Tips for a Successful Office Move

Moving an office is exciting — a chance to settle into new quarters and really get organized.Office Move But there’s a lot of anxiety, too. You don’t want to lose anything, and you certainly want to keep disruptions to the business to an absolute minimum.  In the ideal moving scenario, everything from the old office would be picked up on a Friday night and by Monday morning, every stick of furniture, every cubicle and every piece of the IT infrastructure would be in place and functioning.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped a lot of companies move in 25 years and here are some things we have learned.

Research

This may sound obvious, but it’s worth bringing up.  Whenever a company moves, it’s vital to ensure the new location will meet the company’s needs with regards to square footage, access to reliable high speed bandwidth, and access for shipping/receiving.  Adequate parking for employees and visitors and physical security are important considerations as well.

Planning and Timing

Different services have different lead times, so timing is crucial. For instance, data and phone communications services often have multi-week lead times, and then on the installation date, resources must be scheduled to ensure everything is working.  This means choosing a provider, negotiating a contract and ordering the services must be done far enough in advance.

IT Improvements or Upgrades

Sometimes a move is a chance to make improvements in the company’s IT infrastructure, but trying to do too much at the same time as everything is being moved and re-set up can be a recipe for frustration.  We would recommend having the new office cabled for your ideal network, and if changes or improvements to the switching scheme is indicated, have that part of the infrastructure completed and waiting for the move.

If a major overhaul of the servers or end-user devices is planned, it will probably go smoother after the move. In other words, it’s better to ensure the infrastructure itself works, and then plan for the technology refresh.

The key to a successful move is to leverage the expertise of companies that have the experience necessary to aid in planning and executing the move. A moving company will know how to pack the physical items at your business, and an IT consulting firm like Clare Computer Solutions can help with the IT infrastructure side.  Plan ahead – contact us today to get started!

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Things to Consider When Migrating to Office 365

It seems the future for that venerable productivity suite Microsoft Office is in the cloud, to one degree or another.  Certainly, the shift from a license purchased by machine to a per-user subscription addresses the needs of the modern information worker. For example –nowadays people work from a variety of locations and devices, so the Office 365 paradigm of one license for up to 5 devices, coupled with the online tools, is appropriate for the “modern office”.

And cloud-based email is one of the fastest growing segments of cloud computing, and it’sOffice 365 Logo easy to understand why. Email is such a ubiquitous part of modern communication (How long has it been since someone in business told you they don’t have an email address?), a solution that promises wider access, simplified management and subscription-based licensing is attractive to many companies.

But the move from an on-premises email service to a cloud-based solution is not as easy as flipping a switch, and some companies have had very frustrating experiences when trying to make the change. Here are some things to consider when considering migrating to Office 365, to help make that transition go as smoothly as possible.

How Much Storage Are You Using?

The amount of stored emails companies have on their email servers is often taken for granted. In general, the common practice is to save everything, to be on the safe side. But when it comes time to move all that data, it can add considerable complexity to the task. This is just one of several “hidden” aspects of the email environment that must be addressed for a successful migration.

Public vs Private Folders

We all grow accustomed to having access to the resources we need, but it’s easy to forget that the permissions for each users’ access can vary quite a bit, and it takes some investigation and planning to successfully transplant that combination of permissions to a new platform.

Calendars

Outlook users benefit from the ability to view their own calendars, and those of selected colleagues, and the view they see while in Outlook can make it seem deceptively simple. But behind that view is an interactive combination of permission and this, too, requires careful consideration to be successfully migrate with the user environment intact.

Cloud and Onsite?

Some Office 365 SKUs include a full version of Office for up to 5 machines per license, and the email can co-exist with your existing Exchange Server and the cloud-based email services. But this requires some planning too, to ensure that the parallel platforms are properly synced with regards to data and permissions.

The promise of cloud computing in general, and Office 365 in particular, is real. It’s just important to get expert advice to ensure those benefits are properly realized.  Clare Computer Solutions has the expertise to understand your business, its IT environment, and the emerging cloud solutions – we can help you make the right choices, and fully realize the power of these technologies!  Contact us today to get started.

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Three Reasons IT Projects Go Wrong

Too often, companies avoid implementing badly-needed improvements or upgrades to the IT infrastructure simply because the last upgrade project went poorly. Nightmare stories make for vivid memories and many owners would rather make do with the status quo thancrashedserver relive past fiascos. On the other hand, many other companies include periodic upgrade and implementation projects in their ongoing business plan, and they are consistently successful.  What’s the secret?

Clare Computer Solutions has designed, executed and managed hundreds of IT projects in their 25 years, and offers these three common pitfalls that can scuttle well-intentioned projects.

Failure to Plan Properly

Nearly always, projects involve multiple resources, multiple technologies and multiple vendors, and each of these have their complexities. Interoperability is crucial, so advance planning with regards to proving the concept, researching the technologies, and arranging the timing of each phase is necessary to complete a project on time and on budget.  A detailed Scope of Work must be created to act as a roadmap and a checklist as the project moves from beginning to end. Resources must be committed to the project and that commitment honored.

Failure to Stay Focused

Even a well-planned project will encounter sidetracks – the dreaded “scope creep”. The plan needs to have procedures for determining which issue are on scope or out of scope. Out of scope issues need to be documented and set aside for future consideration, and energies need to be directed to resolving unexpected issues that affect the project’s scope.

Siphoning off of resources that were supposed to be committed to the project can cause a project to stall. Once one or two project deadlines are missed, the tendency is to take the remaining milestones less and less seriously, and this is where many projects enter the nightmare stage.

Failure to Follow Through

As a project nears completion, everyone is anxious to move on and this can lead to a project being abandoned when it’s 95% done. If the upgrade or implementation is complete enough for the company to use the technologies, it’s easy to waffle on clean-up tasks like documentation or post-implementation training. But these are crucial parts to ensuring the company will reach the full intended benefits of the project. Without these final steps, everyone falls into a pattern of workarounds and under-utilization of the technologies and the full return on the investment will not be realized.

Any business owner has a lot of things to lose sleep over – making needed improvements to the business’ technology should not be one of them. Project management is a skill set most companies don’t have in-house. Trust IT projects to an experienced IT consulting firm like Clare Computer Solutions. Contact us today to get started!

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In the Modern Office, Think of the Network as the Platform

When businesses struggle to gain control of their information technology (IT) network, it is often due to a failure to perceive as all of the systems as one platform. It’s really the old Network is the Platform“can’t see the forest for the trees” problem.  If you’re grappling with the on-premises data network, without realizing that it’s inextricably linked with the voice network and the wide-area network, it can be difficult to bring these disparate systems under control.

The technologies that enable offices to break out of the brick-and-mortar limitations exist to help businesses, but sometimes, some help is needed to properly integrate all the parts that make up the IT infrastructure in a modern, mobile office.

Choose Solutions with the Big Picture in Mind

Many networks grow piecemeal over time, with components added to serve specific needs or address certain problems. This approach can cause a lot of problems if the various pieces weren’t chosen with interoperability or scalability in mind.

Get the View from the High Ground

Modern IT networks often have different technologies that have to work together, so it’s important to have tools to enable this collection of technologies to be managed as a cohesive whole. These tools can enable your IT department to view all the parts of the network – voice, data, local, cloud-based — through a minimum number of interfaces.

Help Your Vendors Work Together

Often the parts that make up your office network will come from multiple vendors, and this can be a support challenge. Often vendors are predisposed to assume the problem must lie with the another vendor, when faced with a support issue with their product and how it works with other vendors’ products,

Having someone available on staff, or on contract, who has experience and technical knowledge of all the technologies can help the vendors work together to overcome any trouble spots that can arise.

So, don’t be daunted by the challenges and miss out on the benefits of these transformational technologies. An IT consultant like Clare Computer Solutions can help with every aspect – choosing technologies, deploying technologies and then managing them so they help your business grow and become more profitable.

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Options to Consider for Your Company’s Cloud Connectivity

One aspect often missing from discussions about cloud computing is the access to the cloud. Yes, cloud computing can have some very real benefits for companies, but those services are dependent upon a robust, reliable connection to the cloud. Also, the costs of the connection must be taken into account when determining the ROI for a move towards High Speed Internetcloud services.

The good news is, the choices for cloud access have grown in number, and, for the most part, decreased in cost over the past decade or so. Here’s some tips on zeroing in the cloud access solution for your company.

Assess your needs with regards to bandwidth

When your office begins accessing services and data in the cloud, there needs to be sufficient bandwidth to ensure an acceptable user experience. Ideally, it should seem the resources are local. Begin by determining which aspects of your IT infrastructure are going to the cloud, and determine how much bandwidth you’ll need. In some cases, the vendor for those services may have some metrics to help in this  – in other cases, some testing may be required.

Assess your needs with regards to security

You’ll notice we have been referring to cloud connectivity rather than internet connectivity. What’s the difference? Sometimes, there IS no difference. Many cloud services are accessed through an internet connection. Sometimes, for security or regulatory reasons, your connection to a cloud resource needs to be through a dedicated connection that does not traverse the internet or the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). This doesn’t mean IP traffic on the internet is can’t be secure  – there are a number of solutions to encrypt that data.

Assess your needs with regards to redundancy

If your office’s sole access to the cloud is through a single wire somewhere, what happens if that wire is broken somehow?  If your business can’t tolerate even a brief outage, you will need to have some failover strategy, ideally involving a solution that is unlikely to be affected by the same thing ((construction, for example) that affected the primary circuit.

Compare your needs against the costs

Most businesses, when asked about how much bandwidth they need, will answer “A lot!” When asked how much downtime they could tolerate, the answer is “None!” It may turn out that the maximum bandwidth and maximum availability solution is not financially feasible. Decisions may have to be made with regards to which services you should move to the cloud, and which solutions you’ll use to maximize your benefits and minimize your risks.

Discussions with an experienced IT consultant, like Clare Computer Solutions, can help you settle on the right solution, with the right services, at the right price, to enable your company to effectively leverage the benefits of cloud services. Contact us today to get started!

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When It Comes to the Cloud, Hybrid is Often the Best Path

Cloud ComputingCloud computing holds great promises for the future of Information Technology (IT) and it 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 cloudcontact us today to get started!

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Hybrid Approach Applies to Cloud and IT Support

Often, companies are faced with choices that seem to be either/or propositions. In cloud computing, there’s a push to choose between cloud OR on premises.  For IT support, there’s a push to choose between in-house staff OR a 3rd party provider.  There’s no reason not to consider a third choice: all of the above.

Hybrid Cloud

For all the hysteria and lofty promises of cloud computing, it now appears that a hybrid approach makes the most sense for most companies. There are several reasons for this.

Some workloads do not work well in the cloud, but that’s not a reason to reject the notion of cloud computing. There are also many workloads that are served very well in the cloud model. The goal is to examine your company’s IT infrastructure and evaluate which parts of the network would benefit from being cloud-based, and which should remain on-premises.

Another consideration is where the company is in its technology refresh cycle. It may not make good sense to move workloads that are adequately served by on-premises equipment that is still well within its useful lifespan. As equipment does approach its refresh time, then the decision can be made whether or not to migrate the function to the cloud.

Hybrid IT Support

In the past decade or so, there has been a proliferation of tools for managing IT infrastructures, and 3rd party IT support companies are able use these tools to provide levels of support to small or midsize companies that had previously only been available to large enterprises.

It is often assumed that internal IT staffs and 3rd providers can’t co-exist, but this isn’t true. So long as support roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, and effective knowledge transfer implemented, any company can benefit from the deeper breadth of expertise and experience of hybrid IT support.

For larger enterprises, an IT support company can lend specific skills and manpower for projects, strategic planning and budgeting. For smaller companies, IT support companies can those same benefits and supplement their in-house IT coverage with sophisticated around-the-clock monitoring, maintenance and management.

So, when faced with an “either/or” situation, think outside the box and consider mixing and matching services with your specific needs. Get the best of both worlds!  Clare Computer Solutions’ experts can match your company’s business needs with the perfect combination of tools, technology and support. Contact us today to get started!

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Cycle Out Aging Technology in 3 Just Steps

A lot of businesses just install technologies and run them until they fail, and then deal with the headache and expense of emergency replacements. This practice results in higher costs for emergency services and product delivery and deployment – plus the cost of lost productivity when an important part of the IT infrastructure isn’t working.Refresh

There is a better way!  Follow these three steps:

Assess

Quite often, networks grow in little increments at a time, so it’s not unusual for a company to not really have a good idea of exactly what’s in the network, much less the age of each component. This information is crucial to planning for an orderly refresh cycle, however. So, take some time (or use an IT Service Provider) to take an inventory of your network and get a list of all the connected assets, and their respective ages.

Monitor

Network elements often signal impending failure. Sometimes, the device is sophisticated enough to send alerts that something’s not right. Other times, it’s necessary to use monitoring tools to report on the network’s health on a constant basis.

Over time, you will notice when a network element is acting up, and that, combined with its age, can let you know it’s time to replace the device now, before it fails.

Have a Plan

For maximum network availability, create a plan to cycle out machines that reach a certain age threshold. With the information from the network assessment at your fingertips, it’s easy to see when various parts of the network reach that age, and make plans to replace them. When an important application is nearing the end of supportability for the version you’re running, it’s probably wise to consider replacing the machine the new version will run on.

Being proactive in keeping your technology refreshed will result in much less downtime and far fewer emergency repairs. You’ll be able to plan for upgrade and replacement expenditures, too. The result is lower IT support costs, higher productivity and a more reliable network.

Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience implementing and maintaining networks and that includes regular planned (and budgeted!) technology refreshes. Contact us today to get started!

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Virtualization is Now the Norm for Servers

Virtual ServersAbout three years ago, in March 2012, a milestone was reached — somewhat quietly. The Gartner Group released a study in that month that stated that over 50% of servers are virtualized. A later report stated further that by 2016, that number should reach 86%.

If your IT infrastructure has more than one server, it pays to consider virtualization.  Here are three important benefits to this technology:

Energy Savings

Fewer physical servers mean you’ll be using less electricity for machines and cooling. Your server “farm” will also take up less space.  Even if “going green” in not a major initiative with your business, saving space and power has very material benefits in reduced costs.

Faster Server Provisioning

Any physical server has a checklist of things that must be addressed to be deployed.  The machine has to be spec’d, and sourced.  Software licenses need to be ordered and procured. When the server arrives, it needs to be set up with the operating system, required applications, put into place, and hooked up to the network.  With a virtual server, the steps are simpler and quicker because you “create” the machine, allocate resources, install software and put it on the network – all from a console interface.

Improve Disaster Recovery

The increased agility for server provisioning described above also has very important implications with regards to disaster recovery. Provided you are backing up the data and an image for your servers, a crashed server could be replaced in a matter of hours rather than days by simply adding a virtual machine and restoring the crashed server from the backup.

Virtualization in the “post mainframe” context has been around for about ten years.  Isn’t it time to stop calling it “new” technology and embrace the benefits it offers?  Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience in virtualizing server environments. Contact us today to get started!

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If You Don’t Test Your Disaster Recovery Plan…

..then you don’t really have a Disaster Recovery (DR) Plan. Take data backups for example.  Most companies back their data up, but only about a third of those actually test their backups.  This is tantamount to faithfully putting money into a savings account every payday, but failing to notice which bank has your money.Business Continuity

The only benefit to backing up data is having access to that data in the case of an emergency. How can you know you’ll have access to the data (and that the data is not corrupted or otherwise unusable) unless you regularly test it?

How can you be sure you’ll know how to restore the data in an emergency, unless you regularly practice it?

Data backup is only a part of a company DR plan – all aspects of the plan should be tested. Think about it: your whole DR plan consists of procedures that assume if a disaster occurs, you’ll be able to do certain things to mitigate the effects of the incident. And they are assumptions, until you test them. Challenge these assumptions, with regular drills and testing and make changes as necessary.

Don’t assume your IT people will be available in a crisis – make sure the technical restoration procedures can be understood by key personnel and have them practice implementing restores and failovers without intervention from the IT staff.

Make sure everyone knows their role in the DR plan – in times of crisis, it’s human nature to react to their level of training. Everyone that is key to the DR process needs to understand their roles and responsibilities and this needs to be tested on a regular basis.

Remember that change is constant – With every personnel change, or update to your IT infrastructure, your DR plan is out-of-date to some degree. The whole plan will fail if some key component is no longer valid.  Procedures and information (contact info, logins/passwords) stored in the DR plan need to be updated, and tested.

If you build maintenance of the DR plan into your company DNA, this won’t seem like such a big hassle. Make updates, tests and drills part of the company’s normal operations and you will go a long way towards being well-prepared for a disaster.  Chances are pretty good you’ll be ahead of your competition in this regard, too!

Clare Computer Solutions has a lot of experience helping clients prepare their IT infrastructures for rapid recovery from a variety of disaster scenarios, and we can help your company, too!  Contact us today to get started!

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