Our Internal Systems … Overhaul details…

Over the Christmas period we will be overhauling our internal systems, which is why, this year, we are closing our doors on the 19th!

We will be fully rebuilding our rack with completely new equipment.  The rack will consist of the following:

1 x Dell 1950 Dual Xeon 1U Server – 32Gb RAM – VMWARE1
1 x Dell 1950 Dual Xeon 1U Server – 16Gb RAM – VMWARE2
1 x Dell 1950 Dual Xeon 1U Server – 8GB RAM – VMWARE3
2 X Dell 2950 Dual Xeon 2U Servers – 16Gb RAM – SANARRAY1 – SANARRAY2
1 x HP ML350 G5 – Single Xeon 4U Server – 8Gb RAM – ASTERISK (Phone System)
1 x HP N54L Microserver – Single Xeon 8Gb RAM – ISCSI Backup Target
1 x Watchguard X550 Firewall – Main Internet Connection
1 x Watchguard X20E Firewall – Between Main Network and SAN for management of SAN
1 x SunFIre V210 – Dual SparcIII Server running SQUID Proxy Server
1 x SAN Switch (May be Fibre, To be confirmed)
1 X Managed Gig Switch for Main Network

We estimate this will take us about 4 days to fully configure and install, please bear with us during this time 🙂

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Replaced Your Server? Don’t Bin It, Re-function it…

About 12 months ago we started playing around with a new product called FreeNAS. This is a piece of Open Source software. You will probably have heard us banging on about Open Source before, but for those of you who have missed it, Open Source is exactly that, anyone can download the code and play with it. Basically compiled by a bunch of volunteers and tossed into the world.

FreeNAS is an operating system that has very small overheads and turns pretty much any box into a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. However with a little bit of IP from us we have changed this into a system that can be reliably utilized as part of a disaster recovery strategy.

It works like this, once your new shiny server is in place and the final roles have been transferred we wait, normally 6 months, however in the case of our latest server installs which have been from bare metal to VMWare virtualized environments we have scaled this back to 1-2 weeks. As the VM Convert is essentially an image of the original taking with it everything and removing the human factor in copying data. So once the VM is up and running and your server image has been converted, you are left with an old fileserver, that normally is between 3-5 years old and quite capable of becoming a host.

We remove the old server software and install our copy of FreeNAS, setting up the system to present to your new fileserver as ISCSI (This is effectively allowing the server direct access to the disk drives in the FreeNAS), providing a significant overhead advantage to traditional CIFS (Windows Shares). So if your old server had for example 4 x 1Tb disk drives we can present this as either a single 4Tb Drive, or a redundant 2Tb drive to your new server. We can then use the inbuilt windows backup to roll a backup on to this box.

If your new server has two network cards then we can present the ISCSI effectively as a SAN Array, which means that there is no overhead from this clogging up the network fabric.

We then utilize your removable drives (external backup disks) to back up this FreeNAS volume.


  • FreeNAS cost £0 as it is Open Source
  • This gives us a massive library of quick backup recovery options for files, e-mails and indeed the whole server
  • The slow process of copying on to the external device is carried out by the FreeNAS box, and so network performance is not effected by the copy process.
  • Solid redundant disks provide reliable storage for backup history.
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The Modern Backup Solution.

Firstly, and lets be absolutely clear on this, Tape Backup is Dead, Dead, Dead.

Secondly, unless you have 3 backup disks, and can guarantee that at least one is off-site at all times, and you have a cloud based backup in place (you will know as you will be paying a cloud provider or IT-MK Limited to provide a cloud based service) then we really need to talk about your backup solution. 

“According to Aveco, 20 percent of companies will suffer fire, flood, power failures, terrorism or hardware or software disaster. Of those without a DRP:
* 80 percent will fail in just over a year
* 43 percent will not even reopen
* 93 percent that experience a significant data loss are out of business within five years.”

All modern systems these days are using disk based backup,  however these can come in a number of “flavours”.  All Disk Systems have a number of advantages over the older tape systems, the most noted is in the following situation, you require the restoration of a small file, say >1Mb, now that file could be located near the end of the backup, a tape system has to read through more or less the entire tape to recover the file, a disk system being random access, can go directly to the file location.  This means that disk systems are invariably faster at recovery in this situation.

Disks sound great but what are the disadvantages?

Disks are a great way of backing up, there is no way around that, the weak link in the chain is, as always human beings, disk’s don’t always get changed, disk’s get left on site, normally next to the servers they intended to be protecting.  In the event of a fire, flood, theft or other catastrophe, they can all to easily be destroyed.  The worst case is that there is not a disk left off-site or you only have one disk!  Which is destroyed and you are unable to recover any data.

The Drawback of Cloud

Cloud based backup systems provide the best level of protection however, in a busy network with a relatively slow internet connection (ADSL for example) there can be some lag between a file changing and being backed up.  This can be exasperated if there are databases in play, as each time the database changes the whole thing has to be uploaded.

Cloud systems are notoriously slow to recover from, as what goes up via ADSL has to come back via ADSL, a whole server of data say 100Gb can take days to come back down the line.

What Are The Ways Forward?

Well there are a couple of ways forward, firstly, ensure that there are enough disks with a good image on, off-site, to recovery at least everything except the last 7 days ideally more.  Ensure that there is NO time AT ALL when ALL the disks are in the same location, this requires a minimum of three disks to achieve.

Disk to Disk to Cloud

This is a newish concept however one that allows you to take advantage of the best of all worlds, firstly there are no tapes.  Secondly the primary backup is still a rotating disk platform with 3 or more disks, thirdly sitting behind the disk backup is a cloud based backup.  In the event of a user deleting data, there is the immediate recovery from the disk, in the event of a fire, flood, theft, then there is primarily the offsite disk that can be used to recover the information, thirdly if for some reason that disk is damaged (I have had this where a server was flooded, the on-site backups were destroyed and the user responsible for the off-site disk dropped it on the way in!) then the cloud is sitting there ready with your data.

Backup Systems

Windows Server 2003 was the last Server Operating system not to provide an Image Based backup system.  An Image of a system means that we (the IT Support team) can rebuild a server super quick, in a disaster, to different hardware.  We get another server (or high powered desktop) and simply recover the image directly onto the new machine, this is about the quickest recovery you could hope for typically >4 hours providing hardware is available.

What if I am using 2003 backup still? 

Then we really have to talk, 2003 backup is littered with inconsistency and we really should be talking now about bringing you up to a newer operating system for your server, one that contains at the least an image based backup system.  However we should really be looking at proper proprietary backup systems and software.

But my data is critical, and we can’t be down ever.

We can cope with this situation, however you really have to decide how critical your data is, and can you cope with a bit of downtime?  To provide a fully fault tolerant system, which would involve special software, geographically distributed servers, high speed leased lines between the server locations, which can prove expensive, and we are talking tens of thousands of pounds to do properly.

Why Now?

IT-MK Limited has up until now allowed customers to drive their strategies when it comes to backup.  Often the primary argument comes down to cost implications.  Over the course of the next 3 months we will be performing a major overhaul of our records on site, as part of this we will be conducting in-depth on-site reporting.  Part of this will be a report on server conditions and backup planning.  There will also be options for bring the systems up to speed.   If you would like to do this sooner rather than later, then simply drop us a line and we will be happy to oblige.  This site visit and report, as it is with a view of updating our own records, will be free of charge, we hope to have this completed by the beginning of September.

What do IT-MK Limited Use and Do You Have  A DRP in Place?

IT-MK Limited take very seriously our customers’ needs and requirements, as such we have the following systems in place:

Firstly our servers are all mirrored pairs, that is for each server we have there is another identical one ready and waiting to take over, this applies to mail, database, and file systems.  We use a system called Distributed File System so that all our data is simultaneously mirrored onto two independent non virtualised servers, these servers are from different vendors and contain disks manufactured by different providers to avoid any implication of a faulty batch of components effecting both servers simultaneously.  These servers are geographically diverse, one being located in Towcester and one being located in Milton Keynes, the link between is FTTC Optic Fibre DSL.   Each server has an APC 3000Ah uniteruptable power supply which ensures continued operation for approximately 40 minutes should the mains power fail.

Secondly each server has an disk based image backup system attached to it for immediate recovery and rapid recovery.

Thirdly we use a cloud based system for off-site backup this provides a last chance saloon recovery should things go that far!

We undertake regular updates and maintenance and perform a full image recovery test once every six months ensuring that our systems are in good, recoverable, condition.

IT-MK Limited – Now Available In Central London

We have a new dedicated department dealing with Central London the London centric team can be contacted on 0203 384 8549, and are available now to deal with your requirements.

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New Alienware Laptop Range Now Available

New Alienware Laptop Range Now Available

Check out these new top spec Alienware gaming laptops now available from IT-MK Limited, starting price is £1099 Inc VAT. Give us a call to discuss your custom build Alienware today, 01908 880 677

Intelligent Talk – Ubuntu Data Centre Goes Live

Intelligent Talk have are a rapidly expanding company based with in Milton Keynes.  They have recently undergone a rapid expansion that has facilitated the use of cutting edge Ubuntu Software as the enabler to expansion.

Ubuntu, as with most Linux operating systems is distributed free of charge and can be used for commercial purposes.

Intelligent Talk required  required a reliable, quick to implement and above all, cost effective solution for a new business requirement based within the same managed building, but in a new office.  Users need to be able to access the web based CRM system and have occasional access to the network data in order to update excel files.  IT-MK Limited  suggested a Linux based solution due to the great feature set and low total cost of ownership.  Lower hardware requirements ensured old PC’s were given a new lease of life with the latest Ubuntu Linux distribution.  An up-link to the main network was provided in the form of a fast Netgear Pro Safe Switch allowing the room expansion to be up and running, including the re-installation of 6 workstations and associated network cabling within 4 hours.   The system went live and the users took to it like ducks to water. The savings compared to traditional licensed models runs into thousands of pounds.

“The Linux system has proven to be a great success allowing us to progress our business at a fraction of the cost of a Microsoft system.  The installation went smoothly and the users love the new system.  We are a leading provider in our field and are pleased to be leading the way at the cutting edge of IT technology with the implantation of an Open Source Software model.  We are hoping to roll this out to over 50 users in the next 12 – 18 months.  Which is going to save us tens of thousands of pounds.” — James Roberts, Intelligent Talk


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Need a No Compromise High Performance Laptop?


Alienware is a brand, now a part of the computing giant Dell.  However Dell are very careful to keep Alienware slightly separated from its main brand, why?  Because Alienware offer really serious hardware.  Take a top of the range dell system and give it steroids and now your getting close.

If you need a no compromise fast laptop then Alienware is the one for you.  High resolution, High Contrast display.  Massive hard disk capacity, lots of memory and available with the Intel Core i7 Quad Core hyper-threading processors, and distinctive, stand out from the crowd design. These systems are no compromise performance on the go.

Have a chat to us to order yours today, you will not be disappointed.

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