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Jan
23

Office 365 vs. Google Apps: Why More Businesses Are Choosing Office 365

Small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs are accustomed to having to do more with less. Budgets are tighter and available resources are limited at best. Thankfully there is scalable new technology available to help today’s SMEs remain competitive against businesses with deeper pockets and a more robust technology infrastructure. 

Microsoft Office 365 - a cloud-based office productivity suite – is one product being leveraged by SMEs today to reduce costs, streamline operations, and bolster collaborative efforts among employees. 

Many SMEs are fearful of the cloud, but the term itself is basically industry jargon for off-site file hosting. Nowhere near as ominous as it sounds or is made out to be. 

Microsoft Office 365 brings the familiar Office desktop suite into the cloud creating web-based versions of widely used Microsoft software like Word, Excel, Outlook and Powerpoint. Everything from documents, spreadsheets, slideshows, emails, websites, conferencing tools, and storage space reside off-premises in the cloud rather than on an employee’s hard drive or an on-site server. This allows for anytime/anywhere remote access, easier filing sharing, and more collaborative approaches to editing. 

In this blog, we will discuss eight benefits of moving Office documents into the cloud and address the most common concerns that SME owners or Chief Information Officers (CIOs) have about migrating to Office 365. The goal of this blog is to help SMEs better understand the basic fundamentals of Microsoft Office 365 so they can make a more informed decision as to whether or not this solution best accommodates their current needs and circumstances. 

Office 365 - History

Prior to Office 365’s introduction, many businesses were migrating to the cloud-based Google Apps for Business. Microsoft was starting to be perceived as the old stalwart when it came to business email and communications software. Meanwhile, Google was garnering a reputation as the young upstart in the industry.  Since Google was fully utilising the cloud, small businesses and organisations were turning to Google Apps for Business to eliminate the need for an on-site server and to facilitate communications and sharing among an increasingly dispersed workforce in the BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) era. 

This meant that many businesses were bypassing the expensive licenses of the Office desktop suite for the more mobile and affordable Google Apps for Business. “Send us a Word attachment” suddenly became “Put that in a Google Doc and share it with us on the Google Drive.” 

Rather than lose a share of their marketplace to a competitor, Microsoft opted to introduce a cloud-based suite of their own targeting enterprise customers, small businesses, non-profits and the education market, all of whom were being priced out of the desktop Office 2013 suite. 

After several missteps, Office 365 was introduced. Here are the four key components that make up Office 365’s cloud-based services. 

The Distinction between Office 365 & Google Apps

You’ll note different names, yet very similar capabilities, during a quick side-by-side comparison of Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Business. This is because Google basically developed their software to be cloud-based replicas of the already established enterprise-grade Microsoft Office products. The following table is a breakdown of each comparable function between Office 365 and Google Apps. 

Despite the old adage of “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Microsoft versions have been around for quite some time and are much more refined than Google’s offerings. 

For instance, while many appreciate the simplicity of Gmail for personal use, a much larger percentage of workers are likely to be more familiar with Outlook for business email. 

Anyone who has ever used Google Docs has likely experienced formatting nuisances and understands that the software’s format and layout options aren’t always WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get). 

Eight simple reasons SMEs are choosing Office 365

 

1.  Ensured Privacy and Better Security 

Whenever cloud migration is suggested, security is one of the first subjects to come up, as many SMEs fear their data is less secure in the cloud. However, only a very small number of security breaches have been linked to data stored in the cloud. In fact, the cloud offers SMEs a level of consistently updated security that many otherwise can’t afford. Here are a few ways Office 365 keeps your business information private and secure: 

  • Not only does the data reside in a well-secured state-of-the-art data centre, but data encryption and frequently updated antivirus and spam protection also offer greater protection.
  • Microsoft’s privacy policy states your data WILL NOT be scanned and given or sold to third parties. In contrast, Google’s Privacy Policy states that any data they collect CAN BE used for advertising purposes. Make no mistake about it; Google’s cash cow is Google Ads. Google crawls your data in search of specific keywords to trigger ads from paid advertisers. Its important to read all fine print as many businesses, particularly those that must adhere to industry regulations, may run into a compliance conflict with Google Apps. Office 365 protects against data crawling and adheres to its privacy standards at no additional cost beyond its base price.
    • Microsoft provides detailed documentation on their privacy policy and security measures.
  • Microsoft has long been regarded as one of the most cooperative cloud-service providers when it comes to signing a liability agreement committing to HIPAA compliance. 

 

2.  Work from Anywhere at Anytime 

Although Google has enhanced its capabilities offline, there are still limitations to its offline app. Meanwhile, Office 365 allows users to access documents, spreadsheets, Outlook, etc. from virtually any device with a Wi-Fi connection and a web browser. Here are a few reasons Office 365 is strengthening productivity. 

  • In addition to the web-browser based Office suite, most Office 365 plans include desktop installations of Microsoft’s software for up to 5 PCS/Macs per user. Otherwise, anyone who needs to create, review or edit documents without a Wi-Fi connection can still get work finished using software installed on his or her laptop or Macbook.
  • Office 365 offers a consistent experience across online and offline platforms regardless of the device used. 

 

3.  Ease of Use Both Online and Offline 

Office 365 users can get started immediately with a minimal learning curve because Microsoft’s products are widely recognized and have been used in workplaces and homes for decades. The same tailored experience is applied across all platforms – mobile, online and desktop applications. 

Anyone that has already used Microsoft Outlook and desktop Office has an instant familiarity with the products that should help them smoothly transition to the cloud. 

4.  Effective Integrated Solutions 

Familiarity goes a long way and more people are proficient at using the Microsoft software than its competitors. The cloud enhances the Microsoft Office Desktop suite experience because it facilitates greater collaboration. Office 365 allows SMEs to: 

  • See real-time presence and calendar availability 
  • Initiate a web conference within Office applications or Outlook, Sharepoint or Skype for Business. 

Google on the other hand relies on third parties for features like video conferencing and many of its core services. 

5.  A Uniform Look Regardless of Device 

Have you ever opened a Word document in Google Apps only to see disheveled formatting or a missing table of contents, headers, footers, watermarks, page numbers and tables? 

It’s pretty common. Office 365 preserves formatting whether documents are edited using a desktop version of Microsoft Office or a mobile device in the cloud. 

This gives you the confidence of knowing that the documents you’re sending to customers, clients, or prospects look just the way you intended. 

6.  Flexible Solution 

Office 365 offers a hybrid environment allowing you to easily do business both in and outside of the cloud. If certain parts of your business operations aren’t necessarily “cloud-ready”, they can stay out of it. Users of Google Apps can’t experience this kind of hybrid deployment. 

Additionally, Google also has very limited management and administrative capabilities in comparison to Office 365. With Office 365, you will know exactly who has access to your data and control their conditions and privileges. 

7.  Financially Backed Service-Level Agreement 

The most successful SMEs are confident that their business critical operations are optimally running at all times. Not only does Microsoft provide a Service Health Dashboard that lets you see the current status of their online service, but they are also one of the few cloud-service providers to offer a financially backed service level agreement (SLA) any time their service availability drops below 99.9 percent. 

Meanwhile, Google offers a less transparent approach to system availability. They only begin to count downtime when at least 5 percent of their users are affected. This doesn’t work very well for any business relying on meaningful performance metrics to assess productivity. 

8.  No Surprises 

SMEs get exactly what they pay for with Microsoft - ready-to-go features that are fully supported with predictable pricing and no hidden fees or gotchas. Office 365 is also flexible enough that it allows SMEs to change or remove services based on their needs. Office 365’s technology roadmap means no surprise updates. Advance notice accompanies any significant update. 

Office 365 offers a tried-and-true business standard in a new technology environment. Although it may seem to be priced slightly higher than Google Apps, the enhanced security, superior MS Office software, and better flexibility actually make it a more cost-efficient solution for SMEs. Since Office 365 allows for a hybrid deployment of both cloud and on-premise servicers, Office 365 also allows SMEs to gradually move to the cloud with less anxiety. 

For even more support transitioning to an Office 365 environment, an expert managed services provider that has successfully deployed SharePoint, Exchange and Skype for Business both on-premises and in the cloud can help minimise the administrative burden of Office 365; helping you achieve a greater ROI on your Microsoft investment. 

Find out how we can help you implement the right solution for your business

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Sep
08

Now you see it, there it stays!

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Decreasing business costs and risks of costly data loss

We live in a 24/7 global economy that is more dependent than ever on technology. Even the technology of small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) houses sensitive digital data - employee and customer information, internal emails, documents and financial records, sales orders and transaction histories. Not to mention applications and programs critical to daily business function and services. 

Employees at SMBs require continuous access to the critical business data needed to meet the demands of the customers or clients they service. They even want this access while they’re at home or on the go running errands. 

To satisfy this demand, many companies and organisations now allow employees to BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) and “do business” using their personal laptops, tablets and mobile phones. The web, Wi-Fi networks and mobile devices with robust memory and battery life have made this constant access to a SMBs back office infrastructure a reality. Regrettably this flexibility and freedom is accompanied by an ominous risk of data loss.

Just a single data loss or breach can be costly to SMBs. Data losses and leaks come with lingering continuous costs that many SMBs cannot easily shake or overcome. Revenue is lost if employee productivity and customer accessibility/ service are stalled by data loss. The expenses associated with internal research and investigation, system repair and maintenance, and data security protection are another heavy price SMBs must pay. If cybercrime is involved, affected customers must be notified, the potential exists for litigation, and many customers will likely never return due to mistrust. 

While corporate-level data losses are well publicised, many SMBs mistakenly believe their data isn’t at risk. This mistake can prove to be a costly one. 

Why C-Suite Management  at SMBs Can No Longer  Ignore Data Loss

    • Following a significant data loss, it is estimated that SMBs can lose up to 25% in daily revenue by the end of the first week. 
    • According to the recent national UK survey, 93% of companies that have experienced data loss, and prolonged downtime for ten or more days have filed for bankruptcy within twelve months of the incident. 50% wasted no time and filed for bankruptcy immediately. 43% of companies with no data recovery and business continuity plan actually go out of business following a major data loss.  How quickly can your business be restored if critical data is lost? When was the last time backup processes were tested to ensure all data is recoverable and business operations are quickly restored?
    • A survey conducted by Symantec SMB revealed that fewer than half of SMBs surveyed backup their data each week. Only 23% of those surveyed said they backup data every day and have a business continuity plan in place. 
    • The percentage of cybercriminal attacks targeting businesses with fewer than 250 employees doubled in 2012. The vulnerabilities of naive small business owners have been noted, and hackers have now placed the proverbial bull’s-eye on these perceived weak links. If sensitive customer data is leaked, SMBs may face overwhelming financial liabilities, which could include reimbursing affected customers and legal fees. 
    • BYOD isn’t a trend or passing fad. It is here to stay and the fact of the matter is businesses no longer own the devices used by employees. This is unprecedented. It’s not as if the employees of yesterday could haul home their file cabinets and desk. This obviously comes with a number of data security risks. The number of networks, applications, and end points where data can be accessed has multiplied with BYOD. Who manages these devices? Who secures these devices? Do SMBs have the right to back up data on machines they do not own? If an employee loses a laptop, or goes AWOL on the company, what data do they have and does anyone else in the company have access to it?
       
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Sep
08

The Value of a Helping Hand

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Reducing The Costs and Complexity of IT With a Managed Services Provider

The Technology Pains of Small Business

Small business owners are faced with quite the dilemma these days. While a reliable and secure network is a critical component to success, business owners are also being forced to scale back on costs and overhead as a means of basic survival in today’s economy. 

Having a fully staffed IT department simply isn’t a viable option for a majority of small business owners. Many small businesses either have one full-time employee devoted to IT services or none at all. Both scenarios are recipes for disaster in an increasingly complex high-tech society.

One IT person, even a very small team, will likely be overworked and burdened by too many responsibilities. This can make a company’s business infrastructure increasingly vulnerable to breakdown, not from technology, but from human error.  A recent study conducted by Gartner projected that through 2015, people - not technology, will be responsible for up to 80% of technology failure. This number coincides with findings reported in the IT Process Institute’s Visible Ops Handbook stating that 80% of unexpected outages are due to poorly planned changes implemented by administrators and developers.

The forecast is even stormier for businesses with absolutely no IT support on payroll. These business owners have subscribed to the break/fix model of technology management. While this model can sometimes be out of necessity due to budget restraints, it can also stem from a state of ignorance or denial that their business is truly susceptible to technology failure. The overall health and profitability of their business is directly affected by the performance, reliability and security of its technology systems.  

 

With the break/fix model, there is absolutely no proactive monitoring or management of their network. The only emergency plan for data loss or downtime is to call upon an IT specialist in an emergency 9-9-9 situation. 

On average, these IT consultants charge £100 an hour. This doesn’t even factor in trip fees, surcharges, and standard repair costs in the range of £500 to £1000, or the costs of hardware and software upgrades. This method also results in more downtime, lost productivity, lost revenue, and a loss in overall customer satisfaction. Major network repairs require a minimum of 8-24 hours on average and most on-call IT consultants cannot get on site for up to 24-48 hours.  One has to also wonder if these consultants truly have the business owners’ best interest in mind? After all, they make their money when technology breaks down. Are they truly motivated to keep a client’s network running optimally and efficiently?

The Concept of Managed Services

Managed Services Providers - or MSPs - are often recommended as a cost-effective IT solution for small businesses. For a minimal monthly fee, MSPs provide a reasonably priced solution to the complex technology pains of small businesses. Sometimes an MSP will enter the picture to support an overworked IT support person or staff. They can also assume complete responsibility of all IT and network operations if need be. 

MSPs can decrease the overall IT support costs by as much as 30% to 50%. Rather than stressing about technology, business owners can instead get back to focusing on growing their business. All while enjoying the benefit of a team of highly-trained IT experts boosting their network’s reliability and performance.  

Freed Up Resources and a Renewed Emphasis on Core Business

Most pricey repairs and recovery costs are the result of a lack of consistent monitoring and maintenance. While these activities are absolutely critical to day-to-day business operations, they are also repetitive, monotonous and “a time kill” for any IT support on payroll. Both business owners and internal IT staff would much rather focus on revenue enhancing tasks like product development or the creation of cutting-edge applications/services. This is one reason routine monitoring and maintenance tasks are often neglected by an internal IT person or team, which always proves to be detrimental much later. 

Often misportrayed as a “threat” to an internal IT person or staff, MSPs can instead alleviate internal staff of mundane network operations maintenance, repetitious monitoring of server and storage infrastructure, and day-to-day operations and service desk duties.

A True Partner Sharing Risks And Responsibilities

Earlier we alluded to a mistrust of IT consultants who profit from your technological misery. In comparison, the goal of an MSP is to deliver on contracted services, measure, report, analyze and optimize IT service operations, and truly become an irreplaceable catalyst for business growth. MSPs not only assume leadership roles, they mitigate risks, enhance efficiency and change the culture by introducing internal IT operations to new technologies and processes.

Access to Expertise, Best Practices and World - Class Tools and Technologies

MSPs has worked with a variety of businesses and organizations. Since each client presents a completely unique set of business and technology needs, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” method to what they do. That said, they’ve likely seen it all, and the benefit of an experienced MSP undoubtedly adds value to your business. MSPs can keep your business relevant and on track with continually evolving technology, support, and productivity demands. Let’s face it – no small or medium-sized business can afford to fall behind with technology trends in today’s business world.

The Benefit of a Full-Time Fully Staffed IT Department at a Fraction of the Cost - Most small business owners live and die by proactive management. They just haven’t had the budget, resources or access to on-demand expertise to be proactive with information technology management. An MSP gives business owners and overwhelmed internal IT staff affordable computer and server support, remote monitoring of critical network components like servers and firewalls, data backup and disaster recovery, network security, custom software solutions, and technology evaluation and planning. Freeing them from expensive computer problems, security threats like spyware and spam, and the repercussions of prolonged downtime. All without being “nickel-and-dimed” by on-call IT firms.

 

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Jul
25

Weathering the Storm: Zero In On Downtime For Long-Term Business Continuity and Customer Satisfaction

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Small business has changed dramatically within the last decade. No change has been more profound than our dependency on information technology (IT) systems to support critical day-to-day business functions.

In today’s increasingly competitive high-tech environment, it is critical that all business operations run smoothly and efficiently. Business momentum, employee productivity and customer service all depend on an IT infrastructure that must be both accessible and secure at all times. Constant network availability has become essential to most small and midsize businesses (SMEs) today.

This reliance on IT systems has also created a stronger link between data centre accessibility and total cost of ownership (TCO). Even minimal amounts of unplanned downtime today will result in lost revenue, productivity and negatively impact overall brand reputation.

Preventing or rebounding from downtime was once deemed the IT team’s problem, however, this unprecedented modern- day dependence on technology has made the frequency and costs of downtime more of a business problem. Prolonged or recurring downtime can cripple small businesses and requires the attention and understanding of C-suite management in order to be properly addressed.

Unfortunately, many executives at SMEs are still not as tuned into daily network operations as they need to be. For this reason, they lack a true awareness of the frequency of downtime. This lack of insight and visibility is regrettably putting far too many SME sat an increased risk for downtime and the costs associated with it.

Bridging the Gap Between C-Suite Executives and In-House IT Teams

While most C-level executives are well aware that network operations play a pivotal role in productivity, service and profitability, they don’t have the same awareness as IT personnel when it comes to the frequency of downtime and what makes their data centre infrastructure vulnerable to it. Worse yet, many SMEs don’t even have in-house IT staff –meaning nobody in the company or organisation has any insight into the problem.

At the same time, even when internal IT personnel is on deck, many support technicians fail to recognise the financial implications of downtime when it comes to lost revenue, lost productivity and lost customers.

It is imperative that all levels at a SME have insight into the probability and implications of downtime. This is the only way to maximise uptime and the availability of essential IT applications without over inflating the total cost of ownership of data centre infrastructure.

Calculate the True Cost of Downtime

According to the Aberdeen Group, a business intelligence research firm, downtime is costing companies 65% more per hour these days than just two years ago. 2012 data calculated downtime costs at the £165,000 mark compared to the £100,000 of 2010.

According to Symantec’s 2011 SME Disaster Preparedness Survey, small businesses lose an average of £3,000 each day from downed systems and networks. Medium sized businesses bleed even more money, losing an average of £23,000 each day.

C-Suite management at SMEs must consider both the direct and indirect costs of downtime. Direct costs are:

  • Wasted wages paid to idle employees
  • Sales lost during the outages
  • The expensive emergency service/ repair bill issued by the on-call IT technician brought in to get your business back up and running.

Indirect costs, such as lost customers who have moved on after one too many “Our server is down” messages, are more difficult to quantify but more costly – equating to roughly 62% of all network downtime costs. A specific dollar amount cannot be placed on lost productivity, the long-term consequences of damaged reputation and wasted opportunities that accompany each downtime event.

This is why Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and IT support alike don’t have the visibility or insight to understand what the average downtime event truly costs them. The residual effects of a network outage are typically much more costly than costs related to identifying the root cause of the failure and repairing or replacing any physical hardware.

But so many C-level executives remain mindful of only what downtime costs them in terms of repair or replacement costs. They also tend to gloss over the fact that their day-to-day business processes are more susceptible to outages and inaccessible data than they think.

Zero In On Infrastructure Vulnerability to Data Centre Downtime  

Leading Causes of Downtime

  • Power Outages – 48%
  • Accidental Data Deletion – 31%
  • Employee Created – 29%
  • Virus/Malware – 25%
  • Application Failure – 20%
  • Power Related Outages

Vulnerabilities to a data centre’s power still rank as one of the leading causes of unplanned network outages and can often be catastrophic. Particularly costly are UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) related failures (this includes batteries) and generator failures.

To minimise the impact that power outages have on data centre operations, and to prevent a potentially catastrophic unavailability of the data centre, a dependable backup system is needed. This ensures the backup of critical data and applications is always in  place in the event of equipment failure.
The integration of comprehensive infrastructure monitoring and management tools also minimises the costs associated with identifying and repairing power system failures.

Accidental Data Deletion and Employee Created Downtime

Simple human error is a prevalent cause of downtime. Whether months of data is unintentionally lost in a backup error, a power cord is unplugged, a busy IT technician overlooks routine maintenance and alert monitoring, or there is an error in judgment during an emergency, to err is human and apparently quite frequent as well.

A study by the Gartner Group, an IT research and advisory firm, projected that through 2015, 80% of downtime will be due to people and process issues.

In August of 2010, foursquare - a widely used mobile check-in app – had a highly publicised outage of eleven hours, followed by another shorter service disruption the next day. All three million users of the app were affected and it was a chain of human mistakes that led to both outages. IT techs noticed that a server was storing too much data, but as the support team tried to resolve the issue, all the servers went down.

Regardless of proper training, or the quality of IT technician hires, human mistakes  will  likely  always  lead  to instances of a downed data centre or network, especially considering  the expected learning curve of adapting to new technologies.

Ensuring proper communication amongst team members and adequate training at all levels is critical. Of course, it goes without saying that having a comprehensive backup strategy is also a necessity to counter act downtime and ensure business continuity regardless of who is having a bad day. 

Virus/Malware/Hacks

SMEs are often guilty of thinking they are immune to hackers, viruses and malware. According to a National Cyber Alliance and Symantec survey, 77% of SMEs don’t believe they’re at risk for cybercrime while 83% admit to having no formal measures in place to counter these threats. This isn’t merely a threat to your data; it puts your bank account and the sensitive data of your customers at risk.

Passwords should be regularly changed every few months. They should be strong. This means no more passwords like "password" or "1234567". Employees must be educated on security and precautionary measures. And there is no excuse for not having data backed up in this era of cloud computing and virtualisation - where the entire contents pf physical server - including the operating system, applications, patches and all data - can easily and cost-effectively be grouped into one software bundle or virtual server.

Application Failure

Many applications or their components contribute to recurring downtime. While virtualisation offers many multi-faceted advantages it has also further exacerbated overlapping applications in the infrastructure. One small application component failure is now likely to impact many applications.

It is critical that all components are  profiled and there is a general understanding as to what each application does – the hardware resources used by the application and the software it integrates with. Identifying an owner will allow for better monitoring and recognition of failure points.

Despite the risks of downtime, many SMEs still don’t feel they’re at any real risk. There is an overall sentiment of “It won’t happen to me.” It can be assumed that many hear the word “disaster” and mistakenly assess the immediate risk of natural disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, impacting their day-to-day business. While those events, along with floods and fires, definitely contribute to a large number of unplanned prolonged outages, the truth is there is a new breed of modern era “disaster” culprits that can very literally happen on any given day. Downed networks and data centres from power outages, human error, viruses and malware, and application failure are much more probable and could be just as fatal to SMEs.

C-suite executives at SMEs must honestly assess their risk, quantify downtime costs,and improve disaster recovery efforts. In terms of ROI (Return on Investment) of business technology,  it’s important to remember that conventional disaster recovery can be expensive since it requires more time and resources. Stored data on backup tapes can also be more prone to error. Additionally, off-site backup tapes will always lead to prolonged downtime since recovery hinges on the retrieval and delivery of these tapes to the data centre.

Many smaller and medium sized businesses are turning to new technology trends like virtualisation and cloud computing as a cost effective means to better prepare for outages and the loss of critical business information. According to Symantec’s 2012 Disaster Preparedness Survey,  26%  of  SME  executives cited disaster preparedness as a moderate to large influencer on their choice to move to a virtualised server infrastructure, 30% said minimising downtime influenced their decision to move to public clouds, and 32% said a quicker recovery time affected their decision to move a private cloud.  SMEs can benefit from a little help when it comes  to  properly  implementing and leveraging this new technology to strengthen their disaster recovery efforts. Access to a 24/7 NOC (Network Operations Centre) team offering remote monitoring and management solutions, along with a 24/7 help desk, can help SMEs improve backup, monitoring and troubleshooting processes for maximum uptime and business continuity.

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Jul
22

Why More SMEs are Turning to the Cloud to Reduce TCO

Posted by Markus McIver in Cloud

More small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) seem to be taking the initiative to learn more about the benefits of the cloud. Determining why SMEs have this sudden keen interest in the cloud isn’t all that tricky.

If you shouted, “Cost Savings!” in a room full of SMEs, you’d undoubtedly be the centre of attention. And it seems as if this is also the motivating factor as to why more SMEs are looking into cloud-based solutions to reduce expenditures.

Although it seems like an oxymoron to recommend investing in new technology to control costs, cloud-based solutions can be leveraged for a greater return on already inevitable operational expenses. By enhancing productivity and overall efficiency, the cloud could help spur business growth and profitability.

Here are few of the reasons more SMEs are opening up to cloud-based solutions…

Containing Costs

This is the big one. Every SME wants their business to grow but that growth is accompanied by rising costs to maintain safe, reliable, and sustainable business technology.

On-premise solutions are expensive. If you’re paying someone $60K a year to manage and monitor your technology, and most of their day is spent performing routine maintenance tasks or running to the aid of the intern who complains that something is running slow, are you really getting a return on that investment? You can do better and your on-site IT support can do more for you.

The cost for cloud-based solutions have been found to be anywhere from 35% to 50% lower than with on-premise solutions. This is because the cloud can completely eliminate most infrastructure costs such as servers, databases, backup, operating systems, upgrades, migration, physical space, power and cooling, and associated in-house or third party staffing costs.

Greater Flexibility

No doubt you’ve been privy to an office Happy Hour conversation or two about Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas) and Platform- as-a-Service (PaaS). Is that crickets we hear? Okay, well since you’re in the dark, the flexibility of the cloud makes it really attractive to SMEs.

IaaS and PaaS are two increasingly popular cloud technologies because of their flexibility when it comes to big data analysis.

IaaS technology is flexible as it allows an as needed rapid deployment of resources. Basically, fast expansion to accommodate growth. SME scan pay accordingly for this on-demand usage, giving them the ability to access and analyse the kind of big data seen at larger enterprises without having to pay for necessary hardware capacity.

PaaS technology gives SMEs the ability to affordably increase or decrease data storage capacity as needed.

Of course, there must be a need for big data analysis that justifies the use of these technologies. Many SMEs may be just fine using Microsoft Excel for data analysis.

Greater Mobility

Many SMEs are turning to the cloud to provide remote employees with access to communications solutions. Through the cloud, remote workers can use smartphones, laptops, and notebooks to access documents and files for internal and external collaboration.

As you can see, it’s understandable why the cloud is being seen by SMEs as the “great equaliser” to take their business to the next level and stay competitive with even the big dogs despite budget and staffing limitations. It also helps that cloud-monitoring services have simplified the monitoring and management of SME cloud deployments, alleviating a lot of the fear about migrating to the cloud.

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Tags: #Cloud
Jul
17

The Benefit of Insight - Mitigating Costly New Technology Risks For Continued Stability and Profitability

Contrary to what you may read, IT costs don’t necessarily have to skyrocket as your business grows. Small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) just have to be more cognisant of where their technology investments are going and what they’re truly getting as return on their investment.

As businesses rely more than ever on technology for day-to-day functions, managers realise that they simply cannot afford the lost productivity, lost revenue and the negative impact on business reputation that comes with a downed system or network.

At the same time, many businesses can’t justify the costs of employing any  full or part-time IT support given today’s economy. In fact, many small-to-medium sized businesses choose to pay for on-site support on an as- needed basis as opposed to having one or several dedicated IT employees on payroll.With the recent buzz about the potential benefits and cost savings of virtualisation software and cloud computing, many SME executive teams are rethinking how their technology investments are currently allocated.

Two things you’ll find many technology dependent peers focusing on today are a greater return on investment (ROI) and a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

 

Executive Perspectives to Tech ROI and TCO

ROI is calculated by dividing the cost reduction and avoidance realised over a period of time by the total amount invested over that same time span.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is most commonly related with four categories in the business/tech world.

▪ Downtime

Smart  executives ask themselves “What does it cost my business when my employees, extended teams and/or our customers can’t get to the data they need.” Downtime includes ALL costs linked to server downtime – both planned and unplanned – along with mostly hidden soft costs that aren’t necessarily easy to quantify such as lost employee productivity and business as a result of downtime.

▪ Hardware and Software

The price of the server, hardware and software purchases, contracted tech support and maintenance, training services, upgrades, and backup and virus protection software.

▪ IT Operations

Network and storage infrastructure, server deployment and configuration, data centre power and cooling, and other system-related administrative tasks.

▪ Business Administration

All costs related to business processes like labor costs, purchase approvals, vendor contract negotiation and procurement process tracking.

 

Re-evaluate Your “Status Quo” Approach to IT

As referenced earlier, small-to-medium size companies can be severely understaffed when it comes to IT support. With so many technology changes emerging in recent years, this puts your businesses at an increased risk for network failure, data loss and security threats – all of which can be enough to put an ill-prepared company out of business.

The first instinct of  many  CFOs and/ or CIOs is to hire more in-house IT staff to address  technology  challenges. This may actually be the right move in some instances but let’s consider a few potential, and common, issues with this. First, beyond budget restraints, it has become increasingly frustrating for many businesses to successfully manage their internal IT operations on their own. Turnover is generally high because many IT professionals view smaller companies as a stepping stone or training ground prior to moving on to larger employers. The result is a cycle of recruiting, training, and ultimately replacing IT technicians that becomes a royal hassle for many businesses.

Additionally, limited IT resources often lead to an increase in human errors made by techs juggling too many responsibilities. A multitude of recent industry studies have estimated that up to 40% of today’s outages stem from human error made by in-house IT staff. And, your internal staff will spend anywhere from 25 to 50% of their time identifying and addressing these issues.

The industry term for this is a “break/fix mentality” – this is essentially pulling an alarm and having an on-call IT technician rush in to put out a fire. This approach comes with substantial direct costs to your business or organisation in the form of high hourly rates, trip fees, surcharges, and hardware/software service or replacement fees. Losses from downtime must also be considered since it can take 24-48 hours for many IT consultants to even get on-site to address an issue, and resolving these issues aren’t always a same day fix.

Both scenarios hardly seem like a way to improve ROI and decrease TCO.

 

Reduce TCO with Virtualisation and a “NEW” Managed Services Approach

Your peers are finding new technology innovations like virtualisation and the cloud as a way to save money. Virtualisation and cloud computing are a cost-effective means to move the contents of entire servers into one offsite virtual server or software bundle – this includes all applications, data, operating systems and patches. The need for fewer physical servers reduces hardware and energy costs, data size requirements and makes overall IT management and backup/recovery easier.

According to series of studies compiled by VMWare (a US-based cloud and virtualisation software and services company), businesses that have implemented virtualisation have reduced total cost of ownership in IT operations by up to 67%.

While there has been much attention called to the positives of these new innovations, SMEs owners and managers have little to no visibility to the new set of risks and the incremental costs that accompany this new technology.

This new technology, while highly productive, also has the  potential  to be disruptive given the increased risk for security breaches in the cloud and the learning curve of team members adapting to new technology and software applications. The life of a system administrator also becomes more complex given the demands of always-on employees/customers and the greater need to backup data and recover immediately in the event of an unplanned outage.

The reality is many of the headaches that come with new technology aren’t fully realised until months, if not years, into their implementation – and this may be too late.

Management today needs more visibility to the real risks at hand, along with new solutions and methodologies. Partnering with a managed services provider (MSP) is one new approach being used by many of your peers today. Experienced MSPs have access to newer tools that reduce costs by automating many routine in- house labor intensive processes. Break- fix is labor intensive, and labor is one of the most expensive operating costs within your IT infrastructure. These innovative tools generate real productivity increases and mitigate the risk of network failure, downtime or data loss from human error.

MSPs deliver a trusted foundation for your team and your customers – some of the services and tasks offered include:

▪Remote Desktop Management and Support

▪Predictable Management of Critical Patches and Software Updates

▪Fractional Resource Availability of Best- In-Class Expertise – scaled to your needs

▪Implementing and Testing Backup and Disaster Recovery Processes

▪Performance of Inventory and Audits of Computer/Network/Software

▪Enforcement of Network/Security Policy

▪Mobile Data Management and Monitoring

▪Monitoring of Network/Operating System and Alerts

▪Updating Anti-Virus Software and Detecting Spyware

 

Examples of MSP - generated savings cited by Wipro Limited, an India-based IT consulting company:

▪ Alert Monitoring - MSP automation of this task has led to an 80% reduction of in-house monitoring that delivers  visibility to risks that were previously unidentifiable.

▪ Service Tasks/Help Desk Requests or Ticketing – MSP automation  of  these  tasks  have led to a 30% reduction of in-house support ticket-related efforts – saving countless hours of paying for employees  and  team members to stand idle

▪ Reporting – MSP service-level management tools and dynamic dashboards have led to complete automation of reporting and business communication efforts. Network trust increased and fear of unknown risks reduced so management can sleep at night?

 

Erase any misconception that MSPs are nothing more than “outsourced” tech help priced to displace your in- house IT technician or team. The new MSP has defined effective processes; methodologies and technology partnerships to offer valuable preventive services that proactively identify and eliminate threats before a bigger problem arises.

Whether an MSP assumes full responsibility for IT operations or acts as an ally to an in-house IT technician or team, the toolsets and education they provide to SMEs are invaluable. An MSP’s expertise and availability is what sets them apart from the “fireman-like” break-fix provider.

By enlisting an MSP, management teams are making a technology investment in proactive risk management rather than any one individual’s technical skills.

MSPs put considerable effort into understanding the operational and business needs of SMEs to develop and deliver a set of specific services that align technology with the SMEs business objectives. This is the reason you hear managed services often referred to as “partners.”

In an increasingly competitive environment where technology evolves at a rapid pace, businesses must fully leverage innovation to  better  meet the needs of their employees and the expectations of their customers. Much of this hinges on an organisation’s ability to increase system reliability for their business continuity, team productivity and customer satisfaction.

This can be achieved with the expertise of a trusted MSP. A present- day MSP offers quantifiable economic value, greater ROI and decreased TCO by streamlining costs, eliminating unnecessary lost productivity and revenue, and avoidable on-site IT consultant fees and hardware/software repairs or replacement.

 

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Jul
01

Remember… Always Practice Safe BYOD

Posted by Markus McIver in Security, BYOD

No matter what blog or magazine read these days, it seems like everyone is talking about today’s increasingly mobile workforce and the BYOD (Bring-Your- Own-Device) movement.

We live in an exciting time when work can be done at any time from any place. Employees love the fact that they can get work done on their iPad as they sit poolside sipping a Pina Colada. Businesses love the cost savings along with the happier and more productive employees they’re noticing. Meanwhile, customers and clients take note that their emails are commonly answered outside traditional work hours with a “Sent from my iPhone” tagline at the bottom.

Like anything related to business technology, there are naysayers who are quick to warn that a more mobile and dispersed workforce also means increased security risks.
Do they have a point?

 

It turns out there are some very legitimate concerns but nothing that can’t be minimised, if not altogether eradicated, with the practice of safe BYOD.

Here are a few suggestions

Create a Mobile Device Security Policy

A comprehensive mobile security policy is critical. This policy must cover everything from the type of devices allowed to how and where data and files are edited, saved, and shared.  Combining this policy with a sound mobile strategy is your best bet to integrate BYOD into your workplace with minimal consequences.

Enforce this Policy

It’s good to take the time to prepare a document that outlines policy, but don’t stop there. Be sure to enforce this policy. This is especially important for small-to-midsise businesses, particularly startups that are sometimes guilty of being too laid back despite all the caffeine consumed at their in-office coffee bars. Make the following words your mantra when it comes to enforcing this policy. No Exceptions. Ever. Seriously, 41% of small businesses have a BYOD policy in place but 25% make exceptions to their own rules.

Train Employees

A BYOD plan has no chance of succeeding unless it is properly communicated to users. It’s important that each employee recognise his or her responsibilities and the repercussions of failing to follow security rules. The best defense against cyber crime will always be a knowledgeable and conscientious employee.

BYOD can give any organisation, big or small, a competitive advantage. Harness the power of BYOD by planning ahead and sticking to your plan.

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Tags: #Security, #BYOD
Jun
30

Why SMEs Must Proactively Address the Threat of Mobile Hacks

Posted by Markus McIver in Security

More cyber criminals are targeting small-to-medium sized businesses. One reason for this is too many workplaces have insufficient bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies in place. Some have none at all. Although firms are generally more knowledgeable about network security risks than in years past, they still woefully underestimate the security vulnerabilities linked to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

This is a real cause for concern since data breaches have the ability to put many already financially challenged SMEs out of business.

If customer/client data has been breached, there could be potential litigation costs, and naturally, lost goodwill and an irreparable hit to brand or company reputation.

 

Don’t Just Say You’re Worried About the Bad Guys… Deal With Them

SMEs say they view network security as a major priority but their inaction when it comes to mobile devices paints a different picture. An April 2013 study found that only 16% of SMEs have a mobility policy in place.

Despite the fact that stolen devices are a major problem in today’s mobile workforce, only 37% of mobility policies enforced today have a clear protocol outlined for lost devices.

Even more troubling is the fact that those firms who have implemented mobility policies have initiated plans with some very obvious flaws.

Key components of a mobility policy such as personal device use, public Wi-Fi accessibility, and data transmission and storage are often omitted from many policies.

Thankfully, most SME cyber crimes can be avoided with a comprehensive mobility policy and the help of mobile endpoint mobile device management services.

A Mobility Policy Is All About Acceptable/Unacceptable Behaviours

Your initial mobility policy doesn’t have to be all encompassing. There should be room for modifications, as things will evolve over time. Start small by laying some basic usage ground rules, defining acceptable devices and protocols for setting passwords for devices and downloading third-party apps. Define what data belongs to the company and how it’s to be edited, saved, and shared. Be sure to enforce these policies and detail the repercussions for abuse.

Features of Mobile Device Management Services

MDM services are available at an affordable cost. These services help IT managers identify and monitor the mobile devices accessing their network. This centralised management makes it easier to get each device configured for business access to securely share and update documents and content. MDM services proactively secure mobile devices by:

  • Specifying password policy and enforcing encryption settings
  • Detecting and restricting tampered device
  • Remotely locating, locking, and wiping out lost or stolen devices
  • Removing corporate data from any system while leaving personal data intact
  • Enabling real time diagnosis/resolution of device, user, or app issues

It’s important to realise that no one is immune to cyber crime. The ability to identify and combat imminent threats is critical and SMEs must be proactive in implementing solid practices that accomplish just that.

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Tags: #Security
Jun
18

Stay Secure...More Hackers Targeting SMEs

Many SMEs don’t realise it, but the path to some grand cybercrime score of a lifetime may go right through their backdoor. SMEs are commonly vendors, suppliers, or service providers who work with much larger enterprises.

Unfortunately, they may be unaware that this makes them a prime target for hackers. Worse yet, this may be costing them new business.  Larger companies likely have their security game in check, making it difficult for hackers to crack their data. They have both the financial resources and staffing power to stay on top of security practices. But smaller firms continue to lag when it comes to security. In many cases, the gateway to accessing a large company’s info and data is through the smaller company working with them.

Exposed vulnerabilities in security can lead cybercriminals right to the larger corporation they’ve been after. Cybercriminals Target Companies with 250 or fewer employees.  In 2012, Symantec research confirmed that cybercriminals are increasingly targeting smaller businesses with 250 or fewer employees. Attacks aimed at this demographic practically doubled from the previous year. This news has made larger enterprises particularly careful about whom they do business with. This means that any SME targeting high-end B2B clients, or those seeking partnerships with large public or government entities, must be prepared to accurately answer questions pertaining to security. This requires an honest assessment of the processes taken to limit security risks.

View Security Measures as Investments

CIOs must start viewing any extra investment to enhance security as a competitive differentiator in attracting new business. Adopting the kind of security measures that large enterprises seek from third-party partners they agree to work with will inevitably pay off. The payoff will come by way of new revenue-generating business contracts that will likely surpass whatever was spent to improve security.

Would-be business partners have likely already asked for specifics about protecting the integrity of their data. Some larger entities require that SMEs complete a questionnaire addressing their security concerns. This kind of documentation can be legally binding so it’s important that answers aren’t fudged just to land new business. If you can’t answer “yes” to any question about security, find out what it takes to address that particular security concern.

Where a Managed Service Provider Comes In

Anyone who isn’t yet working with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) should consider it. First, a manual network and security assessment offers a third-party perspective that will uncover any potential business-killing security risks. A good MSP will produce a branded risk report to help you gain the confidence of prospects to win new business.   A MSP can properly manage key elements of a small company’s security plan.   This includes administrative controls like documentation, security awareness training, and audits as well as technical controls like antivirus software, firewalls, patches, and intrusion prevention. Good management alone can eliminate most security vulnerabilities and improve security.

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Jun
02

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Mobility and BYOD

There are a lot of advantages to mobility in today’s workforce, but the Bring-Your- Own-Device (BYOD) movement has also brought its share of headaches as well.

We live in a society where everyone must have the newest technology. We are inundated with ads reminding us that the smartphone or tablet we just bought a year ago is laughably outdated and inferior to the upgrade that just hit the market.

People who have just bought the latest technology don’t want to have to set it aside to use a separate company-issued device. As a result, businesses are beginning to grant these employee-owned devices access to their file and email servers, databases, and applications.

While this brings certain competitive advantages to employers, it naturally carries many risks, too.

Let’s begin with the pros of BYOD…

The Advantages of BYOD

Greater Flexibility and Productivity

Personal devices allow workers more flexibility, which in turn can increase productivity. Today’s employee isn’t restricted to their office workstation or cubicle. They can carry out job responsibilities from home, a coffee shop, their child’s dance recital, or while traveling.

Reduced Costs

Purchasing even the most basic Blackberry for an employee can cost a company $900+ per worker. Costs like that can be completely eliminated by adopting a BYOD policy where employees are required to use their own device.

Happier Employees/Attractiveness to Job Seekers

Recent studies have found that 44% of job seekers are attracted more to employers who are open to BYOD and occasional remote work. Beyond this hiring advantage over competition, it has been found that employees as a whole are generally happier using the devices they own and prefer for work purposes.

Better Customer Service

This goes hand and hand with more flexibility and productivity. Mobility allows employees to occasionally resolve or escalate urgent client issues outside of normal working hours, and clients remember that kind of response time.

And now the cons of BYOD…

Disadvantages of BYOD

Compromised Data Security

Unfortunately, letting employees use their own smartphones, tablets, and laptops increases the likelihood of sensitive company or customer/client data being compromised. It is important for companies to establish a comprehensive mobile device security policy and never make any exceptions to it whatsoever. Really. No exceptions. Ever.

Employee Privacy

Many employees may oppose using their own devices for work, especially if it’s a company requirement that they aren’t reimbursed for. You have to remember that these are the same devices employees use to log into their Facebook and Twitter accounts or do their online banking. In this age of constant paranoia over big brother watching our every move, employees may be concerned that their employer will spy on them or access their personal passwords and information.

Handling Employee Turnover

Companies must consider how they will address the retrieval of company data and information from an employee’s device if the employee either quits or is fired. Some companies may require that employees only save or edit company files on their servers or use cloud-based sharing software like Dropbox to share and edit docs.

The Importance of a Mobile Device Management Tool

Obviously, businesses must keep track of all of the devices that access their server, applications, and data. Mobile Device Management helps enterprises centralise what is an otherwise chaotic hodgepodge of devices and operating systems. This ensures that all devices are configured, deployed, and properly monitored and managed. This is a smart way for businesses to embrace BYOD while securing data and applications across multiple devices.

 

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May
27

The Value Of A Helping Hand - Reducing The Costs and Complexity of IT With a Managed Services Provider

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

The Technology Pains of Small Business

Small business owners are faced with quite the dilemma these days. While a reliable and secure network is a critical component to success, business owners are also being forced to scale back on costs and overhead as a means of basic survival in today’s economy.

Having a fully staffed IT department simply isn’t a viable option for a majority of small business owners. Many small businesses either have one full-time employee devoted to IT services or none at all. Both scenarios are recipes for disaster in an increasingly complex high-tech society.

One IT person, even a very small team, will likely be overworked and burdened by too many responsibilities. This can make a company’s business infrastructure increasingly vulnerable to breakdown, not from technology, but from human error.

A recent study conducted by Gartner projected that through 2015, people - not technology, will be responsible for up to 80% of technology failure. This number coincides with findings reported in the IT Process Institute’s Visible Ops Handbook stating that 80% of unexpected outages are due to poorly planned changes implemented by administrators and developers.

The forecast is even stormier for businesses with absolutely no IT support on payroll. These business owners have subscribed to the break/fix model of technology management. While this model can sometimes be out of necessity due to budget restraints, it can also stem from a state of ignorance or denial that their business is truly susceptible to technology failure. The overall health and profitability of their business is directly affected by the performance, reliability and security of its technology systems.

 

With the break/fix model, there is absolutely no proactive monitoring or management of their network. The only emergency plan for data loss or downtime is to call upon an IT specialist in an emergency 9-1-1 situation.

On average, these IT consultants charge $100 an hour. This doesn’t even factor in trip fees, surcharges, and standard repair costs in the range of $500 to $1000, or the costs of hardware and software upgrades. This method also results in more downtime, lost productivity, lost revenue, and a loss in overall customer satisfaction. Major network repairs require a minimum of 8-24 hours on average and most on-call IT consultants cannot get on site for up to 24-48 hours.

One has to also wonder if these consultants truly have the business owners’ best interest in mind? After all, they make their money when technology breaks down. Are they truly motivated to keep a client’s network  running optimally and efficiently?

 

The Concept of Managed Services

Managed Services Providers - or MSPs - are often recommended as a cost-effective IT solution for small businesses. For a minimal monthly fee, MSPs provide a reasonably priced solution to the complex technology pains of small businesses. Sometimes an MSP will enter the picture to support an overworked IT support person or staff. They can also assume complete responsibility of all IT and network operations if need be.

MSPs can decrease the overall IT support costs by as much as 30% to 50%. Rather than stressing about technology, business owners can instead get back to focusing on growing their business. All while enjoying the benefit of a team of highly-trained IT experts boosting their network’s reliability and performance.

 

The Benefits of a Managed Services Provider

 

▪ Freed Up Resources and a Renewed Emphasis on Core Business

Most pricey repairs and recovery costs are the result of a lack of consistent monitoring and maintenance. While these activities are absolutely critical to day-to-day business operations, they are also repetitive, monotonous and “a time kill” for any IT support on payroll. Both business owners and internal IT staff would much rather focus on revenue enhancing tasks like product development or the creation of cutting-edge applications/services. This is one reason routine monitoring and maintenance tasks are often neglected by an internal IT person or team, which always proves to be detrimental much later.

 Often misportrayed as a “threat” to an internal IT person or staff, MSPs can instead alleviate internal staff of mundane network operations maintenance, repetitious monitoring of server and storage infrastructure, and day-to-day operations and help desk duties.

▪ A True Partner Sharing Risks And Responsibilities

Earlier we alluded to a mistrust of IT consultants who profit from your technological misery. In comparison, the goal of an MSP is to deliver on contracted services, measure, report, analyze and optimise IT service operations, and truly become an irreplaceable catalyst for business growth. MSPs not only assume leadership roles, they mitigate risks, enhance efficiency and change the culture by introducing internal IT operations to new technologies and processes.

▪ Access to Expertise, Best Practices and World

Class Tools and Technologies - MSPs has worked with a variety of businesses and organisations. Since each client presents a completely unique set of business and technology needs, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” method to what they do. That said, they’ve likely seen it all, and the benefit of an experienced MSP undoubtedly adds value to your business. MSPs can keep your business relevant and on track with continually evolving technology, support, and productivity demands. Let’s face it – no small or medium-sized business can afford to fall behind with technology trends in today’s business world.

▪ The Benefit of a Full

Time Fully Staffed IT Department at a Fraction of the Cost - Most small business owners live and die by proactive management. They just haven’t had the budget, resources or access to on-demand expertise to be proactive with information technology management. An MSP gives business owners and overwhelmed internal IT staff affordable computer and server support, remote monitoring of critical network components like servers and firewalls, data backup and disaster recovery, network security, custom software solutions, and technology evaluation and planning. Freeing them from expensive computer problems, security threats like spyware and spam, and the repercussions of prolonged downtime. All without being “nickel-and-dimed” by on-call IT firms.

 

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Tags: #Opinion
May
12

Outsourcing Isn’t A Dirty Word: Meet Your It Team’s New Best Friend

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) generally don’t have the resources to fully support all IT infrastructure needs.   Even if your business has one or several in-house IT technicians on payroll, they’re often so bogged down by routine daily tasks that their talent is wasted. The very core of your business infrastructure is jeopardised if they’re overworked and vulnerable to error. This employee isn’t adding nearly as much value to your business as they should be. It’s not a good place for them or you.  

According to the research group Gartner, over 65% of IT budgets go towards tasks that do nothing more than keep the lights on. This means SMBs investing in their technology aren’t necessarily improving operations and efficiency or enhancing their security. They’re just keeping the wheels turning.   The concept of “managed services” has evolved through the last decade.

Today, managed service providers (MSPs) are being used by small businesses to cost-effectively manage, service and support their IT processes. MSPs are often called in as an alternative to adding additional in-house staff. Unfortunately, this also means MSPs are typically seen as a threat to the job security of any IT employee that fears they’re about to be replaced by “outsourced” help.

In this blog we will explain how a hybrid approach, utilising managed services, cloud services, and internal IT support can truly be the best of all worlds.  They simultaneously help SMBs achieve a greater return-on-investment (ROI) on their IT costs while allowing existing in-house IT resources to be channeled into more valuable development roles.

A Happier, Less Overwhelmed In-House IT Staff

Many of those never-ending mundane tasks performed by in-house IT support on a daily basis can be automated.   While this could easily be interpreted as suggesting on-site staff aren’t necessary, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Your current IT support can leverage all of the benefits of MSP services such as:

  • •Proactive management 
  • •Remote monitoring 
  • •End-user help desk
  • •24/7 network operations centre
  • •Disaster recovery/business continuity solutions
  • •Security audits/updates 

These services free your in-house IT support from much of the routine daily maintenance and support taking up most of their workday. This enables them to expand their role and work on more meaningful projects. They’re also happier on the job since they’re no longer perpetually overwhelmed or feeling as if they’re wearing too many hats. 

In this case, MSPs remove the burden of routine tasks from internal IT support,  allowing them to make better use of their time. With access to the MSP ticketing and monitoring system, and support from the 24/7 Network Operations Centre (NOC), in-house IT have help identifying and addressing system issues before they become business disrupting problems. 

Additionally, daily interruptions like constantly having to run to Susie’s computer to figure out why her system is running slow can instead be handled by the Service Desk.

Guided Focus, Direction and Prioritisation

Working with a MSP gives existing in-house IT support some much needed focus and direction. MSPs commonly offer a complimentary consultation and network assessment that evaluates the overall performance and health of your IT infrastructure. From there, the MSP will recommend the products or services most beneficial to current IT needs. 

This evaluation helps internal IT determine what system oversight and future planning they should be doing. A queue can be created where projects are evaluated and ranked by what’s most critical. Any regular system maintenance tasks can be performed by the MSP while in-house IT can focus on processes that will drive down costs or potentially increase revenue.

Fewer Instances of Failure and Human Error 

A high percentage of costly security breaches are the result of human error.  

This is often because IT employees are stretched too thin and overlook vital security measures, such as applying tested security patches or updating anti-virus software programs. Working with a MSP will eliminate much of the work overload that often leads to system or security vulnerabilities. Systems can be backed up in the cloud for an immediate full system restore if needed. Internal 

IT support will no longer bear sole responsibility for the constant availability and security of stored data.  Many of the issues that become costly business disruptions for SMBs, such as downtime-inducing hardware, software and application failures are completely preventable if they’re detected and addressed early enough. 

It’s a reality that your systems run 24/7, but you likely don’t have the resources right now for a full 24/7 IT operation.  Existing in-house IT support will find their workload to be much more manageable with the help of MSP services like the Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tool and the 24/7 NOC. Systems are monitored around-the-clock through a comprehensive interface that can even be viewed on a mobile device. Alerts will notify the in-house IT staff of any potentially threatening issues on the horizon. 

Summary

Many SMBs have some incredibly gifted and skilled IT employees on staff that are burdened with way too any responsibilities and tend to get stuck in a routine each day. These employees would be solid contributors to your business if they weren’t running around extinguishing tech fires and handling monotonous tasks that are below their skill-level.  

A good MSP acts as an extension of the business they’re servicing. SMBs and MSPs will work very closely together but caution must be taken, as any internal IT staff will likely consider a MSPs presence to be intrusive and a threat to their job security.  SMBs must convince their internal staff that embracing the cloud and leveraging the service desk and RMM tools of a MSP will only make their jobs more manageable and less stressful.

Freeing them from manual tasks will allow them to work on projects that matter-developing applications, concepts, and strategies that will benefit the company or organization’s bottom line rather than spending the day tending to the intern’s computer after she clicked a malicious link in a phishing email. Your existing on-site IT support can do much more for your business as you cut costs by exploiting the industry’s best practices, latest tools, and newest technology.

 

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Tags: #Opinion
Apr
27

Reactive vs Proactive IT Managed Services

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

The IT support industry is maturing and we find ourselves explaining the differences between a traditional break/fix support model and a true proactive managed service provider (MSP) on a daily basis.  This article is an attempt to explain the key concepts and differences between these models.

Outsourcing the support of business IT systems is not a new concept, in fact we find that more than half of the SME’s we talk to in London are already outsourcing. The benefits of outsourcing IT (or any other business function for that matter) are pretty clear and well understood. Cost optimization, access to a broader range of skills and expertise as well as enabling the customer to focus on their core business rather than IT.


Traditional IT support organisations typically differentiate themselves on things like technical accreditation and partner status with key vendors, the number of technical staff they employ and the ability to build quality relationships with customers that help drive innovation into their businesses. Whilst these are all good attributes to look for in a potential IT partner we find that the typical model when dealing with IT support organisations is the ambulance at the bottom of the hill scenario.

Businesses understand that IT is important and for the majority, have experienced a situation when an IT issue has had a significant impact on the business being able to operate. However we often find that the relationship between the business and the IT supplier is still reactive. What do we mean by reactive? Ask yourself this question – if there is an issue in my environment will my IT supplier already know or will one of my users have to call the service desk to let them know?

Under a reactive or Break/fix agreement, customers will purchase time that they can call upon in the event of an issue and the provider will commit to a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to respond to the issue during a certain time period.

We don’t think this is the right approach for these reasons.

  • If the assumption is that IT issues cost businesses real money, shouldn't we be trying to prevent them from happening in the first place?
  • The incentives are wrong – the more calls the IT provider gets, and the longer they take to fix the issue, the more money they get paid.
  • Every time the customer calls, it’s because they have a problem and therefore the user perception of the supplier (and IT) is often poor.
  • Upfront IT costs may seem lower but in reality they are lumpy between months and incredibly unpredictable.

Proactive IT managed services turns this model on its head. Providers use remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to continually monitor the health and performance of the customers IT network—without any kind of disruption to their employees’ activities. These tools enable the early detection and remediation of issues before they cause downtime or data loss. Providers also generate regular reports that provide insight into the IT systems, including demonstrating the business value and services being received, which in turn helps the customer budget for future IT expenses.

So what are the characteristics of a true MSP?

  • Fixed price IT support – this aligns the customers’ real needs with the incentives of the supplier. Support should be provided on a per item basis i.e. price per workstation, server or network device. By providing services at a fixed cost, the supplier is “sharing” some of the risk of the operation of the environment and has a vested interest in ensuring that your environment is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Should they do a good job, this should actually lower their costs and increases their profit which is a good thing!
  • Automated tools to assist the supplier with the management of the customer’s environment. These are typically known as RMM tools (Remote Management and Monitoring).

Hopefully this blog has given you an understanding of the key differences between the approaches and their importance when selecting an IT support provider.

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Tags: #Opinion
Apr
14

Keep Your IT Guy and Outsource IT Services, Too

Everyone in the office loves Eric. Sporting a different ironic t-shirt everyday, Eric is the one we call when technology spits in our face. Whether it’s a slow system, a bug that needs to be squashed, a website issue, or a crash that results in unexpected downtime and data loss, Eric is right there. Not only does he get to the bottom of any issue but he also rights the ship like he’s some sort of miracle- working captain who just happens to have a pretty wickedly funny Peter Griffin from Family Guy impersonation.

But business is growing and Eric is overworked. Eric has certain skills that you’d love to use to develop innovative applications and revenue-generating projects-- but he’s too busy running around fixing things that break. Or he’s performing the most mundane and routine tasks day-in-and-day-out just to keep things secure and running smoothly.

You get a sense that Eric’s overburdened and he’s saddled with too many responsibilities. His demeanour has changed from pleasant to moody. He’s listening to angrier metal and punk music and you’re noticing cracks in his work. You fear Eric is being pulled in too many directions and the reliability of your server, network, and applications, as well as the integrity of your data, are all at risk.

Someone who has watched a bit too much of Donald Trump on The Apprentice might think Eric should be fired. We’re not going to fire Eric. But we’re also not going to hire a full-time salaried Robin to his Batman or Cheech to his Chong. We’re going to help Eric by exploiting IT automation and managed services to handle many of the monotonous tasks making Eric hate his job right now.

 

Let’s help Eric….

1. Focus Primarily on Cost-Cutting and Revenue Increasing Projects: First things first, Eric has to realize that he can’t do everything himself. Where are his skills best used? Whether it’s processes that help drive down costs or ones with the potential to raise revenue, evaluate the projects in the queue and rank them by what impacts the bottom line the most.

Once that’s done, look at the day-to-day processes designed to keep things running securely and efficiently. What can be off-loaded from Eric? Determine which of those tasks can be automated either through the cloud or managed services.

2. Take to the Cloud: Some IT people fear the cloud spells the end to their job security. Meanwhile, the cloud can actually help them take on a more prominent contributing role in the company’s success.

The cloud should be seen as another tool that further eliminates the mundane yet necessary daily drudgery from their workday. Those who work WITH the cloud will find that they have more available time to take on more meaningful cost cutting or revenue generating projects.

3. Use a Managed Service Provider: Using outsourced managed services not only alleviates much of Eric’s pressure and stress, but also boosts productivity and gives the company a much improved ROI (Return-on- Investment) on their technology investment.

While technology has gotten easier for the end user, it has become more complex on the backend with the advent of virtualisation, cloud computing, and advanced infrastructure.

Using an MSP gives Eric access to a trusted advisor, a 24/7 help desk, remote monitoring and management tools, mobile device management tools, and much better disaster recovery and business continuity solutions. All without the overhead that comes with hiring more help for Eric. MSPs offer a consistency to not just your end-user but also your main IT guy who will certainly appreciate the help.

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Apr
14

Now You See It, There It... Stays: Decreasing business costs and risks of costly data loss

We live in a 24/7 global economy that is more dependent than ever on technology. Even the technology of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) houses sensitive digital data - employee and customer information, internal emails, documents and financial records, sales orders and transaction histories. Not to mention applications and programs critical to daily business function and services.

Employees at SMEs require continuous access to the critical business data needed to meet the demands of the customers or clients they service. They even want this access while they’re at home or on the go running errands.

To satisfy this demand, many companies and organisations now allow employees to BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) and “do business” using their personal  laptops, tablets and mobile phones. The web, Wi-Fi networks and mobile devices with robust memory and battery life have made this constant access to a SMEs back office infrastructure a reality. Regrettably this flexibility and freedom is accompanied by an ominous risk of data loss.

Just a single data loss or breach can be costly to SMEs. Data losses and leaks come with lingering continuous costs that many SMEs cannot easily shake or overcome. Revenue is lost if employee productivity and customer accessibility/ service are stalled by data loss. The expenses associated with internal research and investigation, system repair and maintenance, and data security protection are another heavy price SMEs must pay. If cybercrime is involved, affected customers must be notified, the potential exists for litigation, and many customers will likely never return due to mistrust.

While corporate-level data losses are well publicised, many SMEs mistakenly believe their data isn’t at risk. This mistake can prove to be a costly one.

 

Why C-Suite Management at SMEs Can No Longer Ignore Data Loss

▪ Following a significant data loss, it is estimated that SMEs can lose up to 25% in daily revenue by the end of the first week.

▪ According to the National Archives & Records Administration in Washington, 93% of companies that have experienced data loss, and  prolonged downtime for ten or more days have filed for bankruptcy within twelve  months of the incident. 50% wasted no time and filed for bankruptcy  immediately. 43% of companies with no data recovery and business continuity plan actually go out of business following a major data loss.

How quickly can your business be restored if critical data is lost? When was the last time backup processes were tested to ensure all data is recoverable and business operations are quickly restored?

▪ A survey conducted by Symantec SME revealed that fewer than half of SMEs surveyed backup their data each week. Only 23% of those surveyed said they backup data every day and have a business continuity plan in place.

▪ The percentage of cybercriminal attacks targeting businesses with fewer than 250 employees doubled in 2012. The vulnerabilities of naive small business owners have been noted, and hackers have now placed the proverbial bull’s-eye on these perceived weak links. If sensitive customer data is leaked, SMEs may face overwhelming financial liabilities, which could include reimbursing affected customers and legal fees.

▪ BYOD isn’t a trend or passing fad. It is here to stay and the fact of the matter is businesses no longer own the devices used by employees. This is unprecedented. It’s not as if the employees of yesterday could haul home their file cabinets and desk. This obviously comes with a number of data security risks. The number of networks, applications, and end points where data can be accessed has multiplied with BYOD. Who manages these devices? Who secures these devices? Do SMEs have the right to back up data on machines they do not own? If an employee loses a laptop, or goes AWOL on the company, what data do they have and does anyone else in the company have access to it?

 

Management Is On Notice

Businesses today are playing on a much bigger playing field than they were two decades ago. Any SME that trusts the security and backup of critical business data with a limited and overburdened in-house IT team, or forsakes internal IT support altogether for emergency on- call help when things go bad (Break/Fix Mentality), is playing with fire and begging to be burned.

Any disruptive or invasive technological event - even the smallest of incidents - can have an amplified impact on day-to-day business and profitability. Being proactive with data recovery solutions, and having emergency response procedures in place prior to a disruption or data disaster, is the only way to get critical data restored immediately to the data centre, minimise downtime, protect customer and client data and soften the impact of such events.

 

Data Security Threats Every SME Must Be Aware Of

Human Error and Employee Negligence

Human error, by way of unintentional data deletion, modification, and overwrites, has become much more prevalent in recent years. Much of this is the result of carelessly managed virtualisation technology. Virtualisation and cloud computing have enabled improved business continuity by allowing entire servers – including all data, operating systems, applications, and patches to be grouped into one software bundle or virtual server and subsequently backed up. The catch is humans must still instruct this technology how to perform, which is why so much of today’s data loss is linked to human error.

The complexity of these systems often presents a learning curve that involves quite a bit of trial by error. For example, a support engineer can accidentally overwrite his backup when he forgets to power off his replication software prior to formatting volumes on the primary site.

While most CIOs at SMEs are generally accepting and understanding that mistakes happen, they must be more stringent when it comes to managing risky negligent employee behaviours in this era of mobility and accessibility. Employee negligence puts a company or organisation’s critical business data at risk of being stolen by cybercriminals or malicious employees. Examples of this negligent behaviour include:

▪ Leaving computer systems unattended

▪ Weak passwords (“password” or “12345”) or passwords that aren’t frequently changed

▪ Opening email attachments or clicking hyperlinks embedded with spam

▪ Visiting restricted websites

Employee Mobility & Data Exposure

In the modern-day BYOD workplace, more people are doing daily business on their personal laptops, iPads and Blackberrys. They are also carrying around portable media like thumb drives, USB sticks and CDs.

These devices are not always backed up or secured by IT administrators. There is not only the potential for these devices to be lost or stolen but there is also a very high probability that employees using them are also accessing personal email, downloading music, browsing the web, playing games and hanging out on Facebook. This makes sensitive data susceptible to malware, viruses and hackers. All of this substantially ups the likelihood of data loss incidents.

 

Four Ways SMEs Can Minimise Data Loss

▪ Enforce Data Security

This is more or less the managing of the “human factor.” CIOs and those in SME management roles must communicate data protection policies to staff and ensure their implementation. Rules must be set, particularly with personal devices, to enforce security policies. It can  be as simple as sending reminders to not open email attachments from unknown sources, requiring passwords be reset every few months or the banning of specific file sharing or social networking sites.

In May of 2012, security concerns led to over 400,000 IBM employees being banned from using the cloud storage service Dropbox and Siri – the iPhone personal assistant. While far from an SME, if IBM can go that far and make such a demand to so many employees, a insurance agent can certainly remind his or her marketing representative to  not  play Farmville on Facebook if they’re using a laptop containing company and customer/client data.

▪ Stress the consequences

Both personal and business – of not properly protecting confidential data. Encourage employees to make passwords difficult to crack. Patch holes in the infrastructure’s walls by identifying the most critical data. Perhaps a trusted IT advisor can help implement processes to better protect that data’s security perimeters.

▪ Mobile Device Management

Mobile Device Management grants SMEs a semblance of control over the mobile devices used within the company. Devices tapping into company systems are identified and remotely monitored and managed 24/7. More importantly, they are proactively secured via specified password policies, encryption settings, and automated compliance actions. Lost or stolen devices can be located and either locked or stripped of all SME-related data.

▪ Snapshots

Fully backing up large amounts of data can be a lengthy process. The data being backed up is also vulnerable to file corruption from read errors. This means sizeable chunks of data may not be stored in the backup and be unavailable in the event of a full restore. This can be avoided by backing up critical data as snapshots, which are read-only copies of data frozen to a specific point in time and stored using minimal disk space. These virtual snapshots are immediately available for restores in the event of data loss.

▪ Cloud Replication and Disaster Recovery Services

The cloud provides SMEs who consider data backup to be too costly, time consuming and complex with a cost-effective, automated off-site data replication process that provides continuous availability to business-critical data and applications. Cloud replication can often get systems back online in under an hour following a data loss.

 

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Apr
06

Why It's Time To Move On If Your Hosting Cloud Provider Won't Sign A HIPAA BAA

Despite new HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA) regulations going into effect in 2013, many healthcare organisations are still encountering the occasional cloud service provider who refuses to sign a BAA. Although they may have a logical explanation, any refusal to sign a BAA should be seen as a red flag.

Here’s the logic from their angle. There are still many cloud vendors who view themselves more as conduits of Personal Health Information (PHI). They feel their role is more akin to that of a mailman. They’re merely transporting data to others and have no real access to the actual contents.

If the data is encrypted and cannot be read, or If they don’t touch the actual PHI data at all, the cloud service vendor will argue that HIPAA regulations do not apply to them and possibly refuse to sign a BAA.

Fair enough, right? If the data is encrypted and the vendor doesn’t hold the encryption key, what’s the problem?  Well, here’s the problem.

File this in the unlikely yet not improbable category. Let’s say that the PHI data wasn’t properly encrypted before it was sent into the cloud or unencrypted data was mistakenly transferred over to the cloud service provider. If the cloud provider has refused to sign a BAA, this jeopardises your HIPAA compliance and could potentially result in a fine anywhere from $50,000 to $1.5 million.

This is why those in the healthcare sector must move on from any cloud provider that is reluctant to sign a BAA. They are basically refusing to be complaint since the new HIPAA Omnibus Rule clearly defines a business associate as anyone who creates, receives, maintains, or transmits PHI on behalf of a covered entity. By refusing to share accountability for HIPAA compliance, they’re a liability to your organisation that you just can’t afford.

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Mar
10

Staying Alive: The Definitive Guide to Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery for Small Businesses

As a small business owner, you owe it to yourself, your employees, stakeholders, and any customer you serve to honestly answer this one question: Is your business resilient enough to withstand short or long-term interruptions to its operations?

The answer should be immediate. If you have to pause or think for one second before responding, the answer is no. Each day of business brings with it unforeseen risk. Whether it’s catastrophic weather conditions, cyber- security threats, or the vulnerabilities of the technology we’re dependent on to perform daily work functions, there must be both a business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) plan in place. There must also be complete confidence in the effectiveness of the BC/ DR strategies that are implemented.

The truth of the matter is most small-to- medium sized businesses (SMEs) aren’t doing nearly enough when it comes to continuity and disaster planning. It’s inconceivable that in this era where smaller businesses store more sensitive data than ever before, and the risk of losing this data is so great, that a 2011 Systematic survey revealed that up to 57% of small businesses still have no business continuity or disaster recovery plan in place.

A few years ago, a study conducted by Forrester Research concluded that 66% of businesses with fewer than one hundred employees admitted to having no tested response to not just tech issues like a downed server or network but disasters, emergencies, and power outages.

This e-guide breaks down some of the potential costs of short and long-term business interruptions, why far too many SMEs don’t have a solid business continuity/recovery plan in place, and the necessary steps SMEs can take to get prepared.

 

A Competent BC/DR Strategy Is a Must

Often misconceived as a problem for the “big guys,” business continuity is a concern for businesses and organisations of all sizes – whether there are 5 or 5,000 employees. The costs of having no solutions in place are too high for many smaller companies to rebound from. Several hours of unplanned downtime can result in thousands of dollars lost each hour.

That’s the kind disruption a small business may face from a shorter-duration tech issue or power outage. Imagine the consequences of longer lasting outages, where a business may be down for days or weeks, as seen in natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, or acts of terror like the 2001 World Trade Centre attack.

Beyond the immediate  tangible costs of outages like lost productivity and revenues, there is also an intangible domino effect that may be harder to quantify. The repercussions can greatly exacerbate the total losses over time, for instance

▪ Customers/Clients Jumping to a Competitor:

The web hosting company 1&1 Internet, Inc. reported that 72% of web users admit to abandoning a business for a competitor if they can’t instantly access a company website or encounter numerous error messages, problems placing an order, or issues accessing online features/support. People want immediate gratification today and will take their dollars elsewhere if they don’t get it. Even more alarming is the fact that 58% are likely to never return, which means the loss of long-term revenue streams. Perhaps they may be more forgiving in the event of a crisis like a natural disaster but there will still be those who go to a competitor and never come back.

▪ Word-of-Mouth/Negative Brand Reputation:

Thanks to the power of social media, those frustrated by instances of downtime will take to Facebook or Twitter to quickly spread their vitriol. Brand building and reputation management are critical to small businesses. Any negative attention and publicity brought on by downtime can have long lasting consequences.

▪ Disgruntled Employees:

In small companies or organisations, the burden of troubleshooting recurring tech issues or getting a system back online will typically fall upon the shoulders of an already busy, possibly overworked, employee. This multi-tasking employee will have to  sacrifice  bigger priorities to constantly play damage control. He or she will sometimes have to do this outside of normal work hours and may be pulled away from projects that generate revenue. If they aren’t happy about this, they may seek employment elsewhere. Both high turnover and the inability to use an employee’s knowledge and skill set for revenue generating tasks are costly to small-to-medium sized businesses.

 

Too Many SMEs Aren’t Prioritising BC/DR Plans

Businesses are fuelled by information. They are defined by their ability to efficiently and safely handle the data and vital information they generate or process on a daily basis. It is this data that keeps their day-to-day business functioning, ensuring optimal customer service and interaction.

While protecting data is a priority for large enterprises, small-to-midsize business owners have the same responsibility but are challenged by limited budgets. For a start-up, the entire focus must be customer-facing, with few resources directed at anything not driving short- term revenues.

This means far too many SMEs today are failing to employ some very basic safeguards to ensure BC/DR.

A September 2011 CDW Business Continuity Straw Poll suggested that 82% of U.S. service disruptions could be reduced or altogether eliminated by even the most basic BC/DR plan. So why aren’t more SMEs taking these precautions?

▪ Failure to Recognise a Problem:

Most SMEs don’t think about business continuity or disaster recovery until its too late and they’re scrambling to recover after being taken down. It’s ironic since so much focus goes into keeping a business sustainable by growing sales, or outdoing the competition, yet a vital part of “staying in business” is overlooked when it comes to their supporting technology.

▪ Intimidating and Complex Planning Tools:

SMEs looking to streamline costs and simplify procedures will sometimes write off BC/DR practices as unnecessary. Those who do recognise the importance of preparedness are often overwhelmed by the complex technical jargon that accompanies business continuity planning and don’t know where to begin when they hear terms like “business impact analysis” and “risk assessments.”

▪ They Feel as if They Can’t Afford It and They’re On Their Own:

Decision makers may know they’re living on the edge without a tested strategy, however, they don’t realise that new technology trends, and the availability of products like managed service providers (MSPs), can reduce costs and save on resources. MSPs can leverage their knowledge of an SME’s specific needs with the numerous cloud and hosted backup and recovery tools currently available today.

 

Three Steps to Improved BC/DR Planning

 

Step 1 – Recognise the Need and Importance

Business continuity and disaster recovery strategies tend to be on the to-do lists of many SMEs, but they are often delayed as more urgent business issues emerge.

U.S. businesses lose roughly $1.7 billion in profit each year from network outages according to the same 2011 CDW business continuity survey referenced earlier. Obviously, it isn’t smart  business for an SME to let business continuity and disaster recovery planning become an afterthought.

To structure a solid business continuity plan, SMEs must be prepared for all possible disruptions. It is important to note that business continuity goes beyond being prepared for natural or man-made disasters. We are now so technologically dependent that BC/DR plans must be in place to counter any  disruption  – big or small - that threatens business and profitability. Internal technical or infrastructure failures or cyber attacks are obvious examples. Small internal “single-points-of-failure” can bring down an entire operation.

 

Step 2 – Impact Analysis and Risk Assessment

Constant availability is critical to success.

In order to minimise downtime, it’s important to determine what technology is behind each phase of your business operations. Knowing the technology infrastructure of your business allows for a comprehensive impact analysis and a better grasp of the impact on business operations when specific technology fails or becomes unavailable - even for a short period of time.

Determining what could unexpectedly bring down each piece of that infrastructure is risk assessment. Risks come in the form of either internal or outside threats.

Internal threats can be anything from an application failure, disk crash, and server malfunction to human error or a bitter employee.

External threats can vary depending on location–natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, floods, and fires, as well as man-made events like power outages, acts of terror, and accidents can knock out services. Additionally, our dependency on technology leaves firms susceptible to cyber-attacks like malware, computer viruses, phishing schemes, and the theft of personal mobile devices used for work purposes.

While major disasters do occur, and shouldn’t be overlooked, it is the smaller everyday disruptions like power outages, server crashes, email issues, equipment failure, and lost or corrupted data that pose the bigger risk to business.

Doomsday prepping may be the rage these days, but a sound BC/DR plan typically begins by focusing on addressing the day-in and day-out disruptions first. Documenting, reviewing, communicating, and testing the effectiveness of smaller response scenarios will better prepare businesses for potential disasters and longer-term disruptions.

 

Step 3 – Look to Recent Tech Trends That Simplify Planning

Recent technology developments like server and desktop virtualisation, cloud computing, and mobile devices are beneficial to SMEs looking for BC/DR solutions.

Virtualisation – BC/DR preparedness may be the most compelling reason to consider virtualisation. Virtualisation allows businesses to condense data and applications onto fewer servers - taking up less space and consuming less power. Virtualisation allows small-to- medium sized businesses the benefit of high availability (HA) without the added expense of building a backup data centre. Operations can be restored faster as the entire system can be brought back in a single virtual container. 

Cloud Computing – More firms are moving to the cloud for backup services. The cloud has enabled small and medium sized businesses to backup operations away from their primary location and enhance their business continuity process at a reduced cost.

Cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) packages often come with built in business continuity solutions that can automate data backup processes on- site or off-site – spreading out risks and minimising the impact of a disaster. Data, servers, software, and tools can be stored in the cloud and remain safe if a business is hit by a computer virus or disaster.

The cloud also allows remote workers to access an organisation’s communication and collaboration tools, further allowing for “business as usual” in the event of a serious disruption.

Although it is understandable that ownership and upper management at small to medium sized businesses are hesitant to spend money, BC/DR planning is a lot like insurance. It's human nature to think that bad things won't happen to you, but the investment pays off when you're hit by an extreme event or emergency.

New technology trends and the backup-as-a-service, remote backup, and online backup services provided by MSPs have given SMEs the ability to safeguard their business operations at a reasonable cost. Money and resources can no longer be an excuse for a lack of solid BC/DR solutions. There is way too much at risk.

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Mar
03

Why Hybrid Clouds are More Than Just Another Trend

It should come as no surprise that many small to midsize business owners take pride in overseeing every aspect of their startup business. Naturally, many are apprehensive when it comes to surrendering control of their servers, their data and their applications.
The downside of this need for control is that operating and maintaining everything onsite can be time consuming, super expensive, and it can make your business more vulnerable to failure related downtime and cyber threats.

Although everything can be stored in the cloud at a fraction of the cost, many aren’t responsive to the idea of sharing the infrastructure their technology runs on.
The great thing about the cloud is it’s not an all or nothing thing. This is exactly why so many small to midsize businesses have turned to hybrid cloud solutions. Just as they name implies, hybrid cloud solutions are both on and off premises.
It’s the best of both worlds. A business can still control certain aspects of the business on-site, but simultaneously exploit the cloud’s cost effectiveness and overall scalability. For example, a local server like Windows Server 2012 can be housed and managed on-site but that server, or just specific files, can still be backed up in the cloud with Microsoft Windows Azure and stored far away off-site. This provides a partial disaster recovery solution in the event of a hurricane, flood, fire, or just a basic server crash.
Here are some tips for developing your hybrid cloud strategy

1. Honestly assess the current IT strategy

Over time, as your business grows and technology advances, your well-planned and neatly arranged IT infrastructure transforms into a disorganized mishmash of different servers and disconnected software and tools. View this almost as the spring-cleaning of a cluttered garage. What systems or applications are critical to your business right now and which ones no longer support your current or future business initiatives?

2. Know what you want to keep close

Every business will be different in this regard. Certain companies will prefer keeping large files in-house, in a more controlled private cloud, for easy access but may be okay with having their emails out there in the cloud or vice versa.

3. See how others are leveraging a hybrid cloud environment

New services once only available to large enterprises are now available to SMEs. This presents an extraordinary opportunity to be more agile, flexible, and better suited for new business opportunities and growth.Remote monitoring, 24/7 support, and disaster recovery solutions can be easily integrated within a hybrid-computing environment – regardless of operating systems, server types, or mobile devices used.

4. Staged implementation

Be sure to plan your hybrid cloud strategy as a multi-year plan that is deployed in phases. For example, in the beginning, private controlled access to a public cloud service can be granted to internal application developers experimenting with a new business initiative. Or a new customer relations management SaaS (Software as a Service) application can be implemented.
This is the year that even small or midsize enterprises are getting serious about cloud operations and a strategic mix of public cloud services and private cloud may make the transition easier.

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Feb
03

Whitepaper: Backup vs. Business Continuity

SMEs in general don’t have the same IT budgets and staffs as larger enterprises. Yet just like larger organisations they need to protect their data—and make sure they can get back to business rapidly after a disaster or other event that compromises their data and systems.

In this white paper, we’ll discuss what’s at stake when it comes to not just protecting, but also managing, your data (hint: your business). We’ll explain why it’s important to think in terms of business continuity rather than simply data backup. And we’ll look at how to calculate the all-important Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO) so that you can get what you need from your business continuity vendor.

 

Datto Whitepaper: Backup vs. Business Continuity

 

 

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Jan
15

Three Steps To Fix IT Management for SMEs

Small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) tend to have a more difficult time managing IT than larger enterprises. Despite being as technology dependent as larger enterprises, SMEs have tighter budgets and fewer resources to devote to IT management. This leads to a more reactive “break-fix” approach to their technology that never does any smaller company or organisation any good.  In this blog, I'll take you through three practical steps to help you better manage your technology.

Here’s what break fix most often leads to. If the burden rests on the shoulders of hourly or salaried in-house IT support, and they’re too busy putting out fires all day, then their skills and talents are essentially wasted.

If there is no in-house tech support, and many smaller companies and organisations don’t have even one onsite “IT guy”, SMEs are commonly taken for a ride by some of the more unscrupulous on-call IT consultants.

Although “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a popular saying, it should never be applied to the management of business technology. The cost of downtime can crush any barely surviving small business. The combined impact of lost revenue, lost productivity, and lost brand reputation is a severe hit that many SMEs aren’t built to withstand. 

It pays to be proactive, not a reactive about technology. This requires a cultural shift from how IT has commonly been handled in the past. Say goodbye to manual, yet necessary, processes and hello to a better way for businesses to meet their technology needs - a smarter and more cost-efficient way.

Three Steps To Better Manage Your Business Technology

Be Proactive

More often than not, it’s the things that aren’t caught early on that turn into costly business disruptions. For instance, many of the hardware, software, and application failures that cause downtime occurrences are preventable; they’re just not detected and addressed early enough. 

SMEs today have the advantage of using a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tool to help their existing in-house support staff get a grip on their workload.

A RMM tool, combined with an outsourced 24/7 Network Operations Centre (NOC), monitors your technology all day and all through the night via one comprehensive interface that is even accessible with a mobile device. This kind of around the clock monitoring transforms technology management. Problems can be nipped in the bud with an alert and prompt ticket resolution before they turn into major issues that disrupt day-to-day operations.

Automate/Schedule Mundane Tasks

Free the in-house support staff from everyday manual maintenance and monitoring by automating a broad range of IT security and monitoring tasks.

Get More From Your In-House Team

If you have any in-house IT support, you’ve likely hired some incredibly skilled and talented people who would be more worthy contributors to your company or organisation if they weren’t always so tied up fixing things and performing monotonous tasks.

With RMM and NOC solutions, SMEs can put these individuals to work on projects that matter. They are freed-up to work on concepts, strategies, and application development that better serve your customers, employees, and suppliers, truly giving business a competitive advantage.

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