Two Hills' cloud-based IT strategy for 2011

When you are a company of one, there are limited opportunities to test your IT strategies. So let me share one with you readers for feedback. This year Two Hills Limited is going Cloud.

Readers will know I am no Cloud zealot. On the other hand I'm not blinkered. There is a place for Cloud. One of my consulting clients is well down the road to a server-less network, with my encouragement. I think my company-of-one, Two Hills Ltd, is also a candidate for the Cloud.


Right now, my production website servers are already in the Cloud, hosted by WestHost of Utah. My office/desktop "server" is my five-year-old Dell desktop machine. In addition I run a new HP Mini netbook and an Android phone (love it!). The phone obsoleted a seven-year-old i-Mate Windows Mobile device which was the last remaining reason I ran Outlook (to sync it from my desktop, avoiding New Zealand's Third World 3G charges).

In the past I ran development of websites on my desktop, but I haven't done heavy web development in ages so Apache, MySQL, PHP etc have fallen into disrepair. I'm doing my current Drupal 6 upgrade on the hosted server using a production website that nobody visits anyway :) If I need to develop a new site in future I think I'd build a development environment on a new hosted server, even with the degraded response times, rather than rebuild a local development machine. I'll enforce a stronger policy limiting customisation and code development - my legacy of this stuff hurts. OOTB for me.


Last year I sold my soul to Google. I standardised on Chrome, GMail, GCalendar (shared with my clients), GReader, iGoogle, Maps, Earth, Trends, Books, YouTube for video publishing, and Google Docs for spreadsheets, presentations, and file storage. My websites use Analytics, AdWords, AdSense and Webmaster Tools. Oh and I use Google Search exclusively. I’m still stuck on MS-Word (recall that I write books) and Visio, but it is just a matter of time before I have Microsoft out of my life. (For non-Google escape paths, I do projects in OpenProj, graphics in The Gimp, and websites on the LAMP stack and Drupal).

So the business systems remaining on my desktop are the aforementioned Word and Visio, MYOB (a small business financial package), Acrobat Pro for building fancy pdfs (features that I almost never use any more), Context (a multi-language programmer workstation), and Skype.

My netbook has Powerpoint Viewer and Excel Viewer (free) for running workshops when the venue doesn't have web access.

In 2011 I'm considering moving onto the Google Apps platform. I get free usage up to 50 staff which gives me spare capacity of 49. Or for fifty bucks a year I get the bells and whistles, including passable support.
One of the attractions is the Apps Market. On that market is Xero, a Kiwi-built SaaS financials system that I have been considering for some time to retire MYOB. Next time someone wants an invoice while I'm on the road I'd be able to oblige.
Another attraction of Google Apps is (reportedly) more fully functional Docs.

One of these days I must get a service desk tool. My planned SaaS platform for that is also Kiwi: Beetil.


So my strategy for my desktop is to move this year to a moderately specced machine that doesn't need to stagger under the load of Windows, possibly with Ubuntu but more likely the new Google platform. It will have Chrome, Skype, a pdf-builder of some sort, a program editor, and not much else.

What to do about my dependence on Word and Visio?

I've considered Microsoft's SaaS offering, Office365, but it costs too much for too little.

Or I could bite the bullet and climb over the Open Office learning curve, but I'd hate to re-learn a decade of Word skills only to find that some feature I use in my books isn't there. I'm being driven to make my books simpler anyway by online platforms such as Kindle. My next book has dropped a whole lot of cool features of Word just to make the reformatting for Kindle less painful. So the odds are that Google Doc will meet my needs pretty soon. Open Office serves as an emergency tool to edit an MS-Office file when I don't have web access but I'll not take it any further.

I think I'll accept that I have to nurse one aging machine as a Windows-based word-processor. As I said, I may not need the advanced features of Word much longer, and if the PC finally dies... I'll cross that bridge then.


Android is my standard phone platform. My netbook currently runs Windows 7 though I almost always use HP QuickView which shows I'm well on the way to running something else. The phone and netbook are new so they better last me several more years.


Recently WestHost announced that they want to "encourage" clients onto the cPanel VPS platform, which takes away my root access and access to httpd.conf etc... I've no idea how long I can hang on to my existing full-Linux virtual server in Utah but the writing is clearly on the wall.

Since I need the street cred of working with Cloud servers, I'm considering moving my LAMPD stack to Amazon EC2 in 2011 and reluctantly ending a long and happy association with WestHost.

[Update: from WestHost "Our new reseller plans are on the cloud and have root access" And from a reader "I've played with EC2 a ton and don't feel its cost effective for 24/7 production systems" so maybe I can stick with WestHost and dabble with EC2]


Continuity Backups are currently to Mozy. I'd need to find a way to do "reverse backups". I think anyone in the Cloud should be taking copies of their data on a regular basis. If your host screws your data you can put it back. If your host goes belly up, your continuity options are zero but it wouldn't be a business without some risks now would it? I'm a lot more comfortable about backing up Google and relying on their DR than I am in managing that myself on a machine in my house.
Availability See above. The risk exposure is New Zealand's flaky, overpriced and overloaded internet infrastructure. Ah well. When it breaks I'll do some gardening.
Security See above. With the amount of surfing I do and all the websites I run, I'm amazed I've survived this long unscathed. As if Amazon, Google and Xero will have worse security than mine. Right.

Google Apps, Xero, Chrome+Chrome OS, Android mobile, EC2 production servers, and a rickety old PC running Word. What do you think?


Progress on moving Two Hills to the Cloud

Google Docs is getting better. It stomps all over MS SkyDrive. I haven't tried Office 365 and may never need to if Docs keeps improving.

Two Hills financial management is now on Xero. there were one or two features of MYOB I missed but overall it has been a major step forward for the business: account reconciliation is a snip thanks to the bank feeds, and reporting is much better. i love the dashboard.

And now I hope I can fire Visio (the other major sticking point besides Word), as i trial LucidChart: Cloud storage, Visio import, online collaboration...

I didn't make it to the cloud

I'm still on the journey to Cloud. My issue is enough time to perform due diligence. Office365 still looks interesting, if the functionality is sufficient. Google Docs is getting better but still not rich enough. Google Apps is a no-go: I would need to move my domain onto Apps and change my email address. That all looks too hard at the moment.

So many systems to test and pilot. Just like a "real" company moving to Cloud: it all looks so simple from a geek perspective; the catch is in the details, the practicalities and the diligence.

author to author

"My next book has dropped a whole lot of cool features of Word just to make the reformatting for Kindle less painful."

Exactly why I am now realizing I no longer need Word either. OpenOffice didn't handle frames to my satisfaction - doesn't do marginalia well - but the marginalia in my 1st edition translated very poorly to Kindle anyways... After this rev, it's bye bye Microsoft.

Charles T. Betz

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