Fast and Reliable Internet Access Vital for Cloud Services

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

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

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

Bandwidth

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

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

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

Redundancy

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

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

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

Private Circuits

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

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

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How a CIO Benefits Your Company (and Why You Can Afford It)

Most companies, once they reach a threshold of a dozen employees or so, will require an Information Technology (IT) infrastructure to facilitate the handling of information, and communication within the company, and with the company’s customers and suppliers.

To remain running at optimal levels, and to keep up with the rapid pace of change in technology, this IT infrastructure needs to be managed.  For many companies, this simply CIO Rentalmeans having someone on staff (or a service provider on call) to provide user support and make repairs and updates to the network as the need arises.

As the company grows however, its dependence on the IT infrastructure grows and so does the cost to the business for every minute the technology isn’t working right.

Integrating Technology Into the Business Plan

At some point, a company’s technology needs to be part of the strategic business plan.  A company will have growth goals for the next year, or 3 years, or 5.  If a company grows, its IT infrastructure needs to grow to meet the anticipated needs of what the company will become if it meets its goals.

It’s impossible to know exactly what technology will be available years in advance, so short term planning for technology needs to be done with an eye towards a refresh cycle and expandability.   There needs to be cogent plan for disaster recovery, business continuity and training to ensure the business runs smoothly even as it grows.

In addition, the company will need to translate these plans into a budget for implementing technology in phases along the way.  The implementations will need to take place with a minimum of disruption to the company’s day-to-day operations.

Clearly, this management skill set is outside the capabilities and experience of many in-house IT staffs who were hired to support the network on an ad hoc basis.  This is where a CIO is needed, to provide a vital strategic link between the company’s management and the IT Department (be it large or small).

CIOs Can Be Rented, Rather Than Hired

Large enterprises will have a CIO as part of their management team.  Smaller enterprises may find it tough to justify the expense for a full time CIO on staff, but they can benefit from the skills a CIO brings.  The answer is to partner with an IT consulting firm that can offer CIO-Level services as part of their support contract.

This is a much deeper partnership than a “break-fix” arrangement and provides much greater value.  Having a CIO gives peace of mind and brings expertise to your organization to help with future planning.  Does your current IT service provider provide these services?  Clare Computer SolutionsNetCentral combines CIO-level services with comprehensive IT infrastructure support.

Learn more about Clare Computer’s “Virtual CIO” services.

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Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity — 4 Steps to a Plan

Business ContinuityQuick — what’s your plan if your place of business got flooded over the weekend?  Is your data safe?   How will you alert your employees, suppliers and customers?  How quickly can you resume business?  About 70% of businesses cannot answer these questions.

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes.  On the largest scale, a disaster might be so serious that even the thought of doing business is not practical for some time.  But smaller scale disasters, such and floods and fires can destroy your place of business without affecting the communication and travel infrastructure in your region.  It is wise to consider these scenarios – and not let them kill your business.

Here are four steps you can take to create, implement and maintain a plan to get your business back up and running as quickly as possible after a disaster:

Assess Your Current Readiness and Your Needs

Do some brainstorming – identify, specifically, what your critical business processes are and what can be done to make them disaster-tolerant.  Next, brainstorm the things that could go wrong, and make a determination for each one how likely it is, and the level of impact it would have on your business. 

Plan for Each Critical Scenario

More brainstorming – for each scenario with a high impact and a reasonable probability, how could the business be prepared to recover from each scenario?  The answer may be technical or procedural, or both.

Determine the Recovery Point Objective (RPO: The point in time to which systems and data must be restored after an outage) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO: The period of time in which systems, applications or Information Technology functions must be recovered after an outage.  Costs tend to climb as RTO and RPO numbers go down, so your company’s needs must be balanced with its financial resources.

Partner to Get the Necessary Capabilities in Place

The systems or procedures necessary to ensure your business processes may involve technologies or capabilities your company doesn’t currently have. Third-party providers can help with this – from planning expertise, data center services, hot site rental to data and image backup schemes, the knowledge you’ll need is available, and usually, at a cost much lower than hiring the same expertise.

Prepare to Put the Plan in Action

Two things that will render all the brainstorming and planning moot: Failure to drill, and failure to update. This Business Continuity plan will not be helpful unless it is tested by regular drills, and updated, at least once a year. No business is static – technologies change, and personnel change.  Any plan that depends upon specific personnel or technologies will become obsolete if either changes.  Consider Business Continuity planning a process – not a project.

Modern technologies exist that enable small-to-medium size businesses to have affordable Disaster Recover and Business Continuity capabilities that used to be available only to large enterprises. Clare Computer Solutions can help your business take advantage of this, and it can make a huge difference in your business.

Watch this video for some helpful ideas!

Download a datasheet on this subject.

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The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Trend: Should End Users Drive Tech Choices?

Few could argues with the convenience of being able to access data and communications from so many places in the modern world.  This revolution, which began with laptops, then spread to smart phone and tablets, means people can communication and work where they want, when they want and how they want.Bring Your Own Device

This is a good thing, right?

This brief piece will not go into whether or not this revolution in mobile computing is good for society.  When technology allows more people to work with ease, on devices they are comfortable with, it needs to be considered generally positive.

Never before, however, have end-users driven the demand on the devices they use to access company technology assets.  How did this happen?

History of the BYOD Revolution

Prior to the advent of mobile computing, access to a company network would be through a device specified and set up by the company’s IT staff.  This was necessary for two reasons:
1) The user usually didn’t know how to choose and/or  configure the device
2) The company could better control security when it only had to support a limited number of devices, configurations and operating systems.

The BYOD revolution threw that first consideration right out the window.  Devices became very user friendly, and it seemed that anyone with even a minor aptitude for tech could configure a laptop, smart phone or tablet to access a network.

The second consideration, Security, got left by the wayside in the rush!

IT Departments everywhere came under pressure to help company employees access the company network by a wide variety of devices, running a number of different operating systems (of varying release levels) with a seemingly infinite set of possible configurations, and still keep the network safe.

On top of that, every user expects support for their devices if they need troubleshooting.

You see how quickly things can get out of control?

Your Company Needs a BYOD Policy

It’s time to close the gates – if only a little.  The possible production benefits of employees working anytime, from anywhere, on any device, will negated if the company’s network is threatened, or if support costs get out of control.

Here are a few things to consider:
• Define a list of allowable access devices
• Define a required configuration
• Require the device and configuration to be OKd by the IT Department before it can access company data
• Institute “remote wipe” capability on mobile devices in case of loss
• Train users to keep personal data separate than company data (very, very little company data should be on the device

If it sounds draconian, it’s not.  If an employee doesn’t like the restrictions, they can choose NOT to bring their own device.

There is much that goes into a well-formed BYOD policy, and some are stricter than others.  This BYOD Whitepaper has some good information on how to create a BYOD policy to fit your company’s needs.  Clare Computer Solutions can help you devise, implement and enforce that policy.

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Complete Your Company’s IT Support with Expert Help

A business doesn’t have to be very big to require technological tools to operate. Communication, business processes, the sales process, billing, the supply chain – all of these aspects of business can benefit from technology tools.

A business doesn’t have to be very big to require some help in keeping those technological tools working, either.  In a very small office, this type of information technology support may be ad hoc – pay for it when it’s necessary.

As a business grows, however, the importance of keeping things running smoothly will make some sort of ongoing arrangement for IT support necessary.  This may be a person Fast response in crucialon the staff, or a third party IT services provider. Often, it’s a combination of the two.

There are some very compelling reasons to bring outside expertise into the arrangement.  Here are a few:

Depth and Breadth of Expertise

Typically, in-house IT personnel are hired for the skills to handle the everyday “care and feeding” of the IT infrastructure. It’s hard to justify the cost of a level of expertise that the business may only need a few times a year.

Even with the mundane tasks, an IT provider with a decent size staff will be able to bring the combined knowledge and experience to bear when solving a problem. In other words, as a group, those network engineers will have encountered a much larger range of issues and have the experience to solve them quickly.

Depth of Coverage

In-house IT personnel, like any employees, are entitled to vacation and subject to the occasional illness.  The network does not care whether IT support personnel are available or not, and neither do the network users.  Time, and business, marches on, and a third party IT services provider will have enough staff to ensure someone will always be available when the need arises.

Organizational and Operational Experience

The larger staff of an IT services provider will have seen, and serviced, a large variety of environments, with a large and varied combination of technologies.  This means they will often be able to spot certain troublesome areas before they actually cause problems.

This is especially helpful in IT deployment projects. These type of projects often include technologies from multiple vendors, and require a very organized approach to installing new technologies into a busy working environment.  It takes a considerable amount of experience to orchestrate a technology deployment with minimal (or no) disruption to the business.

IT service providers don’t exist to replace a company’s in-house IT staff. Their value is in augmenting that staff’s skills to ensure the company’s IT tools are always available, and keep the business running.

Clare Computer Solutions has been helping companies realize the power of technology for almost 25 years, handling a wide variety of technologies, projects and tasks.  Call us first, to get it done right.

More information.

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To Manage Your Business, Manage Your Business Technology

Perhaps there was a time when the technological tools used to run a business could be treated like furniture: buy it, use it, get it fixed when it breaks.

Technology today pervades nearly every aspect of a business.  Information is gathered, stored, sliced and diced at an astonishing rate, and companies that manage that process well, will thrive, while those that don’t will falter.  The complex interactivity among the various technology tools a business uses makes the entire information technology (IT) Save Money on TechInfrastructure like a set of dominoes – if one aspect fails, it affects every part of the whole.

Many business owners are still having a hard time understanding this.  They view the cost of technology as a cycle of purchase, repair and replacement.  Their technology partner of choice is one who can procure the technology and repair it when it breaks.

This paradigm has some problems.

Breaking the “Breakfix” Cycle

First of all, a company that sells and repairs technology isn’t necessarily a partner – in fact, the technology company actually does better the more often the client’s technology fails.  Clearly, there are different goals on the part of the client and the technology company – hardly what could be termed a partnership!

The second issue with the “wait till it breaks” method is it fails to account for the costs of lost productivity, which is considerable.  Technology that is a vital part of business must be managed better than this.

Management is, indeed the key.  The newer IT Support paradigm is termed “managed services” and it aligns the goals of the technology user with the technology provider.  Instead of paying for IT Support when things break, a Managed Service Provider (MSP) charges to ensure that a client’s IT infrastructure is always working within agreed-upon Service Levels.

Better Management Saves Money

Does this mean a company’s annual IT spend will go down with Managed Services?  Not necessarily – it might actually go up a little.  But if paying a little more to ensure the company’s IT tools are always available, overall the company should save money with this arrangement.

Consider this: Most experts peg the cost of network downtime at around $10,000 per hour.  If an MSP can reduce your network downtime by just an hour a month, your company could save a lot of money.

Proper network management has other benefits as well.  Since the MSP is sharing the risk of keeping the network running, they will typically install processes to monitor the key network elements around the clock and seek to mitigate trouble spots before they cause downtime.  Since up-to-date technology usually has fewer problems, an MSP can help your company budget for an orderly refresh of aging technology, and that would include both hardware and software.

Companies that understand the value of their investment in technology, and manage it accordingly will always have a leg up in their marketplace.  An experienced Managed Service Provider like Clare Computer Solutions will help these companies realize the true power of technology.

More information

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Virtualization — Go Green and Save Some Green

This second decade of the millennium has seen some very important technologies come to widespread adoption for businesses.  One of these technologies is virtualization.  Is your company taking advantage of it?

An Old Idea Is New Again

Strictly speaking, virtualization is not new – it was a common practice in mainframes to create virtual machines in the same host to enable segmented logical environments with Virtualization-Saves-Time-and-Money-for-Businessesseparate operating systems, RAM and storage.  When owning servers became practical for medium-to-small enterprises, the practice was largely abandoned on that platform, and “server farms” became common in businesses.

But as these “farms” grew, so did the demands on a facilities power, space and air conditioning.  Moreover, many software companies required dedicated servers, and there tended to be a lot of underutilization of these machines.

The time to revisit virtualization had come!   This new-again technology offers a number of benefits:

Reduce Server Sprawl

Virtualization allows several machines to be consolidated onto one host server.  Each VM (virtual machine) is just like a physical server – it has its own operating system, software, RAM, CPU capabilities, network interface and storage.  Fewer physical machines means fewer wires, less noise and heat, and less demands on your office’s space.

Easier Management and Deployment

It takes a very short time to “spin up” a new virtual server on the host machine.  In addition, the virtualization software will provide a management console to administer all the virtual machines from a single interface.  The ease of deployment also lends itself to rapid recovery if a VM crashes – often, a replacement can be created from the latest image backup very quickly.

Lower Costs

Sure, the main physical server will need to be robust enough to handle all the anticipated VMs, but it’s still going to cost than purchasing a number of separate boxes.  In addition, the demands on power, space and air conditioning will be less – this is an immediate, and ongoing costs savings with virtualization.

Not every environment can be virtualized – but most can.  Clare Computer Solutions has seen steadily increasing demand for virtualization, and has helped hundreds of companies implement this solution.  They can help you too – contact us to get the conversation started!

More information about Virtualization

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Content Filtering — Big Brother or Smart Business?

There can be little doubt on the liberating effect on workers and businesses of widespread internet access.  Having ready access (from a variety of devices) to a wealth of information and easy communication has transformed society and business.

Just think: 20 or so years ago, the internet was like some sort of futuristic fantasy, and now it seems like a birthright – a constant reminder of our notion of Free Speech.  If it Content Filteringseems hard to imagine living in a home without some form of internet access, it’s even harder to imagine a modern business not being connected. But with any transformational technology, there are good and bad aspects.

Here are three areas where unfettered internet access could have a deleterious effect on your business:

Bandwidth

Your business-grade internet connection can seem like an old modem connection if too many demands are placed on your available bandwidth.  Any business should aim for enough bandwidth to handle the businesses’ anticipated needs with regards to web access (for business!), email, phones (if using VoIP), file transfers (for business!) and data backup.  But what if the employees at your company are also listening to streaming music, watching streaming videos or downloading large media files for personal use?  That drives your network performance down, and your costs up – does this make good business sense?

Malware/CyberCrime

Most modern businesses take steps to catch viruses attached to emails, and prevent hacking from the outside of the network inwards.  Now, many modern cybercriminals turned to enlisting the help of your employees, usually without their knowledge.  Many seemingly benign websites have malware within their site’s code which can infect users’ machines and be very difficult to eradicate.  In addition, phishing attempts exploit users and trick them into following bogus links to infected sites or open innocent-looking email attachments.

Time Theft

How many of us have casually looked for something on the internet, which led to something else which led to something else (and so on), and suddenly, two hours have gone by?  Multiply that by the total number of employees at your company, and the potential loss of productivity is enormous.

Given these facts, it’s not inappropriate to protect your company’s investment in personnel and technology by taking control of the use of your company’s internet connection.  There are a number of solutions to choose from, and many are very sophisticated – allowing controls on internet usage based upon each employee’s legitimate needs, and even the time of day.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped quite a few companies take back control of their corporate internet connection, and save thousands of dollars in the process.  Contact us today to see how we can help your company!

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Full Disclosure is Vital for Technology Support

As an IT Services firm, we routinely meet with prospective clients who do not have access Integrate Your IT Staff with Your IT Provider'sto credentials to get into their network systems.   If they are speaking to us because the relationship with the prior IT staff or 3rd party IT provider has deteriorated, it can create a truly untenable situation.   Here are some tips for preventing this from happening.

Management must insist on being in the loop

The whole purpose of hiring someone or a firm to manage the company’s technology is to avoid diversion of focus from the core company business.  However, the company’s IT infrastructure is a vital part of the core company business, so there needs to be regular and open communication between the company’s Management and whoever is in charge of the technology.

Also, regular communications with the IT personnel can provide some warning if the relationship is becoming strained.

Build transparency into the business processes

There needs to be a process built into the relationship where the top-level executives at a company have access to credentials to access the company’s IT infrastructure.  This is basic disaster recovery thinking – important things must be securely stored where management can access them in case of emergency.

Make communication a clear requirement when hiring

Whether your company hires in-house staff for IT support, or outsources it to a third party provider, it is essential to ensure that management has access to the “keys” to your infrastructure.  If your prospective employee or IT Services Provider shows any hesitate, they are not a good choice.

Nothing is foolproof, of course.  Anyone that has administrative level access to a network could wreak havoc if they were determined to do so.  For this reason, it is often a good choice to have a professional IT Services firm handle these tasks – they will have experience in hiring and training IT personnel, and have systems in place to ensure that you’ll never be locked out of your network.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped many companies transition away from IT personnel (in house, or third party) who have become uncooperative.  However, it’s a lot easier to prevent that from happening than dealing with it.

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CFO as Risk Manager

The CFO is being tasked more and more each day with new responsibilities around financial stability, often stretching their functions beyond the traditional CFO’s role even five years ago.

At larger enterprises, corporate risk managers, charged with buying insurance, may report to CFOs, who manage the company’s risks from a more strategic perspective. The distance between the finance chief and the risk manager tends grow narrower with smaller consultingcompanies, and increasingly, the CFO may actually be expected to take on risk management.

With the changing nature of regulation, and the decreasing difference between disaster planning and crisis management, being the CFO as well as the risk manager may not be a contradiction in terms.

One way to look at risk management is that any time a situation comes up, whether it’s a disaster or a crisis, either ends up in losses – physical, personal or financial. The distinction is that a disaster is a single event, like an earthquake, flood or cyclone. A crisis is a situation which has happened and which is now out of control. So disasters are all about recovery; a crisis is all about management.

CFOs hate variation, and risk management is all about reducing variation. The two elements of expected losses are: how likely is it that an event will happen and what will be the actual loss when it happens. Those are things a CFO is always worried about. That’s the risk they’re trying to minimize.

But the addition of Risk Management responsibilities doesn’t always mean a CFO has the skill set to be effective in that role. In a case like this, it can be a wise move to outsource some of the actual risk-management practices to a third party firm with expertise in the area. Risks associated with Human Resources are often outsourced to firms that specialize in this area.

In Information Technology (IT), some consulting firms have the experience and skills necessary to design, implement and maintain a Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity plan for a firm’s technology assets.

Clare Computer Solutions works with companies to help them reduce the risks of losses from disasters – big and small.  Contact us now to get a free 5 point Disaster Recovery readiness assessment.

(CFO Magazine has a great article on this  – read it here)

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