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 http://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!

Avoiding Scope Creep on IT Projects

Many businesses dread taking on an IT project, because their experience with them in the past involved problems, delays and cost overruns. The common culprit in failed projects is often referred to as “scope creep”, when the original focus of the project is thrown off course by unexpected – and sometimes unrelated – issues. These problems may seem to negate the benefits that the project was intended to deliver.

Scope creep does not have to derail a project, though. Here are three steps that can prevent scope creep from affecting the success of your IT project.

Plan Well

One of the causes of scope creep is an incomplete or faulty scope of work. Carefully plan the scope of work to include every single thing that will be required to bring the project to completion. Anything that takes time, or costs money needs to be included. Investigation of the IT environment is vital, too. Understand exactly what is being changed, and ensure that all the required components, software and tools are the correct versions for the plan. Ensure that they will all work together as planned.

Anticipate the Unexpected

Build into the project plan the mechanism for dealing with things that could not be anticipated. This includes a change management strategy. Changes that are necessary to bring the project to fruition will need to be addressed, hopefully without affecting budget or schedule. Requested changes that are not necessary to the project need to be designated “out of scope” and not be allowed to derail the project.

Have Regular Milestones to Check Progress

The worst time to have to deal with scope creep is at the end of the project. A proper project plan will have specific milestones, and expectations with regards to schedule and budget. This way, if the budget or the schedule is threatened, it can be detected at the milestone level and possibly mitigated before the whole project is affected.

It’s one thing to have technical skills – but executing a successful IT project takes IT project management skills. Many businesses don’t tackle IT projects often enough to have the insight necessary to properly plan an IT project.

Your company cannot afford to stand still on technology, and it can’t afford to have a poorly designed IT project disrupting the operation, either. Clare Computer Solutions has been doing IT projects for over 25 years – we can help you design a project, implement it and manage it. We’ll get it done – on time, and on budget.

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.

Don’t Ignore Your Desktops In Disaster Recovery Plan

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. An event that renders your office unusable qualifies as a major disaster, and dealing with that should be a major focus of your disaster recovery (DR) plan. Having a server fail would have a widespread adverse effect on your business too, so there should be schemes in place to mitigate that risk on your business.

What about the desktop computers in your office?

In today’s business world, workers use a variety of devices to do their jobs – computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

But for most office workers, the desktop computer is where they do most of their work, and despite the proven wisdom of having important data centrally located, a lot of important data is still being stored on those desktop machines.

What constitutes a disaster for a desktop workstation?  Here are two common examples.

Hardware/operating system failure – Desktop machines have steadily improved in quality and come down in price for years, but they still fail. One unfortunate side effect of the lower price of these devices is, it often isn’t worth the trouble to spend much time trying to fix one when it breaks.

Workstation becomes infected by malware – The variety of ways a computer can become infected with malware has grown both in number and sophistication over the years, and despite anti-virus or anti-malware programs, sometimes a desktop machine becomes unusable due to infection, and getting rid of the infection may become more costly than replacing the machine.

Regardless of the lower out-of-pocket costs for a replacement workstation, the loss in productivity while purchasing and setting up a new machine, and the cost of data lost forever all affect a company’s bottom line. An office with say, 50 desktop users is likely to have one or more machines acting up at almost any given time. What can be done to mitigate this?

Desktop backup and imaging is very cost effective. In this scheme, software backs up all the desktops’ images (usually to a local Network Attached Storage device). Then, if a user’s machine gets infected, the machine can be re-imaged to a backup dated prior to the infection. If a desktop machine fails completely, that backup image can be used to set up a replacement machine, in less time than starting from scratch.

There are all types of disasters, and thankfully, technology exists to minimize the effect they can have on your business. Clare Computer Solutions is managing hundreds of desktop machines protected in this way, and we have seen it pay for itself time and time again. Contact CCS today to get your workstations covered by image backup.

IT Support: Managed Services Suite of Services

As an IT support method for business, managed services is the best choice for most companies searching for IT Support. But “managed services” is a general term, and it’s important to understand the spectrum of services that could (and should) be available under that name. Here are 4 services you should expect from your MSP when they say they offer managed services.

Monitor, Manage, Maintain your IT Support

This is a basic tenet of managed services – network components are proactively monitored, managed and maintained by the Managed Service Provider (MSP). This is the NetCentralheart of the service and represents a departure from the prior, reactive “break-fix” paradigm for IT support.

System and Image Backup

This should be part of every MPS’s suite of managed service offerings. Backing up data and images, and managing that process are vital for maximizing uptime, disaster recovery, and often, regulatory compliance.

Vendor Management

It’s not unusual for a company’s technology (products and services) to come from a variety of vendors, and this can pose a challenge when trying to keep everything working together. An MSP can step in and provide advice for optimizing the interoperability, and act as a technical liaison when support from one or more vendors is needed to address an issue.

Virtual CIO – Strategic Planning

One of the greatest potential benefits manages services can bring to a business is strategic advice. Bringing technology into your business planning helps ensure your vital technology is kept up to date and that improvements are made in an orderly fashion, based upon your needs and your budget.

All of these things together provide benefits that are miles beyond reactive IT support. If your MSP isn’t offering all these things, it’s time to consider a change. Clare Computer Solutions has been providing this level of proactive support of business for over a decade with their NetCentral managed services. Contact us today to get started.

For more information on how Clare Computer Solutions can help your company with building a strategic plan, feel free to contact us.

Managed Services Can Help With Compliance

There are a number of industries that require businesses to have certifications or proof of compliance to operate within the industry. They vary from industry to industry, and some certifications are harder to achieve than others.

Healthcare firms are subject to the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), for example. Other companies are encouraged (if not required) to conform to the Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards. Manufacturers often pursue specific ISO (International Standards Organization) certifications.compliance

How To Achieve Compliance

What all these certifications have in common is a reliance on a defined, repeatable and accountable set of procedures. Businesses whose operations have established, documented procedures as part of the corporate culture will have an easier time achieving and maintaining compliance with these industry standards.

Technology can provide ways for businesses to maintain standards for data protection, fault tolerance, and documentation.

Data Security

Protecting sensitive data from hackers and other cyber criminals is of paramount importance, and the technology tools that are used for defense against attacks must be implemented properly, and maintained in order to remain effective. A company with a properly managed IT infrastructure will be able to demonstrate what controls they have in place and how they are kept up-to-date with compliance and codes.

Data Integrity

Protecting data from security breaches is very important, but so is tracking who is accessing data and when changes and/or updates are occurring. In the case of archived data, it is important to be able to prove the data has not changed since it was archived. Technological tools can provide forensic evidence of any changes to archived documents.

Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity

Most modern businesses back their data up, and ideally, to more than one location. Businesses should be able to show they have a plan in place for rapid recovery from a disaster that affects their IT infrastructure. They should be able to provide information to certify that the data centers that store their data offsite are properly certified – and meet their own industry’s certification requirements, too.

When an IT infrastructure is professionally managed, monitored and maintained through a Managed Services program, the processes involved are documented, consistent, tracked and reportable – all of which help your company maintain the certifications and requirements your industry recommends or requires.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped hundreds of companies take control of their technology and leverage that technology to help grow their businesses. We can help your business, too! Contact us today to get started