Offices Without Walls – The Mobile Workplace Revolution

Advances in cloud and mobile computing technology have made it possible to have an office without walls – something that would not have seemed possible just a few years ago.

Local Area Networks (LANs) revolutionized work within offices because they enabled everyone on the network instantaneous access to the same applications and data. Now this capability is not even limited to a physical office.

The Mobile Workplace

Advances in mobile technology, security tools, and cloud services, along with falling costs for bandwidth, have enabled companies to think outside the office. They can now extend the work environment to wherever workers happen to be. Wide Area Network (WAN) technology is affordable for even small and medium size enterprises now.

The upside to this revolution is workers don’t necessarily have to commute to work each day, and they can be more productive when traveling. In addition, companies can make more resources available for satellite offices.

Along with the obvious benefits, though, is the need to ensure that company data is properly protected and that remote workers work experience is optimized, and not bogged down by bandwidth or latency issues.

Here are three things to consider to when planning to take advantage of the modern mobile workplace.

Make Sure Remote Access is Secure

This seems so obvious it hardly bears mentioning. But remember, your data is not just traveling over wires within your office anymore – it’s in the air and in the cloud. Use connection methods that employ strong authentication processes and encryption. Data needs to be secure while in transit and when it’s stored. Your industry may have specific regulatory or compliance requirements – take these into account as well.

Make Sure Applications Are Optimized for Remote Use

Not all applications are cloud-ready. Others require very specific access methods to be usable via remote connection. To enable remote work for travelers and satellite offices, you will need to examine all the applications and data required for your business and make determinations as to the best ways to remotely access them, from a usability and security standpoint.

Make Sure Employees are Trained for Efficient Telecommuting

In the office, workers often save files locally to their PCs, which is OK if that’s their only work device. Once they try working outside the office building, though, some or all of those files may be inaccessible remotely. To make workspaces mobile, data and applications need to be centralized in a place that is (securely) accessible from anywhere. Policies can be set up to make it easier for employees to save things to a network drive rather than a local drive, but helping the employees understand where they’re saving things will help, and also reduce your IT support costs.

There’s no reason why your business can’t reap the benefits of mobile computing. Clare Computer Solutions has been helping businesses take advantage of the latest technology since 1990. Contact us to get started!

4 Tips to Control IT Costs at Your Business

One of the keys to success for any business is to control costs. Technology can help reduce costs through added efficiency and agility, but sometimes companies find it a challenge to control the costs of their IT department itself. Here are some tips on controlling those IT costs.

Keep Infrastructure up-to-date

and control your IT costs working lifespan, network devices need to be maintained by applying security patches, operating system updates, software updates and anti-virus updates. Much of this can be automatic, but care needs to take to ensure an update does not adversely affect installed software. One vendor’s update may have an effect on another vendor’s installed applications, so evaluation of updates and patches is a recommended practice.

Cycle Out Aging Equipment

This does not mean just replacing machines that fail. One of the things that make IT costs go up is the emergency replacement of broken network components. Modern network infrastructures can be monitored to detect signs of impending failure so that action can often be taken before it becomes a problem that affects business productivity.

In addition, equipment and software have a lifecycle, so companies can save costs by making an orderly technology refresh cycle part of their ongoing IT maintenance. Often, this can be done in phases, so that the cost of keeping the network modern is spread out and becomes a consistent and manageable part of the IT budget.

Be Prepared for Trouble

Better management of the IT infrastructure will reduce costs of unexpected downtime, but preparing for the unexpected is also wise. Loss of production due to a server crash, data loss, or other disasters (big or small) can make IT costs soar. Create a disaster recovery plan Invest in technology to enable your company to get back up and running quickly when something unforeseen happens. Back up your company’s data and store backed up data locally, and in the cloud. Backup images too – these can be used to quickly deploy a virtual version of a downed server.

Be Strategic

Companies that successfully use technology as a competitive advantage make IT part of the corporate culture and growth plans. They understand that technology isn’t just a set of tools for the day to day operation – technology can transform the business and its operations and provide a true competitive advantage. As you make your business plans and set goals for the next year, or two, or five, consider how technology can help your company run more efficiently, achieve agility and be a leader in your market.

Managing IT Costs for Business

Why doesn’t every company follow these 4 tips to control their IT costs? Usually, it’s because they’re too busy with running the business. This is where an IT consulting firm can have a huge impact. Engage the services of an IT consulting firm (like Clare Computer Solutions) to implement and maintain these 4 steps, and your company will fully realize the power of technology (and control those IT costs!)

Ransomware: How to Reduce Risk and Protect Your Business

The malware is known as ” Ransomware ” has many variants which utilize an array of methods to find a series of entry points (usually an attachment to an email) to infect and encrypt a company’s servers and data. Once the virus finds an entry point, it will begin to rapidly encrypt all the drives it can quickly access within the infected system.

You will become aware that the infection has occurred when someone attempts to access a file that has been encrypted or it hits the Server Operating System. There are no tools or Data Recovery Services that can decrypt your data; it is unrecoverable in this state.

All is not lost once your system has been compromised. We have found that there are two solutions that work the best once your system is compromised. Your two options are to restore your system from the last good backup or simply attempt to pay the ransom.

The IT industry does not encourage the payment of the ransom – and doing so does have risks. Sometimes a decryption key is never sent or won’t work, and the criminals don’t have an IT support team!.

But if you have no backup process for your data or you’re unsure and cannot take a chance on an unchecked backup then you may have no choice but to attempt to pay the ransom.

Prevention is the Best Option – Use These Steps

Educate Your Staff:

One of the most common causes of infection is an employee clicking on a link or opening a file sent from a legitimate source they might have corresponded with in the past. Train them to recognize “suspicious” emails

Employ Content Scanning / Filtering on Email Servers:

All incoming email must be scanned for viruses; this is the primary entry point for Ransomware. The next is websites that are infected; this is where a web content filter should come into play. If the website is infected the web filter will prevent its entry.

Maintain Patch Levels for OS and Applications:

It is an industry best practice to keep the workstations, server operating systems and applications up to date and patched as this will help prevent infection to your network.

Block End Users from Executing Malware:

Newer Antivirus and Malware programs such as Symantec, Malwarebytes and Webroot have products that work well for this service. You can configure and use “Group Policies” to implement software restriction policies to prevent the threat of Ransomware from running in the protected system areas.

Install and configure Host Intrusion Prevention:

Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) solutions are very helpful but do require a certain amount of administration such as monitoring for alerts, notifications, and events.

Limit User Access to Mapped Drives:

If users do not need access to drives or sharing privileges then remove them from the shared list. Group rights and login scripts will help to map drive access in your company.

Deploy and Maintain Backups:

The most important solution we constantly offer to our clients would be to constantly backup your system – we cannot stress this enough. The biggest takeaway from this article is that the best protection is a solid backup scheme. We prefer image-based backups like Datto, Storagecraft, and Veeam.

This is not a complete list of all the methods or solutions that can be used; however these are the most common and cost-effective methods of prevention. Remember, doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Again, if you take nothing else away from this article please make sure that you have a solid backup solution in place and it is working.

For more information about Ransomware and how Clare Computer Solutions can protect your company, contact us or visit our website at www.clarecomputer.com to find out what CCS can do for you.

Server Virtualization – Doing More With Less

Sooner or later, your old reliable server will no longer do its job, and it will be time to replace it. If you have several servers, this technology refresh cycle may be the right time to consider consolidating several servers into one, using server virtualization.

The Basis of Server Virtualization:

Server Virtualization is not a new concept – it’s been used in mainframes for decades to allow users to define a virtual machine within a host machine with the exact specifications they need, and keep those needs separated from other virtual machines in the host. Each year more and more workloads are on virtual servers, and since 2014, more than half of workloads are virtualized.

Advances in technology, coupled with a proliferation of servers in Information Technology (IT) environments of mid-market businesses paved the way for widespread adoption of virtualization in that space, and it’s become the norm.

There are major players in virtualization on the hardware and software front, including HP, IBM, VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft, providing technologies specifically designed for the SMB market.

Virtualization advantages for mid-market sized businesses:

Energy Savings – a virtual host running multiple virtual machines typically will require less power and less cooling than the same number of separate servers, plus they will take up less space.

Agility – deploying virtual machines takes much less time than setting up and deploying separate servers. This can be extremely helpful in disaster recovery scenarios, such as trying to replace a down server, or restoring a server to a pre-disaster state. In addition, deploying new servers is easier and quicker.

Flexibility – each virtual machine will have its own operating system, CPU, and memory allocation – and these can be easily changed as needed. Moreover, management of these machines can be done from a single management console.

Cost Savings – The costs of a suitable host machine plus the virtual machines that run on it are less than if there were a number of separate server machines.

You should definitely consider virtualization if the benefits listed above appeal to you! Contact Clare Computer Solutions and let’s have a strategic conversation – your next technology refresh may be your opportunity to save money and time, while increasing performance and agility!

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

Strategic IT Planning Allows Patching & Updates

A network consisting of components purchased over the course of several years? With strategic IT planning, your company is able to maximize the value it gets from its technology.

Strategic IT Planning

The downside of the speed at which technology changes is how rapidly it becomes obsolete.

In a business IT infrastructure, this rapid obsolescence can be damaging. A company does not want to find out their servers are not compatible with the latest version of their line-of-business application, for example, or discover that an office is full of PCs with an operating system no longer supported by the manufacturer.

Document IT Assets

Networks tend to grow in increments over the years, depending on need, and many companies simply don’t know what they have. The first order of business is to inventory the network –hardware and software. There are tools you can use to do this, but everything should be documented in detail. This process may also uncover any unlicensed software in use – something you want to stay ahead of.

Assign End-of-Life Dates

Sometimes, the network “discovery” tool can also find out when each device was put into service and from there, it’s relatively simple to make some determinations on when to consider assets are at their “end of life”.  Servers will tend to have a longer life than PCs – 6 or 7 years in some cases. Operating systems and productivity suites usually have well-publicized scheduled for the end of their support.  PCs are considered “old” when they get past 4 years – at that point, repairs on them might cost more than the machine is worth.

Make an IT Budget

With a good list of network assets and their expected lifespans, it’s possible to build orderly company-wide technology refreshes into the company’s IT budget. This will provide several important benefits:

  •  Cash flow is predictable
  • Downtime is reduced
  • Network technology is always up-to-date

Sometimes, it can be hard to make the time or allocate the expertise to do these three steps. Businesses know they should do it, but find it hard to make this part of their normal business process. This is where a Managed Service Provider (MSP) can help, and the cost of the service is more than offset by the benefits listed above.

Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience helping companies keep their technology up-to-date and running smoothly. Contact us today to get started.