Xcloud Pro Review

in Software, Technology
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Xcloud provides a virtual machine running Mac OS Mountain Lion Server in the cloud, although should you choose, innofield GmbH will install the standard version of Mac OS for you on Xcloud. The Xcloud servers are maintained by innofield GmbH which means that your employees in IT can focus on software rather than hardware. We all have an obligation to keep an eye on our carbon footprint and take action to improve it, virtualisation of servers helps greatly with reducing your carbon footprint.

‘Mac servers in the cloud’ or ‘Mac Server VMs’ are something that gets spoken about a lot on some major forums yet nobody really knows who to go to or how to set this up for themselves if they buy a VM in the cloud whereas a preinstalled OS X Server from Xcloud means users don’t have to know about virtualisation to use it, it is just the same as managing a Mac OS Server via Screen Sharing.

The majority of producers, labels and music artists don’t want servers running on-site anymore, they are yet another thing to maintain. For those of us into hardware, we acquire servers at some point, but in the case of a lot of studio owners, the added environmental noise isn’t appreciated and needs to be hidden elsewhere somehow. Hardware requires maintenance, space and resources, I’ve chosen to forego hardware where possible and it is truly liberating; I’ve moved from Mac OS X Servers running on the LAN to having a virtual machine with Xcloud.

The creative industries are moving their server assets into the cloud, most of these corporations and individuals run Mac OS X Servers to manage the devices belonging to their company as it is an all-in-one solution. In the music industry, Google Inc. has a lot of negative stigma associated with it so a large proportion of corporations won’t even touch Google Apps for Business, especially after Google Inc. recently shut down Google Sync and calendaring functionality to users who are not Google Apps for Business customers. This has been a large contributing factor as to why OS X Servers is suddenly growing very popular amidst the industry lately.

Accessing Mac OS Server on Xcloud

When you first register for Xcloud you are sent a hyperlink to their Getting Started guide which tells you how to setup VNC with Xcloud from iDevices, Macs or Windows machines. The quick start guide has a clean aesthetic similar to that of the Apple Inc. website.

Xcloud getting started
This contains all the information you need for connecting to your virtual server on a variety of platforms, it couldn’t be more simple. I began by using Screen Sharing on my MacBook Pro and Screens on my iPad with SSH tunnelling and was presented almost instantly with the login screen. I then moved onto using Screens for iPad, iPhone and Mac, this is a very user friendly VNC application, this has become my go-to application for connecting to remote systems as it allows me to organise visual bookmarks of the systems I have access to which is something missing from Screen Sharing.

Xcloud development
Xcloud is accessible regardless of your platform which means that even Linux and Windows users can utilise it, this is great for developers who use Windows or Linux yet want to develop for Mac OS X or iOS.

I installed Dropbox on Xcloud so that my colleagues can easily add files to shared folders and have them turn up there as necessary, this also means I can add a file from my iPad straight to it via the Dropbox app, open up Screens and immediately start using what I just put in Dropbox in a full Mac OS X environment all on my iPad.

After creating a self-signed SSL certificate I then submitted a CSR (Certificate Signing Request) to our SSL provider. After a several minute wait I had a new SSL certificate waiting in my Mail.app, I installed the new SSL certificate in my keychain and I then had SSL on my Xcloud VM, so simple and pain free.

Xcloud Performance

After first logging into Xcloud I couldn’t quite believe that I was using a virtual machine all the way over in Switzerland, on a 150 Mbit/s WiFi connection in the studio I was almost sure I had connected to a Mac on the LAN as it was so fast, it performs as well as having the Mac in the same room as me, granted I have an average 21.5 Mbit/s download speed and a 3 Mbit/s upload with a fairly stable contention rate, but even on less than great WiFi Xcloud is blazingly fast.

When restarting your Xcloud VM, you are greeted with the VMware boot logo before seeing the logo for Apple Inc., arguably the best virtualization platform developers around, it is great to see that Xcloud runs on the best available. Restarts can take several minutes minutes to be completed, but this isn’t really an issue.

Example Uses of an Xcloud Mac VM

Some of you may be wondering why you would want to have a Mac in the cloud, but the uses of it are varied and brilliant. One of the big draws of using Xcloud is the ability to utilise Mac OS Server’s Profile Manager which is great for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) scenarios in corporations, this allows devices to have be controlled either strictly or freely with what they can and cannot do on a per device and per user basis. The over-the-air updates are great for configuration changes when people are out on the road, plus NetInstall and Software Update Server keeps every employee on the same page in terms of software as a lot of people get somewhat lazy regarding updates yet being able to manage it all remotely is brilliant.

The Wiki Server functionality is great for music artists and their team managing their assets such as sheet music, lyrics or tour plans, sure Google Drive works, but nothing beats Wiki Server for data organisation right now, I would love to see Apple Inc. further develop Wiki Server.

Calendar, Contacts and Mail, a much better alternative to Google Apps for Business. Mail has a similar aesthetic to iCloud which screams quality. On a further note, Mac OS Server is infinitely better than Google Apps for Business, having full access to the OS is brilliant because you can run many different kinds of software including Marketcircle Daylite.

Xcode Development in the Cloud

Xcode development is an absolute joy, it is fast and even when running complex algorithms within the iPhone emulator there is no performance deterioration.

Collaboration in Xcode can be a little flaky to say the least, the git protocol is great, but it does have some shortcomings. I personally know a lot of developers from StackOverflow who use Pro Tools HD such as myself tend to linger a version or two of Mac OS behind everybody else (At present I’m still on Snow Leopard on my MacBook Pro as some of my plugins aren’t even Lion compatible and even less are Mountain Lion compatible), this causes a problem for those who want to develop apps utilising the latest functionality of iOS in Xcode which means you need the latest version of Xcode which only runs on Mountain Lion. Xcloud solves this and I can literally leave Xcode running on Xcloud and have someone else take over from their own device when I’m not working on the project or be able to observe what I’m doing in real-time.

Xcloud even allows you to utilise Xcode from your iPad which is great when using an Apple Wireless Keyboard. I’ve actually almost finished writing an application in Xcode whilst using Xcloud, it is the the universal iOS app for my personal website which allows users to keep up with my soon-to-be renovated blog where I’ll be writing about my personal life which doesn’t fit into Previous Magazine or anywhere else, I have also been finishing a few apps for some clients.

The innofield Xcloud Data Centres

Each Xcloud instance is a virtual dedicated server powered by Mac OS Mountain Lion. All instances of Xcloud are hosted in a cutting edge datacenter in Zurich, Switzerland. innofield GmbH guarantee that all of your data is stored and hosted exclusively in Zurich, all of your data is backed up every six hours and replicated in a backup datacentre 15km away from the primary datacenter making your data safe in the event of any disaster occurring. These data centres are equipped with uninterruptible power supplies, diesel generators, HVACs climate control equipment, fire alarms, extinguishing systems and access control systems (24/7, 365 days of the year).

After Apple Inc. discontinued their rackmount Xserve server hardware, there has been a real concern amidst hardcore techies like myself; The Mac Mini and Mac Pro may indeed make great servers, but they are easily stolen as they aren’t rackmount installations, but if your company’s most precious data is all in the cloud then that is a huge weight off of your mind. Any company executive would rest easy knowing their data is in safe hands and undoubtedly safer with Xcloud than in their office due to offsite backups at the secondary datacenter.

All Xcloud plans offer 99.9% service level agreement which guarantees that your server instance will be available for 99.9% of the time for six months excluding scheduled maintenance which is a statement innofield GmbH have shown to be true in the last two months of using their service, I haven’t even had one service hiccup, it has always been fast and online.

Why innofield’s Xcloud Service is Different– Very Different

I’ve had some terrible experiences recently with some of the upper hierarchy at Microsoft Inc. and Apple Inc. over the phone and via email, I won’t point any fingers, but one of these corporations messed me around for two months from sheer incompetence on their behalf. Innofield GmbH doesn’t believe in call centers, they don’t even outsource anything– everything they do is entirely in-house which is brilliant for any company these days and provides employment and prosperity within the EU economy. It is hard to believe that innofield GmbH was only started in 2009 yet they have already achieved so much.

XCloud Customer Service Portal

The Xcloud customer portal is very attractive and looks like something which would be at home in the MobileMe or even iCloud interface, definitely drawing upon the Apple Inc. aesthetic.

Xcloud allows you to use your VM from the browser by clicking ‘Open Console’ from the customer service portal, granted it isn’t the most responsive or high resolution way to use Xcloud, but allowing you that ability is a welcomed addition if you need to tweak something when you’re away from a device with your VNC configured.
Xcloud’s SLA guarantees a response within two hours, if you’ve had any experience with customer service from other companies then you’ll know how you can be waiting days or weeks for a response– if indeed you ever get an email response, but with Xcloud they’re an email or a phone call away, you can even iMessage them! How many other companies allow you to iMessage them? That’s really personal and I wholeheartedly commend innofield GmbH for this amazing level of personal service, this is something I would love to adopt for my own businesses. A delightful individual called Bojan got back to each of my emails extremely quickly and is very polite and friendly.

Xcloud Pricing

For what you get, Xcloud is a bargain, although significantly more expensive than your standard VM in the cloud, you are getting the world’s most advanced OS supplied through an exceptionally high quality service.

The pricing on the Xcloud website is listed in Swiss francs, this may confuse some people, especially considering that the ‘currency of the Internet’ is US dollars though it definitely makes you pay attention to the fact that Xcloud isn’t any old cloud VM provider. At the current exchange rate, the Xcloud Mini plan is approximately $85 per month, the Xcloud Pro plan is $160 per month and the Xcloud Business plan is a few cents shy of $300 per month. The Xcloud Mini plan has 2GB of RAM, 80GB of cloud storage and 2 vCPU, the Xcloud Pro plan has 4GB of RAM, 160GB of cloud storage and 4 vCPU, the Xcloud Business plan has 8GB of RAM, 320GB of RAM and 4 vCPU. Something worth noting is that should you require more storage then innofield will provide you with terabytes of cloud storage even for data backup if that is what you need and they will happily make you an offer to suit your needs.

Xcloud is a no-nonsense company with simple and easy to understand billing; no setup fees, no hidden fees, ability to start and stop billing at any time, ability to choose to pay month to month or every six months or even annually.

The maintenance and support alone from Xcloud pays for itself within the first month, Xcloud just makes sense, especially with the money which could be potentially saved from migrating your hardware to the cloud from the likes of electricity, regularly replaced storage mediums. Xcloud has allowed me to spend less time maintaining servers and monitoring my network which has allowed me to use that time to achieve more and to have some time to myself and my partner.

The Verdict on Xcloud

The flexibility and effortless scalability makes Xcloud a professional choice for any business. If you are an iOS developer and also a musician then you can’t go wrong with an Xcloud plan.

Xcloud is future proof and supports scaling with elastic resources, one of the biggest worries I hear about moving to the cloud is how too many companies when you upgrade your plan expect you to move your data over to an entirely different VM or server with a new IP which makes the process of moving from one VPS to another to be a very daunting and disruptive process which we’ve had experiences of, this is why a lot of corporations still keep their assets onsite, but Xcloud makes upgrading a plan or adding storage very easy and we feel that even the IT department will love how easy Xcloud is to use and grow with.

You can subscribe to Xcloud here.

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