How Savvy Computer Users Can Help Reduce Cyberthreats

Cyber SafetyOur Information Age has greatly transformed our lives, but like every technological panacea, there’s a downside.  Easy access to information also means the need to protect that information from “cyber criminals”.

Network administrators are constantly struggling to lock down network access and protect sensitive data, and it’s a daunting task – high profile data breaches affect about half of the residents in California, according to a recent report.

Just as disruptive to businesses are infections from viruses, worms, and ransomware.

Even with every technological tool in place to mitigate these threats, it’s important that computers users become aware of how their actions can help prevent infection.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

Use Strong Passwords

Hackers use tools that can automatically and quickly try passwords to access your computer, and through it, all the systems you access to do your work.  The more complex the password, the less likely these hackers can “brute-force” their way in.  Passwords should be at least 8 characters in length, and be a mixture of upper and lower case alpha characters, numerals, and “special” characters.  Do not use combinations that obviously connect to you, like your name, address, birthday, etc.

Be a Cynical Email User

Many of the latest threats require some action by a user to enable the malware – these are often links in emails, or attachments.  Business email tends to have a look and feel that is familiar, so be suspicious of any email that’s unexpected, or out of the ordinary. Be very careful about launching attachments – malware can be hidden in all kinds of files.  Cryptolocker, a notorious Ransomware, often was hidden in an apparent PDF file attachment to an email that looked like it came from UPS. If you want to track a shipment, go to the carrier’s website to do so.

Be a Cynical Web User

Be aware that some websites are infected with Malware that may be launched when you visit them. Avoid reaching websites via links in email – they don’t always go where they seem to pointing. Be as cynical as you are with email – if a company’s website looks “wrong” somehow, don’t click on any links there, and doublecheck the URL – by a Google search, or even calling the company.

Situational Awareness

This always boils down to developing habits that involve situational awareness. Try not to lose sight of the fact that threats do exist, and look before you leap.  You will develop a sense of what looks right and what looks suspicious – and in doing so perhaps save yourself and your company a lot of trouble!

Clare Computer Solutions has helped many companies “lock down” their networks against a variety of threats – we can help you, too. Contact us today to have the first conversation towards a more secure IT environment.

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Proper IT Network Support Takes a Team

Think about how important your company’s Information technology is to the day-to-day operations. Think of all the parts that make up the IT infrastructure in a modern office: Servers, workstations, phones, printers, tablets, switches, routers, software, and cabling. Now think about who’s in charge of keeping all this working. In many companies, that responsibility falls to a single IT person.

Let’s assume your company was able to locate and hire a very capable individual for this position. Let’s assume this person’s experience and breadth of knowledge includes all of the technologies listed in the precious paragraph.

Those are daring assumptions – most companies hire someone who knows most of those things pretty well, and has experience with most of the problems that are the most likely to occur. This arrangement can work well for awhile.

But, we are talking about a human being. However dedicated and handy this person is, he or she will need to go on vacation once in a while – preferably without wearing a beeper at the beach.  And this person will suffer from the same seasonal illnesses that we all encounter – the cold, the flu, and the like. Can you see the weakness in this system?

What if you could hire a team of IT experts  – increasing your firm’s IT support coverage by a factor or 3, 4 or more, with less cost than hiring even one more person? This is what a Managed Services Provider (MSP) can bring to the table.

Consider these benefits of a Managed Services Program for IT:

Deeper Experience and Skillsets

Given the complexities of a more office’s IT Infrastructure, you can’t expect one person to know it all. You can expect that out of a team of IT experts, however.

Better Coverage for Personnel Issues

If your IT person wants to take that much-needed and long-awaited vacation, you will know your company is prepared to handle anything that comes up.

Better Quality Control

There’s nothing a second set of eyes on your company’s technology to ensure that everything in the network is tuned to perfection. An MSP will also have proven tools and procedures for maintaining that IT infrastructure, because they handle so many of them. They know how to properly document assets, budgets, refresh schedules, patching schedules, license renewals and all the other things that help prevent problems in a network.

Better Communication

An MSP will be conversant in both technical and business communications. They can help a business make decisions based upon both technical needs (and wants) and the company’s strategic goals.

Your company’s network is too important for any one person to manage. An MSP is the economical, efficient way to use state-of-the-art methods to realize the power of technology. Clare Computer Solutions has been provide Managed Services for even longer than the term has been around.  Contact us to today and join our team!

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Preventative Maintenance Paradigm is the Best Strategy for IT

For many years, businesses have often opted to outsource parts of the business that would require expertise too expensive to hire full time.  Human Resources and Payroll services are often outsourced, and this enables businesses to get enterprise-level expertise without having to recruit and hire for it.  The same goes for Information Technology (IT).

Technology has become a vital piece of most modern businesses, yet many businesses choose to manage their IT infrastructure by simply responding to problems when they arise.  Here are three major problems with this approach:

Reacting to Problems Costs Too Much

Emergencies are expensive.  When network assets are unavailable, productivity slows or stops.  Aside from the obvious costs of vital business processes not occurring, these outages do not go unnoticed by clients and suppliers. In the modern business environment, “Our computers are down” is not an acceptable excuse. Moreover, emergency help is costly, because providers will have to move emergency repairs to the highest priority, and usually at a premium rate.

Reacting to Problems Is Not the Best Use of IT Expertise

Your company’s IT infrastructure consists of numerous parts that have to work together properly for everyone to reap the benefits of the technology.  With proactive management, that IT infrastructure can be a finely tuned system.  The amount of effort required to keep the network running is much less than the amount of effort to repair it when it’s down.  Moreover, proactive management takes into account how the parts of the infrastructure works together, whereas repairs tend to zero on the specific problem.

Reacting to Problems Has Nothing to Do with Planning
With proactively managed networks, routine maintenance tasks are scheduled and tracked.  Network assets are properly documented.  Network performance data is gathered, and alerts generated when conditions are detected that can lead to trouble, and the steps to remediate those conditions are tracked.  Trending data gathered over time make orderly cycling out of aging technologies possible, as well as strategic planning for netcentral_logo_webthe company’s growth goals. None of this is possible when the technology is in a crisis mode.

It can be difficult and expensive to implement a comprehensive network management system solely through in-house hiring.  But a third party Managed IT Services firm will have the personnel, the processes and the tools to bring your company’s IT under control and help technology be an effective business enabler, rather than just a cost center.

Clare Computer Solutions has been providing true Managed Services for companies for over decade, and other technology services for almost 25 years.  Contact us today, and have the conversation that sets your business on the right path to realize the power of technology!

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Network Reports Vital for Maintaining Network Health

Most companies’ Information Technology (IT) Infrastructure have a lot of moving parts, and those parts need to interact seamlessly and reliably for a company to leverage the power of the technology. When that fails to happen, it’s very costly. Many industry reports estimate network downtime costs tens of thousands of dollars per hour!

Because of this, companies need to find a way to understand the ongoing “health” of the network. Systems rarely fail without some indication of impending trouble. Network IT Assessmentmanagement tools can often provide invaluable operational data through regular reporting.

Each monthly report is a snapshot of your network at a point in time, and summarizes a variety of key performance indicators in the system. What was your network’s uptime? What were the demands on each key component? Were backups performed successfully? Were patches evaluated and applied? Were unneeded files deleted, like pulling weeds in a garden?

And if each monthly report is a snapshot, then a collection of monthly reports, taken together is like a crystal ball. Trends in CPU usage, data storage or any of a number of indicators can be a clear warning that a key component is heading towards failure. The best part, this information can be used to plan ahead for cycling out aging or failing devices, before they have a catastrophic crash and affect your company’s productivity.

So, why doesn’t every company get these valuable monthly reports and use them to reduce their costs and increase network uptime?

There needs to be network management tools in place to generate the reports, first of all. And the tools need to be “tuned” to provide alerts and reporting for the conditions that foreshadow network troubles down the road. This can be pretty esoteric stuff.

Once reports are being generated, the expertise to make sense of the trending data is needed as well as the process to evaluate the data on a regular basis and set in motion plans to act on the insights that are gained.

The good news is, this is exactly what NetCentral does. Clare Computer Solutions’ NetCentral network management service provides monitoring, maintenance and management of company networks, and that includes monthly reporting and regular IT Strategy sessions to guide your company down a well-planned Technology Roadmap.

Contact Clare Computer Solutions to have that first conversation towards truly levering the power of technology for your company, and get the jump on your competition.

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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.

it1

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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