Provide the Tech Tools Your Employees Need to Make Your Business Thrive

There’s a good chance at least some of your employees are using out-of-date technology and it’s affecting your company’s productivity and profitability.

Often, cost concerns are the justification for trying to squeeze a few more years out of technology, but this approach can backfire. Here’s why:

Support Costs

The costs for support are often not considered in IT strategy discussions, but support for Modern Officeaging equipment can cost more than upgrading the equipment. There’s the cost for the actual support personnel (whether in-house or third-party), there’s the cost of downtime as problems ae being addressed, and there’s a cost associated with employee frustration with equipment that frequently does not perform at optimum levels.

Compatibility Issues

Software is constantly being improved and updated, and at some point, the system requirements for the later versions may exceed the capabilities of older workstations. On the server side, sometimes OS and application upgrades are postponed because the older platform is not sufficient. The benefits of the newer technologies may very well justify the cost of the upgrade.

Security Concerns

Cyber security is an ongoing concern, and while businesses may decide to postpone upgrades that could mitigate the risk, the cyber threats are constantly evolving and changing. Think of all of your trade secrets, client information and confidential company communications that are stored on your company’s computers. What would be the financial impact if this data fell into the wrong hands? There are cost-effective IT security procedures and solutions that are worth considering. These pay dividends in the long run – an incident isn’t worth the headache.

The technology landscape is constantly changing, so your business must fold technology improvements and upgrades into your strategic plans.

This can all begin with a strategic conversation with Clare Computer Solutions. We can discuss your business, assess your current environment and devise and implement a plan to ensure your business is getting the maximum benefit from your investment in IT. Contact us to get started!

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Cloud Computing Continues to Trend Upward

Cloud ComputingCloud computing is no longer the “next big thing” — it’s here and it’s going to stay. The futurists weren’t right about everything, though. What we’re seeing is an increase in cloud adoption, but rather than wholesale migrations, companies are choosing the aspects of cloud-based IT that will serve their needs now, and keeping the remainder of the IT on premises.

We see several drivers for this decision. For instance, there are some cloud migrations that are relatively simple and offer an apparent quick return on the investment. This may include email services, data and image backups and some Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings.

Another driver is timing. Companies are not highly motivated to move IT workloads from on premises equipment that is still within its useful lifespan. As that equipment nears its end-of-life, then companies are more willing to consider the cloud as an alternative to purchasing more hardware.

Companies are also discovering that some aspects of their IT simply won’t work in the cloud, and in some cases, may never be a good fit.

Interestingly enough, cost is not a major driver in cloud decision-making. Companies may prefer their IT costs to be operational expenses rather than capital expenditures but overall, cloud computing does not have obvious benefits when it comes to total cost.

This doesn’t mean the cloud is right or wrong – it is a valuable alternative and we’re seeing more and more companies incorporating cloud services as needed to realize the benefits of the cloud computing’s scalability and agility.  The technology has matured to the point where a hybrid IT infrastructure – some in the cloud, and some on premises – is able to deliver the best of both worlds!

Clare Computer Solutions would like to help your company take advantage of any available technologies to give your business a competitive edge. Contact us to have a strategic discussion about this.

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Server Virtualization — Doing More With Less

Manged server virtualization IT managment

Sooner or later, your old reliable server will no longer do its job, and it will be time to replace it. If you have several servers, this technology refresh cycle may be the right time to consider consolidating several servers into one, using server virtualization.

The Basis of Server Virtualization:

Server Virtualization is not a new concept – it’s been used in mainframes for decades to allow users to define a virtual machine within a host machine with the exact specifications they need, and keep those needs separated from other virtual machines in the host. Each year more and more workloads are on virtual servers, and since 2014, more than half of workloads are virtualized.

Advances in technology, coupled with a proliferation of servers in Information Technology (IT) environments of mid-market businesses paved the way for widespread adoption of virtualization in that space, and it’s become the norm.

There are major players in virtualization on the hardware and software front, including HP, IBM, VMware, Citrix and Microsoft, providing technologies specifically designed for the SMB market.

Virtualization advantages for mid-market sized businesses:

Energy Savings – a virtual host running multiple virtual machines typically will require less power and less cooling than the same number of separate servers, plus they will take up less space.

Agility – deploying virtual machines takes much less time than setting up and deploying separate servers. This can be extremely helpful in disaster recovery scenarios, such as trying to replace a down server, or restoring a server to a pre-disaster state. In addition, deploying new servers is easier and quicker.

Flexibility – each virtual machine will have its own operating system, CPU, and memory allocation – and these can be easily changed as needed. Moreover, management of these machines can be done from a single management console.

Cost Savings – The costs of a suitable host machine, plus the virtual machines that run on it are less than if there were a number of separate server machines.

You should definitely consider virtualization if the benefits listed above appeal to you! Contact Clare Computer Solutions and let’s have a strategic conversation – your next technology refresh may be your opportunity to save money and time, while increasing performance and agility!

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Offices Without Walls — The Mobile Workplace Revolution

Local Area Networks (LANs) revolutionized work within offices, because they enabled everyone on the network instantaneous access to the same applications and data. Now this capability is not even limited to a physical office.

Advances in mobile technology, security tools and cloud services, along with falling costs for bandwidth, have enabled companies to think outside the office. They can now extend the work environment to wherever workers happen to be. Wide Area Network (WAN) technology is affordable for even small and medium size enterprises now.BYOD

The upside to this revolution is workers don’t necessarily have to commute to work each day, and they can be more productive when traveling. In addition, companies can make more resources available for satellite offices.

Along with the obvious benefits, though, is the need to ensure that company data is properly protected and that remote workers’ work experience is optimized, and not bogged down by bandwidth or latency issues.

Here are three things to consider to when planning to take advantage of the modern mobile workplace.

Make Sure Remote Access is Secure

This seems so obvious it hardly bears mentioning. But remember, your data is not just traveling over wires within your office anymore – it’s in the air and in the cloud. Use connection methods that employ strong authentication processes and encryption. Data needs to be secure while in transit and when it’s stored. Your industry may have specific regulatory or compliance requirements – take these into account as well.

Make Sure Applications Are Optimized for Remote Use

Not all applications are cloud-ready. Others require very specific access methods to be usable via remote connection. To enable remote work for travelers and satellite offices, you will need to examine all the applications and data required for your business and make determinations as to the best ways to remotely access them, from a usability and security standpoint.

Make Sure Employees are Trained for Efficient Telecommuting

In the office, workers often save files locally to their PCs, which is OK if that’s their only work device. Once they try working outside the office building, though, some or all of those files may be inaccessible remotely. To make workspaces mobile, data and applications need to be centralized in a place that is (securely) accessible from anywhere. Policies can be set up to make it easier for employees to save things to a network drive rather than a local drive, but helping the employees understand where they’re saving things will help, and also reduce your IT support costs.

There’s no reason why your business can’t reap the benefits of mobile computing. Clare Computer Solutions has been helping businesses take advantage of the latest technology since 1990. Contact us to get started!

Posted in Business Technology, BYOD, Changing Technology, Cloud Computing, Converged Networks, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Network Services, IT Security, IT Storage, Managed Service Provider, Mobile Computing, Network Security, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Don’t Avoid the Major IT Migration That Can Benefit Your Business

Sometimes, it’s time to move IT functions from one place to another. It could be from one machine to another, one environment to another or one network to another. The reasons for needing to do this are numerous and may include large-scale replacement or upgrades of aging IT infrastructure, relocation, mergers  - any of a number of things.IT Projects

Most businesses can’t afford to be shut down while a major migration takes place, and this can make things tricky. It means the job has to be planned properly, well-researched, and executed by experts.

The skill sets required for a successful migration within a live working environment are often not part of a company’s in-house IT staff, and as a consequence, companies sometimes avoid projects of this nature, and make do with a less-than-optimal IT infrastructure.

Here’s what an experienced IT consulting firm can do to keep a migration from becoming a migraine.

Planning

An IT migration could possibly make your company much more efficient and agile, with industry-best technological tools integrated into your business processes.  An IT consultant can listen to your growth plans, evaluate your current infrastructure and determine what exactly needs to be done to achieve your goals.

Research (and Experience)

An IT infrastructure is likely to require hardware and software from a number of vendors, as well as ongoing services from still more vendors, such as internet access, telephony, mobile access and possibly a hybridized environment of on-premises and cloud-based assets. All these things have to work together, seamlessly, and it takes research, and experience to know how to create (and maintain) a reliable network with these disparate elements.

Timing

Once the plan is in place and the necessary pieces are identified and sourced, then the migration itself needs to be scheduled and the work done in phases, with minimal disruption in mind. Different vendors have different lead times for products and services, and that enters into the mix. An IT consultant can also which parts of the migration can occur while your business is running and which (if any) would have to place after normal working hours.

The project has to be meticulously spelled out, with a detailed scope of work, with incremental milestones along the way. There needs to be defined ways of dealing with the unexpected. Costs need to be tracked and kept in control. And most importantly, the job needs to be finished – completely.

Clare Computer Solutions has years of managing complex IT projects, including major migrations. Don’t put off a migration that could benefit your company for years to come – contact us today to get started!

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Clare Computer Solutions Makes MSPMentor’s Top List Again

Clare Computer Solutions (CCS) ranks among the world’s most progressive 501 Managed MSP Mentor 2016Service Providers (MSPs), according to Penton Technology’s 9th-annual MSP 501 list and study. The top MSP 501 companies ranked this year include organizations from around the world and from diverse technology and business backgrounds.

The complete 2016 MSP 501 list is available at MSPmentor.  In addition to honoring Clare Computer Solutions this year’s MSP 501 list and study showcases the following:

  • - The top ranked MSPs in North America (that includes CCS!)
  • - The top MSPs in Europe, Middle East and Africa
  • - The top MSPs in Asia, Australia and New Zealand
  • - The top Small Business MSPs’ list, comprised of organizations with 10 or fewer employees
  • - The top vertical markets pursued by MSP 501 companies
  • - The leading tools they leverage to run their businesses
  • - And the top technologies they provide to customers

NetCentral, our premier Managed Service Program, is our primary product,” said Brad Mendonsa, CEO, Clare Computer Solutions. “We have a service oriented culture and we look forward to expanding and improving our services more next year.”

The 2016 MSP 501 list is based on data collected by MSPmentor and its partner, Clarity Channel Advisors. Data was collected online from March through April 2016. The MSP 501 list recognizes top cloud service providers based on metrics including recurring revenue, growth and other factors. In addition to a ranking on the MSP 501 list, every company that participated in the study has been assigned a score reflecting its intrinsic value. The measure, known as the Total Service Provider (TSP) score, evaluates an MSP’s mix of revenue from various activities, including consulting, cloud, reselling and managed services.

Isn’t it time your company utilized Managed Services to handle your IT? Choose an MSP that is a recognized industry leader! Contact us today to gets started!

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California Nevada Methodists Homes Benefits From Disaster Recovery Plan and Testing

The Company

California Nevada Methodists Homes (CNMH) is a not-for-profit corporation, operating two Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in northern California. They’ve been in business since 1954 and are justifiably proud of their fine facilities, and the level of continuing care that they provide for seniors. CNMH is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF/CCAD).

Their CFO, Robert Leeper, was overseeing the Information Technology aspects of the organization, and by the mid 2000’s, realized that it was in the organization’s best interest to modernize their IT infrastructure and its management. Their challenges included:

  • * The need to update basic computing platforms
  • * Update Line of Business applications for modern platforms
  • * Create an IT support structure, including help desk services for users on the network
  • * Ensure billing, clinical and business management applications are up-to-date, and properly managed

CNMH chose Clare Computer Solutions (CCS) to manage the upgrade project, and provide the ongoing maintenance, management and strategic IT planning for their organization.

The Challenge

CNMH has a data backup/business continuity system in place, and it proved to be very effective when a server crashed. Utilizing their onsite NAS device, they were able to convert it to a virtualized version of the failed server, and continue operations until the server was replaced. Thinking of what future accreditation requirements from CARF/CCAC might be, Leeper wanted to ensure that their business continuity (BC) plan would work in a larger scale emergency. He knew the plan included virtualization of the network in the cloud, but he wanted to test it, so that he could certify that their BC plan was sound.

CCS provided CNMH with the documentation to implement the DR plan, and was available to help during the test. “We wanted to make sure that our Point of Sale (POS) systems with active clocking wouldn’t be disrupted by the test”, said Leeper.

On the day of the test, Leeper used the documentation provided by CCS, and had a CCS engineer on the phone to help the process along. They had multiple servers virtualized for the test, to verify the virtualized environment would work for applications that required access to multiple servers. Leeper was able to access the virtualized networks in the cloud.

Most importantly, the process was documented fully, and if an actual emergency occurred, the business continuity process would be more familiar. CNMH plans to do the test annually, since systems (and personnel) often change over time.

CNMH and CCS – A True Partnership

“We’ve been working with Clare Computer Solutions for over a decade, now”, said Leeper. “And I wouldn’t consider changing that – the relationship works so well. They keep the IT work off my desk, and free me up to concentrate on other corporate responsibilities. I have confidence they have things handled, and the ticketing system keeps me in the loop.”

CNMH also takes advantage of CCS’ expertise in strategic IT planning as well. “We meet regularly to discuss IT initiatives, long range plans and set budgets.”, said Leeper. “All in all, I get a very good value for what we’re paying and the way CCS works is consistent with our philosophy.”

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Strategic IT Planning Enables Orderly Updates to Technology

The downside of the speed at which technology changes is how rapidly it becomes obsolete.

In a business IT infrastructure, this rapid obsolescence can be damaging. A company does not want to find out their servers are not compatible with the latest version of their line-of-business application, for example, or discover that an office is full of PCs with an operating system no longer supported by the manufacturer.Asset Lifecycle

How can a company stay ahead of this, with a network consisting of components purchased over the course of several years? With strategic IT planning, your company is able to maximize the value it gets from its technology.

Document IT Assets

Networks tend to grow in increments over the years, depending on need, and many companies simply don’t know what they have. The first order of business is to inventory the network –hardware and software. There are tools you can use to do this, but everything should be documented in detail. This process may also uncover any unlicensed software in use – something you want to stay ahead of.

Assign End-of-Life Dates

Sometimes, the network “discovery” tool can also find out when each device was put into service and from there, it’s relatively simple to make some determinations on when to consider assets are at their “end of life”.  Servers will tend to have a longer life than PCs – 6 or 7 years in some cases. Operating systems and productivity suites usually have well-publicized schedules for the end of their support.  PCs are considered “old” when they get past 4 years – at that point, repairs on them might cost more than the machine is worth.

Make an IT Budget

With a good list of network assets and their expected lifespans, it’s possible to build orderly company-wide technology refreshes into the company’s IT budget. This will provide several important benefits:

  • * Cash flow is predictable
  • * Down time is reduced
  • * Network technology is always up-to-date

Sometimes, it can be hard to make the time or allocate the expertise to do these three steps. Businesses know they should do it, but find it hard to make this part of their normal business process. This is where a Managed Service Provider (MSP) can help, and the cost of the service is more than offset by the benefits listed above. Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience helping companies keep their technology up-to-date and running smoothly. Contact us today to get started.

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Managed Services Can Help With Compliance

There are a number of industries that require businesses to have certifications or proof of compliance to operate within the industry. They vary from industry to industry, and some certifications are harder to achieve than others.

Healthcare firms are subject to the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), for example. Other companies are encouraged (if not required) to conform to the Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards. Manufacturers often pursue specific ISO (International Standards Organization) certifications.compliance

What all these certifications have in common is a reliance on a defined, repeatable and accountable set of procedures. Businesses whose operations have established, documented procedures as part of the corporate culture will have an easier time achieving and maintaining compliance to these industry standards.

Technology can provide ways for businesses to maintain standards for data protection, fault tolerance and documentation.

Data Security

Protecting sensitive data from hackers and other cyber criminals is of paramount importance, and the technology tools that are used for defense against attacks must be implemented properly, and maintained in order to remain effective. A company with a properly managed IT infrastructure will be able to demonstrate what controls they have in place and how they are kept up-to-date with compliance and codes.

Data Integrity

Protecting data from security breaches is very important, but so is tracking who is accessing data and when changes and/or updates are occurring. In the case of archived data, it is important to be able to prove the data has not changed since it was archived. Technological tools can provide forensic evidence of any changes to archived documents.

Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity

Most modern businesses back their data up, and ideally, to more than one location. Businesses should be able to show they have a plan in place for rapid recovery from a disaster that affects their IT infrastructure. They should be able to provide information to certify that the data centers that store their data offsite are properly certified – and meet their own industry’s certification requirements, too.

When an IT infrastructure is professionally managed, monitored and maintained through a Managed Services program, the processes involved are documented, consistent, tracked and reportable – all of which help your company maintain the certifications and requirements your industry recommends or requires.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped hundreds of companies take control of their technology and leverage that technology to help grow their businesses. We can help your business, too! Contact us today to get started

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Document Your Technology to Manage Your Technology

Things move fast in business, but they move even faster in technology. Because of this, many business’ Information Technology (IT) infrastructures are poorly planned and poorly documented.Document Technology

Technological tools are often deployed to address a specific problem, without consideration to the entire infrastructure.  Decisions are made to address short terms issues with little or no regard to the company’s long range plans.

As a result, when a company really wants to plan for growth, or modernize its technology, it’s difficult to get a handle on the current situation, which makes strategic planning nearly impossible.  You can’t find the finish line if you can’t find the starting line!  Here are some suggestions:

Perform regular IT Assessments

Ideally, every change or addition to the IT infrastructure would be properly documented immediately, but with the pace of technology and the advent of the “Bring Your Own Device” movement, this may not be practical.   But once or twice a year, an assessment of the entire Technology infrastructure should be performed.

Cycle Out Unused or Obsolete Assets

Clutter grows on its own, it seems, whether in an attic or in an office.  Apply the notion of “Spring Cleaning” to the business and at least once a year, get rid of computers and devices you don’t use or need.  Aging or unused devices on a network can be a security risk as well.  The clutter can be donated, or taken to an e-waste facility.

Document, Document, Document

When the time comes to implement a sweeping growth initiative, you will need an up-to-date, accurate and cogent view of your current infrastructure.  This should consist of both asset lists (devices, computers, software licenses) and a network diagram.

When you document your technology, you can manage your technology. But who’s got time to do all this stuff?   Who has the skills to apply this level of organization?

Clare Computer Solutions is a good choice, for several reasons. We do this kind of thing all the time, and have the tools and the experience to handle it quickly and efficiently.  We provide a fresh “second set of eyes” on your network too – it’s easy to miss thing that are under your nose all the time.  Lastly, we handle multiple networks, so we can apply this broad experience to provide expert advice for your company’s technology strategies. Contact us now to get started!

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