NetCentral Support Center – Much More Than a Helpdesk

For many network users, their primary interaction with IT support is through a user “helpdesk.” Whether it’s in-house support staff or through a third party provider, a support center is imperative to the relationship between client and support. NetCentral support provides our clients with seamless support from our in-house support center (San Ramon, CA) that is imperative to their business.

Tales of frustrating experiences with helpdesk call centers are very common. Too many helpdesks have techs who are poor communicators, or their effectiveness is limited by protocols. These protocols can seem designed to prevent great service or a pleasant experience for the caller.

NetCentral, from Clare Computer Solutions, provides comprehensive IT Infrastructure support for companies, with complex server environments, encompassing routing and switching, and down to the network users level, as well. For most NetCentral clients, their most frequent communications with Clare Computer Solutions is through the NetCentral Support Center. (Besides a dedicated account manager checking in with you periodically.)

Nothing about the NetCentral Support Center is typical.  Here are some reasons why:

Our Clients Aren’t Strangers

NetCentral machines are fully managed, so technicians at the Support Center have instant access to data about those supported machines.  Any interaction with users go into a service ticket, so we build up a history of service with clients and have a historical reference to ensure we’re prepared to support that machine.

We Have Service Level Goals

All service requests from clients are subject to specific service level goals with regards to response (real response – not just an automated acknowledgement), scheduling or beginning the work on the request, and the resolution of the issue. The performance against those goals is checked, in real time. We audit these tickets weekly and monthly to ensure service is always delivered at the highest levels. Each one of our NetCentral Support Center staff has been trained to handle technical issues and troubleshooting with the client, always in mind.

We See the Big Picture

Every issue deserves our full attention. Anytime someone is having trouble with their technology, we know it can be frustrating. We also understand that every user is part of the client’s company and that the user’s computer is part of the company’s overall infrastructure. If we spot patterns that indicate parts of that infrastructure are due to be refreshed or replaced, we will present plans to the management of the company to plan and budget for that process, to ensure that everyone is using up-to-date technology.

This broad-based approach benefits everyone involved – users have a better work experience, companies have reliable, well maintained IT, and our time is spent helping everyone use that technology to grow their business – not just doing repairs.

It’s time your network users had this level of support. Contact us to get started.

 

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.

Network Security Fundamentals for Any Business

The use of these network security fundamentals can be a launchpad for companies looking to beef up security due to the recent ransomware attacks.

The term “Network Security” is very broad in the context of modern technologies. Networks can be hard wired, or wireless. They might connect devices in a single office, or across separate locations, around the world.

Security can range from the stringent requirements of a military installation or address  garden-variety malware out of a small office.

But across the network security spectrum, there are three fundamental tenets that are universal. These network security fundamentals form a good starting point for any organization that wants to address cyber security for their IT infrastructure.

Ingrain Security into the Corporate Culture

To be effective any initiative to increase network security has to start at the top. Everyone within the company has to understand the company’s commitment to security and what policies and rules apply. This knowledge will affect how everyone does their jobs, the assets they’re allowed to access, and the strategic decisions that are made within the company.

The company’s commitment must be reflected in their investment in education and training for staff. Stay up-to-date on technological tools used in the operation of the business, and in non-technical areas as well – HR, accounting, sales, etc.

Security is a Process, Not a Project

Technology changes so fast, it’s vital to ensure the company’s security practice is up-to-date with the evolution of potential threats.

The success of your security process will hinge on the details. Personnel will change over time, so training for new hires, continuing education for existing staff, orderly and timely cleanup of unneeded access accounts and other tasks are ongoing concerns that need to managed, and documented.

Bring in a Fresh Set of Eyes

Changes in a company occur at a pace that is hard to detect. Familiarity with the environment can lead to a lack of fresh ideas or insights when considering the company’s network security as a whole.

For this reason it’s wise to have a third party (IT consultant) conduct regular network assessments. The goal here is to determine whether all aspects of the network are compliant with the company security policies.

Clare Computer Solutions can help with all phases of this endeavor, from creating and implementing security policies, to regular assessments and help in strategic IT planning. Contact us – it all starts with a conversation.

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!

Time to Migrate: Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Has Retired

Did you know that Windows Server 2003 extended support ended on July 14, 2015? What does that mean for businesses like yours? SQL Server 2005 “extended support” has officially ended on April 12, 2017.

Utilizing “out-of-support” versions of server software could lead to some serious issues. This unsupported software no longer receives vital security updates, which leaves your system vulnerable to malware or hackers.

Designed to improve upon each previous version, later versions of software are faster, and more efficient than ever. If you’re not running Windows Server 2012 R2 and SQL Server 2016 yet, it’s time to consider an upgrade. Take advantage of these groundbreaking improvements in performance.

With the recent release of SQL Server 2016, now might be the perfect time to design a migration plan. We can help migrate your applications and workloads which rely on Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2005 or 2008 to Windows Server 2012 R2 and SQL Server 2016 or Microsoft Azure SQL Database.

You owe it to your business to run up-to-date, fully supported software.

Clare Computer Solutions would like to help plan your transition. Updating your software will help provide you with the security and reliability you need. The added value of the features now included in SQL Server 2016 will streamline processes. Before migrating, consider these cloud options. You’ll have the opportunity to migrate to the cloud with Azure SQL Database or to install a hybrid cloud with SQL Server 2016 and Azure.

Updating IT infrastructure is something many companies would like to avoid. But technology moves at too rapid of a pace to put off upgrades and updates that can bring real benefits to your business.

 

Clare Computer Solutions can help – contact us to start the conversation.

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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Sorting Through Common Cloud Options: SaaS, IaaS or PaaS?

Have you ever asked yourself, what cloud option would be best for my business? Cloud-based computing has become a large part of today’s modern office. As a result, it looks like the adoption of cloud-based technologies will continue to grow. Yet, cloud services aren’t a end-all solution.

Like any technology, cloud computing has its own nomenclature, most of which is represented in it’s service. Some of the most popular names are Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). Let’s demystify the cloud, and pick the best cloud options for your business.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

This form of cloud computing was around even before the term “cloud computing” was used. If you’ve ever used Hotmail, Expedia, or Google, you’re using their software-as-a-service. The examples above are you didn’t download as software, you access it through a browser.

SaaS offerings have grown more sophisticated and important to businesses than ever before. Email services delivered through this platform are becoming industry standard. Microsoft’s Office 365 is an example of this product and how it provides email services in Outlook, and other Office products.

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

This option is often considered when a specific hosted platform reaches its end-of-life. “Should the company invest in a physical server to run its application(s) or, should the applications run on a virtual server in the cloud?” Under certain circumstances, virtual servers can be an attractive option for an agility, and cash flow standpoint. But there is a certain amount of due diligence required to ensure the required application can be delivered via the cloud. While still maintaining an optimal user experience.

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

This service represents a deeper dive into the cloud, a good part of which IT infrastructure becomes virtual. This specific service has its advantages, including: agility, mobility, disaster recovery or business continuity. To achieve these benefits, migration to a virtual environment must be well planned to ensure everything works as expected.

Cloud computing is here to stay. Which part of this technology will benefit your business, and when should you make the switch? With proper planning, your business can enjoy the benefits of managed cloud. Providing optimal experience for your network users.

It all starts with a conversation – contact us 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.

What Can Businesses Do For Resiliency Against Cyber Threats in 2017

Looking at the cyber threat landscape for 2017, it doesn’t appear businesses will receive any relief from hackers, malware, or ransomware anytime soon. In fact, all these threats continue to grow in sophistication. What can you do to help your business gain resilience against cyber-attacks? Here are three things you can do to help

Work With, Not Against, Front-Line Providers

Since technology has introduced the cyber threats mentioned above, it’s tempting to distrust technology or those who provide or service it. In all reality, the exact opposite is true. Once you choose an able IT service provider or vendor – listen to them and follow their advice. They will understand your need to balance easy access of information while keeping your data secure, and provide solutions to satisfy both needs – but you have to do it right.

Introduce New Technology Mindfully

Technology should be selected and used to introduce efficiencies while assisting in making your business more agile and serve clients better. There are enough choices out there that you can start with how you want your business to operate, then select tech solutions to meet these goals. Don’t let technology tell you how to run your business.

Don’t Neglect the Human Factor

Regardless of your technology, it’s humans that make your business run. Your employees need to be trained and vigilant when it comes to their use of technology. Make sure your company’s stance on security is ingrained in your corporate culture. Humans decide whether to buy a product or not, so make sure your technology aids – not impedes – the quality of interactions between employees and clients.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped many companies adopt technologies and practices to make their businesses more resilient to cyber threats.  We can help your business, too –just contact us to get started.

We also provide onsite ransomware prevention consulting for companies – at no charge. Education is one the best ways to prevent social engineering tactics for launching malware.

See http://www.clarecomputer.com/resources/events/ransomware-survival-guide/ for more information.

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