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When IT Becomes A One Man Show

Investment firm Hearthstone laid off its IT team during the economic downturn. CTO Rob Meltz turned to cloud services and virtualization to keep the business running and growing.
Cloud backup and storage. Disaster recovery is a significant priority for Hearthstone. Compliance with financial industry regulations is one major reason. Earthquakes are another -- three of Hearthstone's offices are in California. The company is now in the process of dumping its old tape backups and offsite storage in favor of cloud backup with StorageCraft's ShadowProtect and cloud storage with Egnyte.

VoIP communications. Hearthstone swapped out its phone system for a VoIP platform last year. "That meant I no longer had a legacy PBX where you needed specialized talent to support it," Meltz said. "VoIP is just so much easier, and I could integrate that into our existing infrastructure."

Cloud filesharing and sync. Like lots of other small and midsize businesses (SMBs), Hearthstone's team is spread across multiple locations. Enabling everyone to access, share and -- perhaps most importantly -- sync files on and off the corporate network is one of the company's most pressing tech needs. "The biggest headache I had was [supporting] four offices and about a dozen people out of those various offices roaming around in the field, using the 'old-style' method," Meltz said. That method involved Microsoft's offline files feature and a VPN. The process was often slow and cumbersome; it also relied heavily on user action -- not usually the most foolproof IT strategy.

"The problem was that we had over 250,000 files that had to be synced across our mobile users," Meltz said. "These are the guys that do analytics for our company. They do $100 million deals and they need to have that information [in] their hands when they need it."

Meltz picked EMC's Syncplicity from an increasingly crowded field of business-oriented providers like Box.net and Citrix's ShareFile. Now the necessary files -- the company has roughly 1 TB of data on its file servers -- are synced automatically with no user intervention. Meltz was drawn to Syncplicity for several reasons. He found it easy to administer as a single person with minimal time; the platform's security protocols satisfy his auditors, among others; and Syncplicity can overlay an existing file-and-folder structure -- Meltz simply designates which folders and sub-folders he wants shared and synced -- rather than requiring administrators or users to move files to a special sync folder.

Another appeal: Meltz has been able to cut back his disaster recovery spending elsewhere -- around $20,000 annually with SunGard -- because the data is now online. "I no longer need to worry about having servers to rebuild after an earthquake," he said. "I can simply point users to an Internet connection and their files are there, and it's an automated process."

In a sense, Hearthstone's Syncplicity adoption has become a poster-child application for its cloud usage. Meltz now credits the platform for unintended benefits, such as better enabling a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) office. "I've been a big advocate of [BYOD], but prior to Syncplicity my hands were tied," Meltz said. "There was nothing that I could afford to do as a small shop to really be a promoter of [BYOD], and now I can."

A native iOS client allows employees to use iPhones and iPads to access corporate data; Meltz is comfortable with that because it doesn't require any additional effort on IT's part, and he can remotely wipe the data from a lost or stolen device. Meltz added that he's in the process of considering allowing Android and eventually Windows 8 devices on the network as well.

While Hearthstone's VPN traffic has dropped dramatically with its increased cloud reliance, there has been a seesaw effect on bandwidth consumption. The firm last week put in an order with its ISP to more than double bandwidth from four T-1 lines to 10 bundled together.