On Premise, Cloud, Hybrid and MSP Solutions: 2015 Will Be a Key Decision Year For Many Companies and IT Departments

As companies examine options for the cloud, on premise and hybrid solutions and management of their IT they should rely on the expertise of an established IT Consulting firm

(SAN RAMON, CA) Clare Computer Solutions (CCS), a professional services firm providing IT solutions for companies in the San Francisco Bay area since 1990 wants to help companies understand the advances in technology that their businesses will be faced with in the next two years.   Technology advances such as Cloud computing have changed the technology landscape and created new types of computing models.  According to Gartner, Hybrid Clouds and Hybrid IT: The Next Frontier, “the majority of private and community cloud services will evolve to hybrid services by 2017.”

As storage and bandwidth prices continue to fall, Cloud-based services are being considered by companies that want to shift IT costs from a capital expense to an operating expense, reduce IT departments, maintain less equipment, and focus fully on their core responsibility—growing their business.

Companies are faced with whether they should opt for a hosted or an on-premise solution – and whether to build up their IT department, utilize a managed service program (MSP), have IT services outsourced entirely or to create a hybrid approach. “We work with clients to create a model that best suits their needs. But first they need to assess their business needs and infrastructure before making a decision,” said Brad Mendonsa, CEO, Clare Computer Solutions.

Clare Computer Solutions (CCS) is offering a FREE 1 hour IT budget consultation until 12/31/14 to help plan an implementation program and 10% off of the first six months of CCS’s Managed Service Provider (MSP) NetCentral service until 1/31/15.

For more information about CCS visit www.clarecomputer.com or call (800) 339-0690 ext 148. Visit our events page (www.clarecomputer.com/events) to attend an educational event about technical and IT topics to broaden your knowledge base.

About Clare Computer Solutions (CCS)
Clare Computer Solutions has been providing high quality IT Network Services and Network Support to Bay Area companies since 1990. CCS has installed over 2,400 multi-user networks and serviced many more. Clients represent diverse industries including: healthcare, manufacturing, construction, insurance, service industries, legal, hospitality and more throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California. The company is based in San Ramon, California.

Our Services
We have experience in deploying solutions utilizing technology from Microsoft, Novell, Citrix, VMware, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and many other industry leaders. Our long-term relationship with these manufacturers ensures considerable depth of knowledge in these products, and how they interoperate. What this means to our clients: solutions are deployed quickly and correctly.

Our Process
CCS strives for seamless integration and high touch customer service from the most highly certified and trained team possible. Clients are kept informed with monthly reports and netcentral_logo_webquarterly reviews. From our detailed invoices to our process, clients regularly report that they appreciate our level of detail and transparency when it comes to their business. Our internal performance guidelines ensure that we continue to perform at peak level to service all of your IT needs.

Our Mission
CCS is a technology partner committed to our client’s future by listening, strategizing and implementing cost effective technology solutions. We are an extension of our client’s business and are interested and committed to their long-term success. We ensure that your technology supports the vision, experience and the passion that is the basis of a thriving business.

Our Vision
We are dedicated to becoming the premier technology solutions provider in the Bay Area by following these three tenets:

• Listening to our clients and understanding their needs
• Becoming our client’s trusted advisors
• Following best practices, policies, and systems which create greater responsibility and accountability to the client and to each member of our team.

Visit: www.clarecomputer.com

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Circle of Life Applies to Technology, Too

The toaster my family used at home in the 1960′s was fundamentally the same as the toaster I use in my house today. I’m sure there are some internal improvements from the 60’s model in my modern version, but had the one from 40 years not worn out, I’d still be using it. The mechanism for making toast (applying heat from heated coils to bread then popping it up when done) hasn’t changed a bit!

The same cannot be said for Information Technology (IT).  In IT, change is so constant, and so rapid, that products become obsolete within a few years.

In 1965 (when my childhood toaster was new!), Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel, said that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. This became known as “Moore’s Law” and it still holds true. Given this fact, andITProjectMgmt the benefits of increasing computing power, it makes any computer over two years old practically a dinosaur.

Advances in software are almost as fast. Each new version of software is designed to take advantage of the most modern chipsets and hardware, so a modern office has to face the challenges of keeping its IT infrastructure up to date. In fact, it’s common for software vendors to emphatically declare older version of their products unsupportable. These announcements usually come in the form of “end of support” or even “end of life’ statements.

Does this mean the software stops working on End of Life date? No, it just means the company that wrote the software has ceased to provide support, whether in the form of user incident support, or software patches.  This is significant, and there are a couple of good reasons why.

Security

One thing maybe even Gordon Moore didn’t anticipate is the way networks communicate with each other – the internet has made almost every device a piece of a huge worldwide connected network. And the information highway that brings so many benefits also provides a path for the modern version of highway bandits. Too.  Security is a concern for everyone.

Software companies devote considerable resources to mitigating any vulnerabilities that are discovered with their products, and deliver those fixes in the form of “patches”. Some enhance the products’ feature, but many are vital to prevent cyberattacks. When a product reaches its “end of life” – no more patches are written.

Interoperability

Everything works together in a company’s IT Infrastructure. And, like any chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link. Software (or hardware) that remains in service past its useful life may cause interoperability issues with other products designed for more up to date environments. For example, if your company bought a new accounting software, but your server is running Windows NT (End of Life 12/31/2004), it can’t be expected to even run, much less provide the value it was designed to deliver.

Next up for obsolescence: Windows XP (end of life 2014) and Microsoft Server 2003 (end of support mid-2015)

It’s not practical or even advisable to cycle out every device with a transistor every two years, of course. But maintaining an IT Infrastructure that will enable a company to truly realize the power of technology requires a plan to refresh technologies in an organized manner, before they become that weak link in the network.

Clare Computer Solutions provides CIO-Level IT consulting to enable firms to keep their IT infrastructures up-to-date and running optimally year after year. Contact us today to future-proof your network!

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Disasters Strike Without Warning – Prepare Your Business Now

The recent sizable earthquake in Northern California nearly coincided with the anniversary of the historic 1989 Loma Prieta quake. It was a stark reminder of how unpredictable and unexpected a natural disaster can be. How prepared is your business to resume operations if your place of business is damaged, or access to it is cut off?

For many companies, the sum total of their disaster recovery plan is backing up their data.  This is important, but let’s look at this a little deeper.

Data Backup

Data backups are extremely important, but their value depends on several factors.  Data AND images should be backed up regularly, and backups should be stored locally (for quick recovery for very local issues) and offsite (for issues that affect the availability of the place of business). In this day and age, hand carrying backups offsite in the form of DVDs, tapes or other media is not a “best practice”.  Automatically uploading data and images to a secure facility that is outside your geographic region is much better.

Company Communications

If any sort of disaster renders your business facility unusable for any length of time, there needs to be a plan to contact company employees and, depending on the duration of the effects of the disaster, customers and suppliers.  This means the principals of the company would need up-to-date phone contact information for all the employees stored in a place that would not be affected by the loss of the facility. For larger companies, a “phone tree” arrangement could be set up where the principals can each contact a certain number of key employees, each of whom would be charged with contacting others.

Resumption of Operations

There are disasters so large in scope that quick resumption of business operations is not feasible, but an earthquake that closes a road, or a flood or fire need not prevent this. If the business is not dependent upon on-site manufacturing equipment, then employees might be able to quickly resume operations remotely.  This is where data and images backed up offsite can make a huge difference.

Updates and Drills

For a plan to be effective, the information needs to up-to-date.  How many of us have an employee list that’s missing new employees and has employees who have left the company?  There needs to be a commitment to keeping the vital Business Continuity information up-to-date AND disseminated to key personnel.  Similarly, a plan is not much good without trying it out.  In times of crisis, people tend to react to their level of training. Make sure everyone know their role in the plan, and conduct regular drills to ensure everything works!

It’s hard to pause from the day-to-day activities of a business to design and implement a Business Continuity Plan.  Clare Computer Solutions can help your company ensure that vital company data will be available in the event of a disaster.  Contact us today to get started  – earthquakes don’t give much warning!

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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!

Posted in Article, Bare Metal Restore, Business Technology, Changing Technology, Data Backup, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Support, Managed Service Provider, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Article, Business Technology, Changing Technology, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Network Services, Managed Service Provider, Network Maintenance, Tech Tips | Leave a comment