Will 2017 Be the Year of the Cloud for Your Business?

For years, we’ve heard how “the Cloud is coming”. How does the “cloud landscape” appear today, compared to when we first started hearing about it?

It’s time to take another hard look at what “the Cloud” can do for your business

The notion of a business getting rid of all its onsite IT infrastructure and putting everything in the cloud is not outrageous, but it’s not commonplace – yet.

With so many applications systematizing the daily process of an employee, you may find yourself already operating from within the cloud, with applications from Adobe, Google, Microsoft Office and others.

For most companies their first encounter with the cloud has been migrating email services. There are a lot of choices when it comes to providers, including industry giants such as Google and Microsoft, and the services tend to be competitively priced and increasingly easy to use.  Migration can be tricky if a company needs to move a lot of legacy email data up into the cloud, but once the migration is complete, the service seems to be as stable as the company’s internet connection.

The replacement of aging technologies is proving to become a driver for many who are now considering the cloud alternatives. Virtual computing in the cloud offers up-to-date servers at a monthly rate that includes maintenance, power, and air conditioning.

These solutions are what technology savvy CEOs have been waiting for. Hosting applications like Citrix, Veam, Microsoft Azure, VMware, and many more have created workable environments that can quickly scale to become as expansive as needed.

Two things are very important to keep in mind when considering this route:

1: Not all applications are cloud-ready. Applications which require vast amounts of data to communicate between the server and end user’s device, can have a hard time running in a cloud based environment, slowing job functions down to a crawl.

 2: Your Internet connection is extremely important to cloud computing – if the sole link to your business applications is your internet connection, you better make sure it’s fast, reliable, and redundant. This doesn’t have to be a showstopper – many metro areas have multiple carriers of very high bandwidth. For most users in the San Francisco Bay Area you may see Comcast, or AT&T for business, and in select areas, you may have access to specialty services like Google Fiber.

So, maybe 2017 is the Year of the Cloud for your business. Don’t go at this task alone — partner with a trusted IT support company to find the best fit for your cloud needs, whether it’s application implementation or an entire cloud environment.

Not sure your company is ready for the cloud?  The best way to find out is to have an assessment of your cloud-readiness. Armed with the facts, you can devise a plan to enjoy the cloud’s benefits and avoid the pitfalls, too!

It all starts with a discussion with Clare Computer SolutionsContact us today and we can help you determine what the cloud my do for your business.

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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3 New Year’s Resolutions for Business Owners in 2017

Something about flipping the calendar over to a new year means the opportunity for a fresh start — a chance to do the things you knew you should have been doing, but didn’t. Since businesses are run by human beings, the same could apply to a business. Here are 3 New Year’s resolutions for businesses to consider for 2017:

Cycle Out Aging Technology

Doesn’t every office have some workstations or servers that don’t work well anymore? Maybe you held off replacing up upgrading to save money, but support on older machines costs more than you thought. Make 2017 the year you replace creaky older technology and enjoy higher productivity and efficiency with newer devices and software.

Perform a Network Assessment

Often, networks don’t grow in dramatic large steps. Instead, they grow by little dribs and drabs — a machine here or there to accommodate a new hire, or a new software. After a period of time though, you have a network with no up-to-date documentation, which stifles strategic thinking. Since you don’t what you have, you can’t possibly manage it. This also means, looking forward, it’s hard to define what you need. A thorough network assessment will provide a myriad of data to help you make informed strategic decisions. It will pay for itself many times over.

Get Serious About Network Security

Maybe you think you already are serious about Network Security. “I have a firewall, and I have anti-virus software!” you say. Nowadays, threats loom from vectors that those two methods never anticipated. Stay ahead of the bad guys with a multi-layered approach to Network Security that includes a combination of technology, employee training and corporate culture. Devise, implement and enforce a company security policy and keep it up to date.

Looking at these three resolutions, the only trick to keeping them is to get started. And the only impediment to getting started is, you’re too busy running your business to spare resources to plan and execute these resolutions. So get help! Clare Computer Solutions can provide expertise in planning and executing these IT projects — basically, acting as your company’s Chief Information Officer (CIO).

The result is, a business with up-to-date, reliable, and secure technology. Contact us now to get started!

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Harden Your Operating System To Prevent Cyber Attacks

When attempting to compromise a device or network, cyber criminals look for any way in. Many small and medium-sized businesses aren’t aware that operating system vulnerabilities provide easy access.

5 Operating System Hardening Tips

While different operating systems have their own intricacies, there are recommended practices that apply universally. This list is not all-inclusive and you may implement additional best practices when applicable. However, in order to minimize your risk of suffering a cyber-attack, adhere to the following protocol:

  1. Programs clean-up– Remove unnecessary programs. Every program is another potential entrance point for a hacker. Cleaning these out helps you limit the number of ways in. If the program is not something the company has vetted and “locked down,” it shouldn’t be allowed. Attackers look for backdoors and security holes when attempting to compromise networks. Minimize their chances of getting through.
  2. Use of service packs– Keep up-to-date and install the latest versions. It’s that simple. No one thing ensures protection, especially from zero-day attacks, but this is an easy rule to follow.
  3. Patches and patch managementPlanning, testing, implementing and auditing patches should be part of a regular security regimen. Make sure the OS is patched regularly, as well as the individual programs on users’ computers.
  4. Group policies– Define what groups can or can’t access and maintain these rules. Sometimes, it’s simply user error that leads to a successful cyber-attack. Establish or update user policies and ensure all users are aware and comply with these procedures. For example, everyone should be implementing strong passwords, securing their credentials and changing them regularly.
  5. Security templates – These are groups of policies that can be loaded in one procedure; they are commonly used in corporate environments.

Clare Computer Solutions can help your company harden the operating systems on your network, providing another layer of defense against cyberattack. Contact us today to get started!

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3 Internal Threats to Your Network You Should Know About

The media always seems to have some reports of hackers gaining access to sensitive company data, and those threats are very real. The nature of our connected networks means attacks can come from anywhere in the world.

Most prudent companies make a concerted effort to protect their IT infrastructure from attacks from the outside – using firewalls, address translation, intrusion detection and other schemes to thwart cyber-criminals.

However, there is another attack vector many companies overlook: threats from within the network. Disgruntled employees behaving badly is an obvious concern, of course, but here are three others to consider with regards to internal threats:

Unintentional Threats from Employees

Remember the old days when well-meaning employees might introduce a virus through the use of an infected floppy disk? We don’t have to worry about that so much but consider these points of entry for malware, enabled by an innocent employee:

* Infected websites – even when using the Internet for legitimate business purposes, search results often include sites infected with malware, and visiting those sites can introduce a virus or worm into the user’s computer, and then into the network.

*Infected thumbdrives – this is the modern equivalent to the old floppy disk danger, it’s just a different storage device. The employee gets some data or a program from outside the network and when they plug that drive in, any infection on that thumbdrive can propagate through the network.

*Email social engineering – good virus software can prevent malware from launching automatically when attached to emails. But links to infected sites, or “phishing” attempts can get employees to follow a link or be fooled into providing malware a way into your network.

A clear (and enforced) Company Security Policy, coupled with a corporate culture of security awareness and education, can greatly reduce these types of internal threats.

Inside Access from Non-Employees

It’s not just employees who access the company network. In many cases, suppliers and even clients may have some access to data or applications on your network. Your company’s Security Policy should define the level of access for all users on the network.  The rule of thumb is, everyone should only have the minimum level of access they need to do what they need to do. One size does NOT fit all when it comes to user access policies!

In addition, the Security Policy should provide for immediate deletion of user accounts whenever the need for the account goes away (employees who leave, changes in suppliers, etc.) Every extra active account is an internal threat to your network security.

Controlling Access Within Cloud and Virtual Environments

Cloud and virtualization technologies have provided some great benefits with regards to manageability, flexibility and cost savings.  However, close attention must be paid to ensure that users accessing systems in the cloud, and/or virtual machines can only access the systems and applications that they need.

There are tools for securing these environments, and they should be used. Also, pay some attention to what regulations your business must follow to demonstrate compliance. The financial and healthcare industries, for example, have very specific requirements with regards to data storage and security.

In general, it’s best to address the issue of Network and Data Security from the top down, rather than the ground up. Devise an appropriate Security Policy and make security awareness a part of your corporate culture. Make sure it applies to everyone, and enforce it. You should also re-assess your infrastructure’s security at least annually.

Clare Computer Solutions can help with a lot of the planning, evaluation, implementation and maintenance of your company’s data and network security. A place to start is with a Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plan. Security breaches can be very costly – they could put you out of business. Take the time to protect your business!

For more information on ways to avoid these internal threats and protect your business, watch this short video on Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Tips, or contact us.

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

Cloud-Based Email vs. On-Premises Email

Cloud-based email is one of the fastest growing segments of cloud computing, and it’s easy to understand why. Email is such a ubiquitous part of modern communication (How long has it been since someone in business told you they don’t have an email address?), that a new solution that promises wider access, simplified management and subscription-based licensing is attractive to many companies.

But the move from an on-premises email service to a cloud-based solution (such as Office365) is not as easy as flipping a switch, and some companies have had very frustrating experiences when trying to make the change. Here are some things to consider when considering migrating to a cloud-based service, to help make that transition go as smoothly as possible.

How Much Storage Are You Using?

The amount of stored emails companies have on their email servers is often taken for granted. In general, the common practice is to save everything, to be on the safe side. But when it comes time to move all that data, it can add considerable complexity to the task. This is just one of several “hidden” aspects of the email environment that must be addressed for a successful migration.

Public vs. Private Folders

We all grow accustomed to having access to the resources we need, but it’s easy to forget that the permissions for each user’s access can vary quite a bit, and it takes some investigation and planning to successfully transplant that combination of permissions to a new platform.

Calendars

Outlook users benefit from the ability to view their own calendars, and those of selected colleagues, and the view they see while in Outlook can make it seem deceptively simple. But behind that view is an interactive combination of permissions and this, too, requires careful consideration to be successfully migrated with the user environment intact.

Consider Migration Costs in Your ROI

When comparing the costs of cloud-based email to having your own in-house email server, factor in the costs of migrating to the cloud-based solution. The considerations shown above may have a profound effect on the time it takes to get a return on the investment.

The promise of cloud computing in general, and cloud-based email n particular, is real. It’s just important to get expert advice to ensure those benefits are properly realized.  Clare Computer Solutions has the expertise to understand your business, its IT environment, and the emerging cloud solutions – we can help you make the right choices, and fully realize the power of these technologies!  Contact us today to get started.