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.

Network Security Starts With Your Corporate Culture

The speed at which technology changes makes it difficult to stay current on threats to your company’s Information Technology and network security is at the forefront.

There is a temptation to deal with cyber-threats as a one-off cure.  Are hackers trying to get into your network? Buy a firewall. Are viruses causing problems? Install anti-virus software. But it’s not that simple.

To effectively protect your company from cyber-attack, security needs to be ingrained into the corporate culture. Technology alone won’t be enough — security best practices have to be part of the way in which every person in your business works.

Here are some ways to achieve this:

Think Security from the Top Down

Security cannot permeate the corporate culture if the top management doesn’t practice what they’re preaching. For example, how can you enforce the need for strong passwords, if management has simple passwords, stored on a post-it under a keyboard?

Put Someone in Charge of Network Security and Empower Them

Many industry best security practices are designed to be implemented and updated for all users through a single management console. Allow your IT staff to set up proper policies, and enforce them for all users.  Create levels of access based upon need – the rule of thumb is, nobody should have access to more of the network than they need to do their jobs.

Educate and Train

Many cyber attacks (especially ransomware) are unwittingly enabled by network users. Does everyone on the network practice security best practices when using email or the web? Do they know how to avoid infected sites, and spot email phishing attempts? Do they know about phone scams designed to draw out sensitive information?  They should – and all new hires will require the same training.

Assess and Improve Regularly

Security is a process, not a project. Your network needs to be regularly assessed for security vulnerabilities as do your business processes, preferable by an outside third party company. New employees will need to be properly trained on the corporate security culture, and existing employees will need periodic training refreshes.

Once everyone in the company is on the same page and of one mind when it comes to security, it will be much harder for hackers, script kitties and other cyber-criminals to disrupt your business. A cyber-attack, such a ransomware infection, can be catastrophic to your business – investing in some tools, training and consulting is a wise move. Clare Computer Solutions can help your company be prepared to avoid cyber crime, on a technical level and also on a user level, with ransomware awareness training. Contact us today to get started.

Fast and Reliable Internet Access Vital for Cloud Services

Cloud Computing is increasing in adoption and has become a big part of the technology landscape. Not that it’s a good fit for every company, or that it’s delivered on all the anticipated benefits, but increasingly, the cloud is a viable solution for a variety of applications.

How a business GETS to its data and applications on the cloud is not as a hot a topic, but it is a vital part of the equation. What’s in the cloud is of no use if a company can’t access it.

With cloud computing, a company’s demands on the internet connection is very different. Two very important factors to consider are bandwidth and redundancy.

Bandwidth

Barely a decade ago, a T1 line (1.544 Mbps) cost over $1000 per month. But the extensive buildout of fiber connections in metro areas has brought those costs down considerably. Even home internet connections get multi-megabit connections for about $100/month.

When planning a foray into cloud computing, some careful consideration needs to go into determining the bandwidth required to deliver an optimal user experience.  Not so long ago, a company’s internet bandwidth was used primarily for email and web browsing.  When even a small office is using their internet connection for applications, email, phones (VoIP) and web browsing, it’s a whole different story.

Therefore, the costs of the necessary bandwidth will need to be factored into the cloud strategy for your business.

Redundancy

No matter how much bandwidth your internet connection has, if it’s down, you have NO bandwidth. Some internet connections are more reliable than others, but even a 99.999% (Five 9s!) uptime means 8.76 hours of downtime in a year. Can your business be prepared to have NO access to your cloud-based resources for a full workday?

If a business is going to go to a cloud-dependent model, then it would be wise to have an alternate route to the cloud.  This could be 100% redundancy – an equivalent circuit from another provider (ideally, coming into the building via a different cable vault), or it can be a circuit designed to be just adequate to keep the business running until the main circuit is restored.

Don’t forget to factor in the costs for the extra circuit, and don’t forget to test the failover mechanism!

Private Circuits

Depending on where in the cloud your computing assets are, you may not need to go through the Internet at all. Your bandwidth may be more reliable if the data and voice traffic go over a dedicated circuit. The prices on these have dropped considerably, too, so it bears looking into.

The bottom line is, the cloud holds a lot of promise, but before implementing any new technology, all the pros and cons and costs must be weighed to ensure the results will be favorable for your business. Clare Computer Solutions Website can have a strategic conversation with you about your business and help you consider all the options when Cloud Services. Contact CCS to get started!

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.

Insist on Transparency From IT Service Providers

One of the things companies struggle with if they choose to outsource part or all of their IT service is the fear of losing control. Having a third party managing a company’s IT should not mean relinquishing control of, or visibility into, the IT infrastructure, however.

The relationship between a company and third party service providers works best when information flows freely and easily between the two parties. Therefore, it’s important that the client understand what the provider is doing on their behalf, and have ready access to information about the network.

On the other hand, the whole reason for outsourcing aspects of IT management is to shift focus towards the core business and let the 3rd party handle the ongoing support of the company’s IT. So how can a useful balance be struck? Here’s how a successful client/provider relationship should work.

Access to Network Management Dashboards

Service providers may take responsibility for clients’ networks, but they don’t actually own them. It makes sense for the owners to be able to view the status of their network – even if it’s in a “view only” mode.

Access to Network Login Credentials

There’s no justifiable reason why management personnel for a company would not have access to the network login credentials. It’s a safeguard against the provider going out of business, or if the business relationship becomes strained.

Monthly Network Health Reports

Even if outsourcing the IT service relieves the burden of day-to-day network management, the IT Infrastructure is a vital part of the business and management needs to be aware of the health of that part of the business through monthly metrics. And management needs to read those reports and understand them.

Periodic Strategic Reviews

The information contained in a quarter’s worth of monthly reports is extremely valuable. From this, trending data can indicate what parts of the IT infrastructure will need to be replaced or upgraded and when. Company goals set by management can also factor into the IT road map and enable the company to ensure their technology will meet their needs as they meet their growth goals.
When the relationship between a company’s management and their IT staff (whether it’s in-house or outsourced, or a mixture) is a partnership with common company-focused goals, then the company can truly leverage the power of technology to compete in the marketplace and prosper.

Clare Computer Solutions has long advocated this approach with our NetCentral managed service program, and our clients wouldn’t have it any other way. Contact us to get started with your free assessment.

Cloud Computing Continues to Trend Upward

Cloud Computing is no longer the “next big thing” – it’s here and it’s going to stay.

The futurists weren’t right about everything, though. What we’re seeing is an increase in cloud adoption, but rather than wholesale migrations, companies are choosing the aspects of cloud-based IT that will serve their needs now, and keeping the remainder of the IT on premises.

We see several drivers for this decision. For instance, there are some cloud migrations that are relatively simple and offer an apparent quick return on the investment. This may include email services, data, and image backups and some Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings.

Another driver is timing. Companies are not highly motivated to move IT workloads from on-premises equipment that is still within its useful lifespan. As that equipment nears its end-of-life, then companies are more willing to consider as an alternative to purchasing more hardware.

Companies are also discovering that some aspects of their IT simply won’t work in the cloud, and in some cases, may never be a good fit.

Interestingly enough, a cost is not a major driver in the decision-making process. Companies may prefer their IT costs to be operational expenses rather than capital expenditures but overall, cloud computing does not have obvious benefits when it comes to total cost.

This doesn’t mean the cloud is right or wrong – it is a valuable alternative and we’re seeing more and more companies incorporating its services as needed to realize the benefits of this computing’s scalability and agility. The technology has matured to the point where a hybrid IT infrastructure – some virtual, and some on-premises – is able to deliver the best of both worlds!

Clare Computer Solutions would like to help your company take advantage of any available technologies to give your business a competitive edge. Contact us to have a strategic discussion about this.

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!)