Virtualization is Now the Norm for Servers

Virtual ServersAbout three years ago, in March 2012, a milestone was reached — somewhat quietly. The Gartner Group released a study in that month that stated that over 50% of servers are virtualized. A later report stated further that by 2016, that number should reach 86%.

If your IT infrastructure has more than one server, it pays to consider virtualization.  Here are three important benefits to this technology:

Energy Savings

Fewer physical servers mean you’ll be using less electricity for machines and cooling. Your server “farm” will also take up less space.  Even if “going green” in not a major initiative with your business, saving space and power has very material benefits in reduced costs.

Faster Server Provisioning

Any physical server has a checklist of things that must be addressed to be deployed.  The machine has to be spec’d, and sourced.  Software licenses need to be ordered and procured. When the server arrives, it needs to be set up with the operating system, required applications, put into place, and hooked up to the network.  With a virtual server, the steps are simpler and quicker because you “create” the machine, allocate resources, install software and put it on the network – all from a console interface.

Improve Disaster Recovery

The increased agility for server provisioning described above also has very important implications with regards to disaster recovery. Provided you are backing up the data and an image for your servers. A crashed server could be replaced in a matter of hours rather than days by simply adding a virtual machine and restoring the crashed server from the backup.

Virtualization in the “post mainframe” context has been around for about ten years.  Isn’t it time to stop calling it “new” technology and embrace the benefits it offers?  Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience in virtualizing server environments. Contact us today to get started!

Posted in Bare Metal Restore, Business Technology, Changing Technology, Data Backup, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, Tech Tips, Virtualization | Leave a comment

If You Don’t Test Your Disaster Recovery Plan…

..then you don’t really have a Disaster Recovery (DR) Plan. Take data backups for example.  Most companies back their data up, but only about a third of those actually test their backups.  This is tantamount to faithfully putting money into a savings account every payday, but failing to notice which bank has your money.Business Continuity

The only benefit to backing up data is having access to that data in the case of an emergency. How can you know you’ll have access to the data (and that the data is not corrupted or otherwise unusable) unless you regularly test it?

How can you be sure you’ll know how to restore the data in an emergency, unless you regularly practice it?

Data backup is only a part of a company DR plan – all aspects of the plan should be tested. Think about it: your whole DR plan consists of procedures that assume if a disaster occurs, you’ll be able to do certain things to mitigate the effects of the incident. And they are assumptions, until you test them. Challenge these assumptions, with regular drills and testing and make changes as necessary.

Don’t assume your IT people will be available in a crisis – make sure the technical restoration procedures can be understood by key personnel and have them practice implementing restores and failovers without intervention from the IT staff.

Make sure everyone knows their role in the DR plan – in times of crisis, it’s human nature to react to the level of training. Everyone that is key to the DR process needs to understand their roles and responsibilities and this needs to be tested on a regular basis.

Remember that change is constant – With every personnel change, or update to your IT infrastructure, your DR plan is out-of-date to some degree. The whole plan will fail if some key component is no longer valid.  Procedures and information (contact info, logins/passwords) stored in the DR plan need to be updated, and tested.

If you build maintenance of the DR plan into your company DNA, this won’t seem like such a big hassle. Make updates, tests and drills part of the company’s normal operations and you will go a long way towards being well-prepared for a disaster.  Chances are pretty good you’ll be ahead of your competition in this regard, too!

Clare Computer Solutions has a lot of experience helping clients prepare their IT infrastructures for rapid recovery from a variety of disaster scenarios, and we can help your company, too!  Contact us today to get started!

Posted in Article, Bare Metal Restore, Business Technology, Changing Technology, Data Backup, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Network Services, IT Support, Managed Service Provider, Network Security, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Rethink Your Definition of a Disaster

One of the reasons many companies use to avoid creating and implementing a workable disaster recovery plan is this:  If a terrible disaster befalls us, we won’t be going to work, and neither will our clients, so what’s the point?

Obviously, there are disasters of such magnitude that the actual fabric of society breaks down.  If people are hurting for food and shelter, and focused on hunting for lost loved ones, your business may be the last thing on your mind.

But there are a host of disasters that don’t have an apocalyptic scope.  Californians don’t worry much about severe weather as other regions in the country, and frankly earthquakes aren’t as common as outsiders might fear.  It’s easy for Californians to believe they are disaster proof.

But for a business, a “disaster” is any event which prevents the company from conducting its day-to-day business, especially if the duration of that outage exceeds even a few hours. Don’t think Armageddon – think burst pipes, seasonal flooding or even a localized fire.  These lesser disasters are much more common than the events that make the evening news, and they can destroy your business.

Business Impact Assessment a Valuable Tool

So, when considering a disaster recovery plan, make a Business Impact Assessment part of the process.  Brainstorm all the things that might be construed as a disaster by the definition in the previous paragraph, then rate each on by its likelihood and its Business Impact Assessmentimpact.  Scenarios that both low impact and low probability need not be a major part of your plan.  Scenarios that have a high probability, but low impact need some attention, as do those with high impact but low probability.  Obviously, scenarios with both high impact and high probability demand immediate attention!

By visualizing these scenarios in this context, you can formulate a sensible plan that you can afford.  Spend your money to mitigate problems that are more likely to happen and impact the business, and tailor your plan to address these scenarios.

This is just one part of a good Disaster Recovery Plan. Clare Computer Solutions has a video that show you a little more, and we would love to help your company design and institute a plan to make your company prepared for almost anything! Contact us today to get started.

Posted in Article, Business Technology, Changing Technology, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, Managed Service Provider, News, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Business Continuity Involves Much More Than Technology

Technological advances have brought down the costs of storing data considerably, and this has contributed to a variety of data backup tools that have enabled many smaller enterprises to install Disaster Recovery systems that would not have been practical (or affordable) just a few years ago.

But to truly recover from a disaster, to resume business operations as quickly as possibleBusiness Continuity involves a lot more than just backed up data.  Many business are lulled into a false sense of preparedness by simply having their data backed up. Here are some things to consider to take the discussion past mere data backup.

The Logistics of Restoring from Backups

How often do you perform a test restore of backed up data?  Studies show that over 30% of companies never perform test restores!  If you’ve never practiced restoring from backups, what are the odds the process will go smoothly when you really need it to work, fast?

Another consideration is, data is not very useful without the applications that use it. For this reason, you should be backing up images and well as data, so you could, after a disaster, re-create your companies servers on new machines (or in the cloud) and use that backed up date to resume business operations quickly.

Don’t Overlook the Human Aspect

A workable Business Continuity Plan will take into account the logistics of alerting employees, suppliers and customers after a disaster.  Your employees will want to know if they can come to work, or work remotely, or even if you’re still in business.  Your suppliers and customers will want to be reassured that you’re working to resume business as usual as soon as possible.

Talk through the process of how you could perform these communications if your office suddenly became unavailable. Think about where you could store the phone numbers you’ll need, and assign responsibilities for who’s calling whom.  It’s a truism that in a crisis, people revert to their training – everyone should know what to do.

Make sure more than one person knows how to restore your business systems – don’t assume your IT staff will be available!

Pay Attention to Documentation, Updates and Testing

Rule of thumb: If you have to blow the dust off your Business Continuity Plan binder to use it, you haven’t updated it often enough! Considering the failure rate for businesses following a disaster, your business deserves your full attention in devising, implementing and maintaining your company’s Business Continuity Plan.  As you can see, for it to be of any use, it needs to encompass all your business processes, be documented, and subjected to regular testing and updating.

It can be difficult for busy firms to find the time to tackle this. But Clare Computer Solutions can help you with this endeavor.  Contact us today to get started!

Attend our event “Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity – Tactics and Technologies” on March 26th in Walnut Creek.  Register now – seats are limited!

Posted in Bare Metal Restore, Business Technology, Cloud Computing, Data Backup, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, IT Consulting, IT Support, Managed Service Provider, Network Maintenance, Network Security, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Software Choices: Buy, Subscribe or Cloud?

With the advent of cloud computing, there’s been a shift in how software is sold. In the “old days”, software was purchased outright, as a license. The license gave the purchaser Software choicesthe right to install the software and use it – usually into perpetuity.  The support that came as part of the license usually included patches, but generally not upgrade rights.

Generally the license allowed for the software to be loaded onto a certain number of machines, and upgrades were chargeable.

So, for companies using the software, the costs included the platform, the license, and upgrades as time went by.  If the company decided not to upgrade the software, they would not incur those costs; they could continue using their original version.

Software companies, some years ago, began offering software sold as a subscription.  Instead of one up-front cost for the licenses, it was a monthly cost. Generally, the subscription includes upgrades, but the use rights only persist as long as the monthly subscription is being paid. In this scenario, the costs would be the platform, and cumulative monthly cost of the subscription(s).

More recently, a third model was introduced – subscription to access to the software from the cloud.  In this model, the monthly subscription entitled the users to access from almost any web-enabled device. The software is always up-to-date, because it’s running on a server maintained by the vendor.  In this scenario, the only costs are the monthly fees. It’s important when considering this option, however, to verify the web version of the application has all the features of the installed version.

How Do You Choose the Best Option?

So which is best?  As with all things technical, the answer is: it depends.

If your company typically doesn’t consider software updates important, and is content to use the application as is for more than 4 years at a stretch, purchasing the software and installing it on your own server probably has the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO).

If updates are important – if you prefer to keep your applications at their latest revisions, then the subscription model may be a better deal for you, from a TCO standpoint. Or, if you don’t plan on using an application more than a year or so, the subscription model may make more sense, since you won’t be have time to spread the cost of installed software over a longer period of time.

If the features you need in the application are present in the online version, then that may be the way to go.

Calculate Your TCO to be Sure

It’s not difficult to compare the relative TCO for each option. Factor in the obvious – the cost of the software, whether purchases or as a subscription – over a period of time, like 3 or 4 years.  Factor in the less obvious: cost of the platform, cost for support, and cost for training.  Your company’s cash flow situation should be a factor too.  Sometimes, the option that actually costs a little more over a 4 year span could be more desirable if the upfront costs for a server and software is an issue.

The good news is, it’s great that you have these choices.  Every company utilizes their technology in different ways, and we are fortunate to be in a time where there is so much flexibility in how we apply these technologies.

An IT consulting firm, like Clare Computer Solutions, can help you evaluate your choices, and then once you’ve made a choice, implement, and maintain the tools you choose. Contact us today to get started!

Posted in Article, Business Technology, Changing Technology, Cloud Computing, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Support, Mobile Computing, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

What is the “Modern Office”?

The revolutionary advances in the communications and technology are transforming our notion of what an office is. An “office” used to mean a stationary, physical location with Modern Officespecific areas for employees to do their jobs. Every work area had a computer and a phone, and for the company to flourish, employees had to come to work every day, and perform their tasks at their particular workspaces.

Even communications to company’s external contacts (clients, prospects and suppliers) emanated necessarily from the central office location. Calls came in to a receptionist and were re-directed to the appropriate parties. Similarly, faxes were sent out and received by the office fax machine.

Technology was not very well integrated. Voice communications had an infrastructure, as did data communications, and the fax line was also a separate technology.

An Office Without Walls
But over the last couple of decades, things changed completely. Email meant every employee had his or her own line of written communication with everyone – whether they were fellow employees or external contacts (including friends and family!). Data and voice communications began to converge onto the same network, and the advent of mobile computing transformed the notion of brick-and-mortar offices inside which all commerce could take place.

The planning, implementation and maintenance of the modern office’s technology infrastructure can be a daunting task, and in many cases, companies are hesitant to embrace some technologies that could provide very tangible benefits in terms of cost savings and increased productivity.

It doesn’t need to be that way. The technology is readily affordable, even for smaller enterprises, as is the expertise to adopt the new tools into the business processes. Clare Computer Solutions can show you some of the ways your business can enjoy the benefits of a truly “modern office”. Contact us today to get started!

Posted in Business Technology | Leave a comment

IT Consulting Matters for the Modern 21st Century Business

Just as more individuals worked on their own cars in years past, but now find the modern Network Consultingautomotive mechanisms too technology-dependent to do so, businesses may find that their existing IT staffs won’t have the skill sets needed to maintain a more integrated IT Infrastructure. The notion of hiring more IT personnel with deeper skills and experience is not an attractive one.

There is an alternative to replacing or increasing your company’s IT staff: Engage the services of an IT consulting firm.

Consultants vs. Mechanics

Not all IT services firms are true consultants. Many cling to a now outdated “break fix” business model. They are brought in to fix specific problems. Businesses will often seek to enter into an IT support relationship to get IT repairs done more quickly, and do benefit when the techs are familiar with their network, over time. But it’s not a true partnership – the IT services provider only makes money when your IT infrastructure has problems – where is their motivation to keep your network up to date and running smoothly, every day? In this model, the customer and provider have conflicting goals.

In a true consulting model, the IT consultant seeks to understand the synergy between the company’s IT infrastructure and the business plans and goals. If the company already has an IT staff, the consultant’s role is more like a Chief Information Officer (CIO), and may fill in for skills that aren’t needed every day, such as server work, complex implementations or IT projects.

A good IT consultant can also implement procedures to monitor, manage and maintain the IT infrastructure, and may provide remedial support, or work with existing IT staff to divide duties up with the in-house IT staff based upon skills or availability. The goal is the keep the network up and running at all times. In this paradigm, called “managed services”, the client and providers goals are neatly aligned. The IT consultant assumes some of the risk of keeping the network available.

Realize the Power of Technology

The bottom line is this: A company that effectively uses the latest technology to make their business more agile and efficient will have a competitive edge. Clare Computer Solutions (CCS) has been a pioneer in the Managed Services IT support field, and have helped hundreds of companies realize the power of technology to transform their businesses. To get started now, contact CCS today!

Posted in Article, Business Technology, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Network Services, IT Project Management, IT Support, Managed Service Provider, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

The 3 Biggest Misconceptions About Cloud Computing

The Cloud Revolution is here — believe it. But what does that mean for your particular business?  Do you have to “go cloud” to keep up?  With all the hype surrounding cloud-based computing and its purported benefits, it is helpful to look at some common misconceptions about cloud computing.

Misconception 1: Cloud Computing is All About Saving Money

The notion of saving money appeals to everyone, of course, and the promise of replacing an IT infrastructure based on expensive servers with an inexpensive subscription base model with low monthly fee is attractive indeed.  But the monthly subscription fee does Cloud Computingnot include the costs for migration or a beefed-up internet connection.  It is wise to conduct a careful ROI analysis to see if the cloud will save you money, in the long haul.

Even if it doesn’t, however, many companies choose cloud for agility, not costs savings. In fact, Garter Group’s 2014 CIO survey found that companies migrated to the cloud for costs savings only 14% of the time.

Misconception 2: Cloud Solves Everything

Not everything is a good fit for the cloud.  Cloud computing can provide benefits in flexibility and an ability to pay only for what is needed when it’s needed.  Unless these are considered valuable by your company, the only likely benefit is cost savings, and as we saw in the paragraph above, it takes some ROI analysis to determine this.  For applications and workloads that aren’t expect to change much, it may tough to justify the costs on migration that part of your business to the cloud.

Misconception 3: Cloud is Less Secure Than On-Premises Computing

This perception is persistent, but there’s not much actual evidence to support it.  Gartner Group reports “To date, there have been very few security breaches in the public cloud — most breaches continue to involve on-premises data center environments.”

Consider this – who’s more likely to have the best physical and data security measures: the average business or a data center?  Now, this doesn’t mean you should always trust that a cloud provider is more secure than your own facility, but you shouldn’t assume they aren’t, either.  Ask them what they’re doing for security, and compare their scheme against your own.

Cloud computing will continue to grow quickly and businesses will find the best ways to use this technology to their advantage.  As with any “new” technology, it’s best to go with your eyes open and mind open.  An IT consulting firm, like Clare Computer Solutions can help your business determine which cloud services will have the most benefits, and help you devise a strategy for migration.

Posted in Article, Changing Technology, Cloud Computing, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Support, Managed Service Provider, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

When It Comes to the Cloud, Hybrid is Often the Best Path

Cloud computing holds great promises for the future of Information Technology (IT) and Cloud Computingit looks like this coming year will see more explosive growth in this area. But as the technology begins to mature and the install base grown, it seems that more and more businesses are choosing a mixed environment of on-premises and cloud IT infrastructure, a Hybrid Cloud. Why is this – wasn’t “the cloud” supposed to change everything?

The cloud HAS changed everything, but it hasn’t replaced everything. Most businesses are finding their existing IT infrastructure is not suitable to move to the cloud entirely. Issues with bandwidth, latency and compatibility have caused some frustration as they tackled to problem of how to move everything into the cloud, and still preserve the user experience required for full productivity.

The answer is simple, of course: move to the cloud only those portions of the IT infrastructure that will be able to realize the benefits promised there.

This requires a business to do some advance planning to reap the benefits of the Cloud Revolution.  Here are some things to consider:

Analyze the Current Infrastructure

What applications does your business rely on, day by day, to function? How does it handle, sales, marketing, ordering, shipping and receiving, research and design?  How do your employees interact with clients, colleagues and suppliers?  How is data stored, where is it stored and how is it backed up?  Of all these applications, which will provide benefits if moved to the cloud?

Consider Bandwidth and Latency

Different program handle data in different ways. Sometimes the data that flows to the end user device is in small increments. Sometimes, a large amount of data needs to be sent to the user device(s) often and quickly.  Bandwidth can help of course – a large data pipe can move more data than a smaller one. But even electrons take time to make their journey – if large amounts of data need to traverse long distances, the lag time may deteriorate the user experience, and impact productivity.

Businesses that deal with a large amount of data dynamically, may find the cloud is not a good fit for that application.

Consider Reliability and Redundancy

The more your business relies on a single data connection to do business, the greater effect that an “internet down” event would have on your business.  So, connection schemes should be designed with high reliability in mind and, ideally, with a secondary source of internet connection not related to the first.  It should be set up for a quick failover if the primary circuit ever has problems.  Of course, this is also a good argument to have IT assets in the cloud – if the office internet connection goes down for any reason, many businesses can simple have people work remotely.

The promises of cloud computing are not just hyperbole – but it takes some planning to choose the cloud strategy that provides the most benefit for your business.  Clare Computer Solutions, an IT consulting firm, can help you navigate to the cloud – contact us today to get started!

Posted in Business Technology | Leave a comment

Why Your Business Needs to Be Integrated With Your Technology

In the space of a single generation, technology has transformed the way companies do Strategic IT Planningbusiness.  Technology has revolutionized processes and communications.  Information is gathered, shared, stored and analyzed at ever accelerating rates. So, why do so many companies have a functional disconnect between the management and Information Technology sides of the house?

Technology has ingrained itself into every facet of business operations. Yet, many companies do not directly involve their IT departments in their strategic business planning.  Many IT decisions are made solely on immediate need, rather than as part of a strategic technical plan, designed to optimize the company’s technological tools.

Large enterprises have known the importance of IT’s strategic involvement for years, and they have C-level executives such as Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) or Chief Information Officers (CIOs).  These executives provide expert input during business planning, and their input helps ensure that there is a technical roadmap to complement the strategic roadmap.  This way, the company’s technology can keep pace with the anticipated changes in the company.

The thing is, only large enterprises can justify the costs of a full-time IT executive.  Small and medium size businesses often don’t involve their IT personnel in strategic discussions because they weren’t hired with that skillset.  But these same companies can certainly benefit from CIO or CTO level input.  How can they close the gap and get those benefits?

The answer is, engage the services of a Managed Services Provider (MSP).  This type of IT service company is set up to augment your existing IT staff on technical issues, as well as IT projects, such as migrations, upgrades and implementations. They also can provide the strategic link between the company’s management and the IT department.  They can help implement ongoing processes to perfectly integrate your company’s technology with your business processes and strategic plans.

With this level of integration, you’ll spend less time replacing technology that has quit working – aging technology is cycled out before it fails, and prior planning ensures that the budget was already in place.  Decisions regarding IT purchases (hardware, software and services) are made as part of a cogent plan, and not just to “put out fires”. The result is, an IT infrastructure that is much more reliable, and consistently up-to-date, which means lower operating costs, and better profits.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped hundreds of companies better integrate their technology with their business processes, and we can help yours, too.  Contact us today to get started!

Posted in Article, Business Technology, Changing Technology, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Network Services, IT Project Management, IT Support, Managed Service Provider, Network Maintenance, Tech Tips | Leave a comment