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

Cloud computing holds great promises for the future of Information Technology (IT) and Cloud Computingit 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 cloud – contact us today to get started!

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Why Your Business Needs to Be Integrated With Your Technology

In the space of a single generation, technology has transformed the way companies do Strategic IT Planningbusiness.  Technology has revolutionized processes and communications.  Information is gathered, shared, stored and analyzed at ever accelerating rates. So, why do so many companies have a functional disconnect between the management and Information Technology sides of the house?

Technology has ingrained itself into every facet of business operations. Yet, many companies do not directly involve their IT departments in their strategic business planning.  Many IT decisions are made solely on immediate need, rather than as part of a strategic technical plan, designed to optimize the company’s technological tools.

Large enterprises have known the importance of IT’s strategic involvement for years, and they have C-level executives such as Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) or Chief Information Officers (CIOs).  These executives provide expert input during business planning, and their input helps ensure that there is a technical roadmap to complement the strategic roadmap.  This way, the company’s technology can keep pace with the anticipated changes in the company.

The thing is, only large enterprises can justify the costs of a full-time IT executive.  Small and medium size businesses often don’t involve their IT personnel in strategic discussions because they weren’t hired with that skillset.  But these same companies can certainly benefit from CIO or CTO level input.  How can they close the gap and get those benefits?

The answer is, engage the services of a Managed Services Provider (MSP).  This type of IT service company is set up to augment your existing IT staff on technical issues, as well as IT projects, such as migrations, upgrades and implementations. They also can provide the strategic link between the company’s management and the IT department.  They can help implement ongoing processes to perfectly integrate your company’s technology with your business processes and strategic plans.

With this level of integration, you’ll spend less time replacing technology that has quit working – aging technology is cycled out before it fails, and prior planning ensures that the budget was already in place.  Decisions regarding IT purchases (hardware, software and services) are made as part of a cogent plan, and not just to “put out fires”. The result is, an IT infrastructure that is much more reliable, and consistently up-to-date, which means lower operating costs, and better profits.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped hundreds of companies better integrate their technology with their business processes, and we can help yours, too.  Contact us today to get started!

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Microsoft Server 2003 End of Support – Opportunity for Transformation

In July 2010, Microsoft transitioned from providing mainstream support for Server 2003 End of SupportWindows Server 2003 to releasing critical patches only.  July 14, 2015 marks another transition, this time the end of Microsoft support for Windows Server 2003/R2. How does this affect your business?

End-of-Support does not mean the software will not stop working but it does mean:

- No updates or patches will be released for this product after the End-of-Life deadline. This means no bug fixes, and no security updates. Server software is too important to be left vulnerable to the constantly evolving cyber-threat landscape.

- No compliance with standards and regulations. Whether or not you are comfortable taking on the risk of using unsupported software, your industry may have standards and regulations that will expose your business to dire consequences for being out of compliance.

- Your business is missing out on all the improvements that have been made in subsequent Microsoft Server versions.  This is not insignificant. How can you expect your business to thrive and grow if your IT Infrastructure is dependent upon an operating system that is over a decade old?

Yes, the years have flown by since 2003, but now is the time to act and migrate your systems to the latest versions.  Don’t think of this as a chore – instead, it is a chance to materially improve your business IT infrastructure and “future-proof” it for years to come.

Clare Computer Solutions can help you in the process. We can help assess the applications and workloads that are running on your current servers and help you make the right choices about priorities and urgency.

Then, we can determine the best target environment for the migration – keeping in mind options in virtualization and cloud services.

Finally, we can perform the migration, quickly, and with an absolute minimum of disruption to your normal business operations. You’ll look back on 2015 as the year your business truly realized the power of technology!

Contact us today to get started. Time is, literally, running out.

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2015 Cloud Decisions for Business Owners: What and When

Yes, adoption of cloud computing is still growing very rapidly. But the notion that everything is moving to the cloud doesn’t appear to be very likely – not in the immediate future, and maybe not ever. The fact is, some things work very well in the cloudcloud, and others things do not, at least not yet. Hybrid (a mixture on in-cloud and on-premises) IT infrastructures are fast becoming the norm for businesses.

Many businesses are finding that cloud-based email and data backup/disaster recovery suits their needs very well.  More and more software vendors are trying to move from an on-premises purchased software model to a cloud-based subscription model.  These are areas where cloud adoption is especially rapid.

When it comes to more customized line-of-business applications, or complex databases, adoption is a little more complicated, and companies are evaluating what the cost-to-benefit ratio would be in such a move.

Still other businesses deal in a realm where very large amounts of data need to be accessed very quickly, and many of the applications they use don’t lend themselves well to a thin-client access model. Technology and bandwidth keeps evolving, but pure physics means that the distance between the data and the users will affect latency, and may prevent a satisfactory user experience from the cloud.

It is important for any business to take advantage of new technologies that can add efficiencies, increase productivity or reduce costs, and in some areas, for many businesses, cloud computing can deliver on those promises.  But the secret to knowing exactly what to migrate to the cloud and when takes some analysis.

With regards to the “when”, one of the main drivers to migrating processes to the cloud is the aging out of current on-premises physical infrastructure.  As servers age, for example, some decision has to be on how to replace them.  The answer could be on-premises consolidation through virtualization, or some of the work could be moved to the cloud, whether as Software-As-A Service (SaaS) or Infrastructure-As-A-Service (IaaS).

Important decisions like this need to be made with appropriate due diligence, of course, and an IT Consulting firm like Clare Computer Solutions can help apply technical know-how  and experience to your real-world business situation, and then help with the design and implementation of the resulting hybridized network. The end result will be an IT Infrastructure that suits your business needs now, but will be readily scalable as you grow and new technologies emerge.

On February 19th, 2015, Clare Computer Solutions will be hosting an Executive Breakfast event on this subject, in Oakland, CA.  Register to attend here.

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Balance Accessibility of Data with Security

The recent hacking incident at Sony underscores a very important point: modern technology makes access to data easy, from anywhere, but that convenience must be balanced with a commitment to data security as well.  Sony said they estimated that 90% of businesses are vulnerable to hacking. What can be done?

On one level, it may be seem to be a losing game. Hackers are always updating their tactics and tools, so it’s a constant battle to keep up, and getting ahead of the cybercriminals is even more difficult. And if a mega –corporation like Sony can be hacked, what chance does your company have?

If you can’t totally and permanently eliminate the risk, you can mitigate it, and here are some things you can do:

Have regular perimeter scans

Hackers have tools that probe the edges of networks for vulnerabilities, but you have access to similar tools, so it is wise to conduct regular probes of your network’s vulnerability to attack from the outside. We recommend at least annual scans for networks that are fairly static and more often for networks that are growing and changing. In addition, the network should be scanned any time an edge device is changed or updated.

Multi-Factor Authentication

This is the digital equivalent of a castle with a moat in front of the tall walls. If one layer is breached, the next layer will keep out (or slow down) the attacker. There are a number of tools to do this, and some companies go with even three factors. For instance to access network access, a person would their login and password (something they knew), but also do a fingerprint scan (who they are) and have a USB token (something they have).  Some lines of business have legislative security requirements that compel them to adopt this type of security.

Security Policy and Corporate Culture

Many hackers gain access not through sophisticated technical tools, but by simply exploiting unwitting users’ naiveté of good data security practices. A good security policy can spell out the expectations (in writing) for all employees, and also define the procedures for regular scans and updates to ensure the technological tools being used are always up-to-date.

To be effective, everyone has to buy into the corporate culture of data securityInternal Threats – from the top on down.  Moreover, a policy of continuing education and effective training for new employees is important to help keep this security culture in everyone’s minds.

Did Sony, as big as they are, forget to do these simple things? We don’t know – it’s possible that the hackers exploited a vulnerability before they had a chance to deploy tools against it, but common sense says that any company that takes data security as seriously as data accessibility can reduce the risks of being hacked.

Clare Computer Solutions has been helping clients address both data accessibility and data security concerns for over two decades – we can help your company, too! Contact us today to get started.

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Manage Your Risk – Know Where Your Data Is

In Florida, a healthcare provider was recently charged with a lawsuit in light of a data breach. The results of their case mandated these specific precautions:

1. Security awareness and training programs for all employees
2. Training on laptop use and security
3. Additional security, including GPS tracking, on all laptops
4. New password rules, and full disk encryption on all equipment
5. Physical security upgrades at all offices
6. Updated written security policies and procedures

But wait! Aren’t these the security measures all organizations with sensitive personal data need to take in the first place? It’s 2014 and security breaches are everywhere. But do you know where your data is?Network Security

Where are the big gaps?

With hackers moving at the speed of light, “gaps” can be anywhere.
• Employee data – personal, financial and health
• Customer credit card data that is kept for “convenience”
• Passwords may be weak and vulnerable
• Shared data – perhaps with a consultant, or an outside marketing or IT service firm
• Confidentiality promises in contracts with clients
• Road warriors using public Wi-Fi – with personal devices
• Archived data, often forgotten, in the bowels of your computers

More than 50% of small and mid-sized U.S. businesses have had at least one data breach. Hackers want confidential data they can sell and they know how to get it.

What to do?

• Well, let’s start with the six steps listed above. Training employees is no. 1: what is personal information, how to recognize phishing emails – even from friends – and how to keep personal and business email separate.
• Security software – and hardware, like firewall devices – must be continually updated.
• Passwords are a classic weak link – insist on new ones every 90 days. (If you have too many, use a password manager program.)
• Lock up all servers, encrypt all data, prevent USB downloads when no one is looking, and explain to employees why these steps are needed.
• Update Data retention/destruction policies and get rid of obsolete, potentially dangerous, data and files.

Clare Computer Solutions is an experienced IT Consulting firm that can help your company control and protect its valuable data.

This is a “guest post” written by Charles Wilson at RiskSmart Solutions, which provides Risk and Insurance Management Services.

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Section 179 Deduction Can Help Your Business Purchase Hardware/Software Before the End of 2014

Section 179There are government incentives for the purchase of capital equipment such as hardware and software before the end of 2014. Please visit the Section 179 Website and consult with your tax specialist prior to purchase.

The Section 179 Deduction has just been announced for 2014 and the current deduction limit is $25,000 plus an adjustment for inflation. This means businesses can deduct the full cost of qualifying equipment from their 2014 taxes, up to $25,000. The equipment must be purchased and put into use by midnight, 12/31/2014.

Clare Computer Solutions can assist you with a recommended implementation plan for upgrading your equipment, infrastructure and software applications. We are here to help you and help you save money.

Contact us or call 800 339 0690 ext 148 for a FREE 2015 IT budget consultation about what your specific company may require and then refer to the Section 179 website for more information about available incentives for your business: http://www.section179.org.

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Today’s CEOs Seek Agility in Business

Due to a number of factors, things move faster than ever in the modern business climate. Every day seems to bring some new wrinkle, or some new innovation that briefly brings a competitive advantage to a company or industry, and everyone has to scramble to catch up.  How can a business position itself to be an innovator, or agile enough to close the gap quickly when innovation in the industry changes the landscape?Strategic Thinking

Here are three things to consider that can enable a business to become more nimble.

Focus on Business Intelligence

Identify the key performance indicators on the business and track them constantly. Compare the results against known industry standards regularly and empower someone in the organization to address problem areas.

Use technological tools to ease in the gathering, presentation and interpretation of the performance data and build that process into the business DNA. There will be times when the analysis of the date doesn’t call for any urgent action, but when something is awry, it will be discovered sooner rather than later.

Build an Agile Business infrastructure

Inelegant IT infrastructures and inefficient communication within an organization are roadblocks to achieving agility.

Modern business communication takes multiple forms – phone, instant messenger (IM), email – and different users have preferences. Use technological tools to make it easier for everyone to communicate in the ways they prefer, and other tools to organize ongoing discussions and projects.

Virtualization and cloud computing provide a great way to add agility to the IT infrastructure side of things. With these technologies, new servers can be added quickly and easily, and provide a way to recover more quickly if key elements of the infrastructure fail.

Continuous Evaluation and Improvement

If business moves fast, technology moves even faster. An agile business is always staying informed on emerging technologies, and having discussions to determine which will provide benefits and when they should be adopted to realize those benefits. By making this a constant background practice, decisions can be made quickly from fresh, current data.

Tweaking a corporate culture, and implementing the systems required for Business Intelligence can be a challenge, and often required skills that aren’t already in the organization. Clare Computer Solutions can help your company evaluate what will need to be done to position your company for quick action, and provide the agility to grow your business!

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Cloud Services Present Interesting Choices for Businesses in 2015

Cloud DecisionsIt wasn’t that long ago when “cloud computing” seemed like a futurist’s dream, but now it’s a reality.  Has it fulfilled its promise of great reduced costs and increased business agility?  The answer is: “Yes, no, and sometimes”.

When cloud computing is a good fit, it works very, very well, and for this reason, it looks like the future will continue to develop cloud-based technologies.  Two things the cloud does really well, and has led to wide spread adoption, are data backup and email.

With regards to data backup, it’s been a common practice in businesses of nearly any size to back up important data, and at some point remove those backups from the main premises.  It just makes sense – any disaster that might harm the place of business would likely harm the backups and negate their value in business continuity. Hand carrying backups on media (tapes, CDs, DVDs) got the data away from the premises, but exposed it to other perils (electromagnetic damage, theft, etc), so uploading data backups to a data center in the cloud is a really convenient solution, and often, is the first foray into the cloud for many companies.

With email, many companies’ needs are fairly modest, but they found out long ago that “popping” mail from their ISP as not a good solution. So, they purchased and maintained an email server, and it became part of the on-premises network infrastructure.  When hosted email services became available, many companies jumped at the chance to discontinue having email served from on-premises equipment.

Even with data backups and hosted email, however, companies soon learned that some thought has to go into the move to cloud computing.  It’s not nearly enough to look at monthly service rates and pull the trigger.  Here are some things every company must consider when evaluating cloud services for their business:

Bandwidth and redundancy for Cloud access

“Cloud” usually means Internet access, but not always – there may be private connections to cloud resources that don’t involve the internet per se. Regardless,  care must be taken to ensure there is adequate bandwidth to use applications through the cloud, and steps should be taken to provide an alternate connection if the primary connection fails for any reason.

Migration Costs

Some businesses were “born in the cloud” – their IT infrastructure was cloud-based from the beginning.  But if a company is going to migrate services to the cloud, there will be costs for setting up the cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and for the project of migrating data and processes to the cloud.  There will likely be some consulting costs as well, to map out the transition and choose the appropriate services for the business.

Return on the Investment

The notion of ditching capital expenditures and paying nominal operating expense fees every month is part of the allure of cloud computing.  But remember to factor in the costs of migration and the expected fees as your company grows – when, exactly, will you start saving money? And is there a tipping point there you might stop saving money in the future?

Like any technological innovation, cloud computing has the potential for very real benefits. And like any technological innovation, it has specific applications in the real world.   It’s definitely worth investigating – and an IT Consulting firm like Clare Computer Solutions can help your company navigate the choices.

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Preventive Maintenance Works for the Legal Profession, Too

This is a guest column from Terrence Church of the Walnut Creek Law Firm Brown, Church and Gee. We’re featuring this article because it really illustrates the point that it’s better to prevent problems than fix them - a notion Clare Computer Solutions has long espoused.

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then why do businesses only call an attorney when the legal floodwaters are approaching nostril height?

One reason may be that management didn’t see the need. It’s easy to get used to the water lapping at your chin and lose sight of how close that is to serious consequences. Another is simply fear of a big bill. Different reasons yield the same results: fewer options at higher cost.

Part of the issue is, the legal profession has historically done a poor job of presenting attorneys as effective team members rather than hired guns. Large enterprises know the value of prevention – that’s why they have legal teams that are involved in every aspect of the business as a normal part of the firm’s internal risk management strategy. Smaller enterprises can do the same by embracing a new legal services paradigm.

Having a trusted legal advisor on your management team is an effective cost-saving practice. Many (if not most) of the legal problems that get business owners clamoring for a lawyer can be foreseen and prevented by someone on the inside who knows what to look for.

This represents a significant shift in the legal services paradigm. It can be an uphill battle for smaller enterprises who may not see the value of an embedded legal advisor. But experience shows that the best time to have a lawyer is before you know you NEED one. To the untrained eye, legal storms can appear seemingly out of nowhere. A trusted legal partner can often see clouds forming far out on the horizon and help steer the ship to safer waters.

If you like to stay ahead of problems, rather than fight fires all the time, why not apply this thinking to your firm’s risk management and legal strategy as well?

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