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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Microsoft Server 2003 End of Support – Opportunity for Transformation

In July 2010, Microsoft transitioned from providing mainstream support for Server 2003 End of SupportWindows Server 2003 to releasing critical patches only.  July 14, 2015 marks another transition, this time the end of Microsoft support for Windows Server 2003/R2. How does this affect your business?

End-of-Support does not mean the software will not stop working but it does mean:

- No updates or patches will be released for this product after the End-of-Life deadline. This means no bug fixes, and no security updates. Server software is too important to be left vulnerable to the constantly evolving cyber-threat landscape.

- No compliance with standards and regulations. Whether or not you are comfortable taking on the risk of using unsupported software, your industry may have standards and regulations that will expose your business to dire consequences for being out of compliance.

- Your business is missing out on all the improvements that have been made in subsequent Microsoft Server versions.  This is not insignificant. How can you expect your business to thrive and grow if your IT Infrastructure is dependent upon an operating system that is over a decade old?

Yes, the years have flown by since 2003, but now is the time to act and migrate your systems to the latest versions.  Don’t think of this as a chore – instead, it is a chance to materially improve your business IT infrastructure and “future-proof” it for years to come.

Clare Computer Solutions can help you in the process. We can help assess the applications and workloads that are running on your current servers and help you make the right choices about priorities and urgency.

Then, we can determine the best target environment for the migration – keeping in mind options in virtualization and cloud services.

Finally, we can perform the migration, quickly, and with an absolute minimum of disruption to your normal business operations. You’ll look back on 2015 as the year your business truly realized the power of technology!

Contact us today to get started. Time is, literally, running out.

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2015 Cloud Decisions for Business Owners: What and When

Yes, adoption of cloud computing is still growing very rapidly. But the notion that everything is moving to the cloud doesn’t appear to be very likely – not in the immediate future, and maybe not ever. The fact is, some things work very well in the cloudcloud, and others things do not, at least not yet. Hybrid (a mixture on in-cloud and on-premises) IT infrastructures are fast becoming the norm for businesses.

Many businesses are finding that cloud-based email and data backup/disaster recovery suits their needs very well.  More and more software vendors are trying to move from an on-premises purchased software model to a cloud-based subscription model.  These are areas where cloud adoption is especially rapid.

When it comes to more customized line-of-business applications, or complex databases, adoption is a little more complicated, and companies are evaluating what the cost-to-benefit ratio would be in such a move.

Still other businesses deal in a realm where very large amounts of data need to be accessed very quickly, and many of the applications they use don’t lend themselves well to a thin-client access model. Technology and bandwidth keeps evolving, but pure physics means that the distance between the data and the users will affect latency, and may prevent a satisfactory user experience from the cloud.

It is important for any business to take advantage of new technologies that can add efficiencies, increase productivity or reduce costs, and in some areas, for many businesses, cloud computing can deliver on those promises.  But the secret to knowing exactly what to migrate to the cloud and when takes some analysis.

With regards to the “when”, one of the main drivers to migrating processes to the cloud is the aging out of current on-premises physical infrastructure.  As servers age, for example, some decision has to be on how to replace them.  The answer could be on-premises consolidation through virtualization, or some of the work could be moved to the cloud, whether as Software-As-A Service (SaaS) or Infrastructure-As-A-Service (IaaS).

Important decisions like this need to be made with appropriate due diligence, of course, and an IT Consulting firm like Clare Computer Solutions can help apply technical know-how  and experience to your real-world business situation, and then help with the design and implementation of the resulting hybridized network. The end result will be an IT Infrastructure that suits your business needs now, but will be readily scalable as you grow and new technologies emerge.

On February 19th, 2015, Clare Computer Solutions will be hosting an Executive Breakfast event on this subject, in Oakland, CA.  Register to attend here.

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Balance Accessibility of Data with Security

The recent hacking incident at Sony underscores a very important point: modern technology makes access to data easy, from anywhere, but that convenience must be balanced with a commitment to data security as well.  Sony said they estimated that 90% of businesses are vulnerable to hacking. What can be done?

On one level, it may be seem to be a losing game. Hackers are always updating their tactics and tools, so it’s a constant battle to keep up, and getting ahead of the cybercriminals is even more difficult. And if a mega –corporation like Sony can be hacked, what chance does your company have?

If you can’t totally and permanently eliminate the risk, you can mitigate it, and here are some things you can do:

Have regular perimeter scans

Hackers have tools that probe the edges of networks for vulnerabilities, but you have access to similar tools, so it is wise to conduct regular probes of your network’s vulnerability to attack from the outside. We recommend at least annual scans for networks that are fairly static and more often for networks that are growing and changing. In addition, the network should be scanned any time an edge device is changed or updated.

Multi-Factor Authentication

This is the digital equivalent of a castle with a moat in front of the tall walls. If one layer is breached, the next layer will keep out (or slow down) the attacker. There are a number of tools to do this, and some companies go with even three factors. For instance to access network access, a person would their login and password (something they knew), but also do a fingerprint scan (who they are) and have a USB token (something they have).  Some lines of business have legislative security requirements that compel them to adopt this type of security.

Security Policy and Corporate Culture

Many hackers gain access not through sophisticated technical tools, but by simply exploiting unwitting users’ naiveté of good data security practices. A good security policy can spell out the expectations (in writing) for all employees, and also define the procedures for regular scans and updates to ensure the technological tools being used are always up-to-date.

To be effective, everyone has to buy into the corporate culture of data securityInternal Threats – from the top on down.  Moreover, a policy of continuing education and effective training for new employees is important to help keep this security culture in everyone’s minds.

Did Sony, as big as they are, forget to do these simple things? We don’t know – it’s possible that the hackers exploited a vulnerability before they had a chance to deploy tools against it, but common sense says that any company that takes data security as seriously as data accessibility can reduce the risks of being hacked.

Clare Computer Solutions has been helping clients address both data accessibility and data security concerns for over two decades – we can help your company, too! Contact us today to get started.

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Manage Your Risk – Know Where Your Data Is

In Florida, a healthcare provider was recently charged with a lawsuit in light of a data breach. The results of their case mandated these specific precautions:

1. Security awareness and training programs for all employees
2. Training on laptop use and security
3. Additional security, including GPS tracking, on all laptops
4. New password rules, and full disk encryption on all equipment
5. Physical security upgrades at all offices
6. Updated written security policies and procedures

But wait! Aren’t these the security measures all organizations with sensitive personal data need to take in the first place? It’s 2014 and security breaches are everywhere. But do you know where your data is?Network Security

Where are the big gaps?

With hackers moving at the speed of light, “gaps” can be anywhere.
• Employee data – personal, financial and health
• Customer credit card data that is kept for “convenience”
• Passwords may be weak and vulnerable
• Shared data – perhaps with a consultant, or an outside marketing or IT service firm
• Confidentiality promises in contracts with clients
• Road warriors using public Wi-Fi – with personal devices
• Archived data, often forgotten, in the bowels of your computers

More than 50% of small and mid-sized U.S. businesses have had at least one data breach. Hackers want confidential data they can sell and they know how to get it.

What to do?

• Well, let’s start with the six steps listed above. Training employees is no. 1: what is personal information, how to recognize phishing emails – even from friends – and how to keep personal and business email separate.
• Security software – and hardware, like firewall devices – must be continually updated.
• Passwords are a classic weak link – insist on new ones every 90 days. (If you have too many, use a password manager program.)
• Lock up all servers, encrypt all data, prevent USB downloads when no one is looking, and explain to employees why these steps are needed.
• Update Data retention/destruction policies and get rid of obsolete, potentially dangerous, data and files.

Clare Computer Solutions is an experienced IT Consulting firm that can help your company control and protect its valuable data.

This is a “guest post” written by Charles Wilson at RiskSmart Solutions, which provides Risk and Insurance Management Services.

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