3 Signs That Your Organization May be Ready For Managed Services

Not every business needs a Managed Services Provider (MSP) for their technology. There is a tipping point where the company’s reliance on the IT infrastructure, and the complexity of the infrastructure indicate that the company will derive the best value from anetcentral_logo_web MSP, rather than just “as needed” IT support services. Here are 3 signs that will help you realize when your company will need an MSP.

Declining Tolerance for Downtime on the Network

In a very small office, the consequences of the network being down are not necessarily catastrophic. Yes, it’s an emergency of sorts, but often a small office can tolerate the time it takes to make a call to their IT provider and the time it takes for help to arrive.

At some point in a company’s growth, though, the cost of downtime is devastating, and it requires that arrangements are made to keep the company’s IT infrastructure under the care of a MSP, who will share in the risk and responsibility of ensuring that all the technological tools have a higher availability.

Significant Growth and/or Expansion

The skills required to manage a network with multiple of locations are quite different than managing a single-site network. Similarly, if the IT environment is a hybrid of cloud and on premise elements, it can add to the complexity of managing and maintaining the network. It can be difficult to staff for the needs of a network like this.

Some days, support may require a team of high-level network experts, and other days, much simpler user based desktop support. An MSP can provide the range and depth of expertise as needed.

Network Has Devices, Software and Services from a Variety of Vendors

Once a network spans several locations and a mixture of cloud and on-premises environments, the sheer number of vendors can make support very complex when interactivity becomes an issue. Any vendor’s Tier 1 support is inclined to blame the other vendors when a problem arises, but an MSP with a deep understanding of all the technologies can greatly accelerate problem resolution, which mean less downtime.

Studies have shown that outsourcing management of IT infrastructure by an MSP can reduce the recurring in-house IT costs by 30-40 percent and bring about a 50-60 percent increase in efficiency (See Markets and Markets report). Isn’t it time your company took advantage of these benefits? Clare Computer Solutions has been providing Managed Services for well over a decade – contact us today to get started!

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The Top 4 Criteria for Choosing a Managed Services Provider (MSP)

A decade into the new millennium, most companies now realize that the Managed Services paradigm is a better value than simply hiring an IT support firm to fix problems, or supplement the in-house staff as needed. With a Managed Service Provider (MSP), both IT Dept Meetingthe client and the provider share the risk and responsibility to keep the IT network running.

So how does a company choose their MSP? Industry 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 the top 4 things to look 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. Sooner or later, though, 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? How many service requests do they handle per month?

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 and how they track their performance against those 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. Our 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. Contact us today to get started!

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IT Security Is a Company Responsibility

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the discussions regarding an impending “Digital Pearl Harbor”. What this term refers to is a potential major cyberattack that would cripple some part of our infrastructure (financial, oil production, communications, electrical, etc.), wreaking devastation on the nation (or the world) that would rival the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.

But a far more likely threat is from the cyber criminals and malware that are constantly trying to steal your data or disrupt your IT systems. Some of the think tank experts have commented that IT security practices and measures taken on the individual and corporate level make the “Digital Pearl Harbor” scenario much less likely.

So, how can you protect your company (and maybe protect the world in the process)?

Here are three areas to consider in order to shore up your company’s defenses against cyber-threats.

Layered Defense

This notion is as old as civilization. To protect something, make an attacker have to pass LayeredDefensesthrough layers of defense to succeed. So, the router that handles your company’s internet connection needs to have all the appropriate security measures in place, including keeping the firmware up to date. There needs to be a firewall, and servers need to have anti-virus software on them, and everything needs to be regularly patched and kept up to date. All of the users’ machines should have software to find viruses, and to detect infected websites they may visit.

Education

Technical security measures are effective – most of the time. Even with regular updates, the possibility exists that something will come along a day or two before the software companies can mitigate it with an update. In times like this, a workforce that is well educated about security and trained to use good IT “hygiene” can save your company a lot of trouble. Everyone should learn how to be suspicious of unexpected emails, and be wary of emails (even from trusted senders) that may have links to infected websites.  Educate your users about “phishing” attempts and how to spot them. Warn against weak passwords, have them written down where someone could find them.

Process

Once you have your layered defenses in place, and your workforce is educated, you’re not done. You need a process in place to ensure devices are kept up date, retired machines are removed the network, new employees are trained, and policies are in place that define your company’s security stance. Security needs to be ingrained in the It infrastructure, and it needs to be a part of the overall corporate culture. Everyone needs to buy into this notion, from the C-level executives down to temp workers and interns.

Chances are, a lot of these safeguards are already in place at your company. If not, now is the time to plug those security holes, and keep vigilant. Often, your company will benefit by having a second set of eyes check your network and your security practices on a regular basis  Clare Computer Solutions has been helping companies implement security measures for decades and we can help your company, too.  Contact us now to get started!

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Tailor Your Cloud Services to Your Corporate Culture

Dozens of vendors, including most of the most well-respected names in technology, have rushed to meet the growing demand for cloud-based services. And, in most cases, these vendors’ cloud services are a reflection of their approach to technology in general.

In the extreme DIY (do it yourself) side of things, you have companies like Amazon Web Cloud ComputingServices, who have had a cloud presence longer than most. Their cloud offerings are devoid of marketing fluff, or any attempts at user-friendliness. If you can’t follow the instructions, you shouldn’t be there. Prices are low – or seemingly so, so long as you carefully design your cloud environment to deliver just what you need.

Google has also been an early player in the cloud application space, and has positioned itself to compete with Microsoft. Like Microsoft, it has a suite of productivity apps and other cloud services. In the Platform-as-a-Service world, it was early-to-market as well. But it retains some of the DIY aspects of cloud pioneers, and has had some trouble gearing up to support hordes of users with varying skill levels.

Bringing technology to the masses is something Microsoft has always excelled at and it has made them an industry giant. They saw the potential in the cloud and have brought their marketing and user-centric expertise to the game, with Office 365 and Azure.

All of this variety is a win-win for the companies that are looking to fold cloud services into their IT infrastructures. Firms with strong technical acumen on staff can make good use of the services at Amazon or Google and not worry about paying for attractive graphical user interfaces, or deep interoperability between productivity suite applications.

On the other hand, a company with a workforce long accustomed to the Microsoft environment will have an easier transition to a cloud or hybrid infrastructure if the tools they using retain the look and feel of the on-premises office network.

Companies need do their return-on-investment (ROI) calculations carefully when choosing their cloud path.  It’s not enough to simply compare monthly fees. There are costs associated with support, productivity and training, and these need to be understood and factored into the equation.  Also, since many cloud services are often priced on a consumption-based model, it’s important to have a good handle on what you’re going to need with regards to storage, bandwidth and CPU.

Clare Computer Solutions can help your company devised a cloud strategy that will fit your needs perfectly.  Contact us now to get started!

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IT Support Services Must Match the Needs of the Modern Office

Information technology (IT) changes all the time. Not only does hardware and software Network is the Platformchange month by month and year by year, the platforms themselves change.  The introduction of mobile computing, cloud computing and virtualization completed changed the IT landscape. This means support for IT has had to undergo changes as well.

IT support used to mean installing new computers and fixing computers that were broken. Then networks became the norm, and with them came servers to be maintained, and IT support services came to encompass the infrastructure itself.

Along the way, companies learned that keeping the network working was more cost-effective than simply addressing problems, and IT support providers became Managed Services Providers (MSPs). In this paradigm, the goals for the provider and client are neatly aligned – both sides want the network to stay running at optimal levels. Contrast that with the earlier “breakfix” model, where the service provider needed things to fail in order to generate revenue.

Networks without Borders

Now the network itself is breaking free of traditional brick-and-mortar restraints. Thanks to the innovations mentioned in the first paragraph, a company’s IT infrastructure might encompass multiple platforms in multiple geographic locations. Moreover, that infrastructure is likely to consist of equipment, software and services from a variety of vendors. This requires a completely different skill set on the part of the IT service provider.

IT Consulting is in Demand

As maintenance and management of the network elements become more automated, the services in demand from companies lean more towards technical IT consulting.  Companies need help and advice to design, implement and manage these multiple platforms. The agility in the hybrid cloud infrastructure also means a greater need for strategic advice on how, and when to deploy other network services to attain the company’s goals.

In addition, with multiple vendors in play, expertise is needed to ensure all the disparate parts are working together, and resolve complex issues rapidly.  Without expert help, problems can get mired in Tier 1 support levels, with each vendor insisting another vendor is the cause of the problem.

This is all good news for business, because there are real benefits to a technology landscape where a company can pick and choose precisely the tools they will need to meet their strategic goals. And with a capable IT consultant, like Clare Computer Solutions, even small-to-medium size business can take advantage of these technologies!

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Is Your Business Committed to a Supportable IT Infrastructure?

IT ConsultingInformation technology (IT) is a necessary part of nearly every business these days. If that technology has been deployed grudgingly, by dribs and drabs, to solve specific problems that cropped up over the years, network support can be very expensive and frustrating. Often, each new fix just seems to expose weaknesses elsewhere.  Don’t blame technology for this! Here’s how businesses fall into this trap:

Technologies are applied as needed only

The technological tools your business uses have to work together, and if the network was built in numerous unrelated steps, it’s likely there will be interoperability issues. Every so often, it is a good idea to look at your business, and imagine how the ideal IT infrastructure would be, and compare your existing one against that, and take steps to close that gap.

Technologies are chosen on price only

This happens frequently, when technology is purchased to solve a specific problem. The driving force behind the buying decision is quick deployment without spending too much. The result often includes equipment that is not professional-grade. For example, a wireless access point designed for home use will lack vital features with regards to interoperability, speed and security, and the problems this can cause will cost you far more than the better equipment would have!

Technologies are used until they fail

Your network consists of a number of components that work together and if one fails, it affects productivity across the office environment. For that reason, it’s important to keep tabs on the network assets and plan for an orderly rotation to get aging devices replaced before they fail.  If network equipment seems expensive, compare those costs to the costs of network downtime, lost productivity and emergency repairs – it’s a good investment!

It’s important for your business to have and maintain a supportable IT infrastructure. Larger enterprises have staff who are responsible for ensuring the company’s IT infrastructure is working optimally and up-to-date at all times, but small-to-medium enterprises often have trouble staying ahead of this. An IT consulting firm like Clare Computer Solutions can bring CIO-level expertise to your company and let you focus on running (and growing) your business. Contact us today to get started!

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Non-Profits: The Time to Plan Your IT Budget is Now

For many not-for-profit companies, the fiscal year ends at June or July, so this is the time Non Profitto create the budget for the coming fiscal year. Does your budget include addressing your organization’s IT needs?

IT costs can be controlled and predictable when steps are taken to properly maintain the IT infrastructure and cycle out aging IT assets in an orderly manner.

Here’s how to address this in 3 manageable steps:

Assess

Take stock of what your IT infrastructure is right now. In a small organization, this might be done visually, but generally, it’s much better to utilize a software tool to “discover” what you have, and output that information in a diagram and an accompanying asset list.

Remediate

Often, the assessment will reveal some things that have to be addressed immediately, and if that’s the case, take steps to repair what’s truly not working.  It can ensure your operations are stable and properly running as you address the next step, which is more strategic.

Plan

Forget technology for a minute. What are the goals for your organization over next 1, 2, 3 or 5 years?  How do you envision the future? Then, compare that vision against your current IT infrastructure and decide how that environment would have to change to accommodate the organization and its operations if those goals are met.  How can you ensure your technology will be appropriate for your future needs?

You’ll need to create a plan for achieving the change you’ll need, by the time you’ll need it.

For many companies, this type of strategic IT planning is not in their skill set. This is the purview of a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or a Chief Information Officer (CIO) – to create a technology roadmap to match the company’s business goals.  Clare Computer Solutions provides strategic IT planning and consulting, acting as a “virtual CIO” to help organizations just like yours achieve their goals. We can help you, too – contact us today to get started!

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Integrate your Company’s HelpDesk with Your IT Provider for Improved Support

Many small-to-medium size businesses prefer to keep user-level IT support in-house and HelpDeskoutsource the support for the more complex parts of their IT infrastructure. The reasoning is, higher level support is more expensive and not necessarily needed every day, while desktop level IT personnel are needed every single day. In a small, static environment, this can be a good arrangement. But in a growing business, in-house Tier 1 support often doesn’t scale well. Why is this?

Capacity               

Demand for Tier 1 support (desktop users) can fluctuate quite a bit, depending on circumstances like a software update that doesn’t go well, new versions of applications causing confusion, or if a virus hits. Moreover, an IT staff of one goes to zero if that person is sick or on vacation.  Even an IT staff of two is severely impacted when someone’s not available.

If your IT support company has a HelpDesk staff, perhaps they can be used as a resource for spikes in support needs, or during scheduled vacations.

Procedures

IT support for users in a small office is usually on a first-come, first served basis, and that works well when the demand for support is steady and low. But if that demand spikes for any length of time, then more detailed, consistent procedures are required to avert chaos. If the company is in a growth mode just adding more in-house IT staff may actually make things worse if there aren’t procedures for triage, dispatch, knowledge transfer, and quality control.

If your IT support company has a HelpDesk staff, they will likely be handling many more requests than your in-house staff encounters, so they should have procedures to quickly and accurately receive support requests, evaluate them, determine the priorities and severity of each request, and schedule resources to address the issues. Everything should be documented, and the entire staff should be able to draw upon that historical data to speed up problem resolution.

IT Support integration may be the answer

Some IT companies can even give your in-house staff access to their ticketing system, effectively making the combined in-house and IT provider’s staff one entity – requests can be evaluated, scheduled, resolved or escalated from the same interface. It creates a very productive partnership between the in-house IT staff and IT provider, introducing efficiencies and increasing the benefits realized from the company’s technology.

Clare Computer Solutions offers this service to their NetCentral Managed Services clients.  Contact them today to take advantage of this highly productive integration for best-in-class IT support and management.

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Common Cloud Computing Usage Patterns

CloudUsagePatternsCloud computing offers a variety of potential benefits to businesses, from cost savings to convenience (increased mobility) to business agility.

While planning your company’s cloud strategy, it is useful to consider what type of cloud environment and capabilities will best suit your needs, because the way your company uses the cloud will have an effect on the provider and services you choose – and this will affect your costs.

Many businesses assume their data storage and throughput needs are fairly static, since day-to-day, the business seems to operate about the same. But data storage and network data throughput fluctuates all the time – sometimes a lot, and sometimes a little at a time. Let’s examine some common cloud computing patterns and scenarios.

On and Off

Businesses that do development work and maintain test environments may find they will have periodic heavy usage of bandwidth, as when testing new applications, and then those needs could actually drop off to zero, as the next cycle of development begins.  Another scenario would be a disaster recovery plan that calls for a spin-up of a new server in case of an emergency, with no needs before or after that emergency. Either of these scenarios would indicate choosing a cloud services plan that allows for costs to follow those start/stop usage patterns.

Fast Growth

In general, data storage tends to go in one direction: up. In some environments, this growth may be rapid and sustained.  If this is your anticipated environment, you will need to ensure you have adequate bandwidth, preferably with some sort of scalable plan. The same would go for your cloud data storage services. You don’t want to pay for space until you need it, but you’ll want additional storage capabilities to be quickly available as needed.

Unpredictable Demand

In his scenario, there is a practical baseline for cloud services, but the nature of the business means there may be irregular spikes in the need for storage and bandwidth. Examples of this would be disaster recovery actions, or perhaps an e-commerce website that has traffic that spikes now again in response to marketing or something in the news.  The ideal plan here would be able to change quickly and dynamically to suit these spikes, and the costs for accommodating these dynamic needs would be spelled and understood.

Predictable Bursting

This is a scenario where the agility aspect of cloud computing really comes to the fore. In some businesses, they have predictable seasonal sales and activity patterns. In the pre-virtual, pre-cloud world, that meant the IT infrastructure had to be built with the needs of the peak periods in mind. With cloud computing, those resources can be allocated dynamically to meet predictably changeable requirements. Think of it like how you pay for electricity – you pay for what you use, when you use it.

The promises of cloud computing are real. But companies considering moving some or all of their IT infrastructure to the cloud need to consider how to tailor their plans to fit their specific needs – and every business is different.

Clare Computer Solutions can help your company devise and implement a strategy for taking advantage of the things that the cloud can do best!  Contact us today to get started.

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Why Managed Services Makes Sense for Businesses with an IT Staff

For at least the last 25 years, Information Technology (IT) has been an integral part of the Managed Servicestools that businesses use to run.  Communications, planning, accounting, prospecting, selling, billing – all of these are typically managed through technology.  Therefore, the management of the IT infrastructure is vital for the continued health of the business.

Often, businesses choose one of two models for IT management – they either hire staff to take care of the IT infrastructure, or they use the services of a third party IT provider.

For an in-house staff, businesses may find that staffing the skills necessary to handle every possible contingency in the network is prohibitively expensive.

For third party services, businesses may find they will have access to higher skills levels on an as-needed basis, but may find it expensive (and sometimes taxing on the resources of the provider) to get timely support for the little things that crop up every day.

We would suggest a third alternative – a hybrid model for IT support.

If you feel your business needs some in-house staff for day-to-day ad hoc IT support, then find someone whose skills will meet those needs, but for the following needs, choose a Managed Services Provider (MSP):

Ongoing IT Monitoring, Management and Maintenance

Even a company with barely 20 employees is likely to have an IT infrastructure of sufficient complexity to require proactive and timely expert management. Software and firmware patches need to be evaluated and deployed.  Anti-virus and other anti-malware software requires updating. Vital network elements such as servers need to be monitored to detect impending signs of failure.

IT Projects

Every network will undergo some improvements, deployments, migrations and upgrades at some point, and managing IT projects can be tricky.  You can’t expect your in-house IT person to handle their existing duties and an ongoing IT project. Expertise is needed to minimize disruption of active business processes as well.

Supplement to In-house Staff    

If your in-house IT staff becomes overwhelmed, or impacted by illness or vacation, an MSP can step up and make sure your needs are met.

CIO Services

Considering the importance of your company’s IT infrastructure to the business, it makes sense to have some IT expertise involved when planning your company’s growth and goals.  Leverage the experience and depth of knowledge of your MSP to ensure your company’s IT infrastructure will support the company as you grow.

This hybrid IT support model is working well for many companies – it’s a way to maximize IT support while controlling costs and realizing the real power of technology!

Clare Computer Solutions was doing Managed Services since before the phrase was coined.  We can help your company – contact us to get started!

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