Managed Services Encompasses a Spectrum of Services for IT Support

As an IT support method for business, managed services is the best choice for most companies. But “managed services” is a general term, and it’s important to understand the spectrum of services that could (and should) be available under that name. Here are 4 services you should expect from your MSP when they say they offer managed services.

Monitoring/Management/Maintenance

This is a basic tenet of managed services – network components are proactively monitored, managed and maintained by the Managed Service Provider (MSP). This is the NetCentralheart of the service, and represents a departure from the prior, reactive “break-fix” paradigm for IT support.

System and Image Backup

This should be part of every MPS’s suite of managed service offerings. Backing up data and images, and managing that process are vital for maximizing uptime, disaster recovery, and often, regulatory compliance.

Vendor Management

It’s not unusual for a company’s technology (products and services) to come from a variety of vendors, and this can post a challenge when trying to keep everything working together. An MSP can step in and provide advice for optimizing the interoperability, and act as a technical liaison when support from one or more vendors is needed to address an issue.

Virtual CIO – Strategic Planning

One of the greatest potential benefits manages services can bring to a business is strategic advice. Bringing technology into your business planning helps ensure your vital technology is kept up to date and that improvements are made in an orderly fashion, based upon your needs and your budget.

All of these things together provide benefits that are miles beyond reactive IT support. If your MSP isn’t offering all these things, it’s time to consider a change. Clare Computer Solutions has been providing this level of proactive support of business for over a decade with their NetCentral managed services. Contact us today to get started.

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Tips to Help Our Help Desk Help You

One of the things our NetCentral clients love is our on-site help desk. With over 2000 users being supported, you can bet we get calls from all kinds of people with varying issues. Some issues are simple fixes while others are complex, but we deal with them all!Helpdesk_guy

Here are 3 tips users should know to help get the best help, and fastest resolution from any support team.

Breathe

Of course you don’t call for help when things are working great, so generally callers are a little frustrated when they call. But remember, the person at the other end wants your problem solved just as bad as you.

Respect Protocol

To provide great service, there are certain things we need to do on every call even before the troubleshooting begins. For example: We need to know who you and your employer are. This only takes a few minutes, but in case we lose connection, we’ll know who to call back.

Be Specific

“I pressed the thingamajig and the whatchamacallit blew up!” will never lead to a satisfactory result.

Be prepared to describe exactly what you were doing when the problem occurred. These include questions like:

  • What applications were you running?
  • What screen were you on?
  • Does the problem occur every time, or is it intermittent?
  • What have you tried already on your own to fix it?  (This is important, so we don’t ask you to waste time trying what you’ve already tried.)

The tech is an ally, not an adversary. These simple tips will help you get the fastest and best help, so you can get back to work!

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Using Consumer-Grade Technology at a Business Will NOT Save Money

It can tempting, sometimes, to save money on some IT equipment by buying consumer-grade technology.

One example is a wireless router. A good quality, business grade device may seem ridiculously overpriced compared to consumer-grade technology that appears to have the same capabilities.

PCs are another good example. Machines sold as workstations are priced higher than PCs for home use. It can be tempting to save some upfront money buying the less expensive home PCs.

Nobody wants to spend more money than they need to.  In a lot cases, however, the true Cheap gearcost of a purchase isn’t just on the price tag. Trying to save a few bucks on technology can end up costing much more you might think.

Consumer Grade Products Don’t Make the Grade

If you’re purchasing technology for your business, you will need to ensure the products you buy meet your company’s needs with regards to these key considerations:

Reliability

Consumer grade technology is mass produced and often isn’t designed to last for more than a couple of years. When cheap gear fails, it’s disruptive to your business, and the cost of lost productivity will be more than the money you saved on the initial purchase.

Security

The IT security needs of a home user are entirely different than the IT security needs of a business. A data breach or malware infection at home is an inconvenience. For a business, it could be catastrophic. Your business deserves technology that will address this need.

Compatibility & Flexibility

Consumer-grade technology usually lacks the range of features necessary to properly integrate into a business IT infrastructure. Configuring consumer-grade technology to work satisfactorily in a complex business IT infrastructure can be difficult, if not impossible.

The point is, apparent cost savings for cheaper IT equipment is generally offset by the costs of trying to make technology fit in a place where it was not designed to go.  An IT consultant can help your company choose the appropriate technologies to fit your business needs, and this will save your company money in the long run.

Clare Computer Solutions has been helping companies with Information Technology for over 25 years – we can help you, too!  Contact us to get started.

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Conquer Network Downtime by Commitment to Uptime

clarecomputerIn any business, downtime is the enemy of service and product delivery. During downtime, normal operating costs continue to accrue while the revenue streams are halted. And other costs are introduced – cost for emergency responses/repairs, and the costs of brand damage if your clients, suppliers and colleagues become aware of the downtime. We can all agree that downtime is bad – how do we prevent it?

The answer is, change your focus from combatting downtime, to committing to uptime.

Make the investment in the processes and the tools that contribute to consistent network performance and availability and downtime ceases to be an issue. Here are areas where this investment can pay off:

Preventative Maintenance and Management

Don’t let your network manage you – take control by always knowing what’s in the network, how old it is, and how everything is working. Network elements rarely fail without warning. Keep everything patched and up to date, back up data and images, replace aging technology and monitor network performance in real time and over time to analyze trends.

Business Continuity Planning

Murphy’s Law tells us that sooner or later, things WILL fail. Have processes in place to react quickly to unplanned disasters – big and small – and have systems and plans to resume business operations quickly after any disruption. Include communication plans and define specific roles, so everyone knows what to do. Then, test that plan, regularly. In times of stress, people will fall back on their level of training. Make sure your business and people are prepared.

Cloud Computing

The cloud may not be ideal for every aspect of your business, but there are some potential advantages to utilizing the cloud for remote access of business processes, or to even provide a virtual workplace if a major event makes your normal business location unavailable for any length of time.

Virtualization

Virtualization, whether utilized on premises or in the cloud, can be a valuable tool to make your infrastructure fault-tolerant. A crashed server can be quickly restored from a recent image backup, for example. Or in the case of a bigger disaster, an entire network could be virtualized on the cloud as a business continuity scheme.

Security

Network security to be addressed as a multilayered defense – on edge devices, user devices and as part of the corporate culture. Attack vectors and malware are always evolving, so technological tools need to be kept up to date and monitored. All personnel should be trained to use industry best practices with regards to security, and be kept informed of new threats that emerge.

If all of the things listed above have been folded into your business operations, you won’t be worried about downtime, because your business is designed to optimize uptime.  Clare Computer Solutions can help your company address these things all together or help in implementing any of them – contact us today to get started.

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Desktop Image Backups is Anti-Malware Insurance

Most business these days understand the value of backing up the company’s critical data, most of which resides on their servers. But image backups are important too – these can be used to quickly create a new version of a crashed server.  Without that, it would take a very long time to recreate the environment that uses the data.

The same thing applies to desktop machines. Often the data on user machines is not as PC crashedcritical, but quick recovery from a failed machine is important. Every user has their particular profile – the programs they use, the drivers that are installed and other aspects that form the user’s working environment. Restoring that from scratch would be very costly – more costly than the machine itself. Image backups solves that – a failed machine can be replaced in 1-2 hours.

There’s another important benefit to image backups for desktops, too – it’s cheap insurance for malware recovery.

A lot of malware finds its way into networks via user activity – email spoofing and phishing scams often trick users into clicking on links to infected websites and launch malware into the users’ system. And malware can be very hard to eradicate once it’s launched. With desktop machines, it could cost more than the machine is worth to rid the device of the malware.

With a backup scheme that includes regular desktop images, though, an infected machine could be regenerated from an image backup dated from before the infection. It’s like going back in time. The machine can be restored within 2 hours in many cases.

Of course, this capability does not replace the need for a comprehensive, layered defense strategy for your company’s IT infrastructure, but desktop image backups are a helpful tool that many companies overlook.

Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience designing, implementing and maintaining strategies to protect businesses from unwanted, expensive downtime on their networks – we can help you, too.  Contact us today to get started.

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Companies Need Expert IT Support, Not Expert Repairs

How do you keep your IT infrastructure running at optimum levels? Once a company grows beyond a handful of employees, the technology needed to communicate, purchase, sell, market and service the client base becomes vital to the minute-by-minute operation of that business. The IT infrastructure has to be reliable, fast and flexible – how do you accomplish and maintain that?

Rethink the IT Support Relationship

When your company relies on technology to do business, the cost of any downtime is Technology Assessmenttremendous – so it’s time to move “repairs” out of the equation, and focus on preventing problems rather than solving them.

This mindset requires a different way of thinking of IT support. To keep your company’s IT up and running, you don’t want a repair service per se, you want your IT managed and maintained. You don’t want to pay money to get the IT fixed, you want to invest in keeping IT up and running.

If you’ve hired an IT staff that thinks this way, and is able to manage and maintain your IT infrastructure – congratulations! Your investment in that staff will help your company grow and increase profitability.

If your IT staff was hired to address issues that arise, you may need some help to really get the most out of your investment in technology and this is where an IT consulting firm can help.

Partner With an IT Consultant

The IT consultant’s maintenance and management tools and skills can complement your existing IT staff, or, if you don’t have a staff, act as your entire IT staff. They can keep your IT infrastructure running, using tools to monitor the systems and act quickly when key performance indicators an alert of impending problems.

They can also provide regular reports on the network’s health and provide CIO-level advice to plan for technology updates and refreshes, as well as consulting to provide an IT strategic roadmap to ensure your technology will serve your needs now, and into the future.

Clare Computer has been helping companies realize the power of technology for over 25 years – we can help your company, too. Contact us to get started!

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Tips to Prepare for an IT Project

It’s not usual for companies to put off important IT projects because it’s such a daunting undertaking. It’s too bad, because some IT projects can have a very positive effect on your business. Here are some tips to get started.

Make an Assessment

At the heart of any project is the changes that will be made to your existing IT environment. Some things will be added, some things will be replaced. How can you tell IT Project Managementwhat needs to be done without establishing a baseline, a starting point? An assessment will set the stage for the changes to come.

Have a Detailed Plan

Outline, step-by-step, the things that need to occur to bring the project to a successful conclusion. Understand that every project seems to uncover other things you could or should also be doing, but stay focused on the plan. Many projects became derailed by “scope creep” – diversions to side issues. The plan should also define, very precisely what will indicate the completion of the project. Without that detail, projects get stuck at 99% completion. The plan should also define the resources to be used – for execution and management.

Have a Budget and a Schedule

The results of the assessment and the plan that follows should enable accurate budgeting and scheduling for the project. Two common problems that can occur with projects are cost overruns and failure to meet scheduled milestones. Check regularly on the progress of the project and its costs. Products purchased are pretty much fixed costs, but labor overruns are common and need to be addressed. Are the assigned resources getting the job done? It’s not uncommon to have to make adjustments along the way, but it’s better to stay on top of what’s going on with the project, right up until the time it’s done.

For a lot of companies, project planning and project management are not among the company’s in-house skill sets. If the project is considered important, then it’s a worthwhile investment to have an IT consultant involved to ensure the project is done on time, on budget and does not disrupt the normal operations of the business. Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience in IT projectscontact us today and get started on that important IT project.

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How Great MSPs Deliver Consistently Quick Response Times

Time and time again, we hear that IT support clients value quick response more than almost anything else from their IT Managed Services Provider (MSP). It is one of the most netcentral_logo_webcommon reasons companies decide to switch MSPs. What are the systems a company can look for to determine if a prospective MSP will be able to deliver consistent (and rapid) responses to service requests?

Central Service Ticket System

Service requests can arrive a variety of ways – a phone call, an email, an online form, even an impromptu office visit. Regardless of how the request is placed, there needs to be a single system to enter those requests, and when they come in.

Commitment to Defined Internal Response Goals

There are several steps from the receipt of a service request and its eventual resolution. The initial response – acknowledgement of receipt and assignation of a unique ticket number – is crucial, because a client needs to know their request has been received and is being handled. The interval between the time a ticket is received and the time it’s evaluated is the first indication of the quality of the system. Next, the interval between acknowledgement and the assigning and scheduling of resources must be managed. Lastly, the interval between actually working on an issue and the resolution should be tracked. The MSP should have (at least internally) a commitment to a response goal for all those intervals, based upon the priority level of the request.

Checks and Balances

To properly manage response times, an MSP needs to be able to quickly perform triage on new tickets and assign priorities levels based on the severity and impact of the issues.  They need to be able to track tickets in real time, and have alerting set up in case a ticket is in danger of “falling through the cracks”.

Record Keeping and Reporting

An MSP’s ticketing system needs to archive all historical data to provide a knowledge base for quicker resolutions of common problems and to provide trending data to track the MSP’s performance against their response time goals.

It obvious that this level of consistency cannot occur by accident – it’s a result of a meticulous proven system and a commitment to continuous improvement and transparency. Does this sound like your current MSP? If not, please contact Clare Computer Solutions and get response you can count on.

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B2B Seminar Event April 7th, 2016: How Much Downtime Can Your Business Afford? How Much Uptime Can Your Business Afford?

Today’s businesses need to operate at the speed of sales. What does this mean to your CCS_logo-1business? Whether your mission critical business transactions, data, inventory, compliance and other requirements are handled online, in the cloud or on site with hardware and servers—you won’t want to miss this seminar.

Topics will include: 2016 IT Technology Trends: Ransomware, The Cloud, Security, Backup and Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity and How to Reach the Highest Uptime You Can Afford For Your Business.

Thursday, April 7th 2016
12:00PM-1:00PM
Bishop Ranch
2600 Camino Ramon, Magnolia Room 2nd Floor
San Ramon, CA 94583

FREE, includes light lunch

B2B seminar for business leaders that have concerns and questions about how to leverageBR_Logotechnology to increase their business and maximize their uptime.

Jim Bender is the Director of Business Development for Clare Computer Solutions, an IT professional services firm providing IT solutions for companies in the San Francisco Bay area since 1990, located at Bishop Ranch in San Ramon.  Clare Computer Solutions has been providing high quality IT Network Services and Network Support to Bay Area companies since 1990. CCS has installed over 2,400 multi-user networks and serviced many more. Clients represent diverse industries including: healthcare, manufacturing, construction, insurance, service industries, legal, hospitality and more throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California.

Space is limited please RSVP to Bishop Ranch Community and Outreach at 925.543.0100.

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3 Ways to Address the Issue of Company Data Storage

One interesting by-product of our Information Age is the sheer amounts of data being created. Some experts predict the amount of data being stored will double every other year for the next four years. So, what do companies do with all this data, and why do they need it?

Companies often need to store data for business intelligence purposes – historical data can be analyzed to reveal trends and discover insights that can help in making strategic plans. Data StorageSome industries require archiving data for a period of time for legislative or forensic purposes. Either way, data grows at a constantly increasing rate, and here are 3 ways to address the need to store that data.

Storage Attached Network (SAN) – Basically, a SAN does block I/O just like having a disk directly attached to a server. Historically, the connection your company’s network to the SAN is via fiber, but iSCSI is becoming more and more common as SAN technologies are moving from large enterprises into the medium enterprise environments.

If your application requires block I/O or there is a significant performance requirement, a SAN is often the best choice.

Network Attached Storage (NAS) – A NAS is really remote file system I/O where the file request is redirected over a network to a device (really a processing entity with its own file system) where the file I/O is actually performed.

If your application requires file based I/O, or you need to share files and you want simple administration, then NAS may be a better fit.

Cloud Storage – Cloud storage has some distinct advantages, but there also some limitations. Having data stored offsite is a big advantage in terms of disaster recovery, and often the data centers are more secure than your own premises might be. On the other hand, data throughput will be much higher for a local data storage solution – trying to back everything up to the cloud may require too much bandwidth.

Many companies opt for a hybrid approach, storing some data locally and some in the cloud. Data stored locally can be easily and quickly accessible, while rarely-accessed. archived data can be pushed to the cloud. Some NAS devices are also capable of acting as virtual servers in the case of a crashed server, and they can send images backup to the cloud, adding a valuable disaster recover/business continuity dimension to your business.

Clare Computer Solutions can help your company sort through the choices and provide input to enable you to make the right strategic choices for a data storage scheme that will fit your company’s needs now, and into the future. Contact us to get started.

Posted in Article, Business Technology, Changing Technology, Data Storage, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Storage, SAN, Tech Tips | Leave a comment