where is that Ritalin again?

Let’s look at this from a different perspective.  Is it really the case that these CMS solutions are appropriate for what I want to do?  Okay, I’m glad you asked that too.

  • WordPress is likely the most popular web imprint for blogging.  It is known for its easy management and thousands of free themes.  It powers the likes of The New York Times, eBay, and Samsung.
  • Joomla is a powerful and highly configurable CMS.  Joomla powers the likes of MTV, Barnes & Noble, and General Electric.
  • Drupal is the beast of CMS.  It is a very highly configurable and extensible framework that powers the likes of Warner Bros Recordings, NASA, and The White House.

So what is our take away from all this?  The shortest of answers is:  It just doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that we get out there and publish.  Sure, the CMS engine does matter some, but remember, content is king!  If we make a big mistake on using the wrong content management engine?  We can transfer the data later.

Choosing your CMS

Okay, time for a little candidness.  I’m new to this blogging stuff as well.  The last time I built a web site was ten years ago.  Guess what I used?  I built it using Dreamweaver, HTML, and CSS.  But like we’ve already discussed, times have changed, and it was time to learn a more modern approach at web sites and blogging.

When I started this article, I was going to approach it from the technical side — after all, I am an engineer.  I was going to get into the grit of how to install whatever engine on any given host, blah blah blah.  But you know what I’ve learned?  Everyone has a site like that.

This article is the essence of what I’m trying to convey — content matters.  As I’m new to this as well, I had to select one of the CMS engines.  I chose WordPress.  Why?  Because:

  • It had the largest number of free themes available.  I didn’t want to spend any money during the learning process, so free was desirable.  Since everything on this site itself is free, I didn’t want to impose any fees on the reader to get started.  My first impression of Joomla and Drupal was highly configurable, but with fewer free gadgets.
  • It was “configurable enough”.  I wasn’t looking for The Configurable King, I was looking for something to get content, like this article, out to you … oh, and the world, of course. 🙂

I did install Joomla after the fact.  My first impression was it is just like WordPress, just the menu system is different.  It looks as though it might be more highly configurable than WordPress, but again, I only installed it.  I didn’t work on it.

Is that enough?

But is WordPress really enough?  Well, maybe.

  • If I wanted to develop a web imprint for general use?  I would develop a WordPress theme.  Why?  Because of market share.  Of course, the market is highly competitive as well, so keep that in mind.
  • If I wanted to develop a highly scalable web imprint, like that might power a Facebook or dating web site, I would likely develop a Drupal theme.

Well gosh though, with this in mind, you might ask why use a CMS engine at all?  I mean, if you are going to develop a large part of the engine and theme manually, why not just start from Java or .NET?  Three things come to mind.

  • Security.  If the Drupal or WordPress engine is compromised, rest assured the world will know about it, and a patch will be forthcoming.  If a site is home brewed, the site designers have to be particularly aware of security issues.
  • Speed of initial development.  Since the engine is off the shelf, a web site can be fully operational in weeks instead of months leaving the developers to concentrate on content.
  • Less expensive to maintain.  Since a large part of the management is handled by the engine itself, the content designers can focus more on the content and presentation instead of focusing on how that presentation might be coded.

WordPress pros and cons

I am already a big proponent of WordPress — can you tell?  There are great things, and there are a few things that I’ve noticed are difficulties.  The difficulties might be my fault, and these might be issues with all CMS engines, but just to note a few things…

  • It isn’t very easy to edit great content.  What I mean by this is the actual editing process.  For example, this page.  It doesn’t autosave (might be a plugin for that), and it just isn’t as natural as say using Open Office or Libre Office (haha, can you tell I support free software?)  Realize I’m new at this, so it might just be a learning curve.  I’ll edit this note if I figure out a better way.
  • It seems as though the site is going to become a little difficult to manage as the amount of content (especially pages) grows.  Managing WordPress is likely a learning curve issue, and I’ll post a note when I get this figured out.  I expect if The New York Times can manage tens of thousands of pages, it must just be a learning curve fear of the unknown.
  • There’s an app for that.  By itself, WordPress is really just a security engine.  What makes the magic happen are the plugins and themes and widgets.  Just remember, there is an app for almost anything you wish to do.  Sometimes it might be difficult to find, and sometimes especially difficult to find a free one, but someone somewhere has likely developed a widget or plugin that perfectly fit your needs.
  • Pages and post and plugins and themes and comments and administrators and editors and… Well, what I’m getting at here is, there is still a learning curve.  Once you pick the CMS engine of your choice, give yourself a few weeks to just poke and prod.  Create a page or even a site, and then start modifying it.  Add an image, change an image, add a page, just poke around.  Do it in a non production environment — like, create a wp2 instance for your eyes only, and break it.  Then see if it is easy enough to fix.

The WordPress platform

WordPress
WordPress

Out of the box, WordPress is a great platform, but what makes it a great engine is its extensibility.  This happens in part through plugins.  For example,  have you seen those CAPTCHA requests that are annoying to you as a user, but do a great deal to help reduce the amount of SPAM and spammy links to sites?  Well, there’s a plugin for that.  And for contact forms, so you don’t have to create your own, and for many other extensions you will likely use during your life as a web blogger.  We have an article on notable plugins that will help you learn to search for plugins, and help you get started in using them.

“…Let’s get this party started!”

Great, you’ve told me all this stuff, but how do I do it?  The easiest way is to open a WordPress account, and let WordPress handle the chores for you.  You can do that here, and learn about how to get started too.  Once you get an idea of how blogging works, you can install your own WordPress on your own site.  That task is host specific though, so you’ll have to find out how to do that through your domain host, or you can ask me individually and I’ll help you out.

As always, let’s be careful out there!  Happy blogging!

 References

  1. Elements of a successful business web presence, http://mashable.com/2010/02/10/business-web-presence/.
  2. WordPress Blogging introductory article, http://codex.wordpress.org/Introduction_to_Blogging
  3. Drupal Famous Sites, http://www.tributemedia.com/blog/erika-meissner/famous-drupal-sites
  4. Joomla Famous Sites, http://community.joomla.org/labels/joomla-portfolio.html
  5. WordPress Famous Sites, http://en.wordpress.com/notable-users/
  6. Get Started with WordPress, http://codex.wordpress.org/Getting_Started_with_WordPress
  7. Install your own WordPress, https://wordpress.org/

Search Engine Optimization

[SEO] Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a common phrase for “How do I get my web site highly ranked on Google!?” I’m simplifying this of course, but it is good enough for our use.

But really, let’s think about this a bit.  Do you care about SEO, and being highly ranked on Google?  Well, sure you do!  But … not really. Let’s be honest.  What you really care about is business.  Traffic, and driving traffic to your site, and converting that traffic into… business.  So what you really care about is business, and increasing that business.  I’m with you, and this “getting started in SEO” article is going to help you along.

To SEO, or not to SEO.  Is that even a question?

To start this exercise, let’s consider our goal again.  Our goal is to increase business, and we are going to do that by increasing traffic.  There are a few kinds of traffic:

  • There are new visitors who happen along our page because we’ve distributed business cards, or put up billboards, or paper advertising, or a customer or visitor has referred them to us, or we’ve had other personal contact with them.  These are direct contact visitors.  Any Page 1 ranking doesn’t matter for these visitors — but SEO is still very important.  Why?  Because we want to retain those customers, and have them visit again.
  • There are new visitors who happen along our page because they are referred to us by other web sites.  These are referred visitors.
  • There are new visitors who happen along our page because they searched for a certain term.  These are SEO visitors.  This traffic is directly influenced by our SEO work that helps our ranking.  We want to grab that person’s attention, and have them visit again.
  • There are visitors who happen along our page because they’ve already visited.  These are repeat visitors.  We definitely want to capitalize on repeat visitors and have them return to our site!  Why?  Because it is very costly to get that first time customer.  Customer retention is important in any business.

In the following chapters, we’ll visit each of these types of visitors, and try to better understand how to keep them around.

Backlinks

Let’s start with the now infamous backlink.  Don’t worry, it is okay if you haven’t heard of them before. 

Technically put, backlinks are links from one web site to another web site.  More simply explained, backlinks are kind of like endorsements.  If I place a link from my site to some other site, the Internet search engines considers that an endorsement for that site.

There was a day when SEO Page Ranking was almost purely based on keywords and the number of backlinks to a site.  The more the backlinks, the higher the ranking.  The idea was, a search engine spider would reason if so many people feel confident about this particular web site, then well, maybe the spider itself should feel confident about this particular web site too.

But then backlink farms started growing.  Backlink farms are web sites almost purely devoted to backlinks.  No real content, just hey, pay me a dollar and I’ll let you have your very own backlink to your site to help in your ranking.  What was the response?  Right.  As you might expect, the search engines realized the failure, and the algorithm changed a bit.  A site would be ranked based on a rough estimate of backlinks to outlinks.

I got caught on outlinks with my first web site.  I achieved front page status on all the popular search engines of the time (yay!), then I decided to outlink for key words to dictionary sites (to help my reader with unusual words and technical jargon), and outlink to companies I did business with (to help my reader more easily find companies in the “digital era” of web sites), and outlink to the weather reports (because I am a boater and pilot, and weather is important to both of those interests), and outlink to financial times news (since at the time I was actively involved with heavy day trading, it just seemed to make sense to link to these sites).  Well, what happened was… my first page results went to page 167 on google alone (no lie, I checked!).  At first I didn’t understand what happened.  It was a week or two between the time I started adding the outlinks, and the time I noticed that the site was no longer on page one.

I was able to get back to page one, but it was a slow process.  Just like the stocks I owned, they went down quickly, and took a long time to recover.  Eventually I was back to page one — unlike my stocks that mostly never recovered, but that is another story…

Anyway, today backlinks are “likely” part of the puzzle for these highly secretive proprietary search engine algorithms, but there is more.  Let’s get to a few others.

Be awesome in your field!

So let’s consider this a bit.  The first thing you need to do is define your business.  What are you doing?  Are you running a dry cleaners?  Then be awesome at it!  Are you opening a restaurant?  Then be awesome at it!  Are you creating a web services company?  Then… right, be awesome at it!  Why?  Well, here’s why.

If you open a restaurant, what do you provide to your customers?  Right, you provide food.  But you do more than that.  How do you keep customers coming back?  It usually isn’t only food, and not even only good food.  Think about it, why did Seinfeld revisit The Soup Man?  It is the atmosphere, the attitude of the wait staff, the cleanliness of the restaurant, the cleanliness of the restrooms, and even more.  If it were just food, most people would be just as satisfied to eat out of a can from the local grocery store.  But by providing good food, and good service, you are building a solution.  Even McDonald’s and Burger King do more than provide food.

Content

Just as in the “develop your own web site” document, let me reiterate that content is king.  If you have good content, a few good things happen.  First, the search engines themselves recognize that it is really content and increase your rank.  Second, people will actually look at your site and look over the content — I mean, what good is it if you have achieved the legendary Page 1, but you don’t have any decent content?  Right, you get hits with no retention.  Not good.  And third, people will begin to backlink to your site without your even needing to ask!

Consider also, the better the content, the more rich, fully vetted content you can provide, the more easily the search engine is going to be able to realize what your site is about.  Not only that, the better, more rich, fully vetted content you can provide, the more easily a human reader is going to enjoy your site, and the more likely the human reader is going to return.

Fresh content

Okay, so you are awesome in your field.  You have backlinks because people love your <<< pizza | law office | physical therapy practice | weblog | insert gadget here >>>. You have great content on your site, you’ve written all about your cookie recipe, and how it won an award in 1999, and how you won the gymnastic gold medal in 1986.  How do you keep the visitors coming back?

The answer is:  Fresh content!

If someone visits your pizza palace and enjoyed the experience, they might be inclined to return — but you ought to be providing fresh pizza ingredients!  In the same way, if someone has visited your page once and enjoyed the experience, they may be inclined to return — but you ought to be providing fresh content!

But what is fresh content?  It depends.  If you are msn.com, you provide fresh content in several categories — International events, weather, local events, sports, the stock market.  These are reasons customers revisit msn.com.  If the content is stale, then fewer people are likely to return.  You get that first costly hit, and then… nothing.  There is no reason to return tot he site.

Are you involved with homelessness and child welfare?  Well, how about fresh newsworthy content on developments in the world and the community that directly affect homelessness and child welfare?  That might entice people to return.

Are you the pizza palace?  How about fresh content like coupons, or discounts for the day, or “special events” where you give away a free pie, or free wine tasting with a the purchase of meat lovers pizza?  Right, there are ways to encourage people to revisit your site.  But mostly, you are trying to convert those site visits into business, and business is buying that pie!

If you are a web services company, you also need to build content, just like food is content.  But more than that.  You need to build good content, and fresh content to keep your customers interested in coming back.  That first click is hard to achieve — just like getting that first customer through your door at a restaurant is hard to achieve.  After spending thousands of dollars on advertising, you reasonably have one chance to convince that customer to return.  Having good fresh content is a great way encourage that return visit.

Keywords

Keywords will definitely help your search engine ranking.  Consider, how would a search engine know you are a lawyer without actually using associated key words and phrases like law, attorney, law firm, criminal, defense, injury law, or contract law?  But consider also, every other lawyer out there is going to be interested in using those same key words.  Well what about key word stuffing?  Like, if I can repeat “attorney” on my site more than the next guy, will that help me?  Likely not.  In fact, it likely will hurt.  Key word stuffing is like ballot box stuffing.  It has been caught, and most search engines are going to penalize the site for stuffing that key word box.

What do we do then?

As we’ve seen, SEO is more than just getting on Page 1.  It is about providing such a great service that your existing customers are talking.  It is about providing such great content that people want to return.  It is about building a solution that people want, and the Page 1 rank is almost secondary.

Okay, well, all that except for the last part.  Page 1 is SEO.  But all that other stuff is critical to convert a traveler through your page to a traveler who builds your business.

So then, how can you stand out?  With key words alone, it is going to be tough.  With backlinks along, it is going to be tough.  With static web page content alone, it is going to be tough.  You need a splattering of key words through your fresh, awesome content that people want to read!

What do we do?  We write articles that will entice the reader to return to your page, and that will entice him or her to say, “Hey, I found this great law site, and the content is awesome!  You need to check it out.”

That is what we do.

 

Business Continuity and Resiliency Planning

Business Continuity
what business continity plan
Business Continuity Planning? Yes, even you need it!

Are you responsible for business success?  Have you thought about what to do on those imperfect days?

The electricity goes out, your computer starts smoking, or one of your employees has an accident on the way to a very important delivery.

All of these are part of Business Continuity Planning (or BCP). The phrase BCP really took off after 9/11, along with Disaster Recovery Planning, but it has always been a part of a business plan, even if it is not written down.

In Business Continuity and Resiliency Planning, we attempt to put some order to the chaos. The paper is not a basic BCP tutorial, but instead is written just to get you to think about your business, what might happen to cause an interruption, and what you can do to lessen the opportunity for a disruption and lessen the impact of a disruption.

Happy reading! By the way, I’d love to hear your feedback!

 


 

Abstract for

Business Continuity, Resiliency, and Disaster Recovery Planing

Yay, you are in business! You’ve created your company, you have your occupational license, your office and storefront set up, vendors, product lines, and best of all, customers!

But are you ready to open? What happens when things go wrong? Let’s face it, adversity comes in many flavors. Sure, emergencies like a fire, and disasters like a hurricane are adverse, but there are more adversities to consider. A storm, or a crime, your internet goes down, or even something like if your suppliers stop supplying.

So what happens during these adverse conditions? What are your real risks, and how will you protect your business – and your customers – from the risks? Good resiliency planning will keep your business operating when things just don’t go right.

This paper helps you explore your exposure to risks and remedies for adversity. You don’t want to be in a position of trying to figure out what to do during a crisis. As some of us have heard through the years, prior planning prevents poor performance. Will this planning make you 100% safe from adverse conditions? Of course not. What it will do, though, is help you understand the risks your company faces, and help you get through the situations.

In this paper, we’ll focus on business continuity and resiliency planning as it relates to your product, to your business process, and to retaining your customers. We’ll look at snippets of what winds up being important to different kinds of businesses, including an Ice Cream Shop, a Home Health Agency, a roofing company, and a Restaurant. Although the content is appropriate for all businesses, the intended audience is the small business. We’ll avoid going through the purely educational process of defining Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery; instead, we’ll look at practical, real life examples of what you need to consider when it comes to protecting the interest of your company.

 

Chapter 1 Introduction to Business Continuity

When it comes to starting your business, there is no one “right type” of plan. There are business development plans, financial and budget plans, marketing plans, and recycling plans to name just a few. These are all great plans, and very important to any business. But let’s face it, some are more important than others.

And when it comes to protecting your business from adversity, there is truly no one “right type” of plan. These are the plans that you hope to never use, plans that are only important when things just go wrong. But equally so, these plans are important – to both your customers, and to your business interest. Take these examples,

  • What happens if your building burns to the ground? Are you going to set up shop at a temporary facility, or will you cancel all pending orders? How long will it take to recover? And how many pending orders will you lose? How will this affect your customers? To manage this risk, have you installed sprinkler systems? Or a fire alarm that automatically calls the fire department when things go wrong?
  • How about a hurricane warning? Do you send your workers home? How is your customer base affected by hurricane warnings? If you are selling water, you stay in business since everyone and their brother will be looking to buy water! But how about if you are an Ice Cream shop? Do you expect to get much business while everyone is scurrying around trying to board up their windows? How about if you are a licensed Home Health Agency? You may have government regulatory demands in place that force you to stay open, or maybe even force you to move all of your patients to a safe house for continued care.
  • How about a tsunami that happens quite quickly? You may say, “Oh, but I’m in Florida, we don’t have tsunamis.” This is true, you don’t. However, your suppliers may by affected, and if your suppliers are affected, you are affected. Take for example the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that affected Japanese LCD and semiconductor manufacturers, thereby disrupting the worldwide supply of these components.

Certainly, you may not know at this moment what you will do in these situations. It will likely depend on many factors, such as what is your business backlog of orders. However, it is never a bad idea to have a plan, and planning may even clear up some of these unknowns.

As a reminder, plans are just that, just plans. As Winston Churchill is quoted, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” Yeah, maybe. Then Mike Tyson tells us, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” What do we take away from all this? Have a plan, but don’t be a slave to it. Be comfortable in changing the plans as necessary. These types of plans are truly living documents. You already know your business. As you get to know more about risks, your risks plans will become more mature. In these first phases, you may or may not even document the plan – the goal is to understand your risks.

Let’s look at what we are trying to achieve here and set some expectations. This is not a Business Continuity Training document. It is intended to look at real life threats and impacts to your small business. When we think Business Continuity, we should be thinking about, “what are the threats and risks to my business when it comes to completing my mission.” That is, what adverse situations might happen that will negatively impact completing your business goals. In this document, we’ll be looking at ways to reduce the impact of those adverse situations. We will be examining real life scenarios for real life companies, including a retail ice cream shop, a home health agency, and a restaurant.

This paper will consist of the following sections. First, we will lay out objectives or principles of the risk plan that we are writing. Next, we will brainstorm business continuity threats and risk impacts to your business, taking note of all conceivable risks (some of these will be unreasonable, and we can eventually discard them as unreasonable). Then, we will outline how to document the business continuity risks and associated mitigation. Finally, we will detail some of the risks and mitigation steps required to successfully keep your business running. Along with this, we will outline how much it is going to cost to implement the risk mitigation. We’ll end with some concluding remarks and way forward for developing a more comprehensive business continuity plan.

<< Continue reading Business Continuity and Resiliency Planning >>

Goodbye Landline Phone – get rid of the local exchange

So you’ve looked at your local phone bill and it was… oh my, I’m paying that much for a simple phone number? This doesn’t seem right! How can I be paying $40 a month for a land line phone?

Well it doesn’t matter how you wound up paying that much. The unfortunate answer is that you are. That monthly fee turns out to be $500 per year after taxes. Yikes! But are there any real, viable, and safe options? And further, are you really ready for a change? I mean, it is only $500 a year. Most of us pay more than that eating fast food every year.

If your answer is, “Yes! I am ready for a change! I’m ready to ditch my landline! I’m ready for an alternative that will save me some dough!”, then you are in luck! This paper is for you. We’ll talk about the pros and cons of different services, and even the “risks” that you will face with getting rid of your phone line.

Ditch the landline is focused on the home user or small SOHO user. It is not a technical step-by-step or “how to” document (of which many exist), it is a document to get you comfortable and thinking about the switch. Sometimes you just need to know your options before you make a decision; if that is you, this paper is for you.

Please contact me for more advanced opportunities like private branch exchanges and other multiple user deployments.

<Originally posted 2011 on phoneexchange>