Hybrid Infrastructure Trends Towards “Everything-as-a-Service”

For years, Information Technology (IT) focused on physical platforms – the computers and the software that ran on them.

IT costs were capital expenditures that purchased these products initially, and as they reached the end of their lifespans, more capital expenditures were incurred to replace them.

This was the normal way to do business and this model was the standard for decades.

The rapid changes in physical platforms led to an undesirable result: companies found they had equipment that was considered obsolete more quickly, than ever before, and that drove costs up, to try and keep the infrastructure modernized.

Sometimes companies try and beat this trend, by over-buying computing capacity, in the hopes that a company could grow into it before the hardware became obsolete. As server virtualization became more common, and internet bandwidth came down in price, this opened up a new paradigm – buying IT capabilities as an ongoing service.

This had several appealing characteristics:

  • Increased agility – it’s fast and easy to build out computing capacity in the cloud, and it’s easy to adjust that computing capacity, so companies can buy only what they need when they need it. Some services can be allocated dynamically, too.
  • The shift of IT expenditures from capital expenditure to operational expenditure – this makes managing cash flow easier.
  • Decreased consumption of space and power for physical servers in the office.
  • Protection from hardware and software obsolescence – the cloud provider handles ensuring up-to-date versions of hardware and software are being used.

 

Does this mean companies should immediately put all their IT workloads in the cloud?

Of course not, for several reasons. First, your existing infrastructure could be a year or more away from obsolescence. Or your business may have specific applications that do not lend themselves well to cloud computing.

Many businesses opt for a hybrid infrastructure, with some services delivered by the “as-a-service” cloud subscription model, and others through on-premises infrastructure. Regardless, cloud services present a win-win scenario for businesses to utilize the best technologies to make their business run better and compete more effectively in their market. Clare Computer Solutions has been helping companies realize the power of technology for over 25 years – we can help your company, too. It all starts with a conversation – contact us to begin your transformation.

Three Reasons Why You Should Migrate to Office 365

Six years ago Microsoft adapted their enormously popular Office productivity suite to meet the needs of an always connected, mobile workforce. Not only has Office 365 become the standard in enabling and increasing business productivity, but Microsoft continues to add applications to the Office 365 suites to build even greater value at a low monthly cost. The cloud is finally here to stay, and Office 365 can help your company take advantage of the benefits.

Here are three reasons to look at switching to Office 365:

Reason #1: Work Anywhere, From Any Device

Mobility is important to workers these days, and Office 365 makes it easy. First of all, the licensing allows each user to use the product from up to five devices – perfect for the modern mobile worker. Secondly, cloud storage ensures that the work they do is always saved and available – in its most current state – the next time they access it.

Reason #2: Office 365 Scales With Your Business

Cloud services are easily scalable – add more storage if you need it, add more user licenses quickly (Clare Computer Solutions, as a Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider, can help with this!), and even change the specific SKUs for users if their needs change. This scalability and flexibility translates to higher productivity and increased agility for your business.

Reason #3: You’re Always Up-to-Date in the Cloud

Remember the disruption any time a new Office suite became available, and you had to upgrade all your users? With Office 365, everyone always has the latest version of Office productivity applications.  Similarly, you don’t have to maintain or update a mail server either – it’s always up to date in the cloud.

Speaking of being up-to-date, Microsoft is constantly updating the available feature set in Office 365 now includes – Yammer, Delve, Teams, Skype – there’s an ever-growing list of tools you can use to facilitate better production, communication, and collaboration within your company.

Moving an important part of your business to cloud-based model is a big decision. Clare Computer Solutions has helped businesses just like yours make the right decision – we can help your business too. Contact us today to begin the discussion.

Petya Ransomware: Everything You Need To Know

If you had any doubts about the threat of cybercrime… it appears another global ransomware attack has started. If your company does any international business, you could be next.

Spread through email, infected websites, and Social Media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc), “Petya”  ransomware has the potential to become as debilitating as “WannaCry“, and has affected such global companies as A.P. Moller-Maersk, W.P.P. PLC, and Merck & Company.  Your first line of defense should include educating your end-users. The trigger for this strain of ransomware is social engineering, a proven effective tactic for these cyber criminals.  An example of this social engineering tactic would be a fake post on social media that seems to have  a link to an article that catches your interest, and you click the link without thinking first.

  • Ransomware Prevention and Protection

Once clicked, the malware infiltrates an unprotected computer, and causes pop-ups that say they’re from “Windows.” It’s all too easy for people to trust these messages, and provide permissions, if any is needed, which launches the malware. Your files will soon become encrypted with the latest 256-bit encryption, making it impossible to retrieve your files without a decryption key.

In addition, “Petya” will overwrite the infected PC’s boot files, giving users a blue screen, and what looks to be windows check disk — actually showing you the status of your encryption.

Although we aren’t at “WannaCry” numbers of infected end-users, this should still be a concern for most businesses. Email and web-filtering can protect staff members that may tend to be careless when surfing the internet. Always keep anti-virus, firewalls, routers, and operating systems up-to-date. This specific ransomware attack was the result of not patching operating systems after the “WannaCry” outbreak that occurred last month.

If you want to educate your end-users on how to spot ransomware and the steps to avoid company infection, head over to the link below. There you will find a sign-up page for our free community outreach program, created to teach and educate executive, and technical staff on avoiding ransomware through better awareness.

Link to sign-up for our free community outreach program:

Should IT Support be Outsourced, on Staff, or Both?

Companies need their technology tools to perform their business operations every day. As a result, they have IT infrastructures that must have support. Users need help, network devices must be managed, and everything has to work together. What’s the best way to handle this? Some companies have internal IT employees whose sole responsibility is keeping those technologies working together.

Some companies don’t want to maintain any staff for skills not related to their core business, opting to outsource support to companies that specialize in IT support and consulting. Many companies go with a hybrid route – they staff for some of the technology support they need but outsource other facets to address other needs.

Some of the common drivers in the decision to outsource some of a company’s IT support are:

Depth and Experience of Skills

A support company’s staff is likely to have a broader set of skills, and often, longer tenures in the business. An Information Technology support company is more likely to invest in training for their professionals, to ensure their skills are up to date.

Better IT Coverage

In small departments, if one person is ill, or on vacation, the lack of resources can have a huge effect on the quality of service, leaving behind loose ends for the company’s IT support. An IT support company will often have enough staff to ensure someone is more likely to be available when needed.

Flexibility in Technology

Some needs are pretty constant, and others may change. If a company were to staff enough talent for every contingency, they would end up over-staffing at times – a very expensive situation. Some skills are expensive to hire if you don’t need them all the time, such as project management, high-end router work, server migrations, security work, and strategic consulting. Either technology support or consulting can make these skill sets available as you need them.

Every company’s needs are different, but the right mix of on-staff and outsourced IT support can be the solution to keeping your company’s infrastructure up-to-date, and working at optimal performance, year after year.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped hundreds of companies achieve the perfect mix, and we can help your company too. It all starts with a conversation – contact us to get started.

Phishing Scams Continue Their Rapid Evolution From Bad to Worse

Social engineering is at the heart of two main cyber-scams plaguing businesses and individuals alike. Many of these scams stem from Ransomware and phishing. Ransomware is malware that encrypts files and demand a ransom to provide a decryption key. Phishing is using deceptive emails to get recipients to provide confidential information or launch malware.

Here’s your update on the latest cyber-scams :

Fake HR Requests (W-2)

If you recall, back in February, we reported on a new phishing scheme where cyber criminals use various spoofing techniques to disguise emails to make it appear as though they were from an organization executive. The email will be sent to an employee in the payroll or human resources departments, requesting a list of all employees and their W-2 forms.

W-2 forms provide vital personal information – if this data falls in the hands of a criminal, it could very well be disastrous.

In some cases, the cybercriminal follows up with an “executive” email to the payroll or comptroller, asking for a wire transfer to be made. Although not tax related, the wire transfer scam is being coupled with the W-2 scam email. Some companies have already lost both employees’ W-2s and thousands of dollars due to false wire transfers.

Fake DMV Payment Demands

More recently, a new phishing scam has come to light. The latest scam involves emails whitch appear to come from the NY State Department of Motor Vehicles. Enclosed in the email is a phishing scam where drivers are being targeted, stating they have 48 hours to pay a fine or have their driver’s license revoked. The NY DMV alerted motorists that the scam is bait to entice drivers to click on a “payment” link that will in turn infect their workstation with malware. It will be vital to stay extra vigilant as we begin taking those long awaited, summer vacations!

NewYork DMV Phishing scam clare computer solutions

The malware being dropped came in two categories. The first was a tracking tool on the victim’s computer to see which websites were visited. The second attempted to get a variety of identifiable information, such as names, Social Security numbers, date of birth and credit card information.

In both cases, recipients of these emails could avoid being victimized. With a mix of technical support from staff members, and minor education on how to spot a phishing scam, employees can determine what emails can be trusted.

Clare Computer Solutions provides complimentary on-site training to Bay Area businesses. With the goal to educate network users to avoid being victimized by ransomware or phishing attacks.

See http://www.clarecomputer.com/resources/events/ransomware-survival-guide and let us know your business would like to offer this training to your employees.

Which Backup and Disaster Recovery Option Fits Your Business Needs?

The notion of backing up important data should be familiar to anyone. Accidents happen, and if a computer that has your data fails, it’s lost unless it was backed up somehow.

But the process is more complicated now. Technology and its threats have evolved, and the stakes are higher than ever. Businesses depend on data more and more, and the amount of data is far higher than it was a few years ago.

Here’s what you need to know about backup systems and strategies:

Tape-Based Backup vs Disk-Based Backup

In the small-to-medium size business sector, disk-based backups seems to have won the battle. Disks are less prone to failure, and data transfer to and from disks is fast. Moreover, recovery from disks is faster as well, and finding single files to restore is much easier from disk backups.

In larger enterprises, many still prefer large-scale tape backup systems. The key to preserving tape backups is taking humans out of the mix. Magnetic media is sensitive and the more it’s handled or moved around, the more likely it’ll be affected. We have seen companies lose valuable data because someone took tapes off site and the magnetic clasp on a purse destroyed the data! (True story!)

On-site or Offsite Backup

The best option here is: both. It’s not a new concept, for years businesses would hand-carry that day’s backup on tape, CD, or DVD off site in case of disaster. Sometimes it was a bank vault, or someone’s home.

The adoption of cloud computing has made this process much easier and more automated. For systems that store backed up data on-site, it’s updating along the way. The incremental changes that occur can be uploaded to a cloud-based storage site after hours when the demands on bandwidth are less.

The on-site backups are quickly available for minor issues and off-site backups are the key to recovering from major disasters.

Data Backup or Image Backup

Trick question, once again the best option here is both choices. Since the whole reason for backing up data is to recover from a disaster, it’s vital to back up images as well. Your data is important, but the image backups will enable you to deploy replacements for machines much faster. This is key when resuming business operations quickly after a disaster. Image backups are also handy for recovering from a crashed server or a virus infection.

Clare Computer Solutions understands that every business is different – we can help you choose a backup and disaster recovery scheme that will fit your needs and your budget. Contact us to get started.

Can Your Business Afford Having Network Downtime?

There’s an old adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We know it’s true, and yet many businesses don’t apply this commonsense approach to their IT infrastructure. The most common reason is, the owners are too busy with the day-to-day running of the business to step back and consider how much money this proactive approach could save them.

Instead, they choose to “self-insure.” They deal with IT issues as they crop up and disrupt their business. This is expensive, for several reasons. First of all, emergency work is generally performed at a premium rate. When your IT infrastructure is disrupted, it costs you even more.

 

Look at the ways network downtime costs you money:

  • – Lost productivity
  • – Lost opportunities
  • – Damage to your company’s image

 

Most reports peg the costs of a down network at tens of thousands of dollars per hour. If network problems caused two hours of downtime each month, it would make sense to invest in services and systems to prevent even one of those hours of downtime!

That’s why it’s vital to take a look at your technology. Downtime issues are not a monthly cost necessarily, but an ongoing unpredictable cost. If your network is properly managed, you can reduce downtime dramatically, and have an improved system in place that addresses unexpected issues much faster.

Modern technology provides cost-effective ways to protect businesses from downtime, even after a disaster. Data and images should be backed up onsite or in the cloud. In the case of an emergency, use this data to restore core functions back to your organization.

The cost to deliver such services and business continuity systems, over a period of time, are consistently less than the costs of reacting to problems. The old adage is still true: It’s better to prevent problems, than to cure them.

Clare Computer Solutions can help your business set up systems and procedures in your IT infrastructure to reduce downtime, and quickly recover from any disruptive event.

It all starts with a conversation – contact Clare Computer Solutions to get started!

IT Projects That Will Transform Business

With so many options to improve your IT infrastructure, do you know which may have the biggest impact on your business? Have you been putting off IT projects because they are too complex or you don’t know where to begin?

There are some projects that can have such a positive effect on your business, they are well worth considering and this may be the perfect time to do them. Here are 3 projects that can transform your business and provide benefits for months, or years to come.

Adopt Virtualization in the IT Infrastructure

As the servers in your network reach the end of their useful lifespans, they could be replaced by virtual machines. Virtualization has a number of benefits, including: reduced energy costs (fewer physical servers use less air conditioning and electricity), better business agility (new virtual machines can be quickly deployed as needed), better disaster recovery (quicker restoration of a crashed server) and reduced management costs.

Utilize Cloud Services

Not everything works in the cloud, but certain workloads lend themselves very well to cloud computing, and in these areas, the benefits (lower management costs, capacity on demand as needed, greater mobility, improved business continuity capabilities) are very real.

Institute a Business Continuity Plan

Technology today can enable your business to have an affordable, and workable plan to get your business up and running remarkably quickly after even a major disaster. The technologies mentioned above (virtualization and cloud services) can be used to make your business resilient to a wide variety of events that, just a few years ago, could have threatened the survival of the business.

The secret to the success of any IT project is to have expert IT project management skills. If your business doesn’t staff that skill set, use an IT consulting firm like Clare Computer Solutions, that can manage your IT projects and ensure that the projects are well-planned, executed on time and on budget. The benefits to having an effective and organized approach to your long term IT infrastructure starts with a simple discussion about your business and your plans and goals. Contact us today to get started!

Watch this video to learn more!

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Benefits from Business Continuity Planning You Might Not Expect

It’s hard to dispute the value of a good business continuity plan. Given the high rate of business failure after a major disaster, and the reasonable cost for modern technologies, a good business continuity plan is something every company should consider.

Having a business continuity in place has benefits that go beyond quick recovery from major disasters. It’s worth considering in your risk vs cost calculations when deciding to implement one.

More Virtualization

One of the ways your company can prepare to recover from downtime, (crashed servers) is to have a virtualized environment and image backups. But there are benefits to a virtualized environment that go beyond recovery. It’s easy to create new virtual machines, so deploying a new server to try out new technology is much easier. Virtualized environments take less space, cooling and power then paying for “server farms.” Preparing for disaster in this way will save you time and money – even before a disaster happens!

Better documentation

To be more effective, document your continuity plans to restore functionality in your business systems. Don’t forget to be concise when documenting your systems. This plan must document who’s responsible for specific information and responsibilities. Having this type of documentation, enables rapid planning for environment upgrades, refreshes, and maintenance. Once again, your business continuity plan is saving you money even when there is no disaster at hand.

Quicker recovery from “little” disasters

We know the goal for business continuity is to recover business operations after a catastrophic failure. But why should it take a disaster to test your solutions? Battle test your plan, with any interruptions that occur. It’s these tests that will shape your continuity plan further. For example, if your Network Attached Storage (NAS) device was under maintenance, take the time to test your secondary backup solutions. Using these chances to again refocus and hone your process to save local files and image backups. Little “disasters” are usually low in impact, but they happen more often. This is another benefit to a company having a good business continuity plan in place.

The bottom line is, you’ve worked hard to build up your business and you’ll want to protect it. Modern technology enables these plans for implementation at lower costs than ever before. The disaster-resistant business will gain some cost savings and efficiency along the way! Clare Computer Solutions helps businesses like yours to see the value in such a process – contact us today to get started.

Three Things Your Business Continuity Plan Needs

Very few business owners would dispute the wisdom behind having a business continuity plan This doesn’t stop many (if not most) businesses from having an outdated, ineffective, incomplete or untested plan.

Similar to insurance, this provides the “peace of mind” in knowing you have a disaster recovery and/or business continuity plan, but may never use it. As a result these plans are frequently incomplete in design, and execution.

“Every business continuity plan should have these elements, at a minimum!

Data and Image Backup

Business level Applications – Without Image and data backups, you won’t get your business back online and running after a disaster.

– Store backups on and off site – local backups are great for a quick recovery solution from minor issues. While off site storage (automated) can only greater ensure the disaster that affected your office, can’t affect your backup.

– Perform frequent and regular test restores of backed up data. If you think a disaster hurts – discovering that your backed up data is corrupt will only adds insult to injury.

 

Communication Considerations

– Have a plan to notify employees how, when, and where they can work if something happens to your facility.

 -Have a plan to notify partners and suppliers if a disaster affects your place of business. Alternate contact info, and expected duration of downtime. This will help your supply chains adapt to your circumstances after a disaster

– Have a plan to notify clients if a disaster affects your business. They will need to know how fast you will be able to resume operations. Lack of communication along these lines will cause them to assume your business is in dire straits and take their business elsewhere

 

Drilling and Testing

– Test backups and conduct drills often, ensuring you can restore a down server from your backed up data.

– Document procedures for conducting all the phases of your Disaster Recovery plan. Having this documentation in the hands of trusted personnel within your organization.

– Don’t assume your IT person will be available after a disaster – make sure more than one person knows how to restore your systems.

– Store important information offsite – a list of phone numbers to call after a fire won’t do any good if it burns up in the fire.

– Update your plan yearly. Personnel change, phone numbers change, suppliers change and technology changes.  A business continuity plan that hasn’t changed in 2 years may be useless when a disaster strikes.

You’ll still hope to never use your business continuity plan. Of course, if you were to need it, your business will be on the fast track to to resume operations as soon as possible. It will give your business a leg up on your competition.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped many companies design and put in place a business continuity plan – we’d be glad to help your company, too. Contact us today to get started.