- In this article we are recommending using Microsoft services. 1024 does not have any affiliation with Microsoft and does not receive remedy of any kind, financial or otherwise. There are many providers that offer cloud-based services (eg. Amazon Web Services), but we recommend Microsoft's services because we believe they offer the best value, breadth of options, and integration with existing infrastructure and software, for our clients.
- Please note that Ivo cannot be used from either Microsoft OneDrive or Microsoft Sharepoint, or any other file-syncing service such as DropBox, Sync, Box etc.
Our recommended solution is to move Ivo to a Microsoft Azure virtual server. "Azure" is the overarching name for Microsoft's cloud-based service. Many different options are available through Microsoft Azure, including virtual servers.
A virtual server has the following benefits -
- You do not have to manage any physical hardware. If there is a hardware failure, Microsoft fixes it. Additionally there is built in redundancy in cloud-based services such that in most cases, you will continue to operate as normal and will never even know there has been a hardware failure (important note, it is still strongly recommended that you implement a separate backup strategy and not rely solely on redundancy).
- The server can be accessed from anywhere in the world, and from any device (including tablets)
- Ongoing maintenance of the Ivo software is much simplified as only the virtual server ever needs to be upgraded. If 1024 is also given access to the server, upgrades and other support (such as writing queries) can be done without having to disturb staff to connect to their computer, and can be done outside normal office hours as well.
- You choose the amount of resources (ie. memory, storage etc) to give to the server and pay accordingly. If your workload changes and more or less resources are required, you can increase or decrease the server's resources as required, with the cost increasing/decreasing as well. These changes are made through the Azure web portal and typically only take a few minutes, requiring minimal downtime and cost. Upgrading a physical server is much more costly and time-consuming.
- Virtual servers can be switched off a specific times to further reduce costs. For example, it could be set to automatically switch off every night at 9pm, and automatically restart every morning at 7am. You could also complete switch the server off at Easter and Christmas/New Year.
The biggest benefit to using Microsoft Azure is that Microsoft provide not-for-profit organisations with (currently) $3,500 USD of credit towards Azure services - annually! For many smaller organisations, this will likely cover the entire cost of an Azure virtual server.
To sign up for Microsoft's not-for-profit program, please see this webpage.
If you decide to use a Microsoft Azure virtual server, the following steps will be required -
- Create the Azure virtual server - approximately one hour to setup a basic server. If there are a large number of staff that will be accessing the server, then longer may be required.
- Implement desired security and other options (eg. backup, automated shutdown/startup etc). Time will vary depending on requirements.
- Install Ivo and migrate Ivo data - this is typically a very quick process. For smaller clients (less than 10 staff), it will likely take about 1 hour. It will be dependent upon the amount of data to move, and the quality of the internet connection.
- Setup server connection icon on each staff's computer/device. About 5 minutes per device.
Once the urgent requirement of accessing Ivo remotely has been met, consideration can be given to -
- Using other software on the Azure server, such as Outlook, Word, Excel, accounting/HR software and so on.
- Configuring Ivo as a "RemoteApp"
- Accessing other organisation data from the Azure server
A last, unsupported option, is to store the Ivo data file on an Azure "Files" drive. This can be a less expensive option, but has a few negatives -
- It is highly dependent on the speed and quality of the user's internet connection. We have two clients currently using this method - one works quite well, the other somewhat poorly. Therefore, as stated, we do not support this method - in so far as there are a number of particular issues that may occur in this configuration which we cannot resolve because they are associated with the quality of the internet connection and so the only resolution is to improve that connection. The only option when these issues occur is for all staff to close Ivo and then restart it. It is important to note however that the normal support for Ivo stays the same.
- It still requires the Ivo software to be installed on individual staff computers, negating much of the benefit of moving to the cloud.
- An additional consideration during the coronavirus stampede to remote working is the increased congestion on the internet, which the Azure Files option will likely be significantly affected by, further slowing the performance of Ivo in this configuration.
Disadvantages of "Cloud" computing
- The primary disadvantage that we identify is that you don't own the hardware, and the hardware and associated services exist only as long as the provider exists, or chooses to provide the services. There have been notable examples of both Microsoft and Google shutting down services. At such times, you then have to find alternative solutions. However, it is highly unlikely that such a scenario will affect Microsoft's Azure services as it is now a well established and popular platform.
- It is reliant on an internet connection, and is therefore affected by the various vagaries of internet connections (availability, speed, reliability, congestion, consistency etc). When your internet is 'down', you are not able to access any internet-based services.