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.

Technology Update: The End-of-Sales Date for Windows 7 & 8.1 is 10/31/16

Windows 7 & 8.1 Sales Will Soon Be Coming to an End!

Microsoft has announced that official end-of-sales for PCs running the Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 operating systems is Oct. 31, 2016.

What exactly does this mean for your company and you? It means after that date, you will no longer be able to purchase new systems from Microsoft or a third party with the older version of the operating system preinstalled.

However, certain businesses can find a way around the deadline. After Oct. 31, 2016, organizations participating in the Volume Licensing program may leverage Software Assurance or downgrade rights to switch from Windows 10 to Windows 7 on new PCs.

Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are still being supported by Microsoft for several more years (See the Fact Sheet Here for exact dates), so this news doesn’t mean it’s critical to make any immediate changes.

If you prefer a homogenous environment for your network users, however, it would be wise to start working on a plan to upgrade user machines to Windows 10 –providing all your applications will work with that newer operating system.

Clare Computer Solutions understands that every company, and every IT infrastructure is different. We can help you create a technology refresh roadmap to ensure your technology will stay up to date and running at optimal levels. Contact us today to get started.

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 https://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.