To Control IT Costs, Control Your Technology

For many companies, their IT costs are out of control. Some months, they’re low, and other months, due to unexpected tech issues, the costs are much higher.  The reason for these out-of-control costs is simple: out-of-control technology.

Technology is not something that can be installed and forgotten – it is interwoven into the business itself, and thus needs to be managed just as the business itself is managed. In addition, technology must also play a role in the business strategic planning.

Technology should not be a cost center

Handled properly, technology is not a cost center – it’s a cost controller.  Technology can enable your staff to easily communicate, gather data, process orders, analyze business Wirestrends, plan marketing, manage the supply chain, and handle accounting. With something this important, why wouldn’t any business seek to actively manage this set of tools?

The roots of the problem go back to the days when technology was applied piecemeal, to solve specific problems. One person needed a better typewriter, so they got a PC. Everyone with a PC wanted to share a printer, so that was set up. The accounting person needed accounting software, so it was installed.

Often, little or no strategic thought went into these implementations. Each one existed separate from the other, and each implementation was considered an end in itself.

The problem is, as networks grow in complexity, with an uncontrolled mix of various technologies of various ages, things start to fail, and those failures have a ripple effect. When systems fail, emergency efforts are brought to bear (and emergencies are always expensive!), with solutions intended to address just the immediate symptoms. And that cycle can go on and on, draining money and energy from the company.

Align Business and Technology

The modern office aligns technology and business. The Information Technology (IT) infrastructure is seen as a part of the business process. Expenditures and implementations are made with this in mind. Any changes, implementations or improvements are made with an eye on the big picture.

For day-to-day operations, the infrastructure is monitored and proactively managed. These practices ensure, on an ongoing basis, that the network is up-to-date, and trouble spots are often identified before they impact productivity.

This type of involvement pays huge dividends, because network downtime is expensive – over $10K per hour, according so some studies. Therefore, if bringing technology and business into alignment can reduce network downtime by just a few hours, the technology truly contributes to the company’s bottom line.

When IT service companies take on the network management for a business, it is called Managed Services.  The emergence of Managed IT Services in the past decade or so has revolutionized how businesses use technology to control costs and boost profits.

Clare Computer Solutions has been providing Managed Services through their NetCentral service for well over a decade. At first, communicating the value of this service was difficult – companies were too accustomed to the “break-fix” support paradigm. Managed Services also translates well to the hybrid onsite/cloud IT infrastructure model.  Contact us today, and find out how your business can benefit from NetCentral.

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Desktop Backup and Imaging Can Be Invaluable

In the pantheon of devices that make up a company’s IT infrastructure, the lowly PC seems to be of little concern. They’ve come down in price considerably over the years, so despite the fact that the PC is often the primary connection between workers and the network, the desktop doesn’t get a huge amount of respect.

Until one dies, that is.

A failed PC doesn’t warrant the same response (or prevention) as a server or router. And yet, it is disruptive, and often the disruption radiates outward as the workers with whom PC problemsthe user of the broken PC interacts find they can’t do THEIR jobs as easily, either.

So, what’s the course of action when a PC dies, or becomes too malware-laden to be useful? This is where the low cost of the device actually works against it. Any “repair” that takes more than a few hours is likely to end up costing more than a new machine. But even a new machine will have to have all the productivity software installed and be configured for the end user’s role in the company.

Ideally, nothing of value should be stored on a user’s PC. The network should be configured to that the disk drives that store the user’s working information should be mapped network drives.

But old habits are hard to break – invariably, something important is always stored on a user’s machine.

Desktop Backup and Imaging Pays for Itself

By installing technology to back up the data for each desktop along with an image, recovery time is greatly reduced.

If a PC becomes unusable due to a virus, the machine can be “wiped clean” and the backed up image and data restored in about an hour.

Similarly, if a PC flat out dies, a new one can be purchased, and the backed up image and data applied to the new machine, and productivity restored very quickly.

If you need to use the image and data backup even two or three times in a year, it will save more money than the solution costs.  Don’t let problems with a desktop machine affect your users’ productivity!

Clare Computer Solutions offers desktop backup and imaging as part of its NetCentral network management service.  Contact us today to get started!

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IT Trend Analysis is Like a Crystal Ball for Your Business

No one likes to deal with the unexpected, when it comes to your company’s technology. If any part of your company’s Information Technology (IT) infrastructure has a problem, it has a ripple affect across the enterprise.  Production slows or stops, and everyone has to scramble to get the problem resolved, and emergency help is always expensive.

What if there was a way to see problems before they happen? Why can’t the company network have gauges and lights to indicate its health on an ongoing basis, just like an Crystal Ball for Businessautomobile?

The fact is, the technology exists to not only know the current health of your IT infrastructure, but the same tools can gather data over time to spot slower developing trends that can enable planning for problems on the horizon, before they adversely affect your business.

Measure to Manage

The company network cannot be managed if it appears as an opaque monolith. Just as with your vehicle, it’s important to know what’s going on inside, and be notified if something is amiss.

There are technology tools that can assess certain processes in key elements of the network, and thresholds can be set that will cause alerts to be sent if those thresholds are exceeded.

But live alerts, while helpful, are still creating reactive action, rather than proactive preventive action.  For that, trending data over time is needed.

Getting the Big Picture

The same mechanisms that can send alerts for trouble conditions being detected can store the day-by-day data, and that data, when viewed in a month-to-month context, can provide valuable insights into the future of the IT infrastructure.

Common examples would be CPU usage, or disk storage. A trend towards increasing CPU usage or disk storage can indicate when a server should be replaced, or upgraded, often months in advance.  This has hugely positive implications.  A server that crashes due to being pushed beyond its capacity is disruptive and expensive.  Moreover, the resulting expense is unexpected and affects cash flow.

With IT trend analysis, it can be possible to anticipate future needs and budget for them. The result is an IT infrastructure that’s more reliable, and under control.

Clare Computer SolutionsNetCentral enables your company’s technology to provide the operational feedback to stay ahead of most problems. We can help interpret the resulting data to leverage that knowledge to ensure your network is reliable, and running at optimum levels. Once NetCentral is implemented, you will wonder how you ever got along without it!

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Mobile Device Management Not Limited to Personal Devices

The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement has been getting a lot of attention, as workers increasingly use their own personal devices to access company resources to do their jobs, from a variety of locations.

The issues raised by BYOD are not limited to personal devices – the same management, security and support concerns apply regardless of who owns the device.  What are these concerns?

When access to the company IT infrastructure was from company-provided desk-bound devices, attached via the office’s Ethernet LAN, security was fairly simple. The IT department would procure the devices and set them up to match the company’s security policies.

Security

Once network access methods expanded to include the internet and/or wireless, things gotMobile Device Management more complicated. Steps have to be taken to ensure that users coming in via different methods are given only the level of access they need. Users on devices whose devices are not up to date, or possible already infected with malware, pose a threat that must be detected and mitigated.

Support

Again, this was easier when network users’ devices (their company PCs) were a homogenous platform, procured and configured by the company’s IT department.  Once laptops, smart phones and tablets entered the mix, support for the diverse platforms (regardless of who actually owns them) posed some support challenges.

This revolution has occurred so fast that companies are scrambling to apply appropriate security policies to environments that already use a large variety of devices, brands and models.

The answer is to bring management of these devices, at least to a degree, into the same management scheme that covers the rest of the IT infrastructure (the servers, routers, switches, etc.). Security policies that only cover some of the network elements cannot be effective.

It’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle – some companies may despair at the thought of enforcing policies on devices already in use. Some may despair at even creating a company-wide security policy that would encompass mobile devices. This is where an IT Consulting firm can help. Clare Computer Solutions has decades of experience helping companies deal with IT infrastructures, providing management, monitoring, and CIO-level consulting  - contact us today to get started on your company’s BYOD/Mobile Device policy!

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Aligning Tech and Business – Keep the House in Harmony

Is your company’s technology “painted on”, or is it “baked in”?

When a company neglects to consider technology as a strategic part of the business, tech decisions are generally made to address short-term needs. It doesn’t necessarily indicate that management is technophobic, but it does tend to create an environment where the Information Technology (IT) infrastructure isn’t optimally positioned for the benefit of the business.

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Contrast this to a philosophy where technology was integral to the business planning from day one. Decisions were made based upon how technology can support the entire business process, and the IT infrastructure is actively supporting the business, in an ongoing fashion.

How can a business switch from the “painted on” to the “baked in” model? Here are 5 tips to accomplish this:

Assess

Many companies don’t have a clear picture of their current IT Infrastructure, making it very difficult to plan for improvements, or shift to a proactive management model. So, the first step towards that model is a thorough assessment of the company’s current network, with clear and accurate documentation.

Remediate

Compare the results of the assessment with your company’s ideal network infrastructure and determine where the gaps lie, and close those gaps. This can be a truly daunting task, and is a significant IT project initiative. But it is key to making the transition to a high-value IT environment.

Monitor

Once the assessment and remediation are done, it’s important to not get behind again.  Implementing procedures and tools to monitor the network’s “health” on an ongoing basis is very important in achieving that goal. These tools can also generate alerts to IT personnel when “trouble” thresholds are reached AND generate reports to gather trending data on the network.

Analyze

The reports mentioned above are where management and IT truly come together. On a regular basis, IT and management meet, and the IT staff can interpret the results and what it indicates for the need for current and future actions to maintain the IT Infrastructure.

Plan

Once again, IT and management act in concert on this step. Strategically, this goes beyond just maintaining the status quo. With the information and insights gains from the monitoring and reports, how can this knowledge be applied to help the company achieve its short and long term growth goals?

It can be difficult for a company to commit time away from their day-to-day operations to go through these steps. The process can take several months, or longer. But the benefits are long-lasting and the results are controlled and/or reduced costs, greater operational efficiency, and agility – all vital for a company’s future in a competitive marketplace.

An IT Consulting company like Clare Computer Solutions can help a company with any and all of these steps, ensuring a smooth transition to a proactive IT paradigm, and make sure the processes are maintained and modernized as new technologies emerge. Contact them today to get started – and transform your company!

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Virtualization: An Old Idea is New Again

In the past decade or so, technology advances enabled business to incorporate sophisticated technology tools into their IT infrastructure. These new tools provided a lot of benefits, but they also have led to some serious “server sprawl”.

It seems like every new piece of software a business would like to adopt requires its own server, so over the years, even small businesses found themselves with 3 or 4 servers, separate machines humming away, using power and air conditioning, day in and day out.

Virtual Servers

For medium sized enterprises, the issue is even more acute. Just the sheer room required to house extensive “server farms” made their server rooms resemble the mainframe computer rooms from the 1970’s!

Ironically, it is a concept from the mainframe era that is providing relief for server sprawl: Virtualization.

Back in the days when computer hardware was VERY expensive, applications were often run in virtualized environments on the host mainframe. It was a way of optimizing usage of the host computer and providing logically segregated environments for individual applications – each with its required operating system, memory and CPU requirements and I/O.

The pendulum has swung back – in the past few years virtualization has become a valuable tool for businesses of all sizes.  A single host server can have several virtual servers running on it – so multiple servers can share a single physical footprint in the server room.

Virtualization provides some very tangible benefits in the modern IT infrastructure:

Decreased hardware and infrastructure costs

Fewer discrete servers means less power is required, less air conditioning, less space and lower hardware costs overall. Yes, a single host server will cost more than the average server, but not having to buy a separate machine for every other server ends up with significant cost savings.

Greater agility for deployment

When your business needs a new server, a new virtual machine can be created on the host server in a matter of minutes. And there’s no need to purchase new hardware. This gives more flexibility in trying out new applications, because the capital investment in hardware is not an issue.

Greater agility for disaster recovery

If creating a new virtual machine for a new application is easy, the same applies to a new virtual machine to replace a crashed server, providing a backed up image is available.

Greater flexibility in operating systems

Since each virtual machine can have its own OS, legacy applications that aren’t ready for the latest operating systems can co-exist on the same host machine as applications written for the latest OS versions.

As the individual servers in server farms “age out” and need to be replaced, virtualization provides an excellent way to modernize your company’s IT Infrastructure even as you add the benefits list here.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped dozens of companies take advantage of the benefits of virtualization. Contact us today to get started!

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Why Your Company Needs an Annual IT Budget

For a lot of companies, Information Technology (IT) is seen as simply a cost center — a set of tools that help the business, and the costs for these tools are dictated by immediate needs.   Costs for technology appear unpredictable – they spike when things break, or if the company expands, or for a variety of reasons.  These unexpected spikes put pressure on the company’s cash flow, and often, decisions are made based upon available capital, rather than strategic need.

It should not be this way!

Your company’s IT Infrastructure is an investment, and there should be a return on that Strategic PLanninginvestment, in increased production, cost containment or business agility.  Companies that embrace the notion of strategic planning for their IT (including an annual budget) reap a number of benefits from this paradigm.

Predictable Expenses

By having a budget that lists the company’s IT assets and their age, it’s possible to do some “future-proofing”.  By refreshing aging technology in an orderly fashion, it’s possible to plan for the replacement and the costs associated with it. By looking at the IT Infrastructure as a whole, rather than paying attention to what’s failing, you can take better control of the costs of that infrastructure.

Better Production

When the IT Infrastructure becomes stable and reliable, due to aging assets being cycled out prior to failure, production should be better.  Downtime for any part of your company’s technology can cost thousands of dollars per hour. With a budget, you can spend far less money preventing costly outages and downtime.  Plus, employees stay productive because the tools they depend on are consistently reliable.

Better Security

Older technologies, even when coaxed into lasting past their prime, have a greater cost for support and security risks than more up-to-date technologies.  Having a budget helps ensure that your technology is better protected – software and license renewals are planned, and included in the budget, and upgrades to software and hardware can be planned in an orderly fashion.

What this boils down to, is with an annual IT budget, you can take control of your company’s technology.  Without a budget or strategic plan, the technology tends to be in control.  You don’t want your technology calling the shots at your company!

Clare Computer Solutions offers strategic planning, (including annual IT budgets) for all its managed services clients, and we have seen time and time again how these clients benefit from the practice.  The end of summer is an ideal time to start thinking about your company’s IT budget for the coming year – contact us, and we can help!

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4 Keys to an Effective Data Backup Strategy

It would be hard to find someone in business who doesn’t understand the need to back up important data.   What many don’t realize however, is that effective data backup requires a plan in order to be useful if the time comes to rely on those backups.

Here are some fundamentals to consider when devising an effective data backup strategy dilbertfor your business:

Back Up Data to Multiple (Geographically separated) Sites 

It used to be common practice to hand carry backed up data on a CD or DVD offsite nightly or weekly.  The thinking was, if a disaster (flood, fire, etc.) renders the primary office environment unusable, then the backed up data would not be affected, and available for disaster recovery. These days, you can eliminate the human error factor in offsite data by automatically sending backups to a remote data center – virtually anywhere in the world.

Don’t Just Back Up Your Data – Back Up Images Too!

The bits and bytes of your data alone will not necessarily have your business up and running quickly after a disaster.  Just as important are the applications that use that data, and image backups (for servers AND desktops) can enable a new machine to be configured quickly, and then to use that crucial backed-up data to get your business back up and running in the event of an emergency.

Perform Regular Test Restores from Backed Up Data

There’s a warm fuzzy feeling when you know your data is backed up regularly, to multiple locations.  That feeling will dissipate quickly if you discover (at the worst possible time!) that a backup is corrupt, or that no one actually knows how to perform a restore from a backup.  Testing backups needs to be a regular part of the routine, and more than one person at your company needs to be trained in the procedure.  Which leads us to the most important point:

Backing Up Data (and Images) is Just a Part of a Disaster Recovery Plan

Any disaster that could cause an interruption in your business, whether it’s a fire, burglary or even just a crashed server) cause problems that go beyond just data.  Proper planning and training will prepare everyone to know what their role would be in the event of a disaster, and what tools are available to help the business recover quickly.

Thanks to technology, disasters that would have spelled the end for a business a decade ago are recoverable, and the solutions are affordable.  Clare Computer Solutions has helped many companies design, implement and maintain plans for data backup, disaster recovery and business continuity.  Isn’t your business worth protecting?

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How to Choose the Right Managed IT Services Provider

Maybe things were simpler in the old days. If a company needed their computers worked on, they just found a company that was certified by the vendors of their equipment.  It was a transactional arrangement: Hire the company to do the work, based upon their certifications.  If they did a good job, call them the next time.  If not, find another company with similar certifications.

Things have changed a great deal. The new technology support paradigm is to have a mutually beneficial relationship with a Managed Services Provider (MSP for short).  What’s the difference?an IT Partnership

It’s a very fundamental difference and it makes a huge difference in the value being delivered.  The transaction-based “breakfix” paradigm has the client and provider working at cross purposes: The provider needs the client to have problems in order to have work to do.  All the risk for the network’s health and performance is on the client’s side.  In Managed Services, the MSP assumes some of the risk by charging a fee to keep the network running smoothly, and is motivated to avoid having to fix things.

So how does a company choose their MSP?  The vendor certifications alone don’t tell enough – effective network management has a lot to do with process and procedures.  How can this be verified?   Here are some things to check for when evaluating an MSP.

Capacity

Modern tools may enable a very small organization to become a Managed Services Provider.  Many things that used to require site visits can now be done by remote means.  Actuarially speaking, though, at any given time, some percentage of an MSP’s client base is going to require some “hands on” service.  Make sure the MSP you choose has enough people to effectively service their client base. What’s the size of their field force?  Helpdesk team? 

Procedure

Managing multiple networks takes a very organized operation, with state-of-the-art procedures and tools.  There should be a definable, and repeatable process for receiving service requests (whether generated by clients or monitoring tools), evaluating them, prioritizing them and assigning resources to resolve each one.  Any good MSP should be able to describe this process clearly and concisely and provide metrics as to how they meet their service level goals.

Experience

Managed Services may be the “new” paradigm, but it’s really been around for a number of years.  An MSP that’s only now getting into the game is unlikely to be as effective as one that’s been through the growth pains and has deep experience with the procedures and tools that constitute the best practices in this field.  Similarly, ask about the MSPs staff – do they have enough experience to be considered experts in Managed Services, too?

Communication

If a company decides to rely on an MSP to manage all or part of their Information Technology infrastructure, it doesn’t mean they should be “out of the loop”.  The MSP/Client relationship is a partnership, and that means information about the health of the IT infrastructure needs to flow back to the client company on a regular basis, in the form of monthly reports and regular meetings.  Similarly, to get the maximum value out of the relationship, the client company should seek to get the MSP involved in strategic planning, to ensure the network will continue to meet the company’s needs as it grows.

All of this takes a lot more effort than picking a technology repair service out of the Yellow Pages.  But technology is such an important part of business – it really makes sense to find an MSP that can partner with your company to take on the responsibility of keeping that technology up-to-date and working at optimum levels.

Clare Computer Solutions has been in business since 1990, and been providing Managed Services since 2003.  Their employees average 8.8 years with the company, and over 20 in the industry.  Learn more at www.clarecomputer.com/ccs-news-CCS-employee-retention

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Fast and Reliable Internet Access Vital for Cloud Services

We hear a lot of about Cloud Computing these days, and that technology looks to be a big part of the future of technology.  Not that it’s a good fit for every company, or that it’s delivered on all the anticipated benefits, but increasingly, the cloud is a viable solution for a variety of applications.

How a business GETS to its data and applications on the cloud is not as a hot a topic, but it is a vital part of the equation. What’s in the cloud is of no use if a company can’t access it.

With cloud computing, a company’s demands on the internet connection is very different.  Two very important factors to consider are bandwidth and redundancy.

Bandwidth

Barely a decade ago, a T1 line (1.544 Mbps) cost over $1000 per month. But the extensive buildout of fiber connections in metro areas has brought those costs down considerably. Even home internet connections get multi-megabit connections for about $100/month.

When planning a foray into cloud computing, some careful consideration needs to go into determining the bandwidth required to deliver an optimal user experience.  Not so long ago, a company’s internet bandwidth was used primarily for email and web browsing.  When even a small office is using their internet connection for applications, email, phones (VoIP) and web browsing, it’s a whole different story.

Therefore, the costs of the necessary bandwidth will need to be factored into the business’ cloud strategy.

Redundancy

No matter how much bandwidth your internet connection has, if it’s down, you have NOFailover bandwidth.  Some internet connections are more reliable than others, but even a 99.999% (Five 9s!) uptime means 8.76 hours of downtime in a year.  Can your business be prepared to have NO access to your cloud-based resources for a full workday?

If a business is going to go to a cloud-dependent model, then it would be wise to have an alternate route to the cloud.  This could be 100% redundancy – an equivalent circuit from another provider (ideally, coming into the building via a different cable vault), or it can be a circuit designed to be just adequate to keep the business running until the main circuit is restored.

Don’t forget to factor in the costs for the extra circuit, and don’t forget to test the failover mechanism!

Private Circuits

Depending on where in the cloud your computing assets are, you may not need to go through the Internet at all.  Your bandwidth may be more reliable if the data and voice traffic go over a dedicated circuit.  The prices on these have dropped considerably, too, so it bears looking into.

The bottom line is, the cloud holds a lot of promise, but before implementing any new technology, all the pros and cons and costs must be weighed to ensure the results will be favorable for the business.  Clare Computer Solutions can provide a Cloud Readiness Assessment for your business and help you consider all the options when planning a cloud strategy.

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