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.

How Managed Cloud Technology Adds Agility to Your Business

One of the more interesting promises of cloud technology is the agility added to business operations. In today’s fast-paced world, a company that can make changes quickly, as needed, carries a competitive advantage. How does managed cloud technology enable that?

Right-Size Your IT Environment

In a virtual (cloud) environment, computing resources can be purchased to precisely match a company’s need. Since a business’s need for IT resources can change for a variety of reasons (seasonal business cycles, or company growth, for example), the old paradigm would have been to purchase on-premises IT to match the anticipated maximum need. With cloud-based Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), a company can add or subtract things as needed to match the circumstances – CPU, RAM, disk space – all of these can be easily adjusted for need.

Agile Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

Not only can existing cloud infrastructure be adjusted quickly; whole new assets can also be deployed, and this can be instrumental in a quick recovery from a crashed server, assuming the IT infrastructure has image backups. In this scenario, a new virtual server can be created from backed up images and shorten the time to recovery. This would work in many virtual environments (it doesn’t have to be in the cloud), but cloud-based solutions also offer rapid recovery when a company’s on-premise environment is affected by the disaster. Moreover, it’s possible to create a cloud-based version of the entire IT infrastructure and enable a business to resume operations quickly, even when their brick-and-mortar location is unavailable.

Access from Anywhere

More and more, workers are expecting to be able to do their jobs from a variety of locations – not just from the company’s office. Having even some of a company’s IT infrastructure in a managed cloud can make a mobile workforce more productive, more collaborative and more connected.

These are general benefits we’ve outlined – every business and every environment is different. Careful planning is required to reap these benefits while preserving productivity and network security. But competitive edge is very important, so managed cloud computing is a solution worth investigating.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped companies get into cloud computing – and sometimes out of cloud computing, depending on the needs and circumstances of the client. We can help you determine which part of your company’s IT infrastructure would benefit from cloud technology. It all starts with a conversation – contact us today to get started!

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Choosing a Managed Service Provider Whose Goals Match Your Own

Picking the right managed service provider (MSP) to manage your business technology can can quickly become an overwhelming task for anybody. Rather than having repairs as needed, you’re partnering with a company to assist you in assessing your current technology, building a scalable plan for growth, and responding in a timely fashion.

What’s the difference?

A fundamental difference between the two methods is, the transaction-based “break fix” service has the client and provider working at cross purposes: The provider needs the client to have problems in order to have work to do. All the risk for the network’s health and performance is on the client’s side. A managed service provider (MSP), assumes some of the risk by charging a flat fee for an allotted amount of hours to keep the network running smoothly.

So how does a company choose their managed service provider? Here are some things to check for when evaluating an MSP.

Procedure

Managing multiple networks takes a very organized operation, with state-of-the-art procedures and tools. There should be a definable, and repeatable process for receiving service requests (whether generated by clients or monitoring tools), evaluating them, prioritizing them and assigning resources to resolve each one.  Any good MSP should be able to describe this process clearly while providing metrics as to how they meet their service level goals.

Experience

An MSP that’s only now getting into the game is unlikely to be as effective as one that’s been through the growth pains and has deep experience with the procedures and tools that constitute the best practices in this field.  Similarly, ask about the service provider’s staff – do they have enough experience to be considered experts in Managed Services, too?

Capacity

Modern tools may enable a very small organization to become a Managed Services Provider. Many things that used to require site visits can now be done by remote means. However, at any given time, some percentage of an MSP’s client base is going to require some “hands on” service. Make sure the MSP you choose has enough people to effectively service their client base. What’s the size of their field force? Do they offer an on-location support center?

Communication

If a company decides to rely on an MSP to manage all or part of their IT infrastructure, it doesn’t mean they should be “out of the loop”.  The relationship is a partnership, and that means information about the health of the IT infrastructure needs to flow back to the client company on a regular basis, in the form of monthly reports and regular meetings. Similarly, to get the maximum value out of the relationship, the client company should seek to get the MSP involved in strategic planning, to ensure the network will continue to meet the company’s needs as it grows.

Clare Computer Solutions has been in business since 1990, and been providing Managed Services since 2003. We have proven procedures and processes in place to deliver a consistent level of service, and we track key metrics to ensure we maintain our clients’ service level goals. We also help clients with their IT budgeting. It’s time your company’s information technology was properly managed – contact us to get started.

View our video on the importance of documenting your network.

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Web Content Management – Big Brother or Smart Business?

Web content management has become more important for business than ever before. 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.

But with any transformational technology, there are good and bad aspects.

Here are three areas where unfettered internet access could have a negative effect on your business, and why web content management is so important:

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 (VoIP), file transfers (for business) and data backup. But what if the employees at your company are also listening to streaming music, watching 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 using web content management to control 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!

The Ugly Truth About Cycling-Out Aging Technology

The rate of change in technology has always been rapid, but now changes come faster than ever.  This can pose some challenges for companies. Technology goes from being brand new to being outdated in the wink of an eye! Sometimes, it seems the ink has barely dried on your purchase order for servers or software and it’s time to buy them again!

However, as brief as the lifecycle on technology appears, there is an orderly pattern, and companies can avoid the “sticker shock” and cash flow surprises by implementing a strategy for asset management with a technology refresh plan.

Many companies don’t realize the importance of an IT strategy. They purchase technology as needed (often reacting to a crisis), then forget about it until it grows old and stops working. Then they have to act reactively in crisis mode again, and the vicious cycle is repeated. Cash flow takes a hit from unplanned expenditures, and time and energy are poured into damage control.

With an IT strategy, any purchase of technology is done after consideration of the company’s immediate needs AND longer term goals. The long-term IT strategy will also have a plan for scheduled technology refreshes to phase out aging equipment before it fails or underperforms.  In some cases, the refresh may include implementation of newer technologies, such as virtualization or cloud computing. Implementing these updates before the aging infrastructure causes problems will save money and prevent interruptions in productivity.

Often, the reasons companies don’t have well-developed IT Strategies is that the skill set to create and implement them is not available on staff. Working with an outside IT Provider can give companies access to CIO/CTO strategic planning, without having to bear the expense of hiring a person with those skills. Clare Computer Solutions provides CIO-level strategic planning for companies, including technology refresh, budget planning, asset management and long-term strategic planning. This helps businesses compete more effectively, and meet their growth goals through the alignment of business and IT.

Clare Computer Solutions can help your company devise and maintain a strategic plan for your company’s IT to ensure that updates and technology refreshes occur in an orderly, predictable manner. Contact us now to get started.

Budget Tips to Prepare Your Business for Success in 2017

We all know the final two months of the year go by fast. Part of this is due to the hectic pace of modern business – especially when building a budget. But November and December, due to the holidays, have fewer actual work days than any other two month span. So, early November is a good time to do some planning for the new year. Here are three things to consider when forecasting for next year.

Do Some Strategic Planning

How do you think your business will change in 2017? Will it grow? Will you be adding new services, processes, products, employees or technologies? Will you be moving?  Adding new offices? Any of the changes listed above require some advance planning to be implemented smoothly. At the very least, take some time to brainstorm what will need to be done to accomplish these goals, and begin thinking about the resources you will need for success, whether it’s in-house personnel or 3rd party assistance.

Determine Your IT Budget

Does your company prepare a yearly IT budget?  There’s no better way to avoid unwanted costs than to evaluate your IT infrastructure on a yearly basis, and determine a budget and schedule for cycling out technology, upgrading existing technology and implementing new hardware. The rapid obsolescence rate for technology requires a well-planned systematic approach to maintaining your company’s IT. The strategic planning mentioned above will also have an effect on the plan.

Consider the Section 179 Tax Breaks

Section 179 has been around for quite a while, but it gets fresh attention from Congress every year.  According to the website www.section179.org, “The “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015” (PATH Act) was passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law on 12/18/2015. This bill expanded the Section 179 deduction limit to $500,000. “

The site also says, “Section 179 can provide you with significant tax relief for this 2016 tax year, but equipment and software must be financed and in place by midnight December 31, 2016.” This could be a very attractive incentive to make an IT investment prior to the end of this calendar year. Consult your tax professional to see how you can utilize this benefit.

If your looking to cut the costs of your business without giving up business essentials, Clare Computer Solutions can help your company to poise your business for greater success in 2017. Contact us to get started!

Ransomware Evolves Towards a Targeted Approach

Ransomware evolves, attacking continues to be on the rise, and companies are scrambling to add technical safeguards, policy-level protection and employee education to fight the threat.

Like most cyber-threats, ransomware is evolving in sophistication, and one of the latest techniques, known as “spear phishing” is on the rise.

Up until recently, ransomware tended by launched through emails sent indiscriminately — essentially, infected spam. But instead of trying to convince the recipient to buy something, ransomware emails masqueraded as routine business emails (the most famous is a bogus UPS tracking email), and the links or attachments contained the malware.

This latest approach is more targeted. The emails are spoofed to appear to be coming from a trusted sender (often a principal within the company). In some cases, the approach is even more layered – an email asks for a response, and then the recipient responds, the next message contains the infection, as part of an email thread the recipient seems to trust.

This all underscores the need for multi-layered defense against ransomware, consisting of technical tools, policy-level controls, employee education and a plan for rapid recovery in case of infections.

Clare Computer Solutions is offering on-site training to selected companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. They provide information on technologies that can help prevent ransomware, or detect it very early, and a process for post-infection recovery. In addition, they provide user training to educate network users how to be better prepared to spot suspicious email, whether they are obvious or not.

To learn more and request the ransomware training for your company, see https://www.clarecomputer.com/resources/events/ransomware-survival-guide/

Don’t Think Disaster Recovery – Think Business Continuity

When we hear the word “disaster”, we think of the events that make the news – floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes.  But for a business, a disaster is anything that disrupts the ability to do business. The newsworthy disasters mentioned above qualify, but so do events that would not make the news: a crashed server, a broken water main, interruption in electricity to your facility, even an accidentally deleted file.

To protect your business, think of these events in terms of what you will need to do to resume business operations quickly after such an event. This is called Business Continuity and it encompasses more than just disaster recovery (BDR).

Many businesses don’t address this larger issue when setting up disaster recovery (BDR) measures. Backing up data is smart, yes, but have you planned how you will restore that data if needed? What if your office became unavailable? How quickly could you resume operations with that data restored to another site?  How would you notify your employees, your clients and your suppliers if you were going to be down for any length of time?

There are tactics and technologies that can help your business be prepared for a number of eventualities, from minor interruptions to large scale infrastructure issues. Implementing a workable business continuity plan is within reach for small-to-medium size enterprises now.

Let Clare Computer Solutions Show How You Can Prepare

Clare Computer Solutions is hosting a lunch’n’learn event in Oakland, California on October 27th, 2016 on this important topic. Please make plans to join us – your business is too important to risk losing clients and money due lack of disaster response preparation.

To register for this event, go to https://www.clarecomputer.com/resources/events/disaster/

If you can’t make it to this event, please contact us to discuss your business and devising and implementing a business continuity plan – we can meet with you and get started on making your business disaster-proof!

CCS Delivers Value Through Education as Well as Tech

The whole premise of managed services is to get ahead of problems – to prevent them before they occur. This is accomplished with proper monitoring and management of IT assets, but since some problems are caused inadvertently by user actions, it’s important to address that as well – through education and training.

In a modern office, just about everybody has a computer on their desk. But that doesn’t mean everyone in the office is particularly tech-savvy. Many people don’t have an affinity for technology and only want to know enough to do their jobs.  It benefits the company, the employee and the IT support staff (internal or third party) to invest in some regular employee education. Here are two good examples:

Malware Prevention

Cyber criminals have learned to exploit naïve users with clever emails that look legitimate, but contain malware payloads or have links to infected sites. The recent ransomware outbreak was made possible principally by users’ unwitting cooperation.

Awareness of Productivity Tools

Productivity software suites are updated regularly, but users rarely take time to explore added capabilities, preferring instead to use the features they are accustomed to using. But software companies don’t do the updates just to provide snappier user interfaces – they add interoperability, shortcuts and more powerful collaboration tools. Many of these go unnoticed by office workers, and so the company does not get the benefits of the improved technology.

Education is the way to close the gap, but many business aren’t keen on the notion of sending their staff out for lengthy training. In some cases, deep-dive isn’t what is really needed. Instead, training can be a little more informal, focusing on highlights and “tips & tricks”.

When it comes to networks security, the training should be mandatory, consistent and refreshed periodically. The stakes are high, but training can greatly reduce the threat of user-enabled malware infections, especially when coupled with good technical security measures.

Clare Computer Solutions offers educational information in several forms – educational events, on-site training and through our website. We urge you to take advantage of these for your company’s benefit.