Use Managed Services to Expand IT Support for Your Company

If your business is doing well, then it’s growing. Growth is desirable, but it presents some challenges that must be addressed for your company to fully realize the benefits of that growth. One challenge is increasing the IT support to serve the needs of an expanded infrastructure and workforce. That is where a Managed Services Provider comes in.

If you have an internal IT staff, you can add more people, of course. But hiring staff is time-consuming and expensive. When costing out new assets it’s best to consult a local salary guide, so you know the total cost including any benefits offered by your company. There is a better way: Engage the services of a Managed Services Provider (MSP) for added IT support. Always

Here are the benefits of IT support from an MSP (whether as sole-source or as a supplement to existing IT staff):

  1. Overall cost is less than a full-time employee
  2. Managed Services augments an entire IT staff, not just one person. (Creating no gaps in coverage for vacations or illness)
  3. An MSP can provide vCIO services to aid in:
    1. Strategic planning
    2. IT budgeting
    3. IT projects (Planning, Execution, & Management)

An MSP will have procedures and tools to work with an in-house IT staff to supplement their knowledge and skills, plus add expanded monitoring, maintenance, and management for your entire IT infrastructure.  When you need to add new equipment due to technical refreshes or growth, a Managed Services Provider will have relationships with vendors, and buying power to receive highly competitive pricing.

Adding Managed Services to your IT support will make your business more nimble and efficient.  Clare Computer Solutions has helped hundreds of companies realize the true power of technology, and how to leverage technology in a more strategic way. It starts with a conversation – contact us to get started.

Vulnerability Explained: How Do Hackers View Your Network?

The technology infrastructure used every day is a familiar part of your business. You know where your applications are, your data, and how to access the internet and send email through it. Your view of the network, then, is from the inside out. But how would a potential hacker see your network? It’s a question worth asking.

Most businesses have edge devices on their network, such as a firewall, and routers to prevent intrusion into the network. Unfortunately, installation of edge devices is often considered a “set and forget” action. Leaving your devices to manage themselves is a dangerous gamble.

Rapid technological changes are all around us, so why would your firewall be exempt from this reality? As cyber-criminals develop new tactics and tools, it is vital to ensure your network’s protection can keep pace. You can check this with a scan of your network.

Here are some of the things a perimeter scan will look at:

  1. Operating Systems and patch levels of edge devices (routers, firewalls)
  2. SSL Certificate vulnerabilities
  3. O/S and settings of any devices accessible from outside the network

 

Vulnerability Scans

This scan uncovers devices with out-of-date operating systems or missing important updates. These updates contain necessary protocols to ensure the perimeter device is protected against vulnerabilities uncovered or exploited since the device was installed.

The scan shows industry best practices followed with regards to digital certificates, authentication, and port settings. It’s a good idea to go over the scan report in details with an IT expert to ensure your network is protected.

Clare Computer Solutions routinely conducts vulnerability scans for clients, and we recommend yearly scans at least, or whenever an edge device is installed or updated. The scans are inexpensive and quick, but they can save you a lot of money and worry!

Contact us and we’ll help you discover how your network appears to cyber-criminals on the outside, and help you address any threats in your vulnerability scans.

Tech or Treat: How Tech Budgets Will Turn Your Business Around

It only takes one outage to showcase how vulnerable a company could be. Unfortunately for most businesses, this single incident can shake business owners to their core. In just a matter of moments, your business’ reputation, and public standing is called into question. The greatest example of this would be Equifax’s security breach, where they lost control of business grade data due to outdated security practices, and aging infrastructure provided the perfect storm for hackers to come in and destroy the reputation, of their business. By creating a technology budget, your business can get the leg up on hackers, and your competition.

Last year we posted a blog article about keeping technology updated, using budgeting tactics to focus on such things as infrastructure, aging equipment, and Section 179 Tax Breaks. (Article found here: https://www.clarecomputer.com/resources/blog/budget-tips-for-better-success/) With Section 179 still active for most Bay Area business owners, it’s no wonder so many have begun projects for next year.

Sometimes, companies find themselves with challenges they know could be met, if they replaced or upgraded aging IT systems. The challenge for most is knowing where to begin. Often, the expense keeps many in a pattern of “band-aid” fixes and crisis management.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped hundreds of companies get over this hurdle. Utilizing assessment tools and highly-skilled staff, to locate any issues and determining the remedy to your most critical pain-points first. Part of this process is strategic in nature. Making recommendations for technology, it’s imperative to know what the goals of the business are. Devising a plan to ensure the IT infrastructure will support reaching those goals.

After identifying our plans, we outline a budget proposal, to spread expenses across several mini-projects a year. With this approach, we concentrate on addressing your most immediate business needs. We can then present a clear picture of what needs to be done, spelled out in a phased approach, enabling your company to make necessary operational improvements at a moment’s notice.

When adopting the practice of a strategic budget every year, it makes technology an integral part of business planning. Making IT issues less common, and keeping costs under control.

This is the perfect time of year for you to be thinking about your company’s goals and plans for next year. The perfect time to devise an information technology budget to ensure your company with the technology it will need to achieve those goals.

Contact Clare Computer Solutions now to begin planning your information technology budget.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month

The Department of Homeland Security has designated October as National Cyber Security Awareness Month. This is an annual campaign to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity. The Internet touches almost all aspects of everyone’s daily life, whether we realize it or not.

National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) is designed to engage and educate public and private sector partners through events and initiatives to raise awareness about the importance of cyber security, provide them with tools and resources needed to stay safe online, and increase the resiliency of the Nation in the event of a cyber incident.

Clare Computer Solutions is very involved in helping clients ensure they have the tools and education to mitigate the risks from a variety of cyber threats. The NCSAM website has some tools, too – and they break them into separate toolkits for a variety of users. They call this the “StopThinkConnect Toolkit” – they have some very sensible advice.

Here’s the URL to access these tools: 
https://www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect-toolkit

Busy executives may find it difficult to take the time to go over these materials in detail, but Clare Computer Solutions can definitely help. We can have a conversation with you, learn about your business, help you pinpoint your major concerns around cyber security or any technology, and help you devise a road map to prepare your company to avoid problems with cyber attacks.

Threats include malware (viruses, worms, ransomware), and hacking. The consequences can be business disruption, destruction of data, and theft of data. These threats come in from a variety of places – from sophisticated hackers getting through a firewall, to unwitting employees clicking on an email attachment.

Your employees, your colleagues, and especially your customers, are counting on you to take the proper steps to protect your business. It all starts with a conversation – contact us to get started.

Cyber Security Awareness month

When Is it Time to Call an IT Consultant

When is it the right time to call an IT consultant? As information technology continues to change, the lines can be blurred as to when your business should bring in an IT Consultant. Any modern business with more than a handful of people has an IT infrastructure, and this has been the case for at least a decade. What has changed, is people are generally more familiar with technology, and the technology itself has become more user-friendly. Many aspects of maintaining that infrastructure have grown easier.

Another change is the depth to which technology has permeated business operations. It’s not just crunching numbers anymore, or word processing. Technology affects every aspect of a business, from marketing to operations, accounting, and communications. This should be seen as good thing, but managing the IT infrastructure has not become easier. With clouds, and SaaS, VDO, DNS, VMWare, it’s no wonder companies drift off course.

This is where an IT consultant can make a huge difference for your company. Even if you have an in-house IT staff to deal with parts of your network, there are some areas where a consultant can add tremendous value. Here are a few of them.

Strategic Planning

Despite IT being an integral part of most businesses, we don’t see many hiring IT staff with business skills.  An IT consultant can help you align your IT initiatives with your business goals – going beyond technical details and guiding IT decisions and plans with a business context.

Multi-Vendor Management

Most infrastructures contain equipment and services from a variety of vendors. This is fine – you should choose the products and services your business needs. But all these things have to work together, reliably, for your business to really realize the power of this technology. When things go awry in a complex environment, vendors often default to an “not our fault” mode, making sorting out of responsibilities and next steps, a real struggle. A consultant can aid in unraveling issues that span, several vendors’ products and services.

Hybrid Environments

The cloud is here to stay, but most businesses aren’t moving everything to the cloud, for a variety of reasons. For businesses that are considering moving workloads to the cloud, an IT consultant can help by evaluating a company’s existing IT environment and devising a cloud strategy to determine which workloads should be moved to the cloud, when to do it, and how to manage the resulting hybrid environment.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped hundreds of companies in the San Francisco Bay Area grapple with the complexities business encounter with regards to technology, and helped companies integrate IT into their business operations to provide the best advantages. We can help you, too – and it all starts with a business discussion. Contact us today to begin the process!

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.

Have You Completed These Malware Survival Tasks?

Ransomware shows no signs of slowing down. Attacks continue to grow, both in sheer numbers and in sophistication, as the IT world struggles to catch up. Despite the frightening statistics, and scary stories, there are some things you can do to lessen the likelihood of malware attack or limiting the damage.

Tighten Everything Up

At the heart of ransomware is software that you don’t want, getting launched into your IT environment. The attack point could be an edge device on your networks, such as a firewall, or anything that has an IP address. Make sure these devices have as few open ports as necessary for your business to function and make sure the operating system on each device is up to date. Finally, conduct a vulnerability test anytime you update or introduce a new device. Malware also often comes in through users’ workstations – use group policies to limit the workstations’ ability to download or run unapproved programs.

Smarten Everybody Up

Despite stories of skilled hackers punching their way through high-end firewalls, most ransomware is still launched by users who failed to recognize suspicious emails or websites. Educate your network users (many of whom may not be very tech-minded) on how to recognize suspicious emails and links. Help them develop better IT habits, and help them learn to think before opening attachments, clicking links in emails or indiscriminately visiting links from a Google search.

Back Everything Up

When something bad happens, there’s a sense of “I wish that hadn’t happened!” With a good image and data backup scheme, you can roll back an infected machine to a state prior to the infection. In many (if not most cases), this is quicker and easier than removing malware from a machine. Instead, you can restore to a point in time before the infection occurred. The notion of backup data is nothing new — businesses have been doing it for decades. With help from cloud technology, and other storage devices, recovery has become easier than ever, and the costs have come down, substantially.

You have a business to run – you can’t live in fear. Respect the dangers, and take sensible steps to mitigate them, and you will have a leg up on your competition. Clare Computer Solutions has been helping companies minimize their risk of cyber-threats for years – we can help you, too! Contact us to begin the conversation on protecting your business.

Sign up for a Ransomware Training presentation at your facility.

Learn more about ransomware from this video.

A Cloud Based IT Infrastructure Must Be Managed

Cloud based computing carries a lot of promise for many Bay Area business owners. However, it’s still an IT infrastructure, and must be managed to deliver all the desired benefits to your business.

Most businesses, so far, are adopting a hybrid approach to the cloud, moving some assets to the cloud while maintaining other assets in the local data center. This can create some challenges to provide a single management interface.

Cloud Challenges:

“Consumption” based billing models for cloud infrastructures also require some close monitoring.  Many network processes that aren’t always monitored in on-premise environments (such as network “transactions”, CPU usage, and disk usage) can dynamically affect costs in cloud environments, and therefore need to be managed.

Virtual servers in the cloud need to be kept up-to-date with regards to patches and updates, too, just as the servers in your local data center.

It’s important to remember that the cloud infrastructure was never intended to be a “set and forget” solution for your business.

A Different Approach to the Cloud

Clare Computer Solutions has helped many businesses determine a cloud strategy roadmap, to get the maximum benefit from both cloud-based and on-premises environments. In addition, we provide post-migration support to manage the IT infrastructure as a whole – ensuring it’s kept up and managed.

This includes tracking consumption of IT computing, plus monitoring and managing of asset usage. We provide regular detailed reports to keep you informed as to the state of the network. In addition, Clare Computer Solutions provides consulting to that we can help you look into the future and plan for your business growth.

Don’t miss a chance to take advantage of the modern hybrid cloud technologies. Contact us today to get started!

clare computer Bay area leader in IT

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.

 

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:

https://www.clarecomputer.com/resources/events/ransomware-survival-guide/