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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Rethink Your Definition of a Disaster

One of the reasons many companies use to avoid creating and implementing a workable disaster recovery plan is this:  If a terrible disaster befalls us, we won’t be going to work, and neither will our clients, so what’s the point?

Obviously, there are disasters of such magnitude that the actual fabric of society breaks down.  If people are hurting for food and shelter, and focused on hunting for lost loved ones, your business may be the last thing on your mind.

But there are a host of disasters that don’t have an apocalyptic scope.  Californians don’t worry much about severe weather as other regions in the country, and frankly earthquakes aren’t as common as outsiders might fear.  It’s easy for Californians to believe they are disaster proof.

But for a business, a “disaster” is any event which prevents the company from conducting its day-to-day business, especially if the duration of that outage exceeds even a few hours. Don’t think Armageddon – think burst pipes, seasonal flooding or even a localized fire.  These lesser disasters are much more common than the events that make the evening news, and they can destroy your business.

Business Impact Assessment a Valuable Tool

So, when considering a disaster recovery plan, make a Business Impact Assessment part of the process.  Brainstorm all the things that might be construed as a disaster by the definition in the previous paragraph, then rate each on by its likelihood and its Business Impact Assessmentimpact.  Scenarios that both low impact and low probability need not be a major part of your plan.  Scenarios that have a high probability, but low impact need some attention, as do those with high impact but low probability.  Obviously, scenarios with both high impact and high probability demand immediate attention!

By visualizing these scenarios in this context, you can formulate a sensible plan that you can afford.  Spend your money to mitigate problems that are more likely to happen and impact the business, and tailor your plan to address these scenarios.

This is just one part of a good Disaster Recovery Plan. Clare Computer Solutions has a video that show you a little more, and we would love to help your company design and institute a plan to make your company prepared for almost anything! Contact us today to get started.

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Business Continuity Involves Much More Than Technology

Technological advances have brought down the costs of storing data considerably, and this has contributed to a variety of data backup tools that have enabled many smaller enterprises to install Disaster Recovery systems that would not have been practical (or affordable) just a few years ago.

But to truly recover from a disaster, to resume business operations as quickly as possibleBusiness Continuity involves a lot more than just backed up data.  Many business are lulled into a false sense of preparedness by simply having their data backed up. Here are some things to consider to take the discussion past mere data backup.

The Logistics of Restoring from Backups

How often do you perform a test restore of backed up data?  Studies show that over 30% of companies never perform test restores!  If you’ve never practiced restoring from backups, what are the odds the process will go smoothly when you really need it to work, fast?

Another consideration is, data is not very useful without the applications that use it. For this reason, you should be backing up images and well as data, so you could, after a disaster, re-create your companies servers on new machines (or in the cloud) and use that backed up date to resume business operations quickly.

Don’t Overlook the Human Aspect

A workable Business Continuity Plan will take into account the logistics of alerting employees, suppliers and customers after a disaster.  Your employees will want to know if they can come to work, or work remotely, or even if you’re still in business.  Your suppliers and customers will want to be reassured that you’re working to resume business as usual as soon as possible.

Talk through the process of how you could perform these communications if your office suddenly became unavailable. Think about where you could store the phone numbers you’ll need, and assign responsibilities for who’s calling whom.  It’s a truism that in a crisis, people revert to their training – everyone should know what to do.

Make sure more than one person knows how to restore your business systems – don’t assume your IT staff will be available!

Pay Attention to Documentation, Updates and Testing

Rule of thumb: If you have to blow the dust off your Business Continuity Plan binder to use it, you haven’t updated it often enough! Considering the failure rate for businesses following a disaster, your business deserves your full attention in devising, implementing and maintaining your company’s Business Continuity Plan.  As you can see, for it to be of any use, it needs to encompass all your business processes, be documented, and subjected to regular testing and updating.

It can be difficult for busy firms to find the time to tackle this. But Clare Computer Solutions can help you with this endeavor.  Contact us today to get started!

Attend our event “Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity – Tactics and Technologies” on March 26th in Walnut Creek.  Register now – seats are limited!

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Software Choices: Buy, Subscribe or Cloud?

With the advent of cloud computing, there’s been a shift in how software is sold. In the “old days”, software was purchased outright, as a license. The license gave the purchaser Software choicesthe right to install the software and use it – usually into perpetuity.  The support that came as part of the license usually included patches, but generally not upgrade rights.

Generally the license allowed for the software to be loaded onto a certain number of machines, and upgrades were chargeable.

So, for companies using the software, the costs included the platform, the license, and upgrades as time went by.  If the company decided not to upgrade the software, they would not incur those costs; they could continue using their original version.

Software companies, some years ago, began offering software sold as a subscription.  Instead of one up-front cost for the licenses, it was a monthly cost. Generally, the subscription includes upgrades, but the use rights only persist as long as the monthly subscription is being paid. In this scenario, the costs would be the platform, and cumulative monthly cost of the subscription(s).

More recently, a third model was introduced – subscription to access to the software from the cloud.  In this model, the monthly subscription entitled the users to access from almost any web-enabled device. The software is always up-to-date, because it’s running on a server maintained by the vendor.  In this scenario, the only costs are the monthly fees. It’s important when considering this option, however, to verify the web version of the application has all the features of the installed version.

How Do You Choose the Best Option?

So which is best?  As with all things technical, the answer is: it depends.

If your company typically doesn’t consider software updates important, and is content to use the application as is for more than 4 years at a stretch, purchasing the software and installing it on your own server probably has the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO).

If updates are important – if you prefer to keep your applications at their latest revisions, then the subscription model may be a better deal for you, from a TCO standpoint. Or, if you don’t plan on using an application more than a year or so, the subscription model may make more sense, since you won’t be have time to spread the cost of installed software over a longer period of time.

If the features you need in the application are present in the online version, then that may be the way to go.

Calculate Your TCO to be Sure

It’s not difficult to compare the relative TCO for each option. Factor in the obvious – the cost of the software, whether purchases or as a subscription – over a period of time, like 3 or 4 years.  Factor in the less obvious: cost of the platform, cost for support, and cost for training.  Your company’s cash flow situation should be a factor too.  Sometimes, the option that actually costs a little more over a 4 year span could be more desirable if the upfront costs for a server and software is an issue.

The good news is, it’s great that you have these choices.  Every company utilizes their technology in different ways, and we are fortunate to be in a time where there is so much flexibility in how we apply these technologies.

An IT consulting firm, like Clare Computer Solutions, can help you evaluate your choices, and then once you’ve made a choice, implement, and maintain the tools you choose. Contact us today to get started!

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What is the “Modern Office”?

The revolutionary advances in the communications and technology are transforming our notion of what an office is. An “office” used to mean a stationary, physical location with Modern Officespecific areas for employees to do their jobs. Every work area had a computer and a phone, and for the company to flourish, employees had to come to work every day, and perform their tasks at their particular workspaces.

Even communications to company’s external contacts (clients, prospects and suppliers) emanated necessarily from the central office location. Calls came in to a receptionist and were re-directed to the appropriate parties. Similarly, faxes were sent out and received by the office fax machine.

Technology was not very well integrated. Voice communications had an infrastructure, as did data communications, and the fax line was also a separate technology.

An Office Without Walls
But over the last couple of decades, things changed completely. Email meant every employee had his or her own line of written communication with everyone – whether they were fellow employees or external contacts (including friends and family!). Data and voice communications began to converge onto the same network, and the advent of mobile computing transformed the notion of brick-and-mortar offices inside which all commerce could take place.

The planning, implementation and maintenance of the modern office’s technology infrastructure can be a daunting task, and in many cases, companies are hesitant to embrace some technologies that could provide very tangible benefits in terms of cost savings and increased productivity.

It doesn’t need to be that way. The technology is readily affordable, even for smaller enterprises, as is the expertise to adopt the new tools into the business processes. Clare Computer Solutions can show you some of the ways your business can enjoy the benefits of a truly “modern office”. Contact us today to get started!

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