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NetStorm Hosting Service

The NetStorm Hosting Service is profiled for NetStorm products. While we can host products from other vendors (*), the following is written for organizations considering where to publish a license of a NetStorm product like ShipView.

This document discusses all options of selecting a location for the DataSpace of your license. So we recommend that you read it either if you already incline to hosting or local installation.

What is hosting service?

With hosting, in this context, we mean external hosting. This is opposed to running a local installation, also called local hosting.

Hosting is having a third party run one or more of your software systems externally from your organization's own network.
This usually include installing and making the software available to users, make updates, configure the installation, monitor the software and its prerequisites, and then store, back up and possibly restore user data.

Technically, the user will access resources using a direct connection, a virtual private network (VPN) connection, or other means of safely communicating through a common network like the Internet.

NetStorm does not offer general hosting, but instead web hosting, as described in the following.

What is web hosting service?

Web hosting is a subgroup of general hosting, limited to use the common Internet protocols http, https and ftp. For the user's interest, this will in most cases mean making the software available from anywhere with a web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox.

All major NetStorm products are web based, made for the user's web browser. This means that NetStorm products and web hosting is a perfect match.

In the following, please bear in mind that general hosting operators, and local hosting operators, not necessarily are qualified as web hosting operators.

Choosing between local installation or hosting

The natural and healthy approach would for most organizations be:

- "We will run a local installation unless someone convinces us that their hosting service is better, in terms of total cost, quality and security."

Your application architecture manager, or other responsible IT guy, would probably start by considering each primary service measure separately, for either local or hosted options:

  1. Total cost
  2. General quality of service
  3. Security

Security is really a quality issue, but it is appropriate in this context, to make separate measures of security.

If a production option, local or hosted, does not meet the defined minimum requirement of any of the above, the option will be rejected. Among the remaining the one with the best weighted average will be chosen.

Many IT-departments have traditionally not considered hosting since some prevailing requirements are hard to meet. The underlying causes have changed radically the last few years, and it is much more likely that you will choose hosting today. Let's consider each measure in the following.

Cost

For local installations, the cost is calculated from the initial license fees and annual maintenance service fees paid to the software provider, plus some hours of consultancy each year. The system is expected to "fit in an existing production environment", and since it often does not require upgrading hardware or networks, chances are high that no more costs are considered.

For hosting, the annual hosting fee comes additional to the above. Apparently this is the only difference. But labor and other things add up to the total costs of a local installation.
The problem is that the "extras" with local installations often are seriously underestimated.

For example, frequent software revision updates should be expected. A principle with most NetStorm systems is to add requested features (e.g. new reports) using a software update. Then, an added feature may involve a preview, one or more adjustments, and a final version, all adding to the total number of updates during a year.
While NetStorm updates usually are very quick and straightforward, there is always a minimum cost associated with the efforts of an update. Over a whole year, the update costs will be significant for most local installations, while update costs otherwise are included in (at least NetStorm's) hosting services.

Another example of underestimated costs is the required expert personnel. One must have knowledge of running the basis required by NetStorm systems, which is usually Internet Information Server (IIS) and ASP.NET. Setting up monitoring of the system itself and each level of prerequisites should be part of the strategy.

Quality

Quality and cost are, in our case as well, inseparably linked and inverse proportional. So, the above cost related examples are quality issues as well.

Postponing or skipping updates could mean that users don't get their adjusted report templates when they need it, which is a drag on the quality level.

Poor server monitoring also lowers the quality level. The easy route to running web applications is to:

  1. Install and see that the system is running
  2. Contact the system vendor if the users complain, find what to do. Fix errors and improve conditions on the basis of reported needs.

This could be sufficient under certain conditions, but it's definitely not an approach for good quality. Lots of production environment problems could be pinpointed and solved long before the users are bothered by a certain level of monitoring. Errors can be fixed with little effort before users run into them. So, the proper approach should be:

  1. Install and see that the system is running
  2. Set up monitoring
  3. Fix and improve situations from monitoring alerts, consult NetStorm Software Service if necessary
  4. Then, contact NetStorm Software Service regarding any problem reports from the users. (this category should have significantly less incidents than pt. b. above)

Another measure of quality is the ability for a system to exchange data with other systems. It used to be that all systems that (potentially) were to be integrated should reside in the company's local area network, in turn favoring local installations. This is not so anymore. We would use XML and Web Services for integrating systems, possibly set up a small helper system for any legacy system that the customer need to integrate. Setting up the integration would be the same, hosting or local. As long as you don't have a very slow Internet connection (which almost nobody have these days), integration with other systems works just as well with hosting.

The quality of your networks will count as well, both for local and hosted options. Do you have an acceptable Internet connection quality? Does most pages display reasonably fast when visiting external web sites? Unless you are of the very, very few business users that don't yet have an Internet connection suitable for simple, lightweight web pages, there are really no technical obstacles with hosting.

Then there is the number of non-conformancy incidents in the production environment to consider, the average impact/loss of each incident, including time to fix. Already having NetStorm web systems in the environment is of course favorable. On the other side, having no present environment for web hosting is definitely a disadvantage, and making this up with various efforts would cost.

Finally, resources should be assigned, to meet the quality requirements of a predictable environment. The users should know what to expect from an installation. Stability of quality is by itself an attribute of quality.

Security

Hosting has traditionally been seen upon as difficult for an acceptable level of security.

This is of course except for the rather common situation of outsourcing the entire IT-department and all software services, to one operator. But that has usually nothing to do with web hosting. Just to mention, so the scenarios are not confused with each other.

Accepting several hosting operators for your systems has been a bit trickier. Each new provider has to be verified for cost, quality and security. Of course, having just one provider is a tempting goal, but even if you got a realistic offer, this not always best for cost and benefits.

There are a few important security attributes that are considered "best" with local hosting. We'll have a look at each, and try to demonstrate that you can have things equally good and easily better with hosting.

Security against data disclosure

You want to be absolutely sure that outsiders cannot intentionally or accidentally access your data. Even the tiniest bit of data should be kept secret and secure from being sent away or directly accessed by a 3rd party.

NetStorm products allow all traffic to be encrypted using the https-protocol. This gives you the same security as your net bank, and guarantees that the access security with hosted and local alternatives is practically the same.

Server-rooms can have the level of physical and surveillance security that you want, the sky is the limit with either local or hosted environments.
You just need to check that specifications comply with your requirements.

Details are found the provider's SLA document, giving further guarantees of safe handling. See for example NetStorm's SLAs and license/service agreement for business products.

Security against data loss

If hosted, making backups will naturally become the responsibility of the hosting operator. Backup routines and storage in hosted environments can be just as good as with local installations.

NetStorm hosting SLAs fully complies with the idea of making "beforehand arrangements of death as provider".
With NetStorm Hosting, the backups of your DataSpace are available at all times, and so are the software, from several locations. You can even arrange a local "verification installation" if you want.
Whatever you select, make sure you will have easy access to your data and necessary software in case of "fatal provider situations". It ensures that you can have the same security with hosting and local installations, in all ways.

Details are found the the provider's SLA document, guarantees security against data loss. See for example NetStorm's SLAs and license/service agreement for business products.

Security against temporary loss of data access

This is about expected up-time, and local and hosted options can be equally good.

In "old times" the Internet connection was often unstable and really carried a risk. Today, we see from statistics that hosted options for NetStorm products on the average are better than a local installation. This in not so much about network stability, but servers are more often used in a dedicated manner in hosted environments, resulting in better stability and better ways for planning maintenance.

Details are found the provider's SLA document, guarantees security against temporary loss of data access. See for example NetStorm's SLAs and license/service agreement for business products.

General privacy

The general privacy can be fully acceptable with hosting. Here are a few samples from NetStorm:

  1. NetStorm personnel are instructed to contact the customer for acceptance in each case, if access to user data could improve or speed up maintenance, or help other services related to the customer. This is default procedure, one could make an "open agreement" so that we don't have to ask each time.
  2. NetStorm personnel are instructed to not search more than necessary in the users data, regarding the previous case.
  3. NetStorm personnel are instructed to exercise extreme care when communicating with other parties, so that knowledge of customers' data are not exposed implicitly. For example, when discussing system improvement within a user group, one must first agree with customers involved if statements can be made on how the software products are used around. We want to rule out all possibilities of exposing even the tiniest bits of our customer's business secrets.

More details are found the provider's SLA document, which guarantees general privacy. See for example NetStorm's SLAs and license/service agreement for business products.

Weighting and comparing the options

A professional web hosting environment would easily "win" in terms of quality, above the local alternative. We generally consider all levels of recommended hosting alternatives to serve with better quality than local installations.

Avoid unnecessary expensive hosting offers. If you decide find an hosting provider on your own, make sure you understand what you need and what you don't. You really should use someone with documented experience and running environment including IIS/SSL/ASP.NET/SQLServer, but you don't need dedicated lines, terminal services and so on.

Now, assuming you have visualized the costs of one or more acceptable hosting alternatives, you will most likely find that a year of hosting services cost no more than time spent for applying updates on the system and its prerequisites. Please contact us if you don't come to this conclusion!

If you are not restrained by some unshakable requirement of local installations, you will most likely conclude that hosting, regardless of required service level, is less expensive.

Choosing between NetStorm or an independent 3rd party for hosting

Technically, from the software viewpoint, NetStorm Hosting is not favored above any other quality oriented web hosting providers. They will access the same published documentation and same software service.
However, some advantages come naturally with NetStorm Hosting:

  • Guaranteed fast access for NetStorm Software Service to monitoring
  • Guaranteed fast access for problem search when direct access to user data is most efficient
  • In average, faster updates
  • The hosting operator has access to some extra knowledge and info that is not yet ready for publishing, for quicker problem solving
  • The development team can, when agreed, more easily see samples substantiating user feature requests, then be able to respond quicker with software improvements
  • NetStorm Software Service have direct access to the hosting setup and servers, being able to get a detailed picture of the configuration and initiate improvements more quickly

What you get from NetStorm hosting

With NetStorm products and NetStorm Hosting you'll have our complete software service bundle. The only thing the you will have to do is to:

  • Ensure that you have an outgoing internet connection from the locations of the users, and that the connection is reasonably stable and not extremely slow. Your IT-department or ISP (Internet Service Provider) will help you if necessary. Or NetStorm may guide you to a web page for testing speed.
  • The user's computers must be running reasonable new versions of Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. (others could do but these are most tested)

Less than 1 of 50 companies will have problems with the above, and less than 1 of 1000 will have any problems with simple improvements.

NetStorm will take care of the rest:

  1. A reasonably fast and reliable internet connection to the server group hosting your applications
  2. A local area network (LAN) with server computers of reasonable quality and capacity
  3. Installation and maintenance operations on operating systems and application software that is required for the hosted software
  4. Installation and maintenance operations on the hosted software
  5. Backup operations
  6. Recovery operations (if needed)
  7. Administration of all components

Additional, with some of our SLAs:

  1. Periodic backup extracts, meaning that you for instance receive a downloadable file or CD containing a database backup of the licensee's (your own) data.
  2. Periodic distribution of application software (normally not included with the hosting maintenance plan)
  3. Parking of a dedicated server to high volume connection point.
  4. Special failover systems in hardware and software (more than basic)

The service levels (SLAs)

Please start by checking out details for the  Base Level hosting offer.

You may have used our test installation for a while before starting out with a license for your company. The demo period would have given you an idea of the access speed and stability, which would be equal or better with the NetStorm Hosting Base Level.  If you are satisfied, and don't need features of the other SLAs, there is no need to spend more money.

Prices

Prises for the Base Level will in average be less than the price of the corresponding program service, which in turn is about annually 20% of the initial product license fee. As an example, please see the ShipView page of prices.

Attempting a conclusion

NetStorm products are made for professional web hosting environments, but will equally support local installation on an organization's network.
NetStorm will continue full technical support of both hosted and local environments in all our business products.

In our experience, and future beliefs, less than 5% of the user organizations having local installations will be willing to add the extra efforts and resources, required to raise the quality level of the production environment to that of professional hosting.

Presumably less than 1% of the NetStorm product user organizations would be restrained from using hosting services. More than 99% would increase quality of service and lower total costs, even those who have a rather well-running local installation.

And among those who ought to select hosting, more than 90% would find that one of the NetStorm Hosting SLAs will do, and be the most beneficiary choice. The remaining 10% would probably make their best choice from NetStorm External Hosting SLAs. Only in situations of extreme security measures (e.g. high grade defense security), could direct use of a 3rd party hosting provider, be the best choice.

NetStorm Hosting is a choice of very high security. Our knowledge and abilities in both technical and business areas have helped us build a procedural framework that ensures services with maximum accessibility of your data, while having required privacy in a service shellproof regarding unwanted disclosure.

Our opinion is that an increasing rate of best value software purchases turns out to be software and hosting from one vendor. It includes maintenance, support and possibly other services.

This is called Software as a Service (SOA), which is extremely "hot" in software communities today. The marketing guys refer to SOA as the salvation for "the long tail". Specialized software that previously would cost too much per user can suddenly become profitable.
SOA does not lower the ability for smooth integrations with systems from other vendors; it is rather the other way around.

More

 See the left menu-bar.

 

(*) Primarily, we offer hosting for systems developed or maintained by NetStorm, but we can agree to host other products as well. There are some restrictions on hosting of non-NetStorm products. Typically, this would be legacy or "in-house" systems, systems where NetStorm is engaged in maintenance plans, or other systems that somehow are related to the use of  your licensed NetStorm products.