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Imagine the scenario…

…so you’ve gone through the process of diligently selecting your Hosted Desktop supplier, you’ve had all of your applications and data set up and your business is away, on your awesome new Cloud service. 

Hurrah, it wasn’t half as big a leap as you expected. The hard work is now complete, all that’s left is for you and your staff to start working on the new IT platform that is your Hosted Desktop service.

But there’s a problem and not an immediate one. You and your staff start to notice within the first few days of using the new service that some of your key applications seem a bit… sluggish. An example of which is your accountancy practice management software, IRIS Practice Management accountancy suite. It works, but navigating between customers and the loading of windows, just feels laborious.

You carry out the same actions on your old server (still running in the office – yet to be retired!), and as thought, the Hosted desktop performance is slower. How could this be? Surely the Cloud is meant to be the end of any performance issues? The promise of more efficient working is now hanging perilously in the balance! 

Back to reality

This story would of course, be a real pain in the ^{*#*%%*. It is however one we’ve heard from customers of their experience with previous suppliers and, dare we say it, a couple of our own customers that we’ve moved to our Hosted Desktop service.

Fortunately for our own customers that suffered, there was an easy fix. It transpired that we had left their new Hosted Desktop server on our slower-tier hard disks, which we use when building customer environments – a work bench if you will. An hour or so later the customer was on the correct hard disk storage for which, warp-speed hosting could then commence!

The key point here is that just running in the Cloud doesn’t guarantee that your service is going to be lightning quick.

You see Cloud usage just means that the servers are out of sight and managed by a 3rd party. There are still servers whirring away, powering your Cloud service. And how those servers are being operated will determine the Hosted Desktop performance.


Key factors that determine speed

There are many reasons that dictate how fast (or slow!) your Hosted service may run. We will run through a few of the primary factors, hopefully without bamboozling you in the process!

  1. CPU: this is the conscious, thinking part of your Hosted server’s brain. It’s what performs the many calculations which your software titles command. In essence the more CPU your Hosted server has, the quicker it can process your activities.
  2. RAM – this is the short-term memory for your server. Nothing ever gets stored in the RAM long term, in fact when your server reboots it gets completely wiped. However the more items your server can keep in RAM, the faster it will perform. Therefore like CPU above, the bigger the better.
  3. Hard disk storage – unlike RAM (above), this is the long-term storage. Much like the kind of storage of an external hard drive, it’s the vault for you to store your data. But, critically, you get different varieties of storage; some types are much faster than others. (For those of you that might be interested in the server storage varieties! See SSD, SAS, SATA, RAID, SAN, DAS.)
  4. Internet line speed – this is the lifeblood of your connection into your Hosted Desktop (Cloud) service. Much like you need a decent internet connection to connect to your Cloud platform, the Cloud platform needs a good internet connection to receive your inbound connection.
  5. Backups – the form of which every good managed hosting supplier should be performing for you. However taking a backup places a tax on your server, much in the same way when you are speaking to two people at once!
  6. Server host contention – almost exhaustively, hosting suppliers will host your server along with many others on a single physical server (see virtualisation). Similar to the backup point, if the physical host is oversubscribed, this can decrease you server performance.

As I form this list, more items keep springing to mind! But in order to keep to the top-most points, this list covers it off well and will be applicable to all hosting suppliers.

So as you can see, there are many factors in the melting pot which all need to be attentively considered by your hosting supplier.


What is the key here then, to keep your Hosted Desktop performance optimal? 

With so many technical attributes at large, let’s say the 6 key bullets that we’ve listed above. So, for argument’s sake, a hosting provider with 500 customers’ servers under their management will have 6 * 500 = 3000 differing performance attributes to keep track of 24/7/365, to ensure customers enjoy a great Hosted Desktop service. That’s a lot!


Selecting the right supplier

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So how does a hosting supplier deliver outstanding performance consistently?

1.Design

Both Hyundai and Mercedes can produce a car, but the way in which that car is designed and engineered can vary wildly under the hood. Whilst Hyundai have upped their game in recent years, I think we can all assume that, generally, the Mercedes will not only be a faster vehicle but one that can sustain the pace for a far longer period of time.

What achieves this? Superior engineers and materials. Experienced engineers that are given more time to research, test and experiment. 

This analogy can be transposed exactly into the scenario of a Hosted supplier. It’s not terribly difficult to host a server with some moderate IT skills. But this is night-and-day different to a seasoned hosting organisation with tremendously experienced engineers that are given freedom to create a fabulous service using the best materials.

2.Investment

If it’s one thing all commercial businesses have in common, it’s that we’re here to make money. Whether we’re a hosting business or a dairy farm, we all have customers to charge, bills to pay and, if we’re lucky, a profit to be made.

If a business is indeed fortunate enough to be making a profit, there is a decision to be made on how much profit to extract to the shareholders of the business and how much should be reinvested into the business. 

Of course money that is reinvested to the business, if applied correctly, can positively impact the very people that are using the service or product. You then create a wonderful feedback loop between the business and the customers.

But human nature being what it is …sometimes money within a business is mismanaged and, as a consequence, effective reinvestment can be neglected. 

A striking example of this is the woeful tale of the mighty Boeing aerospace company that neglected the investment and subsequent design of their recent model 737 Max. So focused were they on elevating their stock price and the riches of their shareholders, they now face the biggest crisis of their 100-year history. 

This concept is acutely relevant within hosting organisations due to the many infrastructure components which need to be continually refreshed. From servers, to network gear, to backup equipment.

Infrastructure aside, phenomenal engineers (server, security, backup, support) do not come cheap! The “humans” can often be overlooked when it comes to investing, however there’s no point in buying all the best technology and using mediocre engineers to operate it. 

3. Monitoring

So with our example above of needing to monitor ~3000 differing performance vectors across our customer estate, it probably comes as no surprise that a hosting business simply wouldn’t have the human power available to achieve this task.

Therefore a hosting outfit ought to utilise a sophisticated monitoring tool. We ourselves have always used a wonderful brand, Paessler PRTG.

To melt your mind with a few more numbers at this stage, using our example of 500 customers multiplied by 6 performance metrics per customer gives us our 3000 attributes that our fictional hosting outfit would need to monitor daily.

Our hosting company monitors each attribute every 60 seconds. Each day that equates to 4,320,000 monitoring checks. Now you can see why we use a specialist tool such as Paessler PRTG!

With such sophisticated monitoring, the monitoring centre can let our engineers know by way of an alert, when your server’s CPU, RAM or hard disks are working too hard. They can then assess the situation and rectify accordingly, often without the customer noticing in the first place.

Whilst such monitoring is good for detecting real-time performance bottlenecks, it’s also very good for revealing trends over time. Therefore we can anticipate performance bottlenecks before they materialise. This again ensures our customers don’t experience slowdowns.


Summary

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There is a myriad of technical elements under the hood which govern your Hosted Desktop performance, from CPU to hard-disk speeds.  There are also some commercial factors at play, including the core design of your Hosting supplier’s infrastructure and taking into account investment in technology and engineers.

However for you, the customer, whilst you shouldn’t need to be too concerned about the mechanics of your Hosting supplier, you have every right to query them on some of the points we’ve mentioned above.  Ultimately when it comes to performance, you want a service which is consistently fast and not subject to slowdowns!

We hope that this article has been helpful. If you’d like to speak to us about how we ensure customers receive optimal Hosted Desktop performance, please feel free to contact us.

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